Devoted to service

Learning to do good

Devoted to service
And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.  Titus 3:14, ESV
 
When we think about what Christians should be doing, a few things come to my mind: praying, worshiping, listening to the Word preached, and serving other people.  I think most people would see the first three as something that has to be learned, while serving other people is something that comes naturally, but is it? 
 
The letter of Titus is a short and fascinating letter written by the Apostle Paul to one of his proteges, Titus.  Titus had been left by Paul on Crete to finish the work of organizing the fledgling church on the island.  In the letter, Paul provides some instructions with regards to leadership structure, preaching, and discipleship.  At the center of this letter is the wonderful truth that God’s grace has been given to bring salvation to all people.  Paul describes Jesus Christ as the Savior who gave his life on our behalf to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14).  This reality informs us that Jesus died on the cross…to redeem and purify a people who by faith become “his own possession who are zealous for good works.”  So when is the last time you were zealous to do good works?  When was the last time you felt that tug to do something good not because you wanted to feel better about yourself but because you genuinely knew it to be a good thing to do?  
 
When we ponder the idea of serving others, we usually can come up with a list of good things to do.  I would dare say most people in the world at some point do something good for others, but is this the type of zeal to do good works that Jesus desires from us?  Consider His words:
 
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.  But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.  Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  Gospel of Luke 6:27–36, ESV
Let’s be honest, this is neither easy nor natural.  Doing good in the way Jesus desires us to do good is not natural but a part of being a disciple…a learner.  For this reason Paul writes to Titus is his final instructions, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works.”  It may be natural to do good to people you like or even support, it is not natural to do good to people you can’t stand.  I think this is why people love saying that the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves, it is an excuse.  What’s worse is that the Bible never once teaches that.  What it does teach is that God helps those who cannot help themselves, just read the Psalms.  The very premise of the Gospels is Jesus saves people who cannot save themselves. 
 
Paul tells Titus the reason that we should teach people to devote themselves to good works is so that they can help in cases of urgent need (those who cannot help themselves) and not be unfruitful.  In other words when we help the helpless we are bearing fruit that comes from The True Vine which is Jesus Christ who while we were still weak, at the right time died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6).  So how do we learn to devote ourselves to good works?  Here are 2 suggestions:
 
1) Stop saying “I am Christian” and embrace being a disciple…this means humbling ourselves to admit that we are not as fully devoted to Jesus as we should be and that we can never stop drawing closer to Him this side of the grave.

2) Ask God to provide ways to do good for others and then do it when the opportunity arises, only by serving can we see others modeling service and thus learn to serve others.  
 
My prayer for all of us is that we learn to devote ourselves to good works, especially in this pandemic, since we are surrounded by urgent needs.  Let us ask God to use us according to His will.
 
Grace to you,
Pastor Wally 
 

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Going It Alone Ain’t in God’s Plan

“I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.”
(Romans 15:30-33)

 

          Pastor Wally has been speaking consistently about the need for fervent and corporate prayer. In Acts 1:14, we see that those gathered in the upper room “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”  Recently, I came across (was led to) the Romans passage (Romans 15:30-33) and I had to ask myself, “How often do I truly “strive” in prayer for our church, its leadership and our pastor and when I do pray, what do I ask God to provide? What does Paul mean when he tells us to “strive together” in prayer? C.H. Spurgeon, in a message he delivered on February 21, 1886, clarified that “He [Paul] knew his own weakness, he knew the difficulty of the work to which he had been called, he knew that if he failed in his enterprise it would be a sad failure, injurious through coming ages to the entire church. He cried, “Agonize for me,” because he felt that much depended upon him. It is like a man who is willing to lead the forlorn hope; but he says to his comrades, “You will support me.” It is like one who is willing to go into a far country, bearing his life in his hands; but he plaintively exclaims, “You won’t forget me, will you? Though you stay at home, you will think of me!…You see it is earnest prayer which Paul asks for, not the prayer which foams itself away in words; but prayer with force, with energy, with humble boldness, with intensity of desire, with awful earnestness; prayer which, like a deep, hidden torrent, cuts a channel even through a rock. His request was “that ye wrestle with me in your prayers to God for me”; and this is our request this day.”

 

This got me thinking about ministry and pastors.  At some level we understand the stresses of ministry, yet consider the following statistics:

75% of pastors report being “extremely stressed” or “highly stressed”

90% work between 55 to 75 hours per week

90% feel fatigued and worn out every week

80% will not be in ministry ten years later and only a fraction make it a lifelong career.

91% have experienced some form of burnout in ministry and 18% say they are “fried to a crisp right now”

 

One way that we as a church can ensure that our pastor doesn’t fall victim to these statistics is to “strive together” or to “struggle” or to “fight” – to “agonize” with Pastor Wally by praying on his behalf. In the movie, “The War Room,” Miss Clara said, “You’ve got to plead with God so that He can do what only He can do.  And then you’ve got to get out of the way and let Him do it.”  Does this characterize my prayer life?  C.H. Spurgeon went on in his message to say “When we pray, we should make a point of praying for something distinctly. There is a general kind of praying, which fails from want of precision. It is as if a regiment of soldiers should all fire off their guns anyhow; possibly somebody would be killed, but the majority of the enemy would be missed…If you pray anyhow, if it be with sincerity, a measure of blessing results from it; but it will take a great deal of such praying to accomplish much. But if you plead for certain mercies definitely and distinctly, with firm unstaggering faith, you shall richly succeed.”  He concluded his message with this thought:  “Truth unknown, how can it enlighten? Truth not felt, how can it renew? There must therefore be the preacher to call attention to truth; but how shall they preach except they be sent? and how shall they be sent aright except in the power of the Holy Ghost? and how can we expect the Holy Ghost if we do not ask for his working? Wherefore, we pray you, wrestle together with us in your prayers that the Holy Ghost may go forth with the truth and by the truth.  This will be to your profit. No man hears his pastor preach without deriving some benefit from him, if he has earnestly prayed for him. The best hearers, who get the most out of a man, are those who love him best, and pray most for him. God can make us dry wells to you if you offer no prayers for us. He can make us clouds that are full of rain, if you have pleaded with God on our behalf.”

 

We as the body of Christ can be of ONE HEART AND SOUL in “pleading with God” not only on Pastor Wally’s behalf, but on behalf of all who are laboring for the sake of the Gospel. We ought to be “praying for something distinctly” on a Pastor’s behalf.  You can start by simply asking him how you can pray specifically for him and then to (as Miss Clara said) “plead with God so that He can do what only He can do.  And then…get out of the way and let Him do it.” 


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The Sufficiency of Scripture

      Throughout history, the Church has faced challenges and trials brought about by the unsettled nature of the world.  It is plain to all that the world is in real constant change.  In the face of this change how then shall we live?  How are we to know how we should think and act?  The Apostle Peter in his second letter tells us:
 
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Peter 1:3–4, ESV)
 
     Verse three assures us that if we are a born again in Jesus Christ, God has presented to us everything we need in order to think and act in a manner which is pleasing to God and this was done according to His divine power.  So the first thing we need to consider is this, “Who or what can take away what God has given to us?”  The answer is nothing nor no one.  Paul asserts this in Romans 8:38-39 when he states “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Therefore, what God has granted no one can take away.  So why do we feel like we don’t have this gift?  Why do some of us struggle with what we should think or do as a Christian?  Because we are looking for answers in all the wrong places.
 
     The second half of verse three tells us that access to this gift is through the knowledge of Him, which Him, the one who called us to His own glory and excellence.  The idea of knowledge is not just knowing of something but actual application of information with what is known.  In other words, all things which pertain to life and godliness come by knowing Jesus Christ and actually continuing to learn about Jesus and applying what we learn to what is known.  So if we go back to the previous question, “Why do some of us struggle with what we should think or do as a Christian?”  The answer is we are not looking to the source…the means…the vehicle by which God has chosen to grant us all things that pertain to life and godliness.  We are not studying our Bibles regularly.  How do we get to know Jesus more deeply?  Study the Gospels.  How do we know how to interpret the Old Testament?  Remember the words of Jesus…It’s all about Me.  How should the Church think and act today?  Study the Epistles.  How do we know it’s going to be OK in the end?  Study The Revelation.
 

      As a believer, we don’t need other books to tell us how to interpret Scriptures, Scripture interprets Scripture, and “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)  The Bible is sufficient to answer ALL that troubles the world today.  If it is not, then 2 Peter 1:4 becomes meaningless.  If the Bible is no longer sufficient to deal with the issues of today then the precious and great promise is null and void.  If the Bible is no longer sufficient then we are no longer partakers of the divine nature in Jesus Christ.  If the Bible is no longer sufficient then we have not escaped the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  If the Bible is no longer sufficient then it is sinful desire which reigns and there is no redemption for any one us and hope is destroyed. “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:14-16)

 

Take heart my friends, The Bible is sufficient in all seasons through God’s never failing divine power.  He will see you through to the Day of Christ.  Increase your knowledge of Jesus daily by studying His Word and applying it:
 
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ .
(2 Peter 1:5–11, ESV)
 
 

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The Harmony of One Voice

1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Ro 15:1–7). ESV.
 
Harmony, that elusive sense of unity. We often lack harmony in many aspects of our lives whether at work, home, gym, in traffic, etc. and unfortunately even in the church. But what is the cause of our disunity? Why do we not have harmony in our lives with others? The Scriptures tells us the reason we fight and quarrel is because we care more about our own desire for pleasure (whatever benefits us) than we do about other people. (James 4:1-3) Paul addresses the same issue in the passage above. The first three verses tell us we have an obligation, a duty in simple terms, to put up with “the failings of the weak.”(v1) But what does this mean? First what it does not mean. It does not mean that as you are reading this that you are to call to mind all those “weak” brothers and sisters that just drive you crazy because they just don’t seem to understand the Scriptures. What it does mean is that we are all someone’s weaker brother or sister. Jesus’ words concerning specks, planks and eyes reminds us of this. (Matt 7:1-5) Therefore, we are to please and build up our neighbor for their good. (v2) Now if the passage stopped there then our response, “Well you don’t know my neighbor” might be valid, but God knows the human heart. For this reason, the Scriptures remind us that any reproach (hatred, shame, scorn, taunts, disdain, disgrace) that comes at us is actually laid on Jesus Himself. (v3) Thus if we feel hatred, scorn, disdain, etc. against a fellow brother or sister in Christ it too is being laid on our Lord. This ought to shake us to the core…no wonder the Scriptures tell us, “but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (Jas 3:7–10) For this reason, Paul tells us that the whole of Scriptures is meant to instruct us. (v4) This instruction is not meant to be a onetime fact gathering expedition, but rather a lifelong event. Too often Christians think that they have heard all there is to know about the Scriptures, but this is self-deceptive foolishness. (2 Pet 1:5-9) This lifelong instruction comes to us “through endurance”. Endurance in the sense that we are to be steadfast in our devotion to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Endurance in that no matter the circumstance we continue to praise God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Endurance in the sense that in this life we will have tribulation but Jesus tells us to take heart because He has overcome the world and its troubles, hurts, disappointments, frustrations, illness, and sin. (John 16:33) Paul also tells us that the Scriptures are to encourage us so “we might have hope.” Hope in knowing that God who is unchanging and cannot lie will see us through our difficulties. Hope in knowing that Christ lived the life we could not and died the death that we should of. Hope in knowing the Holy Spirit is active and working in our lives to bring about God’s will for our lives. So in this obligation concerning our neighbor, Paul presents us with two things endurance and encouragement according to the Scriptures. Paul then prays that we would live in harmony by receiving endurance and encouragement from God who IS the source of all endurance and all encouragement. (v5) This life of harmony is to be in accord or in the same way as our harmony with Jesus, that is to say we have peace with God. (Rom 5:1) This allows us to glorify God with one voice. (v6) For this reason God says, “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you. I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Is 43:5–7) No wonder Paul comes to this conclusion “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (v7) If we focus on glorifying God, rather than on the short comings of our fellow believers, then we will find common ground, unity, and harmony in that most central of all purposes, the glory of God.

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The Perspicuity of Scripture…huh?

This morning in my devotional (Tabletalk, April 30) I read about the clarity of Scripture. The funny thing is that the word used for clarity is “perspicuous.” For most this sounds like a very old, technical and somewhat nebulous term, yet it is a term that we should all come to know and cherish. The first known use of the word is in 1570…53 years after the start of the Protestant Reformation. The use of the word arose in the defense of Christians having the Bible in their own languages, because up to this point, the Medieval Roman Catholic Church had fenced off the Bible from the average person by only allowing the use of the Latin Vulgate Bible. Their rationale was to protect the Bible from being misinterpreted by the common people. Only the most learned and schooled could read Latin.

The Reformers understood that God’s Word was the only authority for rule and life. Thus all other authorities were subject to the Scriptures and based on Deuteronomy 6:6-7:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

All of God’s people have a responsibility to understand and teach the Scriptures in their own homes. It goes without saying that the Hebrews coming out of Egypt were not Scholars…they were slaves, brick layers, stone cutters, they were common people. Even the priestly class had only been in existence 40 years by the time they were getting ready to enter the Promise Land. So the question is, Can I understand the Bible on my own? The answer is yes.

Every believer in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit dwelling within them. If we approach the Scriptures prayerfully and dependent upon the Holy Spirit who will guide you into all truth (John 16:13) then you can have confidence that God’s gospel is spoken clearly and is not hidden from you. The message of salvation, of God’s character, of Jesus’ words, deeds, and promises are clear for all to see. As your pastor, one of the things that I find challenging is trying to convey to you some of the nuanced and deeper meanings of words in the original text without sounding like I have unlocked some secret lost for thousands of years. If you ever feel that way, remember this article, the Scriptures are clear and are made to be understood. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Grace to You,
Pastor Wally


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