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Those outside versus those inside?

Dear Friends,

(I preached this past Sunday at a small rural church near our camp. I hope you enjoy this, but it's quite a bit longer than normal)

Preached November 3, 2019

If we were to propose, today, to establish a truly holy haven for youth, adults and seniors, here in our community, what standards would we expect from our members?

What should people of God expect from each other in a godly community?  

What should we be preaching from our pulpits in terms of God’s expectations for holy living? It’s not a matter of hearing what makes us laugh or causes us to feel good, or pleases our ears, (that’s mere oratory or entertainment) but rather a matter of discerning, “What does He require of us”, that constitutes true preaching and evangelism.

It might surprise you to know that the things that God hates the most, are the same things many of us have learned to live with or become “comfortable” with.  It’s funny, but we smile or wink at the same thing the prophets of old condemned and were killed for exposing.

By contrast to the prophets, many people in the pulpit  or the far more famous on TV or radio do not condemn what God hates,  instead they go after softer targets.  Church leaders are more commonly attacking the very things that most of the members are not committing in the first place and rather shout about things that are going on outside the church. I suppose it makes the ones inside feel a bit more snug and comfortable to know that “we’re not like” those deplorables outside our doors.

And let me say that I am against the obvious sins other pastors and tele-evanagelists point out as sin: drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, abortion, sexual deviance and promiscuity -— yep, these things are bad. And for most of us it’s easy to deride such behavior , mainly because we’re perhaps not drug addicts, drag queens, prostitutes and abortionists; but we rarely speak of the sins common to most adult church-goers. Now why is that? Why not condemn those things, most aggressively, that HE hates the most and then address the other issues as well?

But the church is in decline in steep America—-and Southern Baptists have lost millions of members in just ten years. Why? Because, as a whole, we offer NO CLEAR MORALITY.  We are afraid to speak truth because it is not politically correct, it might hurt initially hurt attendance or annual giving, or might be interpreted as “hateful” ; so we teach and preach something lukewarm, such as “Jesus came to here to show us how to be better people”, or “He taught us how to get along with one another”, or “He told us how to protect the environment”, when in fact, of course, He came to save us from the consequences of sin  and hell and lead us to a totally new way of life!    We pander to the folks that visit our churches as if God were desperate for us and our love and approval; we fail to explain that it is mankind that is desperate need of a savior!

“Mega-churches” might be on the rise in the USA, but I wonder if their growth is the result of being the true bride of Christ, or  of offering  a “Christianity-lite” to folks devoid of morality and accountability. My opinion is that the mega-churches are pulling membership from mainline churches that once offered standards and expectations for membership  as well as discipline for those within the membership—something that was very  consistent with the basic tenets of the Christian faith.

The early church grew for many reasons, but a primary reason is that it offered a principled way of living that was clear, focused and not cheapened or watered down by culture or the accepted norms of the day. Perhaps we need to be reminded of that.

Here’s what David said in Psalm 15

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?   Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,    who does what is righteous,

    who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander,

    who does no wrong to a neighbor,     and casts no slur on others;

who despises a vile person    but honors those who fear the Lord;

who keeps an oath even when it hurts,     and does not change their mind;

who lends money to the poor without interest;     

who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things    will never be shaken.

Now I ask you: Do we talk about these matters enough in our national discourse?  Do we preach these things commonly? Are these the very things we would also ask of a new pastor or deacon or leader in our churches?

David does not contend with sexual immorality, drug use, nor the virtues of being a vegan or a meat eater or of political opinions! Instead he speaks about integrity, character, honesty, keeping our promises, how we handle our money, and watching what we say about others—-and so should anyone that bears the name “Christian”. He did this because he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to the speak truth.

“Who may live on God’s holy hill?”

1. “The one whose walk is blameless,  who does what is righteous”

This means, very simply speaking,  integrity and character. It is doing the right thing even when no one else is watching. It’s all about me ordering my life and honing my habits in such a way that there is nothing  I would be ashamed to be caught doing if I were to be found dead doing it.   That’s the kind of people we’re called to become as Christians. It’s the kind of life we’re supposed to celebrate and applaud. For the man or woman serious about pleasing God, there is no such thing as a private life. To suggest that what we do in our home, or on our personal computer or even in our imagination is our business and no one else’s is untenable according to scripture and costly grace. We have been purchased  by the blood of Jesus—we are not our own any more.  Our bodies have become HIS holy temple.

2. “…who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” - Psalm 15:5

If you operate your own ministry or business, there’s a certain required focus on money, and anyone that says that money is not important is living off the government or out of someone else’s pocket. But how willing am I to give it away what I have earned, or do without some little luxury that is “my right”, my Starbucks fix, my addition to Netflix or any other little pleasure I have so that I can lend or give away to others? C.S. Lewis said that if I was not giving enough that it pinched my budget and caused me to give up a few things, I was probably not giving enough. Saint Francis of Assisi equated money to human excrement. He had no appreciation of it and thought of it as something that held a man back from enjoying the freedom of being in love with God and others.

I agree with much of Saint Francis’ sentiments. Money might be essential in churches, our ministries and in our culture and modern world, but it certainly is also the source of ruin for many lives. It causes more marital strive and division in families and friendship thank anything else.

It’s not the possession of money that can ruin people, but the love of it, or excessive “appreciation” and the overwhelming need to have more and more of it. Several of my friends loved God more and enjoyed a greater intimacy with Him before they "succeeded" in business. Are we able to give it away and not regret it?

One day, C. S. Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a beggar who reached out to them for money. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet to the beggar. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, "What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don't you know he's just going to go squander all that on beer?" Lewis paused and replied, “Well, that's all I was going to do with it."

The Psalmist does not say we should not have money. Nor does he say that it’s wrong to have a lot of it. But the proof of our “affection” with money is revealed in our ability to lend it to the poor with no intention of profiting from the loan. It’s our willingness to do the right thing—even if there is no profit and we could earn more from doing the opposite or wrong thing. Money has a habit of becoming an object of our love and devotion—but no one who wants to dwell on His holy hill can be in love with both God and money, we must make a choice.

The love of money is not the source of all evil, but it certainly is the major contributor to unhappiness all over the world.

3. “…whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others;” - Psalm 15:3

Why is it so hard to hold my tongue when someone does something that annoys me? Why do I find it so tempting to “educate” someone else about the real character of the person we happen to be talking about? What makes it so pleasurable to cast doubt or an unflattering innuendo about some other soul that has wronged me?

I think that the answer is simply because it makes me look superior and allows me to feel better about my own flawed existence as I compare myself to someone that is apparently more flawed than I am.

When I slander people, gossip about someone else, or attempt to make someone doubt the goodness of another soul, all that I say may be true, but it is a “relative” argument and a lazy attempt to diminish my own failures, weaknesses and faults. It might make me feel good for a short time, but eventually the reality of who I really am and my need to humble myself before God will catch up with me. It’s a cheap substitute for being a real man.

The Psalmist once again is painting a masterpiece of what a man or woman of God should look like, and if we look at that painting and don’t see ourselves reflected in it, perhaps we need to talk to the Master Artist and ask him to “re-paint us”.

In fact, the more aware I become of His mercy and grace, the more easily I can forgive my neighbor, rather than “slander him” or even speak the unflattering truth! The more He reminds me that it is against Him—and only Him—that I have sinned, the less bombastic I tend to be in arguing that another man is contemptible.

I appreciate people that are able to tell the truth from the pulpit, on talk radio or from the Senate floor. And yes, there are times we need to rebuke a brother or sister or confront what is patently wrong. But there’s also a need to esteem others highly and to always want to believe the best about the other. Christ has not called us to be naive or innocent of truth, but rather pure and free from a burning desire to hurt or offend others by our words.

As I think about my own words today, I wonder how many were kind, positive, persuasive, uplifting, and encouraging; and how many were snide, unneeded, unhelpful or mean-spirited. There’s more than one verse in the Bible that warns about the destructive power of the tongue.

Lord take possession my mind, tongue and motives—I am not where I hope to be yet.

The Kingdom of God, is… God’s Kingdom. It is not a place I am entitled to, or that is my reward for being better than most people, or a place that I can “earn” by my actions when I die. David is clear about the matter here: God’s house—or “tent” and His “holy mountain” are reserved for people that are:

  1. Blameless

  2. Righteous

  3. Speak truth from their hearts

These are not merely “requirements” but refer to the character and composition of those who will live with God eternally—as well as those who can enjoy friendship with Him right now. Am I blameless? And I righteous? Do I speak the truth from my heart? These things can only happen by both a decision on my part to allow Jesus to be re-born within me and a sober acknowledgement that only God can bring me up to this standard.

But I can also be certain that if I am deliberately living a life that is deceitful, reckless, unkind and self serving; if I am ignoring what I know is right and proper; if I am a fraud, an “actor” and charlatan, then I most certainly will have no place in God’s Kingdom to come.

It’s not a matter of me changing and being good enough—that’s never going to happen— but rather of me admitting just how bad I am and asking Him to make me holy, pure, righteous and blameless. It comes from outside and enters into me when I am ready to admit I cannot generate it myself.

And those of us who have received “it” are well aware that our new lives have nothing to do with our own “goodness” or hard work, but His perfection, love and mercy.

The Ideal….

Psalm 101:2 “I will be careful to lead a blameless life — when will you come to me? I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.”

  1. Am I being careful about how I lead my life? Do I really remember that I am a witness for Jesus Christ—I have no choice in the matter! I can choose to be the best possible witness for Him… or something less. But if I call upon Him as my Lord have been identified with Jesus Christ, I must be careful of how those outside the body and those struggling within the body see what I do and hear what I say.

  2. When He DOES come for me, do I want to be found doing the very things that I am doing right now? Is it my resolution to never do anything that I would not want to be found doing the very second that Christ returns?

  3. If I want to be useful to God, I had better get my own home in order first. If I want Him to expand my borders or to use me, or any other pastor, to help expand this church, or give me greater responsibilities, I must first be a godly master of my own home. How do I treat those in my family and those that live with me? How do I conduct my personal finances and affairs? I am living in such a compelling manner that those that work for me, beside me and with me are inspired to a closer walk with Him?

The present political and social climate of our nation seems very fixated on the sins and shortcomings of the other party, nation, race, etc. But the Word reminds us that until we begin to see that the source of our problems is within our own skin and solution is within our own confession and resolve, we will never advance His Kingdom.

G. K. Chesterton once said that, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and therefore left untried.”

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