Saturday, September 26, 2009

Greater Things Are Yet To Come!

(On September 13, I preached this sermon at Bethel Baptist Church in Newell, Iowa, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary)

I am a pessimist at heart. I feel a little like a character from one of my favorite books. In “The Silver Chair” – one of CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum always manages to find the cloud in every silver lining. No matter how well things go, he is able to imagine how things are going to go horribly wrong. When things are going great for me, when the church is running smoothly, when everyone is getting along, when people are responding to the Word, I start looking around to figure out where the backlash is going to come from. I know that human beings are sinful, that our hearts are desperately wicked and that we have a powerful enemy coming against us. It is easy to lose sight of the power of God and adopt a negative, pessimistic, depressing outlook on life.

And this world gives us a lot of reasons to be pessimistic. Eight years ago this weekend, terrorists attacked our nation and killed around three thousand innocent Americans. But they did more than destroy some buildings, down some planes and kill some people. They shook our confidence, our sense that we are strong and safe in our homeland.

Since that day, we have gone through some difficult economic times. We’ve had some ups and downs, but in the last year it has been mostly down. Across this land there are people whose homes have lost most of their value, who have lost those homes to foreclosure, who have lost jobs and savings and financial security. Even if you haven’t been affected as much as some, I’m sure it is hard for you to look to the future with security and confidence.

We are also in a time of political upheaval. Whether you are a fan of the current administration or not, you have to agree that things are changing in America and that there is more political unrest, more anger out there than most of us can remember in our lifetime. Americans used to believe that their government could solve problems. Now, many believe that the government is the cause of our problems. We are involved in wars that seem to never end and are never really won, wars that take the lives our young men and women and bring hatred from around the globe.

And if you are a Christian, you cannot be pleased about the moral and spiritual direction of this nation. Can you imagine, in 1959, congress debating whether marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman? Could we have imagined then that millions of babies would be aborted annually, that moral and spiritual values that have marked this nation throughout its existence would have so quickly been abandoned?

Add to that the fact that many of you are probably going through personal struggles. Families are falling apart. We are worried about pandemic diseases such as the H1N1 flu that has been threatening our nation. You may be having family issues, financial issues,

Before I put all of you into severe depression, let me sum this up. It is a difficult world in which we live, a world that intimidates us, overwhelms us, discourages us and sometimes oppresses us.

But there is one thing in this that bothers me most. The world is wicked – that is a reality ever since Adam and Eve turned their backs on God and embraced sin. We live in a fallen world. Sinful people sin, and that sin seems to be growing as we approach the day of the blessed return of Christ. But the problem today is not with the sinful world. A sinful world does what a sinful world is supposed to do. It sins.

The problem is with the church. We are the salt of the earth, put here by God to prevent the decay of sin and death. But the salt has lost its savor. We are the light of the world, shining the light of Christ into the darkness. But the world is not seeing the light. Where is the light? Where is the salt?

I have never seen Christians as discouraged and forlorned as many of them are today. We have become spiritual pessimists. We have accepted an assumption that the church should never accept. We have given up. We believe that the power is gone. The mighty power of God that changed lives in biblical days, that turned the world upside down – we believe that that power is no longer available to us today. Things are bad and they are only going to get worse.

Here is the thesis I would like to communicate to you today. Regardless of how difficult the times, those who have been born again by the grace of God, redeemed and forgiven by the blood of Christ, adopted into God’s heavenly family, indwelled by and sealed with the Holy Spirit, given an eternal home in Heaven and empowered by God for significant service have NO RIGHT to be anything but optimistic!

In support of this thesis, I offer two stories from the Bible, one scripture, and then, of course, a song. I was considering this sermon and wishing that we could sing a certain song to close it out. Then, your pastor went over the order of the day and told me the song that we would conclude with. That was my confirmation that this was the message we needed to hear today. So, let look at these two stories from the Bible (one OT, one NT) and then draw some important conclusions.

Judges 17-21 is not a high point of the Word. In fact, if they made a movie of this scripture, and made it accurate, it would be rated R and none of you should go see it. At the end of the period of the Judges, Israel had become a pagan, idolatrous and wicked people. Thing happened in this time that were shameful beyond words. It was, perhaps, worse than the world we live in today.

God’s people treated God’s Word with disdain and went about their lives doing as they pleased. Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Does that sound familiar? It was a time of political upheaval, with leadership changing all the time. Immorality and perversion were rampant in the nation, and culture had become violent and cruel. Even the spiritual leaders have become compromised with sin. Instead of being united in the service of God, the people of God were divided and hostile to each other. In other words, things in Israel were much like they are in the church today.

It would have been evident to anyone who lived in those days that things were pretty much over for Israel. Their best days were behind them, the glory was gone. Anyone who looked at it could see that the days of the power of God, the days of God’s miraculous display of his glory in Israel and in the conquest – those days were over now. It was just a matter of time until God’s patience was exhausted and Israel was destroyed forever.

But anyone who thought that would have been wrong. As Judges closes out and 1 Samuel opens, a baby is born. That little boy’s mother did something amazing, she gave her son to God. That boy experienced the reality of God in his own life, and over his lifetime he led Israel back to God. In his later years, he anointed a young shepherd to be king and that young man established the messianic line of Israel.

Here’s the point, my friends. When things looked hopeless in Israel, God was about to do something amazing. When it looked like Israel was finished, their best days were still ahead. When Judges closed and things looked awful, Israel was less than a century away from its greatest days of glory. Greater things were yet to come and greater things were still to be done in Israel.

Now, let us move forward about a thousand years. The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. They seldom understood what he said and they often said and did things that can only be described as silly. They had left all to follow Jesus, confident that he would lead them to throw off the yoke of Rome and reestablish the nation of Israel. They bumbled and stumbled but were always confident that they would be Jesus’ right-hand men when he became King. And then, one day, it all fell apart. Jesus was arrested and put on trial for blasphemy. False witnesses lied about him and the crowds called for his blood. The messiah of Israel was put to death on cross. They were devastated, destroyed. Their whole world was blown apart.

Three days later, they were shocked when Jesus rose from the dead. They were still confused though. They kept expecting him to use his supernatural power to gather an army and chase the Roman army off their land. Jesus tried to teach them, but they never got it. Then, Jesus left. He ascended up into heaven and left them by themselves. What were they to do now? They did not have a clue. But they met together for ten days, praying and seeking God together. Circumstances told them that it was all over. This whole thing had been interesting but now, Jesus was gone. His power was gone. The opportunity was gone. That was the unmistakable message of the circumstances.

Then the power of God fell. At they were all together in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit descended on them. Suddenly, the confused and bumbling disciples became world-changing apostles who carried the gospel to the four corners of the world. You see, circumstances lied. The events of the world told them that it was all over. But in reality, God was about to release his glory in a new and powerful way. When it looked like everything was over, greater things were yet to come and greater things were still to be done in Jerusalem.

That brings us to a scripture we need to consider. John 14:12-14 says this, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” There is no question that this verse has a lot of theological background and context that needs to be considered – more than we can do today. And it is also undeniable that this verse has been as misused and abused as any verse in the Bible. Too many folks have made false claims based on the teaching of these verses.

But there is one truth that cannot be doubted or denied. God intended his people to accomplish great things. In fact, he wanted them to do greater things than he himself did in his earthly ministry. The same God who empowered the ministry of Christ would be there to empower the ministries of those who came in his name.

Jesus evangelized a small group of men who would go on to serve him. We are to work together to evangelize the world. We are meant to live lives of significant service, empowered ministry and to have a world-changing effect on this world. As God empowered his work, he empowers us to greater things.

So here’s my point, folks. It is wrong, perhaps even blasphemous, for Christians to be pessimistic, or to act as if the power of God has somehow been diminished or that his purposes will fail. I don’t know all that God is doing in this world, but I know that his power is still real. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead can strengthen us to do mighty things in the name of God.

I was at an anniversary celebration at another church several years ago, and it left me kind of sad. They had a great history and God had done great things there. But all they could talk about was what God did in the 60’s. Since then, not so much! It is easy for us to get nostalgic, to look back at the old days and think – wasn’t that great! Then, we settle down and wait for the bad times to come.

I am here to give you a simple message today. Greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done right here in this city. If Bethel Baptist Church in Newell, Iowa will yield itself to God, your greatest days are still ahead. It is not an easy world. Carnal Christians will not get the job done anymore. Christians who are drawn into the culture and adopt the values and goals of American society will not get it done. But committed Christians, those who give themselves to Jesus and walk in obedience to him, those kind of Christians have every expectation that they will experience the power of the living God and that greater things will continue to happen.

I will tell you, if you want to see greater things you must give greater things. You must lay down your lives and living sacrifices, denying yourselves and taking up your crosses to follow Jesus. You must submit to the Lordship of Christ. You must walk daily in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. You must focus on the eternal purposes of God and the needs of your community and the lost. You must walk in complete dependence on him and his power.

But God has plans for Newell. He plans to do greater things here than he has ever done. Today, as you look back on what God has done, rejoice. But no church can be healthy that ONLY looks back. We must also look forward. We must have the sure and certain hope that the power of God will do greater things in the future than he has done in the past. The good old days are still ahead if you give yourselves to God. Greater things are still to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When things fall apart in your world, do not despair. Remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When the troubles of life pile up and you do not think you can go on another minute, remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When you wonder how you can pay your bills or keep your head above water, Remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When you see your nation falling into moral decay and you despair that righteousness can ever be restored, remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When your eyes are on the problems and you can only see the victory of wickedness in this world, lift up your eyes, my friends. Jesus is alive and greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

There is a God in this city. Jesus Christ is the rightful Lord and King over Newell, over Storm Lake, over all this area. People may not recognize his right to rule, and they may walk in disobedience to him, but that does not change things. Jesus is the God of this City and he is alive. He is at work. And if you will be his people, he will do greater things through you!

Greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Significant Servants, September 6, 2009

When a brother or sister in Christ dies, we comfort ourselves with the fact that death actually brought them to a new life. One life ended and another life, a better life, a glorious life began. We can only experience that life when the life we have comes to an end. That is why the Revelation calls the death of a saint “blessed.” 1 Corinthians 15 uses the metaphor of a seed to describe the process. The seed goes into the ground and bursts forth with a new and greater existence. In the same way, we die and our bodies are planted in the ground. At the right time God will call us forth with new life, transform our lowly, mortal bodies into glorious, immortal bodies and bring us into his presence forever.

Something very similar to that happens when we are saved. We are crucified with Christ and then raised to walk a new life in Christ. Salvation is not just an act of inner therapy or a self-esteem building exercise. It is a death to sin and to the life we have without Jesus that allows us to be raised to a new life with Christ, one which evidences the presence and power of God.

You had a life without Christ. It may have been a good life in human terms, or it may have been severely broken by sin. But it was not the life God intended for you; a life in which you sought your own purposes, goals, pleasures and ambitions. Then the Holy Spirit began to bring you under conviction of sin and woo you to the Cross, the only place where salvation is found. At that point, you died. No, your heart continued to beat and you never stopped breathing. But you died. The life you had without Jesus Christ was gone.

Here’s the point of all this: when you died, your old life was gone. But like physical death ushers believers into a greater glory, the death you died with Christ brought to you a whole new life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” We come to Christ and die. The old life is gone. That is when the new life of Christ begins, a life in which Christ lives in you.

Oh, on the outside you are the same person. Your hair color does not suddenly change and you don’t grow taller. But your soul, your spirit, the inner you is a new creation of God. You now have different abilities – spiritual abilities given you by the Holy Spirit. You live your life by the resources of God. You have new priorities, set by God. And, as we have studied, you have new purposes, God’s purposes.

What I have described is standard operating procedure for a person who is redeemed by the blood of Christ. It is not an option for the super-duper extra-special saint. This is basic, entry-level Christianity. There is no provision made in scripture for anyone to receive salvation without experiencing the death I have described. Salvation, in the New Testament, is being crucified with Christ and then being raised to walk a new life in him. It is a death that brings new life. You do not add Jesus to your life and then continue on the way you have always gone. Many people have a religion, even a church experience. But unless you have died to sin and been raised to a new life in Christ, you do not have salvation. If what I have described here is foreign to your experience, you would do well to examine yourself before God and ask if you have ever truly been redeemed

That is not to say that if you still struggle with sin, you are not saved. Even those who have this new life still have struggles with the old nature. Our new life has been irrevocably given to us in Christ, but it comes into our experience in stages. It is a process, not a single point in time. At the moment you turn from your sins and trust Christ, your spirit is quickened and you are made alive in Christ. You die with Christ and receive his eternal life.

Then, as we live our lives, God goes to work to transform us, to make us like Jesus Christ. This is a lifelong process. In Luke 9:23, Jesus told us that we must take up our crosses daily to follow him. Every day you must renew your death with Christ, renewed your commitment to be a living sacrifice. The sinful nature never gives up. It is always looking to derail us, to draw us back into the life of sin. We must die daily and gradually become more and more like Jesus Christ. This process of sanctification starts at conversion and only ends at death.

But one day all our struggles will be over. When Jesus calls us from the grave and transforms our bodies into glorious, immortal and sinless bodies, the process will be over. We will become like Christ, receiving the fulfillment of all that we have been promised, all that was purchased for us at the cross. It is only in that day that the struggle with sin is finished. our bodies die and life on this earth ends. It is at that death that life eternal is consummated.

Christians are not sinless or perfect. But we have been made new in Christ. There ought to be evidence of the life of Christ in the life of the Christian. In Christ we have access to all the riches of his grace and to the power of Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Before Christ, we lived by our own sense of right and wrong, or by what people in the world said was right. In Christ, the Holy Spirit works in us to produce the righteousness of Christ and bring us in line with the holiness of God. Before Christ, our priorities were like everyone else’s; we sought personal happiness and fulfillment. But in Christ we have new priorities. We want to know Christ and serve the interests of the Kingdom. And before Christ our lives were lived for human purposes. Now, in Christ our lives are focused on the purposes that God has set for us.

God’s Universal Purposes

What are those purposes? God’s sovereignty is so complex, it is hard to boil it down to simple categories. He does so much that we will never understand or even comprehend. But there are certain consistent purposes which we see revealed in scripture which guide the activity of God in this world. I see three universal purposes consistently displayed in God’s work. We will examine those.

The Glory of God

God is always working to display his own glory. If I did that, I would be an arrogant megalomaniac. It is not my right to receive the praises of creation. But it is God’s! He is the Creator and sustainer of all that is. He is the rightful Lord of all and it is right and good that all glory would go to him at all times.

Creation itself manifests the glory of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” God revealed his existence and his sovereign power when he spoke this world into being. There is a majesty and beauty in the world God made that moves us to praise him.

I had just graduated high school and was on a trip with my youth group. One day we climbed the Chimneys, a couple of mountain peaks a few miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was in great shape at the time and I got out ahead of anyone else. I reached the top about five minutes before anyone else and was alone on the mountain. I was not walking with God at the time, but the grandeur of that place moved me to worship, to consider the glory of God. The heavens declare the glory of God.

God is to be glorified in this world by all that he has made. He, as Creator, has the right to expect that his creation will honor him. Psalm 57:11 explains the way things ought to be. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!” God is exalted, seated high upon the throne. He is at work in everything he does to display his glory in this world.

What is our response to this? It is simple. We glorify him. God works to glorify himself in this world, so we should give him the glory he deserved. Psalm 96:8 instructs us to “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” We are to enumerate the glories of God, to spell them out clearly so that all will know that our God is great, that he is exalted above all gods and that he is powerful, sovereign, holy, loving and merciful.

But it more than just words that give glory to God. It is crucial that our tongues give him praise. But it is more important that our lives do so. Human beings are the only part of this creation that resists the glory of God or tries to rob it from him. As Satan did in the ages past, we try to ascend to the throne and become like the most high. We try to receive glory instead of giving it to him. It is by abandoning our own ambitions and goals and giving ourselves fully to him that we give him the glory he deserves.

A People Redeemed

One of the chief ways that God glorifies himself is by redeeming a people for himself from among this world’s sinners. Revelation 7:9-10 describes a group of people who gather around the throne of God. After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” Before Jesus left earth, he told his disciples that they would be witnesses to the end of the earth. It seems that the command has been fulfilled. From the ends of the earth a people has been gathered to God, redeemed by the blood of Christ and devoted to the praise of his glory. Verse 15 tells us the eternal purpose of this group. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.” These people spend eternity praising God and serving him.

God is at work now in this world to redeem those people. In fact, all of history hinges on this purpose. God prepared the world for the coming of Christ and that fateful day at Calvary when our sins were paid for and salvation was won. In the Old Testament, God displayed his power to free his people from Egypt and bring them into the Promised Land. That was his great saving act. Everything else that he did among Israel was based on that act of redemption. In the New Testament, it is the cross of Christ that is central. God poured out his wrath against our sin on Jesus and we are forgiven.

So, how do we respond to this? It is simple. God has ordained that the salvation that is wrought by his sovereign grace is proclaimed by human voices. He could have appeared to people in dreams and visions to proclaim his grace. He could have sent angels to tell people the good news. But he told us to go into all of the world and make disciples. When we understand this purpose of God, there is only one fitting response, and that is that both individually and as churches we would faithfully proclaim the message of salvation in Christ.

In the Image of Christ

But God’s work does not stop at redemption. Too many Christians only think of faith as a point in time in the past and future glory. But God also has a purpose for us today. Those he redeems by the blood of Christ he transforms into the image of Christ. Romans 8:29 says that “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” In 2 Corinthians 3:18 God tells us, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

That is what the last half of the Great Commission is all about. Our task is to make disciples; a two-step process. First, we are to evangelize the lost and baptize them into Christ. Then, when people have been converted to Christ, we are to teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded them. When we teach God’s Word, the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to do the work of God among us.

And so, that is our response to this purpose of God. We teach the Word. In all we do, we teach people what the Bible says. And we do not just convey information, we proclaim life-changing truth and call people to submit to it and obey everything that is taught in it.

The First Step

This is the first step in becoming significant servants of God. When God was going to do a mighty work, he revealed his purposes to his people. Those people had to submit their lives to the purposes of God instead of to their own. If we would see the power of God in our lives, we must yield ourselves to the purposes of God. We have studied three universal purposes that the Scriptures show us govern all of God’s activities in this world. We must yield our lives and our churches to the service of these purposes. God may have individual purposes which he will work among us, as he did in the biblical days. Those God will make plain to those who seek him. But our first duty is to submit to the revealed purposes of God. If we are serving God’s universal purposes, all other things will be made plain. If we are not serving the universal purposes, we cannot ask God to reveal individual purposes.

The first step could not be plainer. If you want to be a significant servant of the Living God, yield to his universal purposes for your life.

Playing the Race Card to Stifle Debate

Let me say two things at the start of this little tirade.

1) I am not a fan of Barack Obama. Not even a little. I have yet to find a policy area in which he and I agree. I do not believe that my opposition to the president has anything to do with his race.

2) I think Joe Wilson was way out of line to shout "You lie" during the president's recent address. That kind of thing usually causes a backlash and it has in this case. It was wrong and foolish to stray from civility.

But the backlash to Wilson's comments have become startling and open a can of worms I would like to address.

I think there is an attempt on the part of the American left to limit the ability of conservative Americans to dissent from the president's policies by playing the race card. The left wing has been making shrill accusations of their own, intimating that the motive for Wilson's statement and last week's "tea party" in DC was racial in nature.

Maureen Dowd began the foolishness on Sunday in the (surprise) New York Times when she wrote, "I've been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer ... had much to do with race, but Wilson's shocking disrespect for the office of the president -- no Democrat ever shouted 'liar' at W. when he was hawking a fake case for war in Iraq -- convinced me: Some people just can't believe a black man is president and will never accept it." She also wrote that Wilson "clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber."

So, opposition to Obama is rooted in people not wanting to be told what to do by a black man? Does she have any evidence that Wilson is a racist? Does she offer any? In the absence of any evidence to support her claims, I am left with the conclusion that this is an ingenious way to stop people from dissenting from the president's viewpoints - a blatant attempt to intimidate the opposition. Note how she describes the opposition to the president's policy, "shrieking lunacy."

During the runup to Wilson's rebuke on the House floor this week, a Democrat from Georgia, Rep. Hank Johnson, accused Wilson of lending aid and comfort to the KKK. He warned that if Wilson did not receive a rebuke, people would don "white hoods and white uniforms again" and start "riding through the countryside." Here is his full comment. "He did not help the cause of diversity and tolerance with his remarks -- if I were a betting man I would say it instigated more racist sentiment. And so I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside intimidating people. ... That's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked, and Congressman Wilson represents it. He's the face of it."

Why is it that so often, calls to "civility" are only directed at one side. Interesting that Wilson was rebuked, but this kind of race-baiting charge is accepted without question.

The capper, of course, was the comment of that great Baptist statesman, held up as the model of virtue and civility, Jimmy Carter. He said, "I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American. I live in the South, and I've seen the South come a long way and I've seen the rest of the country that shared the South's attitude toward minority groups at that time ... and I think it's bubbled up to the surface, because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country."

Again, he offers no evidence to support this harsh accusation. Opposition to the president is racially motivated because Jimmy says so.

Here is my thesis: the American left wants to intimidate the opposition into silence. If you do not support Barack Obama, you are a racist, even if you do not see it. You are supporting the efforts of the KKK and advancing racism in the land.

I say, do not listen. Do not be intimidated. If you do not like the policies of Barack Obama, speak out. Give reasoned, articulate expression to your opposition. Don't get angry and yell and shout - that just feeds into those who would play the race card to intimidate you. Do not let Jimmy Carter stop you from speaking out.

I do not care if Barack Obama is black or white. I care that he is plunging our nation into a debt load from which it may never recover. George W was criticized for driving the nation into huge debts in the order of about 400 billion a year. The debt next year is estimated to be 1.85 TRILLION dollars.

I do not want our nation's healthcare system to be socialized or even some kind of system like that. The government has not run anything well except an army (and sometimes, it has trouble with that).

My opposition to the president has little to do with the color of his skin. I oppose abortion, so I have to oppose Obama. I cannot understand why the government is giving people "cash for clunkers" when we are already drowning in debt. I think "cap and tax" is a bad idea.

If you like Obama, that is your right. I oppose his policies and the direction he wants to take America. And I will not let Jimmy Carter, Hank Johnson and Maureen Dowd intimidate me into silence by accusing me of racism.

It is about bad policies, not skin color.

(All the quotes here were pulled from news reports on the story)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Significant Servants, August 30, 2009

A disturbing number of American churches are either statistically plateaued or declining. My denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is as aggressively evangelistic as any other denomination and yet most of our churches fall into that category. And, if we are honest, many of the churches that are growing are doing so simply by attracting people from other churches. It is rare today to see a church that is growing by reaching the lost and is having a genuine impact on its community. And this should not be. We as individuals are meant to be significant. In the same way, churches are meant to be significant; reaching the lost, discipling the saved and impacting the kingdom of darkness in the name of our Savior and Lord. It is hard to argue that the American church is healthy.

Denominations and church growth experts spend their time trying to figure out what is wrong and what we can do about it. The solution many have come to is often called the “purpose-driven” model. To that concept (if not to every application of it) I say amen. It is apparent that many churches have forgotten why we exist and what we are here to accomplish. We are not social clubs or educational societies. Churches are not institutions to be maintained and promoted. We are the Body of Christ; his hands and feet in this world. We are the army of God; soldiers serving the King to advance the Kingdom. If churches have forgotten that they need to reconnect with their God-given purpose. If we have become concerned with entertaining people than advancing the Kingdom, more concerned with growing the church than growing the Kingdom, then we need to be reminded of the marching orders God gave us in the Great Commission. We need to remember our purpose and be driven by it.

What disturbs me, though, is the idea some have that it is our job to determine what the purpose of our church is. We are told to work together to determine a purpose statement that is unique to our church, then develop objectives and goals to help us reach that purpose. It is not our right to determine the purpose of our lives or our churches. That has already been set by our Lord and our duty is to obey him.

We are trying to discern a pattern in the way that God works through his people, how he displays his glorious power through them. As we begin this process, I would ask you to consider an important question. How did God work in scripture? Is there a single time you can think of in which God came to a people and told them they needed to clarify their purpose, form a focus group to discuss their objectives and goals and move toward the purpose they had agreed on. I see a different pattern. It seems to me that God’s purpose is revealed from him rather than decided by human efforts.

We are studying the pattern for becoming a Significant Servant, someone who accomplish eternal ministry in this life. God means his children to be significant, to make a difference. You are not meant to squander your life in temporal pursuits, but to invest your life in the things of God and see an eternal return on that investment. But how? How do we get there? In the last chapter, I spelled out a pattern in the way God works that I have seen as I have studied the Word of God. Today, we will begin looking at the first step.

Some Examples

Noah was just going about his work, living his life as a good man in an evil world on the day that God appeared to him. He had no idea what God was doing in the world. Then, God spoke. “I am about to judge this evil world.” God revealed his purpose to Noah, that he was about to bring a worldwide flood to destroy the wicked world and start over. The purpose of God was revealed to Noah. Noah did not figure it out through his own creativity or innovative thought. God told him what he was about to do.

Abraham was going about his business when God suddenly appeared and told him that he had a unique purpose for his life. This childless man was going to be the father of God’s chosen people. In fact, he would be the father of many nations. God would bless him and through him he would bless the world. This was not some grandiose scheme worked up in the heart of Abraham while he was living in Ur. This was the purpose of God revealed to him.

Moses was a shepherd in the desert of Midian. Every day was pretty much like the day before it – desert, mountains and sheep. We do not know much about what he was doing, but we are pretty sure that he was not organizing focus groups to discuss how he could accomplish great things in the name of Yahweh. Then, God appeared to him in a burning bush and the course of the reset of his life was set. God said it was time to release the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. God had a purpose and a plan and he revealed it to Moses.

God told Joseph that he intended for him to rule. God revealed his purposes to Joshua, to give him and the people he led the land of Canaan as their inheritance. God revealed his plan to make Gideon into a mighty warrior against Midian. Are you getting the picture? Samuel was a child in the temple when God spoke to him and revealed his purposes. David was herding sheep and playing his harp when God sent Samuel to anoint him as king. God appeared to an innocent maiden and told her that Messiah was coming into the world and that she would be his mother.

Here is the significant point. God’s purposes were revealed, not discerned. God did not ask people to develop purpose statements. He revealed his purposes to them and asked them to fall in line with that. Step one toward Significant Service is to yield to the purposes that God has revealed. We have to go to God’s word and see those great purposes which God has revealed that guide all his dealings with mankind. We also have to seek God until his purposes for our lives and churches are made clear. It is a clear and consistent pattern in God’s Word. God’s purposes are revealed to man not discerned by man.

Perhaps it is a semantic distinction. I know that proponents of purpose-driven lives and churches would agree that it is the purposes of God that are to guide us. But I think we sometimes forget this. It is not our job to figure out the course of our lives or to figure out how we can accomplish great things for God. It is our duty to seek, through the Word and the ministry of the Spirit, to figure what God’s purposes and plans are to yield ourselves to them. The great acts of God’s power all started in the heart of God not in the mind of man.

In this chapter, we will look at the importance of yielding our lives to the purposes of God. Then, we will study what the Bible says about the purposes of God. It is important to realize that this is step one in the process of becoming Significant Servants of God. It does not good to go on to step two, or three, or four or five if we do not do what is required in step one. This is fundamental to biblical Christianity.

An American Heresy

I believe that American Christianity has developed a mutated form of the true faith, a uniquely American false Christianity. Perhaps it is in evidence in other parts of the world, as well. But it has nearly taken over the mindset of American Christianity. We have developed the false idea that God exists to help you find personal happiness and fulfillment as you seek to accomplish your purposes in life.

Human beings live their lives for certain temporal purposes. We want to be happy and fulfilled – common sentiments which are not inherently sinful. But we tend to devote our lives to seeking certain things which we think will help us achieve that purpose – happiness and fulfillment. We seek money and the things that money buys because we buy into the greed and materialism that has so dominated the American mindset. You can only truly be happy if you have the luxuries and comforts that everyone else has, right? We seek ways of making our lives comfortable; free from pain, hurt and suffering in any way. We tend to believe we have the right to expect easy, enjoyable and pain-free lives. We also seek lives of pleasure and fun. Ask 100 people walking down the street what they want out of life and you will get a preponderance of answers that can be translated something like this, “I just want to have fund and be happy.” Our entertainment industry is one of the largest in the land and we honor celebrities regardless of how little they do to be worthy of that honor. Finally, we seek control over our own lives and often over the lives of those around us. These are basic human purposes: a life of happiness and fulfillment marked by prosperity, ease, fun and control.

Here’s where we have diverted from the faith revealed in scriptures. We have created a Christian faith designed to help people achieve their human goals. The High Priestess of American False Religion (Oprah Winfrey) said once on her show that all religions have the same goal; they want to help us figure out how to be happy. If it were just Oprah, that would be no big deal. But there is a whole wing of the Christian church which is devoted to the teaching that the heart of God is to make us healthy and wealthy. God exists to help us find earthly wealth and health – to make us happy here on earth. One Christian (?) bestseller promises “Your Best Life Now.” And even in evangelical churches, we often present Christianity as if it is God’s way for you to find happiness and fulfillment here on earth. Essentially, in this model, God is the wind in our sails, helping us to be what we want to be, do what we want to do and achieve what we want to achieve. Regardless of how widespread this concept is, it is still false.

The Essence of True Christianity

We have missed the sine qua non of biblical Christianity. God is not here to help us fulfill our purposes and goals. He calls us to die to self and yield our lives to his purposes. I fear that sometimes we read scripture with blinders on, not seeing the hard, harsh truths that are often revealed there. We ignore the parts about loving our enemies, about not worrying about anything, about rejoicing always. And we ignore the hard truth that those that Jesus calls to eternal life he first calls to death. There is no salvation, no sanctification, no abundant life and no spiritual power until we die.

Do you think I am making this up? Perhaps you remember what Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. There is no way to have the life of God without dying to the life we had without God. Matthew 10:38 reinforces the thought and makes it clear that this is fundamental to our faith. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” There is no Christian option which avoids deny oneself and following Christ in death.

In our natural condition, we seek the joys and pleasures, the passions and desires of this world. In the American False Religion, we maintain that God wants to help us achieve these earthly passions. But when we look at Galatians 5:24, we see a very different picture. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” God does not sanctify and satisfy the flesh and its desires. He crucifies them. Galatians 6:14 says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The Christian does not seek the rewards of, the approval of or the pleasures of this world. The world is crucified to us and we are crucified to the world. We reject the treasures of earth for those in heaven. Instead of insisting on ease and comfort, we willingly endure hardship to serve the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ. We no longer settle for the pleasures of this world but seek something higher and more noble, the glory of God. And when you submit to Christ and his purposes you no longer seek the power and control that those in this world crave. The call to Christ is a call to abandon the purposes of life that have been our focus so that we can embrace the purposes that God has set for us. You cannot experience the life of God until you turn from the life you had without him.

Romans 12:1-2 spells out clearly what God wants from us. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What do you know about the sacrifices of the Old Testament? The sacrifice was slaughtered and burned on the altar. That is the call of God on us – to lay down our lives as sacrifices to him. We are dead to sin, to the world, to life without God.

But we are not like the Old Testament sacrifices. We are not dead animals, we are living sacrifices. We lay down our lives as sacrifices and we receive the life of Christ. We are transformed into new beings by the life that Jesus Christ gives us. Galatians 2:20 builds on this concept. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We have been crucified, but we are not dead. Jesus Christ now lives in us. Every time I baptized, I quote Romans 6:4. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. We die to self, crucified with Christ on the cross and then are raised to walk a new life, a life of obedience to the purposes of the Father.

So, my friend, have you experienced that which is demanded in the New Testament? Have you died with Christ, died to the world and its passions, to sin and the flesh? Have you been raised to a new life in which the glory of God and his purposes drive your life? There are no blessings, no powers, no spiritual growth promised to anyone but those who die with Christ and then deny themselves daily to follow him. Please do not listen to the false teachings of American false religion that tells you that you can have the blessing and power of God to serve your own purposes. It just doesn’t work that way.

What are the purposes of God? Come back next time and we will examine those.