A Little Effort Makes a Big Difference

A Little Effort Makes a Big DifferenceLast Sunday I concluded a brief sermon series on being part of a church family and being involved in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This past week I received an e-mail that showed the importance of reaching out to people, and how powerful it is to receive a simple invitation for fellowship. Here’s part of the message, which I received permission to share…

“In the past I have been one of those people hurt by others, and in spite of trying to make friends no one returned the kindness. I tried several people and still no deal. Everyone had their own friends already or were too busy. So I became too busy as well and worked all the time. I became one of those people you described who didn’t put in the time or effort to make friends. Frankly I was tired of trying. I was done. People at work were my only so-called-friends and only one was a believer, and he did not return the kindness either.

Your sermon challenged me though. Lately I had been wanting to try again – largely because of the church family at WCC – making the sermon’s timing very good. Then something happened: a person at church actually invited me out to get together, and he actually followed through and it had nothing to do with me helping him with anything. Whenever people contacted me in the past it was never simply for fellowship: they wanted something. The last time someone called to just do something was about two years ago when my friend who moved away overseas came to visit. I honestly have some hope now that having friends and fellowship will be possible in our family at WCC. Thank you for the challenge. I will work on making that time.”

It’s wonderful how powerfully God works things together. You have an individual who’s already feeling challenged to be more involved in the church. God confirms the conviction through the preaching of His Word. Then God stirs up someone to send an invitation. How unfortunate would it have been if the person didn’t send the invitation? In last week’s sermon, I said personal involvement is more important than corporate involvement in the church, because while there’s a sign up sheet for the nursery, church cleaning, serving in the kitchen, etc. there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel loved; there’s no sign up sheet for making people feel like part of your church family. If you don’t pursue this sort of involvement in people’s lives, they miss out on those blessings.

Few Are Chosen

Few Are Chosen

During yesterday’s sermon I discussed The Parable of the Wedding Feast, stopping right before Matthew 22:14 which says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” That verse doesn’t seem to fit though; it seems like it should read, “Many are called, but few respond” because the parable is primarily about people unwilling to accept the King’s invitation (aka call to salvation).

The many called are those who hear the Gospel. It’s the second step in God’s wonderful plan of redemption: (1) Whom He predestined, (2) these He also called; (3) whom He called, these He also justified; (4) and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Rom 8:30). The call itself takes place in Matthew 22:2-3 The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who…sent out his servants to CALL those who were invited to the wedding. The call is to see yourself as a sinner, stop trusting in your own righteousness, embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and receive His righteousness by grace through faith.

Of the many called, it’s a much smaller number that actually respond to the Gospel and are saved: they are the few. The “many”and “few” Jesus discusses in Matthew 22:14 are the same “many”and “few”Jesus discusses in Matthew 7:13-14:

  • Matthew 22:14 MANY are called, but FEW are chosen.
  • Matthew 7:13-14 Wide is the gate that leads to destruction, and MANY who go in by it. Narrow is the gate which leads to life, and FEW find it.

The few chosen in Matthew 22:14 are the same few that enter by the narrow gate in Matthew 7:14, are they’re the same few that are predestined, justified and glorified in Romans 8:30.

The balance struck in these verses is really tremendous…

In verse 3 after the call goes out it says, “they were not willing to come”; it’s not that they weren’t able to come it’s that they weren’t willing to come. The call goes out again in verse 4: “Again, [the King] sent out other servants, saying, “Come to the wedding.” But in verses 5 and 6 it says, “They made light of it and went their ways…the rest seized his servants…and killed them.” This group’s rejection is even worse than the first as you again see the people choosing not to come, choosing instead to reject the wonderful love and grace of the King. Then after all that you see that they weren’t “chosen”, looking to the sovereignty of God in choosing the elect.

The finer details of how people are chosen, and why few are chosen instead of many, looks to the very center of the tension between:

  • Calvinism and Arminianism
  • Unconditional Election versus Conditional Election
  • God’s Sovereignty versus Man’s Free Will

This has caused a debate that has raged in the church for centuries, but the truth is if you want to be one of the few chosen as Matthew 22:14 says, and be  justified and glorified as Romans 8:30 says, enter by the narrow gate as Matthew 7:13 says by confessing Jesus as Lord.

God's plans for our lives…

This past Sunday during the morning service I preached on 2 Kings 5, which discusses an Israelite girl that became one of the greatest unwilling missionaries in history. She was captured by the Syrians and made a servant to the wife of Naaman, the commander of the army. By the end of the chapter Naaman made a genuine confession of faith, and second only to the prophet Elisha, God uses this young girl to see that happen. I didn’t really discuss her in the sermon, because her story didn’t relate to the topic. Plus, I had to remove a large amount of notes, and she ended up a victim. Fortunately, she experienced some redemption in the form of this blog post! Although, the way people talk to me about my bulletin letters and blog posts (usually something like: “Don’t write about me!!!”) makes me think she might not see that too redemptive-ly.

Anyway, God beautifully used this girl to accomplish His purposes; she was captured by the evil Syrians, probably wondering why God would allow something like that to happen, and through her circumstances He brought about one of the greatest conversions in the OT. It wouldn’t be too much to say many people have probably felt like her at times, only to later be used by God in dramatic ways.

For example, Joseph’s brothers tried to murder him. He found himself thrown in a pit, then in prison, but before it was all over, he ended up as the savior of the known world, second in power only to Pharaoh. Daniel was captured by the Babylonians and brought into exile with three of his friends, but he ended up being the right hand man to multiple kings in two different kingdoms (Babylon and Persia). Ezekiel spent his life training to being a priest, but he must have figured his ministry was ruined when he was taken into exile. That’s when his ministry really began though, receiving the most famous and dramatic visions in the Bible, second only to The Revelation given to John. David killed Goliath, but then he went from being Israel’s greatest and most popular hero to a fugitive with his life daily in danger. By the time it was over though, God had delivered him through it all and he became the greatest king in the Old Testament.

Recently one of my heroes, Chuck Smith, went to be with the Lord. Last week I watched an interview between him and Greg Laurie that took place after he learned he had the lung cancer that would end up taking his life. Toward the end of the interview Greg asked him, “If you were going to do things over again, would you do anything differently?” and Chuck replied, “I think that the Lord had charge over the whole thing, so I wouldn’t try to improve on His program.” This really stuck with me, and reminded me how God has plans for our lives, but they don’t always take the route we’d expect (or often prefer).

The Election & God's Sovereignty – Part II

In my last blog on the election we talked about Obama being identified as a savior and we looked at some verses regarding God’s ideal ruler. I’d like to continue with the next two verses in 2 Samuel 23 as David describes how people will be blessed if they have the kind of ruler God described…

And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
Like the tender grass springing out of the earth,
By clear shining after rain.’

David compares the rule of a righteous king to two things: the benefits of sunlight and the fertilizing effects of rain. The idea is as sunlight and rain help grass grow, so also the righteous rule of a king causes his people to flourish.

For most conservative Christians, not only do they feel like they don’t have a president that meets those qualifications, they probably feel like they didn’t even have a candidate to vote for that met those qualifications. This will remain the case and here’s why: no human ruler will meet God’s expectation. Look at David’s next words…

5a “Although my house is not so with God.

This was very, very humble of David. He isn’t saying he didn’t live up to the standard set by God – which of course he didn’t – he’s saying [his entire] house didn’t live up to that standard and if you’re familiar with 2 Samuel you know why he’d say this. Following David’s sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, his house was plagued with murder, rebellion, and betrayal from his own children. It’s actually had to imagine another king’s house facing as many problems as David’s house.

Here’s the really interesting thing though: David failed to live up to God’s standard, and he WAS THE STANDARD for all other kings. Throughout 1 and 2 Kings, every ruler is compared to David and receives a passing grade if he’s like David and a failing grade if he’s not like David. If David was the very best, and he recognized he failed, do we really think anyone else will be close? That means we’ll never have a candidate we can look at and say, “He is just and he will rule in the fear of God (v. 3). He’ll probably be our savior!”

So does this mean there will never be a just king that rules in the fear of God? Fortunately, no that’s not what it means. There’s another King coming that will be God’s ideal King. He will meet God’s perfect standard and that’s Jesus. These verses ultimately have their fulfillment in Him. We should fulfill our civic duty and vote for the individual that most resembles God’s ideal ruler, but we need to keep something else in mind. Nobody will be God’s ideal ruler until Jesus Christ returns and reigns. He will rule in righteousness and justice.

In my next blog we’ll consider what all this has to do with God’s sovereignty.

The Election & God's Sovereignty – Part I

Four years ago when President Obama was first elected, people were using the word “savior.” Attaching that word to a man makes me cringe. Four years later something bittersweet has happened…

The bitterness is our nation isn’t much better – or some would argue, not at all better – than it was four years ago: still wars, still high unemployment, still high deficits, and the list could go on.

The sweetness is hopefully some people have learned not to put their faith in man.

When the Assyrians were attacking the Jews, the Jews were tempted to put their faith and trust in Egypt and the Assyrians said, “Why are you trusting in Egypt? They’re like a broken staff that if you lean on will snap and cut into your hand. That’s what Pharaoh’s going to be like for all who trust in him.”  (Isa 36:6). The Assyrians were ungodly pagans, but they hit a homerun with this statement. What they said to the Jews about Egypt and Pharaoh is exactly what should be said to people who put their faith in Obama or any man for that matter.

This isn’t supposed to be a criticism of Obama that implies someone else would’ve fixed all our problems. David’s last words are contained in 2 Samuel 23:1-7. In verse 3 he describes God ideal ruler, and interestingly even though you might expect a lengthy description, there are only two qualifications…

3b ‘He who rules over men must be just,

This is the first quality for ideal rulers: they must be just, which means lawful or righteous. Of the 206 times it’s used, 162 times it’s translated as righteous and 42 times it’s translated as just.

3c Ruling in the fear of God.

Here’s the second quality to look for in rulers: they rule in the fear of God. It doesn’t just say they fear God, it says they rule in the fear of God, which means when they rule, their decisions are motivated by a fear of God. They have that constant awareness that someday they’re going to stand before Him and give an account of their leadership.

Contained in these words is the idea they don’t fear man. You can’t do both. They’re mutually exclusive. If you fear God, you don’t fear man. If you fear man, you don’t fear God. It’s a fear of man that makes rulers withhold justice, but a fear of God motivates them to do what’s right.

I thought this was fitting consider we just elected a new president. I would say instead of looking for these to qualities, most people’s votes are guided by:

  • Who will do the most for me?
  • Who will give me the most?
  • Some people might be guided by nobler questions like:
    • Who’s going to improve the economy?
    • Who’s going to create jobs?
    • Who’s going to end wars?

But when we vote, whether it’s for the president, the governor, the mayor or any other office, our votes should be guided by two questions:

  1. Which candidate is just?
  2. Which candidate will rule in the fear of God?

We’ll continue these thoughts in my next blog…