Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Since Christ Is Risen...

When the Apostle Paul wrote his first epistle to the Church in Corinth, he addressed their quarreling and arguing amongst themselves and their putting more faith in their human leaders and role models than they were putting in Christ Himself.

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)

Paul addresses some other important issues, but he is distressed at the lack of unity and purpose that the collective people of God ("the church") in Corinth are experiencing while they argue about non-eternal matters and boast in the flesh. As the Apostle begins to wind down this same letter, he reminds them of the importance of the gospel:

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, emphasis added)

After dealing with various issues and problems, Paul points these believers to the most important truth of Scripture: the gospel message itself, which Paul received directly from the risen Lord Jesus. This glorious gospel declares that Jesus is the promised Messiah from the Scriptures who came to fulfill God's promises revealed through what we call the Old Testament scriptures, that He died for our sins according to God's predetermined plan (e.g. Isaiah 52:13-53:12), that He was buried (e.g. Isaiah 53:9), and that He was resurrected on the third day (Isaiah 53:10) fulfilling God's promises and demonstrating to the world that Jesus, whom we crucified, God has made both Lord and Christ (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 1:4). This glorious truth is of first importance, and is the basis for the unity in the church - whether in Corinth or anywhere else!

Instead of fighting about lesser things, Paul is encouraging these followers of Jesus to refocus their attention on the gospel and the implications of this truth, instead of debating which preacher is best or whatever else!

So what are the implications of the gospel?

Paul states plainly that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates the truth of Christianity and the reality of the coming resurrection for all people at the Judgment (1 Corinthians 15:12-28). Jesus is the appointed King of the universe and He will reign until all of His enemies are put under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:25-27), and it is only through repentance and faith that anyone is able to participate in His sacrificial death for the penalty of their own sin.

Think about this for a minute.

Really, think about it.

Is there anyone you know who is not "in Christ"?

If so, what does this mean for them?

If you are a follower of Jesus, then His resurrection proves the truth of your salvation. On the flip side, it proves the truth of the condemnation that is upon all who do not believe.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36)

Paul cuts straight to the heart of the matter in verse 34:

Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (1 Corinthians 15:34)

According to Paul, these believers need to dwell soberly on the truth of their salvation in Christ and the condemnation that is upon the world and stop sinning. Stop paying attention to unimportant matters. Stop bragging about yourself and your favorite teacher/leader. Stop putting your eyes on the world and the things that are fading away.

Stop sinning. Seriously.

But why does Paul say we need to be sober minded and stop sinning? Because some have no knowledge of God. We have received the revelation of God (remember 1 Corinthians 15:1-2), the message by which we can pass from death into life and which is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Romans 1:16-19). If this is true (and it is!), then Paul says the mere fact that there are some in Corinth who are unaware of this truth due to the church's failure to proclaim it boldly is something that they ought to be ashamed of.

Strong language.

Do you agree with Paul?

Do you think it's shameful that the church hides the light of the gospel under a basket and fights amongst themselves on doctrines and matters of theology that are of lesser importance than the gospel, which is of first importance?

Do you agree that it's shameful that we who know the truth are not willing to pay the cost to bring this message to those who are lost and perishing?

Do you not know that it is required of servants of Christ that we be found trustworthy in our stewardship of the gospel?

Who do you know who has no knowledge of God? What are you doing to put them in mind of the coming judgment and the command from the risen King for all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30-31)?

If the answer is "nothing", then Paul suggests that we, too, should be ashamed.

Fortunately, God is pleased in His grace to give us further opportunities to be found faithful and trustworthy with His gospel - even if we've been negligent in the past!

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:56-58)

God is able to use His church for the praise and glory of His name (Ephesians 3:20-21) and He has made us adequate for this task of proclaiming His glory and goodness to the world (2 Corinthians 3:4-6, 1 Peter 3:9-10). Therefore, let us no longer live for ourselves, but live for Him (Galatians 2:20) in the strength He provides, knowing that He is able to accomplish what He has begun (Philippians 1:6)!

Get equipped. Obey your King. Glorify your God.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Surpassing Value of Knowing Christ

Before being called into full-time vocational ministry, I earned my living as a salesman. I've sold many different products for several companies and I was involved in both retail and door-to-door sales realms. Sometimes sales people get a bad reputation, and honestly some of that is perfectly warranted. The fact is, that there are many methods used by sales people to influence customers to purchase their products, and some of those methods are rightfully viewed negatively by the general public!

Something I learned early on in my sales career was crucial to my success in that industry. It was the principle of how a sale is actually made. Once this principle is understood, you can begin to understand why all of the various methods and techniques employed by sales people either work or don't.

The principle is something that is relatively easily understood, and it happens in each sales situation -- often without us ever realizing that it has happened!

There are two major factors involved: 1. Cost and 2. Value. If you imagine a scale, with each item on opposite ends (i.e. Cost on one side and Value on the other), a sale is made as soon as Value outweighs Cost. Therefore, the sales persons major responsibility in making sales to consumers is to raise the weight of the Value and diminish the weight of the Cost to the consumer.

Simple in theory, more difficult in practice. The reason for the difficulty is often related to the subjective nature and personality of each individual -- we all weight Value and Cost differently. It would be a mistake of the greatest kind to think that Cost = Price, because while Price remains constant (e.g. $100.00), the actual Cost associated with that Price varies. Consider the reality that $100.00 "costs" less to a multi-millonaire than it does to a homeless person. Much more is associated with Cost than you may initially think; it includes price in addition to many other facets that affect a persons comfort, emotions, intellect, will and relationships.

Similarly, Value is not simply quantified. Many different factors contribute to Value, including sentimental reasons. The value of simple items may be drastically different between two individuals. Consider a baseball for sale at an estate sale - for one person, this item may have no more value than 25 cents because anything above that Cost does not provide enough Value for a used baseball. For another person, the Value may be priceless if this simple item has tied to it sentimental Value from fond memories of throwing this particular baseball around with a loved one that has recently passed away.

You may not think about this much, but this process is happening all the time in your life whether you realize it or not. When you weigh decisions, Value and Cost are often being weighed and driving your behavior. Understanding these principles can help you to discern why people often act the way that they do (yourself included!). It also explains why so many "high pressure" and "hard sale" techniques are consistently applied, because the method itself (coming from an obnoxious sales person) actually drives up the Value of doing whatever they are asking you to do simply so that they will leave you alone, which is highly valuable to the person who is being subjected to their sales techniques!

You may be thinking that this is an odd topic for a ministry blog ... but as a former sales person I see these same techniques being employed in the professing Church on a regular basis. Many professing Christians have turned Jesus into just another commodity, and are attempting to "sell" Him to the public using these same techniques employed by the world. In order to "make the sale" and bring someone to Jesus, we treat them like any other consumer and we begin trying to raise the Value of being a follower of Jesus while simultaneously diminishing or downplaying the Cost.

You'll see this technique employed in books, on Christian radio and television programs, and in pulpits all across North America. Jesus is preached and taught as a "life enhancer" and a highly valuable one at that, because He will make everything better! And all you have to do is say a prayer! It really is that easy!

What's interesting to me, is that Jesus used a completely different technique than the world does - if you read through the Gospels you'll see Jesus very often doing the exact opposite of what any good sales person would do... Jesus often drives up, not the Value, but the Cost of following Him!

Pick up your cross and follow me.

You might get rejected by the people closest to you.

Die to yourself and live for God.

Contrary to how easy many people make it seem, Jesus' pitch was pretty simple: Follow me, and it will cost you everything.

So, was Jesus just the worst salesman who ever lived?

I don't think so ... in fact, He was still making use of the same principle outlined above. His purpose in often trying to dissuade people from following Him by driving up the Cost, was a simple and effective method of demonstrating to everyone that those who chose to follow Him really understood the Value of a relationship with Christ and what He was offering in the Gospel.

When I was in door-to-door sales, my product had a return policy that allowed all of my customers to return their merchandise for a full refund within a certain period of time. This policy was based on State law, which is intended to protect consumers from high pressure sales techniques. Essentially, the consumer could purchase your item simply to get you out of their house and then return the item within 72 hours with no penalty. Although I was never a high pressure salesman, I still knew that buyers remorse could set in and after sleeping on it, my customers might change their mind if the Cost shifted and once again out-weighed the Value I'd demonstrated to them. As a result, I would often begin trying to talk all of my customers out of buying my product from me to be sure that the Value had really been built and that it would endure after I left! (I had very few returns, by the way!)

To those who have been awakened by the grace of God to the true Value of knowing Christ, losing everything else is no Cost at all. As a result, Jesus often ratcheted up the Cost to the point where it surpassed the Value of those whom He was speaking to, to demonstrate that they were coming to Jesus for the wrong reasons.

Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, "How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:21-23)

To know the surpassing value of salvation, of reconciliation with God, to have an inheritance in the Kingdom of His beloved Son, and to have our iniquities, transgressions and sins removed and the wrath of God along with it, is of infinitely greater Value than every other relationship, personal comfort, and promise of material prosperity combined! The Value of knowing the true and living God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent is worth more for the child of God than to gain the whole world! Therefore, when Jesus drove up the Cost, He knew exactly what He was doing: testing the individuals understanding of the Value of Christ and entering into His kingdom.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:45-46)

These worldly techniques of bringing the world to Jesus as a "life-enhancer" appeals to many who are uncomfortable, lonely, depressed, and disillusioned with the brokenness of this world. Many "decisions for Christ" have been recorded as a result of promises that Jesus "will cure what ails ya." Unfortunately, many bitter and critical former "followers of Christ" have also been the result of these worldly sales techniques, because they feel that Jesus failed to deliver on the promises of worldly happiness and comfort that they were offered by people in His name.

Jesus said, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and A MAN'S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me." (Matthew 10:34-40)

So, what about you?

Are you a follower of Jesus? If so, why? Are you a follower of His because you view Him as a life enhancer and hope that He will give you material comfort and prosperity in this world which is passing away?

Or have your eyes been opened to the reality of who Jesus is and what He's offered to you through His death, burial and resurrection? Do you understand that Jesus is not a life-enhancer, but is instead the life-giver?

When Jesus drives up the Cost of following Him, our response to Him and His call demonstrates our understanding of His Value in our hearts more than our words do (Mark 7:6-9).

Pick up your cross and follow Me.

Have you picked up your cross today? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness?

Are you serving the True and Living God?

Or are you asking the Lord to serve you and your agenda?

I know that sometimes I'm guilty of praying Lord, your will be done, while really meaning Lord, let my will be done. What about you?

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

Oh, Lord, that we would know the surpassing value of knowing you and being known by you! Deal with us, not according to our deeds, but according to your mercy and for your name's sake. Lead us, and make us a people that readily acknowledge you as Lord, rely solely on your grace, and walk with you in humility and love. Amen.