Thursday, April 16, 2015

Blind to Me

v. 37 - "And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner..." (emphasis mine)
v. 39 - "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this            woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." (emphasis mine)
v. 42 - "When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both..."                      (emphasis mine)
The woman that came to anoint the feet of Jesus lived in obvious sin. The entire community knew about it. However, she was obviously humbled by the grace of Jesus. Simon (the Pharisee) was a sinner too, but either his sins were not as obvious or he was very careful with hiding them.  The fact is that both of these people were sinners and both needed God's forgiveness, which is illustrated in verse 42.

What we learn from this story and parable is that we must be very careful not to compare our sins to others' sins. Though the sins of others may seem more obvious or even more "severe" than ours, the truth is that we each need Christ's grace and forgiveness. Without it, we are all headed to an eternity of torment under the righteous wrath of God (because He is perfect and we are not).

So, what will it take to maintain a right perspective toward ourselves and others? There are three things we can do to keep our eyes focused in the right direction:
  1. Stay Humble. Philippians 2:3-4: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." Remember that Christ paid the price for you. You did not achieve salvation by any effort of your own. You received salvation because Christ purchased and gave it to you.                                                                                                                   
  2. Stay Thankful. Hebrews 13:15: "Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name." Because He has paid the price for our sin while we were undeserving, our hearts ought to overflow with gratitude for His wonderful gift. 2 Corinthians 9:15: "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"                                                                                                                                                  
  3. Stay Faithful. 1 Corinthians 15:58: "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." When we are serving, we are focusing outwardly and not inwardly. When we are serving Christ, we are focusing on heavenly goals and not earthly goals.  This will keep our minds from comparing ourselves to others because when we see Christ, we know we fall short, but He lifts us up. Hebrews 12:1-3: "... let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Let's bath in the grace of Jesus and invite others to do the same. We are all sin-sick people and the cross of Christ is the only cure. Let's walk arm and arm as co-sinners depending fully on the gift of salvation offered by Jesus and make a difference that matters for eternity.

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Friday, April 10, 2015

Are You Soaking in Bliss of the Savior or Stewing in Bitterness of Self-righteousness?

38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord's feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me." 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)
Perhaps this will be a simple reminder to you today. I know every time I read this passage, I am convicted. I am a task-oriented person. Now, don't get me wrong, I love being around people very much, but I am very shy. It is easier for me to get involved in a task than it is for me to walk into a room full of strangers. Also, when I finish a task I know exactly what I have accomplished. It's a form of instant gratification. When working with people it usually takes time to make a difference and/or to see a difference.

There are two things we need to understand in the above story: 1.  Martha was not doing anything wrong by busily working. 2.  Jesus' approval of Mary's position was not permission to sit and do nothing. Both had to do with timing and attitude.

Here's what I mean: Martha was right to work hard with a servant's heart. However, I find that sometimes what I do under the auspice of a "servant's heart" is really to get recognition by way of either kudos or pity points.  Kudos: "Look what a great job he did!" or Pity: "I'm always doing the work while everyone else just sits around having a good time!" (Boo hoo, right? Wrong!)  Our service to God is to be focused on God, not on what we get out of it (1 Corinthians 10:31, Colossians 3:17, 23).  If we are truly consumed with the Savior, like Mary was, we will not give a thought to who is and who is not doing work along side of us. As a matter of fact, we will be so in touch with the Lord that we will sense when His Spirit is saying, "It's time to take a break and enjoy some time with Me for a while."

Mary was right to be consumed with Jesus and His teaching. However, Jesus was not giving us the excuse to sit and soak in more of Him 24/7/365 (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). However, at this moment the focus was on Christ and what He had to teach.

Sometimes the believer must slow down and soak in the Savior. As a matter of fact, that is why it is so important to set aside a definite portion of time each day to spend reading and meditating on the Bible and praying for God's Spirit to reveal more of Himself to you. This is so you can know Him more and can serve Him more effectively. Mary was falling in love with Jesus; not romantically, but spiritually. That's what happens when you spend time with the Savior. The more you know Him the more overwhelmed you will be by the magnitude of what He did when He paid for your sins on the cross. This will then result in gratitude which will be reflected in service and even more devotion to God.

So, even if what you are doing is good and necessary, check two things: 1. Is it the right time? 2. Do you have the right attitude? If your answer is "no" to either of these questions, then maybe you need to spend a little time soaking in the bliss of the Savior so you don't find yourself stewing in the bitterness of your self-righteousness.

 "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." -Psalm 46:10

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Three Lessons I Have Learned in the Trenches

Our church has been going through a transition period for the past year and a quarter. We have had an "intentional interim" pastor lead us through some times of healing and learning after a period of disagreement and discontent.  These are things that happen when you deal with people, no matter if they are INSIDE of the church our OUTSIDE of the church. We are all broken people that need to be fixed by the Good News of grace that Christ provides.

As I contemplated what to share this week, I thought it was obvious that should share something about Holy Week: something about Maundy Thursday (Jesus' last Passover meal with His disciples), Good Friday (the death of Christ on the cross), or Resurrection Sunday (the day Christ defeated death both in His body and in those who have surrendered to Him).  However, nothing came to mind that others haven't already said.  What did keep coming to mind is the need to share three things that I learned from our interim pastor or from our transition experience during this past year.  I believe these are three things that are lasting and applicable to any church or believer.

  1. Attack Issues Not People. We are notorious for getting upset with people when we disagree on an issue.  We must understand that we are all different and we view things from different perspectives. Therefore, whereas we may not agree on everything we can still disagree and be friends. As we discuss disagreements, we need to internally acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their own thoughts and opinions. Not everyone is bound by my set of rules. The only guideline we as believers are bound to is that which is laid out in Scripture. Even at that, when someone has strayed from the teachings of Scripture, you and I are to show them the Scripture with a spirit of concern and love rather than with a finger of accusation.  We must realize we are fallen too and may need the same correction (1 Corinthians 10:12). This is more easily communicated when we attack the issue and not the person.                                                                                                    
  2. You Get What You Expect. This is not an invitation to aim for mediocrity. The premise is to set expectations higher and to keep pushing the envelope to raise the bar. The goal is not to make much of yourself or your church. The goal is to accurately reflect the perfect glory of God, the Father (Romans 12:1-2). We are to do things with excellence because people are drawn to what is excellent. Since God is excellent, then we ought to portray Him as such. When we compromise spiritually or morally, or when we give less than our best effort, then we portray a god that is worthy of whatever we have left over after giving to everything and everyone else. Just like the financial tithe, we ought to give God what is best of our time, talents and gifts so that we are declaring His excellencies to a world who does not yet know Him (1 Peter 2:9). So expect more of yourself. Lovingly expect more of others. Gather people around you that will push you and challenge you and hold you accountable...Which leads to my final point:                                                                                                                                                 
  3. We All Have the Responsibility of Accountability. One of the churches' greatest offenses is to leave sin unchecked. This is not a call for spiritual tattle-tails or spiritual police. God does not stand over us waiting to catch us doing wrong and He has not asked any of us to do it for Him. Instead, what this means is loving each other enough to watch each other's back. It means when you see someone about to fall off a cliff, you either shout with a cautionary warning or you reach out and grab their hand because you don't want them getting hurt.  It is very unloving of us to watch someone do something that we know is wrong or hurtful and then say or do nothing about it. However, you may be thinking, "But it's none of my business". Let me ask you: Is it the business of your eyes to watch out for your little toe so it doesn't get stumped? Is it the business of your arm to shield your head if something is flying toward you? Is it the business of your mind to move your feet if you are about to get hit by a car?  We are the body of Christ. We are connected. We must care enough to intervene in a loving way. If we are rebuffed, then we have steps that Scripture outlines (Matthew 18:15-20) . We must exercise these Scriptures because we love one another (1 Corinthians 12:20-27). The fact is, we are all weak in different ways and need the strength of others to help us when we are vulnerable.
These are just three lessons I have learned this year. There are so many things that God shows me and teaches me on a daily basis. I am humbled that He would give so much attention to me. Perhaps there is more about the Easter season here than I first realized. You see, Christ came because we are broken people. He didn't come primarily to show us how to live a "good" life. We are so far beyond being good. Christ came to redeem us from our sinfulness (our brokenness). He paid our price by accepting God's wrath upon Himself. Why? Because He didn't want you to have to receive that punishment. As long as there are people, there will be problems. However, when Christ comes to take His people to heaven, the people will be perfected and the problems gone. He's waiting for you. That's why He has not come back yet. He wants you to surrender your life to Him and accept His gift of eternal life so you can have your life "fixed" and enter into an eternity in heaven with Him. I'm glad I did. You will be too!

Email me if you would like to know more:

For God's Glory,
Chris S. Sweet