America the worshipful.

Preface: I have tried my very best to explain that I am proud to be an American. Please read this blog with an open mind and heart. I am by no means seeking to slander the church or the United States. 

This Tuesday our Nation celebrates the Fourth of July, an annual holiday in which we celebrate our independence as a nation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I love this time of the year! It’s a time when families gather together and grill awesome food, shoot fireworks and celebrate the freedoms we have in this great nation. And don’t get me wrong, we live in a great nation! Yes America has its problems, serious problems, but it is still the greatest place to live in the world. I am proud to be a citizen of America. I thank God that He created me and allowed me to exist at this time in the greatest country in the world. I am also thankful for the men and women who gave their lives for the freedoms we currently enjoy, many of whom I call family. Furthermore, I would have no problem serving in our Nations military if my country needed me. Truly.

That being said, I must confess that as a churchman, I have always been uneasy about how many churches conduct their worship services this time of the year. It’s typical for churches (especially in the Bible-belt) to conduct what is known as a “Patriotic” service. The traditional Patriotic songs (sometimes printed in the hymnals) are sung, like “America the Beautiful and the “Star-Spangled Banner“. Some churches even begin their services by reciting the pledge of Allegiance, as a large American flag adorns the front of the sanctuary. Red, white & blue decorations cover the sanctuary from the pews to the pulpit. Those who have served in our Nations military are typically honored, sometimes by performing a flag demonstration. The Pastor typically preaches on our Nations history; how the puritans came to America to escape religious persecution or how the founding fathers were Christian or how we need to get back to where we were at our Nations founding or how the mess we are in as a Nation is because they took the Bible out of the schools.

Let me be clear: I have no problem reciting the pledge of Allegiance nor singing our Nations patriotic songs. I have no problem with Ministers voicing their opinion on our Nations history and progression. I do have a problem, however, with churches forsaking the worship of God for a “Patriotic” service.

I want you to ask yourself something: Why do we gather for worship on Sundays?

Is it…

  • To share the gospel with the lost
  • To sing hymns and give tithes
  • To be reminded of what the church teaches
  • To gather together with friends and family
  • To celebrate the freedoms we possess; our Nation
  • To earn favor with God and man

If you answered “yes” to any of the above statements, I strongly encourage you to reconsider. Just think about the meaning of the words “Worship Service/Gathering”.

Yes, churches are to share the gospel with the lost, gather together as friends and family and collect tithes, but that is not its primary purpose. The purpose of the church’s gathering on the Sabbath is the worship and adoration of God by the administration of the sacraments, the expository exultation of Gods Holy word, and the singing of praises by Gods people. The worship gathering is when the community of faith gathers to glory in and find hope, peace, assurance & joy in serving our God.

To put it simply: the Sabbath is not about you. It’s not about us. It’s not about America. God created the sabbath for us to worship Him. It is a time for the redeemed of God to rest in the excellencies of our Savior.

Why would we model our services any other way?

Who are we gathering to worship on Sunday?

As a Children’s Pastor I have caught flack over the years for not having our children recite the pledge of allegiance during Vacation Bible School. This year I finally caved and gave in, not wanting to cause any unnecessary division. I have tried repeatedly over the years to state my case (it’s not due to lack of patriotism, but rather I find no Biblical basis for it), but to no avail. As a young minister, this church/patriotism conundrum disturbs me greatly. It is not the church’s job to honor our Nation. It’s certainly not the church’s job to forsake the worship of God for the worship of our Nation.

We also have to remember that as faithful followers of Jesus, we are citizens of a greater country: the Kingdom of God. The United States of America is nothing but a drop in a bucket compared to Kingdom of God, which is composed of every tribe, people and Nation throughout human history.

Imagine yourself before the throne of God, singing hymns to God along with the angelic host. After singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD God almighty”, do you think you would turn to the hymn “America the beautiful”?

I highly doubt it.

Not because you are not a patriot or “un-American”. You would not sing that hymn in the presence of God because…you are in the presence of God! It’s not appropriate to sing praises to anyone else before the throne of God. When we gather for worship we are called to celebrate our sovereign, gracious, merciful God…and nobody else.

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. -Hebrews 11:16

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
    and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
    behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.

-Isaiah 40:15

 

 

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“Choosing” Jesus.

In April 2001, my mother took my brothers and I to visit my grandma in Athens, Alabama. We stayed the weekend, attending the morning service at Salem Springs Baptist Church, where my Grandpa served as pastor before passing away in 1997. I will never forget that Sunday. I wish I could remember the Pastors name, or even the text that was preached, the only thing I can remember is feeling Gods unmistakable call to repent of my sins and trust in Him. I began to weep during the invitation. My Mother and Grandma were a little alarmed, because I had already made a profession of faith several years prior. After church I told my Mom that I would like to speak with our pastor the following Sunday when we were home. We did, and I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ the next Sunday.

I’ve thought about that Sunday for many years now. What made me choose to become a Christian? By all accounts, I was already a Christian. I had already repeated the sinners prayer and was baptized. I knew Jesus was Gods son and that He died on the cross for my sins. I had been a church kid all of my life and possessed an adequate understanding of the Bible. Before that weekend I never questioned my salvation or even wondered if it was genuine. What was it about that morning service that shook me so strongly?

Is the decision to follow Jesus similar to all the other decisions we make throughout our lifetime? College or workforce? Netflix or exercise? Chicken or steak? Suv or Mini-van? Beard or no beard?  Did I simply desire to better my future by choosing eternal life instead of eternal suffering? If that’s the case, then why doesn’t everyone choose to follow Christ?

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. -John 15:16a

Jesus told His disciples that they did not seek Him out, but rather He sought them. The Son of God did not host a series of tryouts for those seeking to become His disciples. He did not even go to the tabernacle to pick from the best and brightest. Jesus chose twelve, and only twelve, and appointed them to be His Apostles. Ironically, those who desired to be his disciples were told to “Leave the dead to bury their own dead“.

In the same way, God chose Abram. There were many people to choose from, even after the destruction of mankind by the flood, and yet God called Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans. God promised Abram that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed“, even though his wife Sarai was barren.

God fulfilled His promise to Abram by choosing Israel. There were certainly many nations and people groups to choose from, and yet God chose one people to proclaim His glory. God tells His people,

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Similarly, God chooses His church. When Jesus foretells His coming return, he refers to His children as the “elect“, which is another word for chosen.

Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

For the very same reason, the Apostle Paul is able to call the Christians in Colossae “Gods chosen ones.” They did not choose God. God chose them and called them to a life of holiness. After elaborating over Gods everlasting love, Paul rhetorically asks the church in Rome, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” Meaning that whomever God has chosen will be justified by the blood of Christ.

“And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” -Rom 8:28

I do not believe that I choose to become a Christian. I believe that God chose me before I even came into existence. I do not say this with pride, I am simply admitting that God is sovereign over all His creation. This is in fact what the Bible teaches. Consider the beautiful introduction to the book of Ephesians,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved…In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,  so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

If you are a Christian, it is by Gods grace alone. It was not because of your intelligence, works, wisdom, social standing or cultural context that you decided to follow Christ. A Christian has no grounds for boasting in regards to his salvation.

 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Cor 1:26-29

We “choose” to follow Christ because He has chosen us. The effectual (Effective) call of Christ only comes to those who have already been chosen by God. This truth should overwhelm us with thankfulness and deep gratitude for the grace of God. We deserve death, and yet Christ has given life to all He has chosen. If you have been purchased by the blood of Christ, you were chosen by God.

God hates.

I hate abortion.

I do not believe there is anything more indicative of man’s depravity than the acceptance of infanticide. In ancient times, parents with unwanted children would simply “expose” their children to nature (leaving infants in fields, wooded areas, or by tossing them into the sea). Today, we simply tear our children limb from limb with a vacuum for cheap in unclean facilities. We live in a world where an abortion costs 400 dollars, and adoption can cost 40,000 dollars. It’s much easier to end life than nourish it. All for the sake of convenience.

Over the years the arguments have changed. The argument that an infant is merely a fetus and not a living-functioning human being is being proven false as we continue to advance technologically. Ironically, science is our greatest ally in this respect.  Now, the Pro-choice argument is that it is a woman’s right to end the life of her child, so long as it is still inside her. Abortive rights have become a feminist issue.

I say all of this not to inform you on the horrors of abortion (hopefully you will educate yourself on this issue), or the sinfulness of Pro-choice advocates. I say this because I want to prove a point: You hate whatever threatens what you love. The greater the love you have for someone or something, the greater your hatred for whatever opposes it. The more you love, cherish and celebrate life, the more you will hate that which takes life away.

It’s the same with sin. God hates sin. Yes, God is full of grace and love (He is love), but He is not some sentimental being who overlooks sin and pardons the unrepentant. God sent His very Son to die for your sin. Sin brings death, and God hates death. Do not be like the Jews who presumed that God would save them simply because He was patient and merciful. They practiced external rituals in order to make themselves appear righteous, but deep down they knew they were not. They simply hardened their hearts and presumed that God would save them regardless.

Remember this, God forbids because He loves. God hates because He loves. He does not restrict for your displeasure. God is for your life.

Do you suppose, O man–you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself–that you will escape the judgement of God?

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

-Romans 2:3-4 (ESV)

Imitation love

Love & tolerance.

Incredibly ambiguous words. We are starting to hear the term “tolerance” more and more in our postmodern culture. Tolerance is praised by the media landscape, the academy, and our government. Everyone desires to be known as tolerant. People who are deemed “tolerant” become instantly worthy of praise. But what does the word “tolerant” mean?

I’ll give you an example of what true tolerance is. My wife believes that steamed broccoli is delicious, even after I assure her it is not. Broccoli is disgusting. It becomes even more disgusting when it is steamed on the oven. I believe there is nothing in this world that can make broccoli taste more appealing. It smells bad, tastes bad, it even looks bad!

Marissa disagrees. She thinks that broccoli is delicious, especially with cheese. Marissa could have steamed broccoli with every meal…Marissa and I respectfully disagree. I believe she is wrong and broccoli is disgusting, and she believes I am wrong and broccoli is delicious. However, we both respect one another and can live with the fact that the other person is wrong.

Allow me to give a greater (and more serious) example. My Pastor Jake and I disagree on a few things in regards to scripture. Jake believes that Jonah physically died before being swallowed up by the great fish. Scripture never says that Jonah died, but it does hint around the fact that Jonah was “brought back from the pit.” And that could certainly be interpreted as meaning that Jonah was brought back to life. Another passage that supports his interpretation is Matthew 12, when Jesus tells the Pharisees that…

“No sign will be given to (this generation) except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Jesus certainly died and was laid in the earth for three days and nights, so it’s safe to assume that Jonah was dead as well, before miraculously being brought back to life by God. I believe that Jakes interpretation is reasonable, but I disagree with it. I do not believe Jonah died, because the text never specifically says that he did. We respectfully disagree with one another. This is not an essential issue, so we can agree to disagree.

But that is not the kind of tolerance that is being promoted in our society today. Our postmodern understanding of tolerance is very different than the examples I have provided. Tolerance today is understood as being “accepting” and “non-judgmental.” Tolerance no longer means that we can “agree to disagree,” it means that we must agree, affirm, and conform.

For example, Jake and I are not considered “tolerant” if we accuse each other of being wrong, even if we do so in a respectful manner. Jakes interpretation of Jonah is correct, and yet so is mine. Somehow, we are both correct in our interpretations. If we are to be considered tolerant, in today’s social climate, we must agree that both of our interpretations are correct, we must affirm that to be the case, and by doing so we conform to the idea that we may never know who is absolutely correct.

…Except one of us is wrong. Jonah could not have been alive and dead at the same time. Either I’m wrong or Jake’s wrong. We both cannot be right. Do you see the issue here? Postmodern tolerance is the enemy of truth. Postmodern tolerance would have the world sacrifice truth in order to be politically correct. I’m right, you’re right, everybody is right. There is no such thing as right and wrong, good or bad, truth or falsehood. It’s all a matter of opinion.

You have experienced this in our culture haven’t you? Spend a little time watching the news or surfing the internet, this false definition of tolerance is everywhere. To make matters worse, people who are considered to be the most “tolerant” are typically very intolerant. And those who are deemed intolerant are castigated, mocked and given little credence. Tolerance is promoted as being peaceful and non-judgmental, as long as you conform and stay in line. G.K. Chesterton, a British theologian in the 20th century, wisely remarked,
Tolerance is the virtue of a man without conviction.

Unfortunately for the world, Christianity is a faith that requires certain convictions. We must believe in absolute truth because we have encountered the way, truth and life. To be a Christian, one must confess Jesus as God, Lord and Savior. There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)

What’s most unfortunate is that many Christians, in order to remain culturally relevant, have jumped on the secular bandwagon and are misusing Jesus as their “tolerance” spokesman. How many times have you heard statements like these, “Jesus says “Do not judge,” “Come as you are,” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” “Jesus hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, so why don’t you all stop judging!” “Aren’t we supposed to love one another? Jesus commanded us to love people, no matter who they were.”
The only problem with those arguments is that they are half truths. J.I. Packer says this: “A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” Jesus certainly did say “Do not judge,” but if we read that verse in its context we discover that Jesus was actually encouraging us to judge…only do so correctly. Jesus says we must first take the log out of our own eye in order to see clearly to take the speck out of our brothers eye. That is probably the most misused teaching of Jesus.

Jesus never said, “Come as you are.” Never. Not one time. In fact, Jesus’ first sermon was this, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17) The biblical understanding of conversion always places an emphasis on repentance. We must confess our sins to God in order to be saved. Here is what Jesus truly said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) But you wouldn’t know that if you listened to many Christians.

Did Jesus hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes? Yes. Did they continue in sin after encountering Jesus? Absolutely not. Matthew and Zacchaeus gave up their trade, and Jesus told the woman at the well to “Go and sin no more.” Jesus hardly gave approval to any sinful lifestyle. When the Pharisees accused Jesus of hanging out with the undesirables, He said “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)Did you catch that? Jesus ministered to sinners in order for their repentance. Jesus ministered to them; He did not party with them. Ironically, those who like to use this excuse have more in common with the Pharisees than the sinners.

Does Jesus command us to love everybody? Yes. Jesus even commands us to love our enemies. But what does that kind of love look like? This is where I believe many misled Christians get it wrong…They believe that love is synonymous with tolerance. They think that loving somebody means giving affirmation to their lifestyle. If they do not have the courage to do that, they simply keep their mouths shut. Although they know the truth, they refuse to voice it in order to not appear “intolerant.”

Anyone who has ever worked with children knows that love and tolerance are not synonymous. Is it loving for a parent to allow their children to continue in disobedience? No. A parent who fails to discipline fails to love. To Marissa and my horror, my daughter Evelyn loves to play with the electrical outlets in our home. We had to buy those little plastic covers that plug into the outlets like all good parents do. Do you think they deter my daughter? No, that’s my job. It’s my job to protect my daughter by keeping her away from the outlets. It would be incredibly unloving (perhaps evil) for me to allow my daughter to fool around with the electrical outlets.

And yet, I see so many parents “tolerating” their children’s disobedience. I often wonder if this false view of tolerance invading our society is simply an extension of bad parenting? Culture does begin in the home.

But love is not tolerance. And Jesus was not some dude who taught tolerance and political correctness…In other words, Jesus is not the Dalai Lama. Jesus is not a political pawn that can be misused and misquoted in order to push a worldly agenda. Jesus is love, and love can be hard…but it’s infinitely greater than tolerance.

Were.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. -1st Corinthians 6:9-11

In the Bible belt, church attendees are taught (verbally or otherwise) to dress presentably on Sunday mornings. I have often heard it said, “You must dress your very best for Jesus!” As if our omniscient Lords presence is relegated only to the gathering place of the church. Now I am not against dressing up for church gatherings; I myself tend to wear khakis and a button up. But I think many of us understand the absurdity of “dressing up” for Jesus. As God told the prophet Samuel, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

When the church focuses on external appearances instead of the internal conditions of the heart, legalism, which is a false gospel, tends to flourish. The Apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth (cited above) to pursue righteousness and holy living because of the radical salvation they have experienced in Christ Jesus. Notice what kind of people make of the church in Corinth-

  • Former sexual deviants
  • Former idolaters
  • Former adulterers
  • Former homosexuals
  • Former robbers
  • Former(ly) greedy/manipulative people
  • Former abusers
  • Former con-artists

Now I ask the question, would your church welcome these people on Sunday mornings?

Is a man or woman living in sin allowed to come as they are and hear the gospel message?

Does your community know that you accept people, all people, for worship services on Sunday morning?

Now I am not advocating that we allow unrepentant sinners to become members of Christ church, the church is the body of Christ. But do we open our doors to the lost in our community? Or have our church services merely become “echo chambers” in which the truths proclaimed are agreed by everyone in attendance?

When the church focuses on external appearances, we subtly teach our people that they must earn their righteousness before God. They must “dress up” or “clean up” their lives before coming to know Jesus. That is not the gospel. There is a reason Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”. Jesus invited them to come as they were, but they did not stay that way. Tax collectors became philanthropists. Prostitutes became missionaries. Murderers became apostles. Cowards became evangelists.

And such were some of you.

Jesus v.s. The Beatles

Why?

That’s the question many of you are asking upon seeing the title of this blog post. It’s a ridiculous title, regardless of what you believe about Jesus or the Beatles. But my friends and family in Walnut Ridge, AR know exactly why I have chosen such a title.

beatles sign

Many members from a local church in town have decided to remind everyone that Jesus, the God of the universe and creator of all things, is in fact more popular than the Beatles.

Now I know what you are thinking. What…..why?

Allow me to explain.

First, some history (for those unfamiliar with The Beatles history in Walnut Ridge).

beatles

In September of 1964, The Beatles landed at a small airport in Walnut Ridge. Hands were shaken, photographs  taken, and then they boarded a plane to New York City to conclude their first American tour. At that time, the Beatles were undoubtedly the most popular Rock n’ Roll band. The mid sixties was the height of Beatlesmania around the world. For the small, agrarian town of Walnut Ridge, this was a big deal. Although the encounter was brief, many citizens within Walnut Ridge can nostalgically retell the day they got to meet The Beatles, who were not only a popular band back then, but a legendary one today.

In an effort to promote the community, Walnut Ridge has embraced this brief encounter with arguably the worlds greatest rock band. For the past three years the city has held an annual festival celebrating the Beatles, entitled “Beatles at the Ridge.” Store owners decorate their buildings with the faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Bright colors and song lyrics are seen on the sidewalks, storefronts, and even faces of the citizens in Walnut Ridge. Bands from all over the United States attend, as well as an imitation Beatles band which caps off the festival. Vendors rent booths selling food and a variety of different knick-knacks, much like you would see at a fair.

store

It’s a wonderful festival. Now I know the cynical always want to ask: All this because the Beatles landed briefly in Walnut Ridge?

And I understand. I have made that comment myself. But it’s not about the Beatles. It’s about a small community coming together (no pun intended) and having fun. The festival boosts the morale of its citizens as well as its economy. One local business owner told me that having the festival was like having an additional month in the year!

Now, to the sign.

If you are still scratching you head trying to figure out why a church would be concerned about a popularity contest between God and The Beatles, allow me to enlighten you.

In an interview in 1966, John Lennon made the comment that the Beatles had become more popular with the youth of the world than Jesus Christ. John expressed his belief that Christianity was in decline, largely due in part to the conduct of Christians.

When news of this interview reached the Southern United States, The Beatles were banned from many radio stations and their records publicly burned in protest. The Ku-Klux Klan, hardly recognized as a “christian” organization (no matter what they say otherwise), began picketing Beatles concerts by nailing records to burning crosses and delivering threats.

joh lennon

But wait a second, did John blaspheme Jesus’ name? Let’s take a look at the official transcript of what John said in his interview with Maureen Cleave.

‘Christianity will go, ‘It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.’

As already noted, John believed that Christianity would “shrink”. He believed that the Christian religion would become less and less popular in the United Kingdom, and the United States. Was he wrong? I don’t think so. Ever since the end of the second World War Christianity has been “shrinking” in the old world. Ironically, many abandoned cathedrals and monasteries are now popular recording studios for musicians. In the U.S. the same can be said, but at a slower rate.

BEATLES U.S. TOUR PICKETERS

In regards to popularity, Johns statement taken by itself, appears confusing. Was John saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus? And if he did, what was the point? What’s the point in saying, “We are more popular than Jesus“?

Was that the point John was trying to make? Because if it was, not only is he wrong, but apparently incredibly arrogant as well. Even atheists would agree that Jesus is by far more popular than the Beatles. But then again, is this a popularity contest?

Like all things, we must examine Johns comments in light of its context. And we must allow John to clarify his comments for us. This calls for reason. Unfortunately I am convinced that many people are incapable of reason, especially when they feel their belief systems threatened. So before we light our torches and grab pitchforks (like the KKK), let’s study this further.

In a television interview months later, John was asked to respond to his previous comment and to the reaction he was receiving from the American press. To which John responded,

“If I said television was more popular than Jesus, I might’ve gotten away with it. I just happened to be talking to a friend and I used the Beatles as a remote thing, not as what I think…I just said they as having more influence on kids and things, than anything else, including Jesus. But I said to this to him in that way, which is the wrong way.”

Were the Beatles more influential to youth during the height of Beatlesmania? Of course they were. Especially in the U.K. Do I believe that this was a good thing? Absolutely not. But that does not mean what John said was false. It’s not mine or the churches job to stick up for the popularity of Jesus. I do not believe that is found within the Great Commission. In fact, did not Jesus teach us to expect the world to hate Him and us? But I guess I read my Bible too much.

kkk

“In reference to England,  we meant more to kids than Jesus did, and religion. At that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down, I was just saying it. That was a fact. And it’s truth, more for England than here, I’m not saying we are better or greater or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing. Whatever it is, I said what I said and it was wrong, or it was taken wrong.”

So there ya go. Even if we took Johns original comments by themselves, he did not claim to be greater or even better than Jesus Christ. Should we even care if a secular artist claims to be more popular than Jesus? No. But as already proven, that is not what John was trying to prove.

The television interview cited was one of many apologies Lennon offered after having his comments published. He repeatedly reiterated in the future that he did not claim to be greater than Christ, only that the Beatles were more influential to young people than Christ during that time. I do not understand how anyone, including Jesus, could be offended by that. But honestly, I do not think this has anything to do with offense.

This is fundamentalism, pure and simple. Webster defines Fundamentalism as: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles. Now fundamentalist churches would claim that the principles adhered to are found in the Bible. However, often times that is not the case. That is why you hear of churches enforcing specific dress codes, condemning certain genres of music, and protesting community events. It’s almost as if these churches have a problem with anything becoming more popular (or populated) than their local church.  Here are some characteristics of fundamental churches. http://www.stufffundieslike.com/rules/

At the risk of saying too much (perhaps I already have), the only ones who could possibly be offended by Lennon’s comments (spoken a half a century ago), or the Beatles festival, are those who choose to be offended by it. Or those who have been completely misinformed. Or if you are a member of or support the KKK.

To my neighbors in Walnut Ridge, have fun this year at the Beatles festival. I hear it’s going to be the best one yet! And to my neighbors who are not Christian, please do not lump us all in the same basket! Grace and peace.

beatles_tribute_band-630x343

Is He worth it?

Image

The following sermon was preached Sunday, May 25th at FBC Walnut Ridge. Preparing for this sermon absolutely wrecked me. I wanted to share it with you.

There was a man, long ago, who was very wealthy. He had inherited his wealth from his parents, an influential family who owned much of the land and had leased it out to many farmers. His families influence and wealth was known to just about everyone in the land. They were respected by the Romans and Jews alike. His family was active in politics, spoke of often in the marketplace. Yes it seemed like every election year a member of his family was running for ballot. The wealthy man himself was a ruler of some sort. He had gained what little power the Roman government would give out to a Jewish man. The man was also no fool. He knew how to wisely invest his money, always reaping financial rewards.

But this man we are focusing on today however was known for more than just his wealth and power. Unlike most politicians, this man was known for doing good. He regularly attended tabernacle, even preaching on occasion. Boy, the people loved to hear this man preach! He was faithful to tithe 10% of his income, and 10% was a considerable amount considering his great wealth. Yes, he was a devoutly religious man, always keeping the commandments of God. Even the Pharisees considered this man to be righteous and devout.

          Have you ever met a zealous man before? This man was passionate about keeping the commands of God. He would often go above and beyond what the Mosaic Law required of him. For example, instead of tithing just his money, he would tithe all the food in the pantry. He was known for decorating the graves in the cemetery with beautiful arrangements and costly gifts. Many who knew the man personally, knew that he was obsessed with the afterlife. In fact, you could argue that his primary reason for keeping the commandments of God was to achieve eternal life. Now there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this man was a shoe in for heaven. He truly was a remarkable man.

One afternoon as he was returning from the market, he noticed a rather large crowd of people surrounding a man in the town square. His wife had mentioned to him earlier that afternoon that a rabbi named Jesus was passing through. The man had heard many stories about this Rabbi named Jesus, how he supposedly had healed a blind man at Bethsaida. He also had heard talk of how Jesus tended to feed his followers, which was probably why he drew such large crowds!

As the man approached the Rabbi named Jesus in the town square, the crowds parted out of respect for the man of great wealth. Even the disciples of Jesus himself politely excused themselves from the man’s presence. And here is where we find ourselves in Mark chapter 10 verse 17.

          Many of us have heard this story before, the story of the rich young ruler. The story of a man who decided to not follow Jesus. And who are we to blame him? Jesus really did make an unrealistic request out of the man. Did Jesus simply not know that the man was good? Did Jesus believe the man when he told him he had obeyed all the commands of Moses, ever since he was a boy? Perhaps their conversation would have gone a little smoother if the man would have introduced himself first.

Let’s reexamine their conversation. In verse 17 we read,

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Scripture tells us that the man fell to his knees, calling Jesus the “good teacher.” Now we do not know for sure, but can safely assume that the man refers to Jesus as the “good teacher” because he desired a favorable answer from Jesus. That certainly is possible.

How many times have we done something like this? I confess that if I wanted to go a friend’s house when I was a teenager, I would butter my mother up by telling her that I loved her and then I would offer to do work around the house like doing the dishes. You parents know what I am talking about! Even adults tend to smooth talk their bosses before asking for a raise. Now, like I said, we cannot know for sure that this is what the rich man is doing. But we can know for sure that we are guilty of doing of smooth talking our superiors.

It’s also interesting that this rich man does this in front of a large crowd of people, who were more than likely enamored at the mans goodness, especially his willingness to throw himself down at Jesus’ feet. It’s possible that this man was putting on a show, as the Pharisees did with their overly long prayers on the street corners for sinners.

He may have desired the same complement Jesus gave the Roman Centurion, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith!

We can also discover from this verse this mans desires to know the answer to the age old question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” You have to hand it to the man, that’s a good question! At least, so it seems. Inside the question we discover a flawed theology. He desires to know what HE MUST DO to earn eternal life. In fact, it soon becomes clear that the man is obsessed with gaining eternal life. Because he assumed that he could gain eternal life by doing.

If you think about it, this is a clear indicator of a lost person. I speak with people all the time who think they must DO DO DO before they can be saved. They think, “I must be baptized” or “I have to attend church” or “I need to iron on these problems in my life so that I can be saved.”

It’s a destructive mentality that keeps people out of the church, and when that mentality creeps into the church, members feel lost and always inadequate. As a church body, we must impress on our community that it’s not about what you do that gets you saved, it’s about what Christ has done. Goodness and salvation do not come from our own efforts, but gifts given to us from God.

For example, we do not praise the little child for coming to faith in Jesus. We praise God. We do not praise the Hells angel for repenting and turning to Jesus, we praise God. We praise God for saving us, and we praise God for placing His goodness over us. It’s not what you do, it’s what He has done.

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

Why do you call me good? Jesus asked. Jesus gives the man a confusing response. His response has puzzled me over the years too. But what I think Jesus is saying is this, “You do not even know what good is! I refuse to be held to your standards of goodness!” Remember, this man believed himself to be good. All the people believed he was a good man! So Jesus should consider it an honor to be called good but such a righteous individual.

But Jesus brushes off the comment and gives the man a Sunday school answer. “You desire to have eternal life? Keep the commandments.” Certainly this pleased the man. Jesus had fallen into his trap. Now Jesus and all the people would know that this man had kept all of the commandments since he was a boy. Now Jesus would declare him righteous and worthy of eternal life! And so he answers,

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Some of you may be wondering, “How on earth can anyone keep all of Gods commandments all of the time?” And that’s a good question. But we will soon find out that he had not kept all of Gods commands. He may have smudged the numbers so to speak. His reply reminds me of what Paul told the Philippian church. Remember Paul used to be named Saul, and Saul believed himself to be a righteous man. Keeping the laws of God to the letter. Paul tells the Philippians,

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Paul once had confidence in the flesh, as this rich young ruler displays. But Paul had long ago learned that it’s not wise to put confidence in the flesh. And so…

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

We cannot overlook the important of vs. 21. Jesus loved this young man. He did not despise him for interpreting scripture all wrong, or because he was wealthy and influential. Jesus loved this man. He earnestly desired for the man to lay down his treasures and follow Him. Jesus’ reply was not an insult to the man or an insult against rich people; Jesus was revealing a heart problem. Love always  challenges others for their own good. It would be unloving to let the man carry on with his sin.

You see, this man had made all kinds of investments in life. He was a wealthy, so we know that he was wise with his money. He was also a ruler, so he certainly must have invested much time into the people. He also invested in religion, seeking to gain a reward by obeying the commandments.

The problem is when we attempt to bargain with God, we elevate ourselves to His level. We begin to take on an entitled mentality. For example, “I tithed this Sunday so God better bless me this week at my workplace!” That sounds silly when said out loud right? We are always being tempted to be our own gods as opposed to surrendering to the one true God.

Jesus publically revealed this mans heart problem. Yes this man had obeyed many of the commandments of God, but he had also neglected many others. This tends to happen when people bargain with God. We pick and choose what commands we like and don’t like, then we hope God will accept the deal.

This man refused to share his wealth. He refused to care for the widow and the orphan. Instead of blessing others with what God has blessed him with, he lined his pockets and hoarded his possessions. Certainly this man would have read the prophet Jeremiah, who said,

23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom

or the strong boast of their strength

or the rich boast of their riches,

24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:

that they have the understanding to know me,

that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,

justice and righteousness on earth,

for in these I delight,”

declares the Lord.

Certainly this man knew of Gods character, which He desires to embody the lives of all His people. But this man wanted none of that. He simply wanted the prize of eternal life. He did not desire to bless God or his neighbor, he desired to bless himself. And so scripture tells us that the man walked away. It’s important for us to realize that Jesus did not turn his back on this young man, the young man turned his back to Jesus. He desired his earthly possessions more than he desired eternal life. Jesus had something to say about earthly possessions earlier on the sermon on the mount. He said,

 

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” –Matthew 7

 

It’s possible to be interested in eternal life and not possess it. I’ve quoted the great theologian George Strait before, and I’ll do it again. George says in one of his songs, “I’ve never seen a hurst with a luggage rack.” And that’s a lesson we learn from Jesus. What good is all your earthly possessions when you are dead?

 

Love God. Love people. Jesus must become your treasure, for He is eternal. This is a sad story. It’s always sad to see a young person turn away from God. What’s even worse is when a person turns from God knowing full well they should surrender to him. But like I said earlier the temptation for us to become like God is strong. And that’s a temptation that goes all the way back to the garden.

 

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

 

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

 

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

 

For preachers it’s tempting to nullify Jesus’ harsh words here. These verses are no good for Americans, who have been taught since childhood that success is equated with what’s in your bank account. When we run out of room, we simply move into larger houses or pay money for storage units. My brother told me this week that as long as “Americans have dumpsters with food in them, we are doing better than most of the world.” It’s safe to say that all of us here are doing much better than the rich young ruler.

Money is not a bad thing, but it is a dangerous thing. Anything that attempts to pry us away from submitting everything to God is a dangerous thing. Think about this. If I were to go to the nursery with a $1 bill and a $1000 dollar bill, and I gave the dollar bill to my daughter Evelyn. You know what she would do with it? She’d eat it. Now if I handed her the $1000 dollar bill, and told her how important that 1000 dollar bill was, you know what she would do? She’d eat it.

 

But ten years from now if I did that, she’d take both the bills and yell “Mine!” 20 years from now, if our dollar bill is worth anything 20 years from now, she would act as if she won the lottery! It’s the same way with puppies. When they are young they all eat out of the same pan, but as they grow older they become selfish and self centered. They growl if any other dog gets near their food pan. Possessions have a funny effect on us. They tend to set us against one another and against God.

The disciples were amazed that Jesus let the rich man walk away. By all appearances the rich man would have been a perfect fit for the kingdom of God. Certainly they were thinking, “If that man is out…How can we ever be in!? But Jesus assures them that with God all things are possible. You see even the disciples did not understand that they were not saved by their own efforts.  And so Peter, ever the bold one declares,

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

 

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

 

Peter unknowingly answers the disciples own question. “How can we be saved?” By leaving everything and following Jesus. Jesus must become supreme in our lives. He must become first. No person or thing can take Gods place in our lives. When we elevate out possessions above God, we miss Jesus. When we elevate our loved ones above God, we miss Jesus.

Jesus demands more than mindless obedience to rules, He demands sacrifice. The love of acquisition and self gratification deadens our instinct to sacrifice. That is why we must give up whatever stands in the way of total commitment to God and love for His kingdom.

Ultimately we all have to answer this question, Is Jesus worth it? Is he worth all our time, energy and devotion? Is he worth leaving and forsaking? The rich young ruler did not think so. And there are many like him. Jesus tells us,

 

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

 

You see we all lose our lives. Death is inevitable. But who will you lose your life for? Will you invest your life in self or God? People in our culture have plenty to live on but little to live for. Are you living for God and His kingdom, or are you still advancing your own kingdom? Is Jesus worth it?

 

The night seemed cold, even though it was relatively warm outside. The old man tugged at his blanket which had cost him a fortune, but was failing to keep him warm that night. As he lay prone in bed, he began to reflect upon his life. His childhood, all those summers spent on the lake with family, most of whom are gone now. His young adult years, how he had carried on the family name, making wise investments and nearly doubling his families estate. His 3 children, all grown up now and far away. His wife, so loving and encouraging, she had passed only a couple years ago.

 

The man acknowledged that he had lived a successful life. But for whatever reason he felt unsatisfied. He had a deep longing for more. But not the kind of desire that consumed his youth, it was a desire of a different kind. A spiritual kind. He felt in his heart as if he had missed out on something important in life. Something big. It nagged at his soul that evening.

The next morning he was discovered stiff as a board. A beautiful funeral was held in Judea. Mourners were hired by the hundreds. His inheritance divided between his three children. Whatever else was left was given to the government. And so the rich young ruler walked with his face downcast.