Monday, July 25, 2016

How to Obey Christ & Have Assurance on the Day of Judgment

"As a bagpiper, I play many gigs. Recently I was asked by a funeral director to play at a graveside service for a homeless man. He had no family or friends, so the service was to be at a pauper's cemetery in the Saskatchewan back country.

As I was not familiar with the backwoods, I got lost and, being a typical man, I didn't stop for directions.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight. There were only the diggers and crew left and they were eating lunch.

I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late. I went to the side of the grave and looked down and the vault lid was already in place. I didn't know what else to do, so I started to play.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around. I played out my heart and soul for this man with no family and friends. I played like I've never played before for this homeless man.

And as I played 'Amazing Grace,' the workers began to weep. They wept, I wept, we all wept together.

When I finished I packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. Though my head hung low, my heart was full.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the workers say, "I never seen nothin' like that before and I've been putting in septic tanks for twenty years."

Sometimes we succeed at things in life only to find that we’ve arrived at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and we’ve really made a big blunder.

In The Christian life, we can worship with a full heart, come to church on Sundays, maybe even show up early for Bible study, but when it really comes down to it, we aren’t too concerned with God and his instructions for how we ought to live.

This is where the rubber meets the road: obedience. We must obey God, rather than men. This is it. Are we really gonna do it or are we full of it? This is the test. We’re called to have faith in God, and we’re called to love God with all we have. But what does it mean to actually love God? Is it a feeling? Yes, but it’s much more than a feeling. Love is a command.

Jesus Christ said to his disciples, “He who loves me obeys my commands.” John 14:15 And again in 1st John 5:3: “This is the love of God: to obey his commands.”

The scriptures seem to indicate again and again, especially in the gospel of John, 1st John and 2nd John that love is closely related to obedience. How can you tell someone really loves you? He respects you. He listens to you. How can you tell your children have been raised well? They listen to you. They obey you. It’s the same with God.

So much so that when Jesus describes the day of the Lord, he says that to those who were obedient he will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” But to those who did not obey his commands, and live like he lived he will say,” I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”

So today, I don’t want to get into anything too fancy. We’re going to dig into God’s word regarding five themes of obedience:

1. Obedience to His Commands as Love

2. Living like Jesus – love and mercy

3. Living Holy – avoiding sinful behavior

4. Carrying my Cross

5. Living to Serve – gathering fruit for eternal life

"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." -1st John 5:1-5

I think it’s absolutely fascinating that this scripture says “This is love for God: to keep his commands.” We assume love is a feeling. But love in the idea of agape love for God is obeying his commands.

This message is a call to action today. I want to call the body of Christ to be obedient to God. Obedience is the difference between false converts and true followers.

We can’t work our way to heaven. We have Jesus for our need. But our response is vital. Faith without works is dead. 

We need to ensure we’re working in the right spirit. We’re working, serving, obeying not because we’re hoping God will accept us, no, we’re working from the perspective that we love our heavenly father so much, we want to do everything we can to please him.

Some of you have to unplug and really focus in on the word of God. The Salvation Army is a branch off from Methodism. Susanna Wesley, the great mother of Methodism understood that for her children to be Christian in a secular world, she had to teach them with a solid method. She knew that to hold strong to Christianity took a daily method, a lifestyle of faith. We need to make sure we’re doing that. Because it’s very easy for the world to suck us in and try to steal our blessing from us.

How can we be confident on the day of judgment? In the first letter from John to the churches, he makes it quite clear, confidence is this: In this world we are like Jesus.

"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus." -1st John 4:16b-17

Now one could preach a thousand sermons on what it means to be like Jesus. But in this context, in the letter from John, the writer of the love gospel, I think he’s referring to the triumph of mercy over judgment, so showing mercy, and loving service. Jesus exemplified those two attitudes of the mind.

He really could’ve been much more hard and judgmental. He’s God after all. But every time he was confronted with some serious sinners, he always played the mercy card. He always showed mercy to those in need. Think of the woman at the well, Jesus knew instantly that the woman before him was a Samaritan, a traitor to Judah and the true kingdom. In addition, she had been married five times, and was currently living with a man who wasn’t her husband. He told her the truth about herself, and offered her the kingdom of heaven.

Do you do the same? Do you show unexpected mercy in difficult circumstances? When someone makes a mistake do you show them grace? Or do you jump on them and really grill them about it?

This message is one of calling all of us to repentance. And we need that. Myself included.

"Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." -1st Peter 1:13-21 

When I was a very, very new Christian I found myself transfixed with verse 18 of this scripture. “You were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors.” And I didn’t think of that in context of ancient times, I thought of that in modern terms. As it applied to my life… empty way of life. Nine to five, public school, go to college, get a job, get married, have children, focus on me, focus on my ambitions, focus on feeling good, on having fun, on going on extravagant trips, on gorging myself on food, media, drink; and ignore the big questions. Stare at the TV.  Sit on the internet.  All that stuff was the empty way of life I inherited from my American ancestors. And it sucked and it was pointless. Jesus calls us to something much greater.

It also said, "Do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance." Let's see: Sexual sin, pornography, drugs, alcoholism, cigarettes, masturbation, selfishness, these are all common sins within the church. Not outside, but within. So if your struggling with one of those issues, fine, you don’t have to hate yourself, but pray about it, sincerely, on your knees. Ask God to remove it from your life, every night. And seek out resources to recover. Consider AA or NA or Celebrate Recovery or reading recovery books on these topics. Most ministers agree the two biggest problems in the church are sexual sin and irresponsibility with money. 

Are you struggling with these issues? Seek out Jesus, take action steps and grow past those sins.  Ignore cynical voices who say these things are  inevitable, they are not.  The truth is many Christians overcome these sins and never return to them.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”

What is your cross to bear for Christ? It can be many things. But it comes down to a very simple principle: Am I living for myself and my plans, or am I living for Christ and seeking his will for my life?

This isn’t super complicated. It’s quite simple: Am I allowing God to lead me, or am I firmly in charge? 

 For me, when I got saved I knew I was called to ministry. If I had ignored that call, and done what I wanted, which was to be a writer or blogger, or political activist, I would’ve been ignoring God’s call for my life. 

There’s a second cross I carry, that of staying clean and sober from drugs and alcohol. I was addicted for more than 10 years. Part of turning to Jesus Christ was rejecting all of that. One day at a time, Christ makes it possible. I have supports and they help me stay the course. 

Thirdly, a cross I carry is that of chronic fatigue. I’m tired all the time, everyday, exhausted and weak.  I’m hoping God will change that, but if he doesn’t then it must mean it’s a cross to bear for his glory. 

These crosses were very heavy at first, but as I learned the way, growing closer to Jesus, they are lighter and lighter. For his yoke is light.

Now let's talk about bearing fruit. Each of you are a fruit tree. And every so often Jesus walks over and collects the fruit your producing. Good fruit can be many things.  Some examples include: Making disciples, handing out bibles, worshiping the Lord, praying regularly for others, giving food to the poor, helping the sick and widows, sheltering the homeless, and visiting those in prison.

This is where I want to call all of us to action.  One of the key requirements of our faith is doing good works. Now I’m not saying everybody has to put in fifty hours a week. But one or two hours a week? Or 5 or 10 hours a week?  We can certainly do these things. 

I wonder about the body of Christ on Earth: Why aren’t we carrying the gospel into the community? Heaven is real, hell is real. There are young people out there in the community who need the gospel we carry. Please, get active. You don’t have to volunteer at the Salvation Army if you don’t want to, but if you don’t, then become a mobile ministry yourself.

The primary point is this: Take action. Write things down. Make a plan. You don’t have to tell anyone, but do it. One of the mottos of the Salvation Army is “Do Something!” I believe the Salvation Army is the army to go into the community. Jesus didn’t say invite he said GO! 

If you’re an extrovert, go, talk to people, make connections, be a disciple maker, bring them in. If you’re an introvert, then get on social media, write articles, post photos and scriptures, create an email chain, write a blog, and/or be a prayer warrior in private. Or serve in more practical ways: Volunteer at a nursing home, work with at risk youth, or at a jail. 

This is stuff we should already be doing as the church of Christ. It’s our mandate. If we aren’t doing this stuff, and if all we really do is show up on Sundays, then we aren’t really living it, plain and simple. Plain and simple. Repent. Do good works. Get active. Call out to God. Make a plan. And put it into action. For those of you who already do, great, keep it up! For those of you who aren’t, get to work. Your called to serve.

Do it for Jesus Christ our glorious risen savior. He will call us to account, make sure you’ve served and He can say to you: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

In closing, your homework is to read 1st peter chapter 1 which really encapsulates what we talked about today. This is the reason we do what we do, the reason we obey, because we have an incredible real inheritance in heaven. 

Therefore we can say: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." -1st Peter 1:3-9

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