Who Gets the Glory?

“And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” – from Acts 3:11-21

This passage picks up the narrative of the healing of the lame man through Peter and John as they headed into the temple for prayer. The healing caused quite a commotion as the crowd, amazed and dumbfounded at what had just happened, gathered around Peter and John.

The lame man, whom the Scripture tells us was lame from birth, was a fixture at the temple for he was “laid daily at the gate” to ask for alms of those entering the temple.  His instantaneous, miraculous healing astonished the crowd. There was no period of rehabilitation, as one would expect of someone who had never walked in his life; there were no tentative first steps, as one would expect from a toddler.  His feet and ankles were “immediately…made strong.”  He entered the temple, “walking and leaping and praising God.”

It is in this passage that we see the ministry of the Holy Spirit, as those through whom the Spirit worked point to Christ. Note Peter’s response as the astonished crowd gathers around him and John:

“…why do you wonder at this…why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? The God…of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus…whom God raised from the dead…has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.”

Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, points to Christ and calls the crowd to repentance and faith in Christ.

Spirit-powered ministry clearly and immediately points away from us and clearly points to Christ.  Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:14)

Spirit-powered ministry includes he witness of the Scripture, which testifies to Christ.  Peter pointed to the fulfillment of that “which God spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

Spirit-powered ministry includes the proclamation of the Gospel and a call to repentance: “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus.” (Acts 3:18-21)

So much of what we see in modern ministry directs attention to someone other than Christ; so much of modern ministry points to the messenger, describing them with accolades such as “amazing,” “awesome,” and “powerful.”  We point to a sermon or a worship performance (I use that term deliberately) and say that the leader “brought it” or “killed it.” We tell people that they need to come and experience the “anointing.”

Where is Christ in all this praise?  Who is getting the glory?

The question we must ask ourselves is this:  who gets the glory in our ministries?  Are we pointing to Christ and calling people to repentance and faith?

Yes, let us ask God for his Holy Spirit power that we may live for him and be his witnesses, but let us also say with the psalmist, “not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1)

Who is getting the glory?

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What’s the point?

“…so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” – 1 John 1:3b

What is the point of sharing the gospel with others? As we read in John’s first letter, the point of sharing the gospel is that people would be brought into fellowship with God through faith Jesus Christ, as the apostle Paul also tells us: “so faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

I recently attended a service at a friend’s church where, from the pulpit, the pastor said that our purpose in sharing the gospel is not necessarily that others would become Christians; God uses other faiths as well. It is enough to share only the teachings of Christ. (The pastor went on to invite us all to to stay for an interfaith luncheon where a Muslim imam would speak to us about the prophets, Mary, Jesus and Muhammad).

Really?!?

Then what did Jesus mean when he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

Why did Jesus tell us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:18-20)?

Why did Jesus proclaim, “the kingdom of God is at hand repent and believe in the gospel,” (Mark 1:15) at the beginning of his ministry?

Why did the apostle John write in his gospel account, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31)?

Why did the apostles endure hardship, beatings and martyrdom, if not to carry out Jesus’ command to make disciples?

Yes pastor, the point of sharing the gospel is to make disciples, for that is the command of our Lord. We follow Christ because he alone has the words of eternal life (John 6:68). We labor for the gospel because the work of God is to believe in him [Christ] whom he has sent (John 6:29).

Yes pastor, there is only “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5) – a fact made even more ironic as we were gathered to celebrate a baptism; “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Pastors, if you are not preaching this from your pulpit, then you are leading your flock astray; I call on you to repent and believe the gospel, for this is the work of God.

The Reliability of God’s Word

Isaiah 55:10-13

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven

  and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

    it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 “For you shall go out in joy

    and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

    shall break forth into singing,

    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall make a name for the Lord,

    an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

This is one of my favorite passages as it speaks of the absolute reliability of God’s Word.

Remembering that all Scripture is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), we get a vivid picture of God’s word at work.

We can easily understand the purpose of rain and snow from the illustration in the text. We know that without the rain and snow, rivers and streams would run dry; reservoirs would sit empty.  Crops would cease to grow, and people would starve.

As rain and snow serve a clear, tangible purpose of God, so it is with his Word:

  1. It comes from God, as “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)
  2. It is sent with purpose, and it always accomplishes and succeeds in that purpose. The first and most vivid example is the creation itself. God said: “’Let there be light’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3). From the creation of the rest of the heavens and the earth, to the creation of man, God said, “let there be…” and there was.

With this knowledge and assurance as our foundation, we can confidently place our hope in God’s Word.  It behooves us to get to know God’s word with all its promises, exhortations, and yes – warnings.  For just as God spoke and created, so he also warned his creation of the consequences of disobedience.

Let us read Gods’ word; let us meditate and think about God’s word, day and night (Joshua 1:8). What it says is reliable; we can obey it with complete confidence.

What does it say about us?  For starters, we know that “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13); we can be “sure of this, he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6).

He has sent his word to us, with a purpose, and his purpose will succeed.  Be encouraged, for God’s word can be trusted!

Facing Temptation: 10 Things You Need to Know

There is much that we can learn from the time of Jesus’ temptation in the desert; here are 10 things that we can learn – but make sure you read the text first…

Matthew 4.1-11 (Mark 1.12-13; Luke 4.1-13)

  1. This was a God-ordained, God-purposed time of testing.
    Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit.
    We must remember that God is working all things 1) according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1.11), 2) toward its proper end (Prov. 16.4), and, 3) together for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8.28).  What we may see as random has been purposely willed by God.
    That is why James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1.2-4)
  2. Satan can only come as God ordains and allows. He does not come after us when God’s attention is diverted elsewhere, or when he thinks he can get the upper hand (refer to arm wrestling meme).
    God is omnipresent – there isn’t a place where he is not; he is omniscient – there isn’t anything that he does not know; he is omnipotent – there is no power that can overcome him.
    Remember Job; Satan could only do what God allowed (Job 1.12; 2.6).  Remember Peter; Satan demanded to “sift him like wheat.” (Luke 22.31)
  3. We can only successfully pass through times of testing in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus entered this time of testing full of the Holy Spirit.
    We may think that we’re strong and self-sufficient, but the reality is we cannot face the devil on our own, in our own strength, for greater is he who is in us, than the one who is in the world.”  (1 John 4.4)
  4. We will be tempted when we are feeling strong, and we will be tempted when we are feeling weak.  Jesus went directly into the desert from his baptism. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10.12)
  5. Whatever our particular weakness might be, Jesus can sympathize – he knows what we are going through. We do not know what specific temptations Jesus was subjected to outside of what is given in the text, but we do know that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” (Heb. 4.15).
  6. There are 3 areas of desire in play when temptation comes, described by the apostle John in his first letter (1 John 2.15-16): “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.”
    1. The lust of the flesh – the desire for things that bring us physical pleasure.
    2. The lust of the eyes – the desire for possessions.
    3. The pride of life – the bragging that comes from accomplishment and status.

These are the same desires that were at play when Eve ate of the fruit (Gen 3.6); they are the same desires that are at play in us.  She “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise…”

  1. It’s interesting to note that the tree of which God said not to eat from was not the only tree that was good for food and a delight to the eyes as “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Gen. 2.9)
    We must be careful that we don’t start to view God’s provision as insufficient, or worse – we start to despise it.  In Numbers 11.1-6, the Israelites came to despise the manna that God sent from heaven to feed them in the desert.  If we do that, we open the door for temptation and become vulnerable to deception.
  1. We need to understand the deception of Satan; it is the two-fold lie that says: 1) there will be no consequences for our actions (“you will not certainly die.”), and 2) that you are lacking something – God is keeping something from you (“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”).
    When we start to see things that we desire as entitlements that have somehow been denied to us – look out –temptation is on its way.
  1. Just as Jesus was armed with the Word of God when he faced the devil, we need to be armed with the truth as we face temptation:
    “Everything created by God is good…” (1 Tim. 4.4).
    “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” (James 1.17).
    God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” (Eph. 1.3
    “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” (Prov. 34.10)
  2. Most of all, we need to remember that “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Cor. 10.13)
    (“The devil made me do it” is not a valid defense.)
    God has given us all that we need to face temptation and endure it.
    “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life”  – (2 Peter 1.3)

At the end of his time of testing, Luke’s gospel says that the devil “departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” Satan is always on the prowl, “looking for someone to devour.”  God himself tells us that “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:7)

Let us be watchful; let us be diligent; let us stand firm – always.

Are You a Mountain Dweller?

From Psalm 15:

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

Who may live on the Lord’s holy mountain?  “The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart.”

At first pass, this answer can be discouraging, for “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’ ”? (Proverbs 20.9).  Then we remember Christ Jesus, who lived a sinless life, fulfilling the Law; whose righteousness is credited to us who believe.

Hallelujah – we’re in! We can approach the throne of grace with confidence! (Hebrews 4.16).  But we’re not off the hook…

Before we boast of being ‘mountain dwellers,’ we need to read the rest of Psalm 15, which goes on to describe the characteristics of the mountain dweller:

  • speaks the truth from their heart;
  • tongue utters no slander,
  • does no wrong to a neighbor,
  • casts no slur on others;
  • despises a vile person, but honors those who fear the Lord;
  • keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;
  • lends money to the poor without interest;
  • does not accept a bribe against the innocent

These characteristics point to how we treat one another.  They are not acts that we must perform to earn a place on God’s holy mountain; they are the fruits or evidence that we are indeed dwelling on God’s holy mountain.

Jesus reinforced this thought when he spoke to his disciples in the upper room:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another.”
– John 13.35

Treating each other as described in the Psalm is the evidence that will be weighed by those around us. Conversely, if we don’t treat each other with love, that will also serve as evidence to be weighed by those around us.

Are we dwelling on God’s holy mountain?  If so, the evidence will be found in how we treat each other.

Who are you afraid of?

Read Psalm 27.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation…the Lord is the stronghold of my life…”

David opens with a declaration; and with that declaration, he asks the questions,
“whom shall I fear? Of whom shall I be afraid?”

David is not boasting that he is tough and fearless; if you read the other Psalms, you will see that he is anything but.  David is telling us where his confidence lies.  Because the Lord is his light and salvation; because the Lord is the stronghold of his life, there is no need to be afraid of anyone.

When the wicked come – and they will come – to devour (or slander); when they come in numbers to wage war, David says, “my heart will not fear.”  There is no fear of man.

Granted, we are not in David’s situation; none of us here is a ruler of a nation, where war and assassination are real threats. We are just everyday people who go to school, or work (or both). What is there for us to be afraid of?  Who are we afraid of?

As followers of Christ, we must realize that we have enemies; the main one being the devil, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8).  We can however, walk in the confidence that “the one who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4.4b).

But there are other things that we are afraid of that may not be as obvious.  What are they?

The opinions of others, such as classmates, coworkers and even family members; peer pressure or political correctness at school, work or among friends can place in us a fear of being rejected, hated or labeled as intolerant.  This kind of fear can be a snare to us if we give in to it, as it keeps us from speaking or standing for Christ when we should.

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”- Proverbs 29:25

Fear of man traps us in embarrassment and timidity. Instead of being bold witnesses for Christ, we become quiet faint of heart; at its worst, fear of man can keep us from obeying God.

In David, we have an example of what it means to be free of the fear of man.  With his confidence completely in the Lord; David was free to pursue the Lord, to “dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of [his] life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” David is free to sacrifice with shouts of joy; he can sing and make music to the Lord, despite the presence of his enemies.  In the New Testament, we see Paul and Silas singing hymns of praise in the Philippian jail, despite being beaten and having their feet in chains (Acts 16).  There was no fear of man; there was only the presence of the Lord.

God wants us to be free from the fear of man; he wants us to be able to be joyful, making melody in our hearts to him, despite the presence of those who would mock, reject and even persecute us.  Let us cast off that fear of man “tor the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Tim. 1.7).

Unrestrained Mercy, Unrestrained Praise

Psalm 40.1-11

God does not restrain his mercy toward us.

The apostle Paul tells us that God has lavished the riches of his grace on us (Eph. 1:7-8); the apostle John tells us that God has lavished his great love on us (1 John 3.1).

And here in this Psalm we see the results of that unrestrained mercy:

“he turned to me and heard my cry.
   He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
   He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.”

In the light of God’s unrestrained mercy, we are challenged to ask ourselves: Have we restrained our lips?  Have we held back from proclaiming his saving acts to one another? Have we hidden his love and faithfulness from one another?

God does not restrain himself when it comes to his love and his mercy toward us.  He has turned to us; he has heard our cry; he has lifted us up out of the mud and given us a firm place to stand. He protects us; he preserves us; he keeps us.  As we read earlier this week, “He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor. 1.8-9).  “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2.13).

Let our time together (and apart) ever reflect God’s unrestrained mercy and love toward us.

Let us be unrestrained in our thanks and praise, for it is as we do that, that “many will see and fear the Lord, and put their trust in him.”