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The essential mark of a Christian is love. Love for Christ, church members, neighbors, family, authorities and people who don’t know the Lord yet.
But let’s be honest. We don’t do this very well.
I don’t. You don’t.
Why do I say this with such confidence?
Because we are lovers of ourselves first. I prefer myself over you, and I suspect the same is true of you.
Unfortunately we deceive ourselves into thinking we love better than we do, and our friends will do everything they can to convince us we’re doing okay.
Try this experiment next time you’re in a group: Say something that lowers yourself in your own eyes, like, “I wasn’t very patient with my mother the other day.” Then wait for people’s responses. Several will try to rescue you from your low-self esteem. Why? Because if they didn’t attempt the rescue operation they would have to face their own lack of love for others.
We settle for half-hearted attempts. Listening with half an ear; putting off calling that pesky friend who talks too much; holding on to revenge because the person who hurt you still hasn’t admitted it.
Our hearts are deceitful and compromised by the world, the flesh and the devil. If one doesn’t cause us to trip, the other will. Maybe all three at the same time.
And the biggest trap we fall into is looking inside our hearts to find those evidences of love, good feelings and caring.
Except that’s the wrong direction.
Nothing good resides there.
Love must come from the outside. Not as a sensational feeling that sweeps us off our feet, but in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are members of his body and united to him. Love flows down from him to us and then out to our neighbor.
That’s why the apostle Paul exhorts us to put on Christ. Not once or twice but everyday.
What does that look like?
It’s realizing his love is 100% perfect and it’s ours as a gift.
It’s being grateful that he loved perfectly when he was here on earth and his perfect record God has been put into our account.
From God’s perspective, we love perfectly because it’s Christ’s love he sees there.
From our perspective, we live a life of transparency before the Lord, where no secrets are tolerated. We no longer give ourselves permission to sin. We throw out old grudges and hatred and forgive the other person, a hundred times if we have to.
It reveals how much we need Christ, which is exactly where we need to be. It’s confessing our sins and admitting our inadequacy. “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And what does God think of this display of lowliness?
Take a look.
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
‘I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite'”. – Isaiah 57:15 ESV
Talk to me.
Religion is for good people.
It has one central characteristic – to give you a bunch of laws to make your life work and to gain approval from its god. And the burden is on you. You have make it work. It’s your discipline and commitment that makes it or breaks it for you.
For example, meditation just doesn’t float down like a cloud and take you by the hand to your happy place. You have to work it. You have to set aside the time, roll out the mat, sit Buddha-style, inhale and exhale, clear your mind, breathe in, breathe out, and keep your back straight. After twenty minutes you get up, roll up the mat, tuck it under your arm and now you’re ready to check that off your list for the day.
On the other hand, Christianity is for bad people. That’s me. I have the mat, the exercise ball, and the twister thing, all with a heavy layer of dust on them in the corner of the room. I’ve walked away from many schools of discipline. I’m sure they would have worked had I been more consistent. But consistency eludes me, along with daily bible reading, prayer, and keeping my eyes glued to Jesus every day.
The slightest distraction draws me away from him. The weather. My spiritual temperature. The latest conflict with my husband. The boring aspects of my job. Those capture my heart faster than everything Jesus has done for me.
I tell others to be aware of looking inward because there’s nothing good there. Just sin and failure. That joy in life is found in keeping a closeness with Jesus. Except I don’t do it.
That’s why I’m a bad people. Even on my best days, my life is shot full of sin. That’s why Christianity is my kind of religion. It tells me I am bad, that I have no hope, and that I am lost and without God in the world. Sounds very orphan-like to me. No Father is heaven looking after me. No church to nurture and raise me. No brothers and sisters to live with. That’s as bad as it gets.
That’s why I need Christianity. That’s where I discover Jesus. He came to rescue me because I was that bad. He merited righteousness through his perfect obedience, and paid the price for my sins through his death on the cross. And both are credited to me through faith in him alone.
That’s it. It’s that simple, and yet it cost Jesus everything. My job? To believe him. If he said he did this, then you can trust him.
Which would you rather do? Believe in Jesus or roll out that dusty exercise ball?
Talk to me.
“The hardest thing in the world is to take Christ alone for salvation and then to return to Christ alone every day of the Christian life.” – Tony Reinke
Our human nature wants to manipulate our salvation. It goes something like this: Christ did the hard part (dying on the cross) so now we’ll take it from here.
Everyone of us desires glory. We were build for it, and one day we’ll experience it, but not here. And yet, every time we use self-salvation strategies to keep God liking us and thinking we’re terrific, we end up in self-worship and self-glory.
We long to be something apart from him.
Have you noticed how burdened we feel most days with the many pressures and layers of life?
We’re addicted to living that way. We don’t understand any other kind of life.
But what would happen if we truly knew ourselves from God’s vantage point and realized we are nothing? And then be glad that Jesus is all we ever need or want?
What would our lives look like with that mindset?
“When our self-evaluation is emptied, Christ’s glory weighs heavier in our lives.” – John Newton
We need to be people like those who go to AA meetings. We need to say to ourselves in the mirror every morning, “My name is Bub, and I’m a sinner addicted to myself.”
I think we need to confess that everyday to the Lord.
He might even say to us, “Now you’re getting it. I’m here to help.”
What do you think?
If you think the bible is about good people doing wonderful things for God, you ought to read it sometime!
The fact is, the bible is about a wonderful God doing good things for bad people.
The only good guys in the bible are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Everybody else is bad.
That includes you and me.
“There is none righteous, no not one.” – Romans 3:10
The truth is not a single soul can stand before God and say, “I’ve done my best.”
We haven’t done our best, not even on our good days.
If God is going to save us and use us and make something of us, He’s going to have to do it in spite of ourselves. Not because we read the bible every day; not because we give thanks before every meal; not because we never miss church; and not because we try to be good parents, friends and neighbors.
We are promise breakers, we’re not people of integrity, and we don’t measure up to our own standards let alone God’s.
We need a God for failures.
And that’s exactly what we have.
Jesus Christ joined the human race so he could become our substitute.
He lived the life we should have lived, obeying every one of God’s commands from the heart.
That means he won God’s favor and secured a place in heaven for us.
His righteousness was charged to our accounts, so that we with all our sins and failures are declared righteous.
What happened to our sin?
God charged it to Jesus’s account, he absorbed the penalty, and died in our place on the cross.
It’s all paid for.
We stand forgiven and accepted because of the work of our Savior.
Talk to me.
How many times have you valued being right, having the last word, being firm and in control?
If you’re like me, many times.
Has anyone told you that sounds an awful lot like self-love?
We are born legalists. We love law. We delight in being right.
“That’s not fair!” shouts a crying child when another yanks her toy away.
Our legal hearts demand what is right and fair. And where does that come from? From God’s law. We’re all born with an innate sense of right and wrong. That’s because God stamped his image on us, and even though we are sinners and live with a distorted view of God, remnants of it are still there like a shattered mirror.
Satan takes full advantage of our dilemma and, as a cunning rascal, pronounces us guilty every chance he gets and demands payment for our sins. And if we’re not watchful, we’ll fall into the trap and believe it’s up to us to fix ourselves.
This can happen a million times a day.
If your thoughts are negative, accusatory, pointing out other people’s faults, blaming others, devaluing the people in your life, dishonoring them, and demanding your rights and your way, you’re listening to the devil.
Resentment and bitterness produce a heavy heart and a broody attitude, all of which indicate you’ve moved away from the gospel – Christ’s righteousness for you.
Remember, Christ showers you with grace and mercy every moment of every day because he’s paid for your sins.
We’re happy and grateful to accept that truth for us, but what’s shocking is he also gives that same grace and mercy to the people around us that are hard to live with!
So instead of resentment and bitterness, let’s give forgiveness and peace; instead of rehearsing our wounds, let’s release them to the Lord at the cross, and walk away; instead of blaming others, let’s talk about our faults first and see what happens. Since the judge of the universe has declared us righteous in Christ, we can be vulnerable with others and not be afraid of their response.
Make these your Christmas presents this month!
Talk to me.
This past Sunday the sermon was brilliant but wrong.
Instead of leaving us with the joyful reminder that through faith alone in Christ we are forgiven and loved by God, he left us with an application to live better as Christians.
We got good advice instead of good news.
I went home feeling heavy. The law does that to me. I walked away from church with the weight of my sins on my mind and felt wretched because my joy had left me.
It wasn’t until the next day that I went back to the same passage to read it in its context (rule #1 of bible study), and then I carefully read the verses that were the theme of the sermon. When I read the last verse of the chapter, the truth of the gospel exploded in my heart and I was set free again. The entire point of the passage was having faith in Christ!
The pastor longs to shepherd a healthy church. I get it. We can all improve, I know that, too. But the only way to do that is to go deeper in the gospel, marvel more at what Christ has done for us which would lead to loving him more.
We didn’t need an application lesson.
That’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway.
I tell this story because if you’re not watchful, you might go home with law instead of gospel. It happens in most churches these days. There’s a huge push to be relevant, practical and captivating. People expect a take-away every Sunday.
What is more significant?
Coming to church to serve others or coming so God can serve you from his Word, bread and cup?
Coming for the fellowship with other Christians or communing with God through Word, sacrament and prayer?
Opportunities to work and serve abound, but on God’s day, he summons us to sit and listen and eat and take delight in him. He has prepared a table before us and he is host and server.
Don’t let anybody take that away from you.
Talk to me.