6 Essentials for Proclaiming the Gospel

proclaim it

I have read dozens of books on evangelism. I have sat in conferences and seminary level courses on how to share my faith. I have equipped churchgoers with tools to present the good news to neighbors, strangers, and foreigners. On paper, I have a lot of knowledge and experience sharing the gospel, but in reality I still feel inadequate when it comes to personal evangelism.

I find the Book of Acts an indispensable and encouraging guide for proclaiming the gospel. It is heads above all other resources on evangelism available today. I am able learn all I need to know to share the gospel in the 21st Century by how 1st Century church did it. Acts is filled with case studies, one of which you and I will study together today. In this case study, I will share six essentials for proclaiming the gospel by plagiarizing another mans sermon, Paul’s sermon that is.

1) Stand in the midst the lost (Acts 17:22a)

Our text begins with “Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus,” literally it means “high place” and it rests above the city of Athens on top of Mars Mill. It was sort of a temple to the human brain, a forum for philosophical talks. Why would Paul stand in the middle of a crowd of philosophical eggheads? To understand Paul’s present situation you need to go back in Acts and hear the undergirding motivation for his trip to Athens (cf. 9:15; 16:10; 17:16ff). What you discover is that Paul has a deep rooted, God-given burden for people to hear the truth about Jesus. His burden for the lost leads him to stand in the midst of the lost.

You might ask, why doesn’t my heart beat for the lost, like Paul? Why do I struggle so much just to love my neighbor? Remember, a burden for the lost is birthed and nourished by the Spirit of God setting your heart blaze for the lost.

Charles Spurgeon said,

“The Holy Spirit will move them by first moving you. If you can rest without their being saved, they will rest, too. But if you are filled with an agony for them, if you cannot bear that they should be lost, you will soon find that they are uneasy, too. I hope you will get into such a state that you will dream about your child or your hearer perishing for lack of Christ, and start up at once and begin to cry, ‘God, give me converts or I die.’ Then you will have converts.”1

Undoubtedly, you have a burning passion for the gospel, however, one must never assume that just because one serves God as a career that you are actually living out the gospel or proclaiming it often and well. When was the last time you stood in the midst of the lost and spoke about Jesus? Does your heart ache for the lost? Will you die if God doesn’t give you converts? Stand among the lost.

2) Know the people to whom you are speaking (17:22b-23a)

Paul was in Athens, the seat of the worlds intelligentsia. It was home to philosophical legends like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno who have influenced human thought ever since. In Paul’s day, Athens was a city in philosophical flux, particularly between two parties of thought: the Epicureans (pleasure seeker) and Stoics (long-sufferer). Both quests for truth were polar opposite, and therefore, truth was thought of as unknowable, yet the people continued to spend their days talking about the newest philosophical fads at Areopagus (v.21). Athens was Starbucks on Steroids!

Paul knew the people to whom he is speaking because as he toured Athens he took good notes. He walked in the shadow of the Acropolis. He saw temples filled with a smorgasbord of gods. Upon invitation by the local philosophers, he said with kindness and clarity, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship…”

Are you a learner of people around you? What do you observe about their beliefs and culture that are different or even similar to yours? How would you describe their God? In their words and deeds, how do you see their beliefs lived out each week? How are they struggling? What questions are they asking? What do you observe?

Now you will never know another culture completely like you know your own, however if you walk around, sit with people, and ask questions you will learn a lot. Yesterday, I sat with a father who lost his 4-year old son through an unexpected accident. The boy who was sleeping on a mat when in the night a car backed over the boy crushing him to death. I regarded many men come to my neighbors mat, greet him politely, and then each guest proceed to repeat short prayers. I heard these prayers at least a dozen times within the 10-minutes that I sat with him. I was broken for him and the others who were praying. I perceived they are very religious.

3) Seize interest in the gospel by using common ground (17:23b)

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t rest with just learning about people and culture, he turns his observations into a provocative statement. Can you imagine ears perking up? Especially, as he says, “I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Paul seizes their interest by using the one thing he has in common with the Athenians. What is their common ground? Worship. Paul sees at the heart of Athens is a quest to understand life, a desire to find meaning and significance, and a hunger to worship, even if they did not know exactly what it was they were worshiping. Isn’t that the quest of all men? People want to know what matters most. People want to worship something or someone bigger than them. Worship is at the heart of the matter.

Albert Einstein echoes this in his 1932 credo,

“The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as of all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all there is.”2

A.W. Tozer clarifies Einstein’s words by saying,

“Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring and awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, that Majesty which philosophers call the First Cause (the ultimate truth), but which we call Our Father Who Is in Heaven.”

Paul uses worship as a springboard to say, “This unknown God that you worship. Yeah, I know Him. And you can know Him too. This God you say you cannot know, in Him, I live, I move, I have my entire being.” It’s an audacious statement Paul makes and in a sense he says, “I know God, therefore, I know Ultimate Truth.” How is Paul so confident that God knowable? He met Him on the road to Damascus (cf. 9:5).

I find that the religious culture I live in can be accurately summed up by this phrase, “ignorantly worshipping an unknown God.” My heart is burdened when I see people praying to a God they do not believe is unknowable just to continue with religious traditions and expectations. My neighbor believes that if God wills he will go to paradise one day, but he will never really know the God that He is praying to, but I’m sure that he will always pray. A religious façade has become his god. The form of his worship becomes more important than the one he is worshiping.

Listen, if your faith is not rooted in Jesus Christ, you too are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your daily life would go on as normal if God were no part of it, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. When your devotion lies in the practices of your church or tradition rather than the person of Jesus Christ, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If your knowledge of how to worship exceeds your knowledge of who you are worshiping, you are ignorantly worshiping an unknown God. If the gospel ceased to be your sufficiency, dependency and satisfaction, you are ignorantly worshiping and unknown God.

4) Make sure your message is saturated in Scripture (17:24-29)

Have you noticed that Paul’s sermons are saturated with Scripture? What Paul understands it that the power in a message is always in the Spirit of God through the Scripture. Paul is not the authority, he has another authority. Scriptures are his authority. In short, Paul will use the Scripture to give the Athenians a crash course on God 101. And without a doubt, this is one on the most beautiful treatises on God in all of Scripture.

  • God is the omnipotent Creator (v.24a). Your world begins with God, not you.3
  • God is omnipresent (v.24b). You cannot limit or localize God. He doesn’t dwell in tiny hand-made shrines,4 He dwells in hearts.
  • God is completely self-sufficient (v.25). God doesn’t depend on us; we depend on God for everything.5 This is the most humbling verse in Scripture and a good verse to remember as you serve others.
  • God is sovereign sustainer and ruler (v.26). He is intimately involved within history and geography.6
  • God is a gracious pursuer (v.27; Romans 1:19-20). God has placed within each man a GPS (Godward Pursuit System), a homing beacon that is questing for the Most High.
  • God is a revealer (v.28a). God imprints Himself everywhere, even in secular poetry and art (creation and heart).
  • God is the life-giver (v.28b). God is the Father of all humanity.
  • God is eternally priceless (v.29; Romans 1:22-23). People make idols of God from precious things because they have a high view of God, but He is incomparable to any object or form.

Why does Paul give this treatise on God and His character? Remember, when Paul entered Athens, he was provoked within his spirit when he saw the city full of idols (v.16). He was deeply torn and his heart stirred because the God of Scripture is stirred by idolatry too. God is jealous and angered and does not share His glory with another. He is provoked to crush any substitute, “high place”, or Areopagus in this world and in your lives. God alone desires the high place because He is the Most High God. The Scripture says there is no adequate substitute for the living God.

5) Boldly proclaim the whole gospel: call for repentance (17:30-31a)

As Paul presents the living God to Athens, he doesn’t just say “Believe in Him.” Yes, belief in God is critically important, but it’s not the whole gospel. Many people believe in God, but it doesn’t change their life. That’s why Paul, like Jeremiah, walks into an idolatrous hot bed and proclaims, “Repent!” He says, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom He has appointed.”

Who is “the man God has appointed to judge the world”? Jesus. Jesus is the blazing center of Paul’s gospel. Jesus is what makes the gospel shine. Athens could no longer claim ignorance or hide from the light. They were now cognizant of Christ, the Judge, and they stood before Him guilty and condemned (just as are those to whom you share the gospel). Yet Paul gave them a life-changing proposition: humble yourselves before Jesus and repent. If not, now, when? When Jesus judges you on the fixed and final day? It is better to face Jesus today as Savior than tomorrow as Judge.

6) Proclaim the gospel expectantly, but leave the results to God (17:31b-34)

Notice the different responses to the gospel? (vs.32-34) Not everybody responds with immediate repentance. Some doubt (mock), some wait to hear more, and some believe. We find out that at least two women were changed by the gospel, including a member of the Areopagus council. Even if no one believed, the mission to Athens wasn’t a failure. God be praised!

God calls us to proclaim the gospel (v.31b); he doesn’t call us to convert people. God holds us responsible for faithfulness; not fruitfulness. He calls us to scatter seeds, water and till peoples souls; not harvest them. Paul was simply a vehicle—a voice box of the truth. It took the Holy Spirit to convince people of that truth, it is the Spirit that opens eyes to have faith in His Son, like Lydia (cf.16:14). Conversion is the work of God and God alone. We can expect results in good faith. So let’s do God’s work in God’s way with God’s power and leave the results to Him.

In high school, I worked at Schmidt Sporting Goods. It was a great high school job. I got sweet deals on new shoes, Packer gear, and I got to watch sports while working. It was also a great opportunity to mingle with many unbelievers. During the evening shift the customer flow would slow and I’d have time to talk to other employees. Sometimes I wondered if I would ever see a breakthrough. No one ever came to church with me. No one repented and turned to Jesus. However, 10-years later, long after our days working together, I got an email from a fellow employee. He shared a story from that summer. He jump out of a boat into a murky lake. Unknowingly the water was shallow and he snapped his neck. As he lay in the hospital paralyzed he recalled our conversations at work, he also had another close friend who was shared the gospel with him regularly. He gave his life Christ that summer. The seed I planted, another watered and tilled, but God opened his eyes and produced a harvest.

You might not see the results of the gospel in your lifetime. Keep sharing. Continue praying. Never give up.

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warnings to religious people

woe to you

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:33-36)

Religious people close their eyes to Jesus (the Light of the world). In Luke 11, the Pharisees and lawyers had such eyes. They eyes were darkened. On the outside they appeared holy and righteous, but the opposite was true about their insides. Their insides were without light, full of pride and unbelief (vs.37-41). Therefore Jesus gives some serious warnings to religious people. In fact, he gives six warnings:

WARNINGS AGAINST STEALING PRAISE THAT GOD DESERVES.

1) Do not brag about what you give to God (v.42, i.e. tithes & services). Religious people don’t care for people or God, the care about how holy people think they are.

2) Do not love the good seats in God’s house (v.43). The Pharisees paid good money for the good seats—the seat where everyone had a good view of them.

3) Do not love titles. The Pharisees were more concerned about their name than the name of God (v.44). Their fame will die with them in the grave, but God’s fame lasts forever.

Jesus trumps the Pharisees. Jesus is title is: Son of God, King of Kings, and Savior of the world. He is seated: at the right hand of the Father, the seat of supreme authority. His fame will stand the test of time and one day all will bow at His feet.

WARNINGS AGAINST GUARDING YOUR IDOLS TOO TIGHTLY.

4) Do not burden (intimidate/bully) people with rules stacked upon rules (v.46). The lawyers made their living studying the law and enforcing them upon others. They don’t love Jesus or people, they only love being in control of rules and making sure others are keeping them.

5) Do not kill the prophet who calls you to repent (vs.47-51). In the Old Testament, Israel killed the prophets they did not like. The religious people will kill Jesus too.

6) Do not make the Scripture to fit your agenda (v.52). Instead, search the Scriptures to understand God’s plan. The only way to God is not religion, it’s Jesus. Religion gets in the way of redemption. Not only do religious people not understand they prevent others from understanding too.

Jesus trumps the lawyers. He is the author and perfecter of the law. He willingly dies a sinless servant so that the unrighteous could have His righteousness. Jesus is the key to Scripture. He is the Door (cf.11:9-10). Knock and you have eternal life.

In conclusion, each of these warnings has something in common: They show the condition of man’s heart, which is full of pride and idols. Now, it’s easy to point fingers at religious people, but if you were honest, you and I can be just like Pharisee or lawyer? Where has religious thinking distorted your heart? What sins of religious belief or action do you need to repent of? What does repentance look like in those areas of your life? Will you let Jesus’ light shine inside out?

thumb lick [1.14.12]

3 Things You Need to Know about Sin

Community idolatry. Are chasing false gods together? 8-idol shattering questions.

Abandoned by God. What to do when you feel alone or forsaken.

Benefits of sorrow.

My dream vacation: move, learn, eat.

Nearer Heaven: a great 30-day devotional.

Religious views of 20-somethings.

Books on Christians and politics.

It’s amazing what artist can do with books, mailboxes, and more paper.

In our State they do not test parallel parking anymore. Maybe they need to rethink that:

thumb lick thursday [5.12.11]

You Might Be an Idolater if…

How do we know if we love something too much? Where is the line between a healthy enjoyment and an idol? Idolatry is often subtle. It can creep up on us in the form of good desires, like getting married or excelling in the work place. You may have created idols for yourself if… [The Greener Grass Conspiracy]

Parenting 001

Does it seem like parenting has gotten more complicated? I mean, as far as I can tell, back in the day parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, and keep them away from explosives. Now our kids have to sleep on their backs (no wait, their tummies; no never mind, their backs), while listening to Baby Mozart surrounded by scenes of Starry, Starry Night. They have to be in piano lessons before they are five and can’t leave the car seat until they’re about five foot six.

Eating with a Mission

How we eat and who we eat with can communicate quite a bit about what we believe. Something as simple as eating not only creates natural opportunities to be intentional, loving, and missional—but meals can also be a reflection of our theology.

45 Stunning Examples Of Bird’s Eye View Photography That Captured The Beauty Of Earth

Here is an awe-inspiring collection of Bird’s Eye View photography that is a special technique of capturing photographs from an elevated location. This gives the bird’s eye view of the object being photographed. In Bird’s Eye View Photography, the camera is usually not supported by land based structure rather it is hand held or mounted and photographs are taken through triggering the camera either remotely or automatically.

What Love Wins Tells Us About Christians

Everyone knew in advance that Rob Bell’s next book, Love Wins, would surely raise eyebrows and create some debate. But no one, including the author and his agent, expected what did happen. Scot McKnight give “10 [interesting & insightful] things we can learn from one of Christianity’s biggest controversies.”

uMove

the colossal compromise

A city family bought a ranch out West where they intended to raise cattle. Friends visited and asked if the ranch had a name.  “Well,” said the would-be cattleman, “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one son liked the Flying-W, and the other wanted the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the J-Q-W-Y Lazy Suzy Flying Bar Ranch.” Their friends asked, “But where are all your cattle?” In disbelief they responded, “None survived the branding.”

Compromise is a part of life. Everyday you are faced with decisions where you have to give up something good for another good. Do I study or do I play soccer? Do I visit this family member or do I visit this old friend? Do I go out to eat for pizza or a hamburger? Do we go on vacation to the beach or the mountains? Compromise is simply changing the question to fit the answer.[1] Sometimes you cannot have both and you must compromise. Sometimes compromising is not this simple. Sometimes compromises can have a great affect on you and others depending on which option you choose. Sometimes people compromise deep-rooted beliefs or sacrifice morals to get what they want.

Why do people compromise their faith? Why do people fall away from their faith? The answer: people give into the colossal compromise. What is the colossal compromise? It is choosing to worship creation or the created thing rather than the Creator [cf. Romans 1:19-23]. Or it’s choosing to worship a man-made god or made-over god in the place of the real God.

Giving God a Makeover [Isaiah 44:6-20]

How do you give God a makeover? As the French philosopher Voltaire said, “God made man in Hus image, and man returned the favor.” In other words, giving God a makeover is to create a god in your image—a god that looks a lot like you. Creating a user-friendly god is not something that is new, since the beginning of creation man has been trying to recreate God to look more like man. Since, God is infinite, man tries to make Him more finite. Man desires a designer deity custom-made to suit out individual needs.

Have you created a god that fits your liking? People tend to cut-and-paste Scripture piecing together a nice and comfy-cozy god that puts up with their messes [by passively overlooking offenses], minds his own business [unlike a pesky parent], approves of their choices [of premarital sex, rebellious friends, and additive tendencies], and gives into their desires [like a genie in a bottle]. Thomas Jefferson made up a god like this with his Bible. He could not believe that Jesus could do supernatural miracles, so he cut out those passages in the Bible and made a version of god to his own liking that fit his own belief. Now known as the Jefferson Bible.

The Bible warns about a time when good religious Christians will compromise their faith to teachers who will tickle their ears and tell them what they want to hear, rather than speaking the truth [1 Timothy 4:1-6]. These false teachers are master sculptures at creating false caricatures of God that morphs from crowd to crowd pleasing particular peoples fancies. Like a chameleon they adapt to your ever-changing desires, helping you give God a makeover. People will go to great length to get the god of their liking [i.e. Isaiah 44:12-17]. Instead of listening to compromisers or sinful-sympathizers, challenge teachers words with the truth of God’s Word in its context—look for yourself and see if it is true.

What is the problem with giving God a makeover? You are not God. Remember, God made you. You cannot make God. Making over God is making an idol of your own god. God does not need a makeover, you do. God is a jealous God and desires no rival god, in fact, He puts your gods up for an old Western-style dual, “I am the first and the last; besides Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before Me…Is there a God besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” [Isaiah 4:6-8]

The problem with making over your own god to fit your own image is that your god is nothing [Isaiah 44:9-11]. You become deaf, dumb and blind just like the gods you worship [44:18-20].[2] You become what you worship for ruin or restoration.[3] You always lose out when you try to compromise with sin. It will consume you in the end. Let’s observe this consuming compromise from an illustration within the Bible.

What is your golden calf of compromise? [Exodus 32:1-24]

Remember when the children of Israel were wandering in the desert and they created for themselves an idol of gold in the shape of cow? This was a colossal compromise. God commanded His people though Moses in Deuteronomy 5:7, “You shall have no other gods before me.” [cf. Exodus 20:3-4] Once Moses was out of range the people caved into to their created idols. Their idol was big and noticeable. Not all idols are so easy to spot. Here are some golden calves that might go undetected to the human eye:

Idol of people. People can become idols. Moses was idolized by the Israelites. When Moses went up to the mountain their man was gone, and Israel freaked [vs.1-20]. They looked for a loophole, “Moses is a good guy and all, but he’s gone, who knows if he’s coming back? We just can’t live up to his godly standard. He’s so spiritual. Let’s lower the bar a bit. Aaron’s a softy, surely he will cave in.” Thus people look for others who will sympathize with their sinfulness and help them to compromise. Like playing Jenga, stacking more bricks on an already unstable structure doesn’t offer a solution. Sooner or later the tower will crumble, and Christians look no different than their worldly counterparts. If your relationship with God depends upon another person, friend, or pastors that is not a good sign. People are great for growing spiritually, but your key relationship must be Jesus.

Idol of possession. Do you see stuff as an idol? Instead of owning your possessions, your possessions own you. This began in the Garden of Eden, when your first parents wanted to possess God’s wisdom. Believing a lie they had to eat the fruit to be like God. According to your world, possessing money is power. The world’s motto and mantra is, “gotta have it.”  1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.” Like the rich young ruler, money and material possessions can lead to an improper love and a distorted image of God [Mark 10:21; Matthew 6:24].

Idol of provision. Whether it is food, sex or additive tendencies mans desire for peace, comfort, and ease are all provisions that man idolizes [Philippians 3:18; Ecclesiastes 2:10-11]. Advertisers make millions off of products you are led to believe will make you feel better, run faster, climb higher, accomplish quicker, or make your life easier. What you find out moments after getting the thing doesn’t quite meet the hype, and its off to the next thing. Men and women are pleasure junkies, but we seek pleasure in lesser pleasures [1 Timothy 5:6; Galatians 6:7-8].

Idol of pride. Pride prizes you as the idol. In fact, all idolatry comes down to you. Idolatry of pride is Insidious—little by little, over a long period of time you become pompous and self-serving. Pride takes many shapes and comes in many sizes, most of which our culture promotes, “Love yourself. Believe in yourself. Be proud of yourself.” All balloon our heads to the size and shape of planets that we sit enthroned upon as the most-high-galactic-ruler.

Idol of piety. Being religious can be a ginormous idol. Even those who go to church regularly, read the Bible and pray everyday, and know the religious lingo to make great idolaters. Their religious habits become idols colored by stain glass windows. They say to God and others, “Look at me. Look how committed I am.” They are great actors that play the part of the second coming of the messiah. All the while under their mask they are rotten to the core riddled with pride and self-centered piety [cf. Isaiah 29:13].

God does not let idolatry go on unnoticed. He hates idols. What did God call these cattle-loving idol worshipers? [v.9] He said they were a stiff-necked people. Why would God call them stiff-necked? They had become like cow they worshiped. Have you ever noticed how stiff a cow’s neck is? Cows look like people who have seriously thrown their backs out. Worse yet, they were like stupid cows [vs.21-24; cf. Psalm 106:19-21]. They stray away from the herd like ornery calves too cool for corral. Moses asked Aaron, “What did this people do?” And Aaron responded, “You know these people, they are set on evil…I took their gold, threw into the fire, and out came this calf!” Doesn’t sin make us moooo-cho grande morons?

Can a god-compromiser be salvaged? [44:21-28]

A god-compromiser can be salvaged because God is a Redeemer,

“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like a mist; return to Me, for I have redeemed you…Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by Myself, who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish.” [Isaiah 44:21-28]

God uncovers our colossal flaws, but covers them up with His redemptive plan. Like a potter can fix a leaky or cracked pot, so can God reshape us into His image [cf. Isaiah 64:8]. He reverses us from reflecting our idols to reflecting His image. It begins with repentance and restoration. Flee idolatry. Idolatry is a matter of the heart. Compromise reveals the commitment of your heart. The antidote is Jesus. Jesus is an idol crusher or killer. If you love Jesus solely you will flee from idolatry [1 Corinthians 14:14-22].

Jesus does not settle for cheap imitations or substitutes of God, He wants you to imitate God whose image you created in [Genesis 1:26-28]. Why settle for a substitute, when you can have a relationship with the real God?


[1] Merrit Malloy, Things I Meant to Say to You When We Were Old

[2] cf. Isaiah 6:9-14, 29:9-16; 32:1-4.

[3] Note: G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship. IVP, Downers Grove, IL. 2008.

the heart of the matter

Why do I do the things I do? Why am I so angry? Why is my friend so depressed? Why was my family awesome one day, but now it seems like guerilla warfare? Why do I get angry in traffic? Why is she so critical and controlling? Why is he so ungrateful? Why is she so afraid? Why won’t he talk? Why am I the way I am? The simple answer is: the heart.

What is the heart? The heart is not just a muscle that pumps blood, the shape of a card you receive on Valentines Day, nor where romantic feelings come from. It is said that you cannot understand a human until you understand the heart. The Bible describes the heart as your inner man [spirit, soul, mind, emotions, passions, will, etc.]. The heart is the real you, where your beliefs affect your behavior. It is the control center of a your life.

There is something seriously wrong with your heart. Your control center has a glitch in the main frame. What is the matter with the heart? It is stained with sin. Sin is like the fat that clogs your heart from functioning properly. Sin is like eating a constant diet of junk that will eventually kill you if you do not do something about it. Sadly, there is nothing you can do about it. However, God has done something about it. He has given you Christ whom if allowed will do surgery on your heart opening up the clogged arteries and capillaries so His life-giving power can clean you from the consequences of sinful living.

The Bible Uses a Tree to Illustrate Heart Change: Fruits & Roots [Luke 6:43-46]

When the Bible speaks about fruit, it is usually referring to the responses to your behavior [what you do and think based on what you believe]. The fruit is what speaks in Luke 6:43-46. Jesus says something very powerful about words [i.e. fruit]: they flow from the heart [cf. Matthew 5:21-30].

Now it is important to understand that people and situations do not cause you say what you say or do what you do. Why can’t people cause you to sin? This may fly in the face of modern psychology and self-esteem talk, but you alone are responsible for the way you respond to people and situation. People and situations might influence you to sin because you are being blamed, threatened, manipulated, piled on with guilt, or spoken to unjustly, but you are the root causer of your responses to these influencers. Your words and responses are revealed in the fruits of your heart.

You can recognize a tree by the fruit it bears. If you plant apples what do you expect to take root? What if you plant giant pumpkin seeds? How about an acorn? The type of seed you plant is the plant that will grow. It is unnatural to plant a pumpkin seed and discover a few years later an oak tree. When you are dealing with plants you recognize there is an organic connection between the roots and fruit. The same is true with people—the roots of your belief bear the fruits that resemble

When the Bible speaks about roots, it is usually referring to your heart [where beliefs are born, incubated and grow]. You have the kind of fruit you bear because of your roots. You will speak and act the way you do because of what is in your hearts. The heart is how you function. Your sin problem is a result of our heart [cf. Matthew 23:25-26; clean cup]. You cannot change your behavior until you change your heart.

How can you change your heart? It begins by a change of belief [roots], which will affect your behavior [fruit]. When I was growing up my gramps had an apple tree. The apple tree didn’t produce many apples. It began to produce dry, wrinkled, brown and mushy apples. Knowing my gramps he would try to remedy this problem. Let’s say gramps went out to the tree with trimmers, a staple gun, stepladder and a box of Washington apples he bought from the grocery store. He decides to cut off the bad apples and puts on the new store bought ones. Did he fix the tree? Stapling apples will not help because the new apples will rot too. Change that doesn’t reach the heart [roots] does not last. Cosmetic changes never satisfy. Are you stapling? What kind of fruits are you trying to staple in place of actually changing?

To Change Your Heart You Need to Understand What Rules Your Heart [Ezekiel 14:1-5]

In Ezekiel, the spiritual leaders of Israel come to the prophet because they have questions they want to ask of God. As they come to the prophet he sees something is wrong with them. What is wrong with them? [Idolatry] What kind of idols? [In their hearts] These idols run deeper than cultural or religious idols they are idols inside the heart of man.

What is God’s response? Idols in the heart are a ”stumbling block before the face” Ezekiel 14:3 If you put your hands in front of face and walk about the room you will not make it far without stumbling. That is exactly God’s point about idols of your heart; eventually, they will cause you to sin.

An idol is anything that rules me other than God. Sin is fundamentally idolatry [cf. Romans 1:21-25 & Matthew 6:19-24]. Idolatry is the great exchange: creation for the Creator. Here is a great truth from this passage: Whatever rules your heart will exercise inescapable influence over your life and behavior. You live for some kind of treasure. Whatever you treasure will control your heart, “where your treasure is your heart will be also.” [Matthew 6:21] Whatever controls your heart will control your behavior, “no one can serve two masters.” [Matthew 6:24]

Isn’t it impossible to know the heart of another man? Yes, you can only see the outside of a man [behavior]. However, Hebrews 4:12-13 tells you that the Bible is like a scalpel. It cuts through layers of flesh and exposes the condition of your heart. Although you do not have x-ray vision to any mans heart, God and His Word do. The Bible is a heart-revealer. The Word of God has the power to change your heart. That is the Bible compares itself to a surgical tool that can cut to the innermost part of your soul—the heart. For without heart change, there is no real change. Here are some great x-ray questions to ask to see the condition of your heart, preparing you for potential heart change:

What do you love? Hate? What or who do you trust? Who do you seek to please? Whose opinion matters most? Who are your role models? Who do you want to be like? What makes you tick? If this were your last day on earth what would you do? How would others describe you on your deathbed? What is your definition of success? What would make you feel rich? What brings you greatest joy? What do you desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey? What is your life aim? Goal? Purpose? Where do you bank your hopes? What do you fear or worry about? Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape or security? What do you pray for? How do you live with yourself? Where do you find your identity? How do you define what you are?[1]

Next week we will talk more about understanding your heart and in the weeks that follow how to guard your heart from influencers in our world seeking to distract you from giving all your heart toward God.


[1] Taken from an article by David Powlison, X-ray Questions: Drawing Out the Whys and Wherefores of Human Behavior, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Volume 18, Number 1, Fall 1999. Pgs. 2-9

you become what you worship

Part 3 of 3 Why Worship Matters

We are imitators [1 Cor. 11:1]. From the time we are little kids we mimic what our parents say and do, much to their cringing. We reflect [Gen. 1:26, image bearers]. It is a matter of what or who you imitate and reflect. G.K. Beale says in his book, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.” You either become like the idols or like God, you either reflect or imitate the Creator or something in creation. We are at worship war every day [Psalm 135:14-18].

Idolatry blurs the line between the Creator and creation, damaging creation [me] and diminishing God’s glory. Isaiah both reveres and reflects God to the nation of Israel amidst the nations idolatry. Idolatry = whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, other than God [What is your security?]. Idolatry is wasted worship.

I remember in college I really wanted to have a new Volkswagen Jetta. It was the hottest car for college students to have. I took one out for a test drive and was enamored. The sound system was pumping and the accelerator had some get up and go. I needed to have one. Need is a very strong word. Three years ago a family member was selling their Jetta and it was in my price range. I bought it. As I drove away I though I was hot stuff. In a matter of months the luster wore off, maintenance became an issue and a new model of the Jetta rolled off the line. Isn’t that how idols works? Idols cover as needs, but when you have it, they wear out quickly.

In Isaiah 6 God gives both a command with consequence concerning what we worship:

Command: “go and tell” [Isaiah 6:8-10]

Within God’s command He gives 3 imperatives—do not perceive, do not understand, render hearts insensitive. He says to tell the people that they will be like the idols they love: dumb, deaf and blind.”

God is judging a nation for centuries of sinful rebellion and Isaiah is chosen to deliver the bad news. His generation was the last straw. God had enough. God is slow to anger, but His patience does run out. Like Hebrew 6:1-3, God’s grace and justice are in the balance. He is gracious [slow to anger] and just [character demands consequences for sinfulness]. Isaiah would see the fulfillment of His people being destroyed. His family, childhood friends, men who sat in the cubical next to him at work would all feel the wrath of God. Can you see the tears well up in Isaiah’s eyes? What if these were your neighbors, kin or co-workers?

Did Isaiah know he would be preaching repentance 50 years to a rebellious people who would ignore His God-given message? Yes. He knew from the beginning he would be speaking to people who would be incapable of accepting correction. He knew God is gracious because His doctrine of God was inspired by God’s forgiveness.

Consequence [vs.11-13]: spiritual stumps

Isaiah asks a heart-filled question, “How Long?” The response is grim, “until there is complete devastation.” The children of God—His chosen people—will be like stumps. In other words, they will be an illustration of a ruined life to the world. Can you think of some so-called followers of Christ who are pictures of a ruined life?

However, in the midst of the smoke and rubble a remnant remains [cf. v.10 “return and be healed”]. God promises restoration no matter how far gone or deep under water His people have become. In the midst of chaos there is always Cosmos. God is a Restorer [Note: in Isaiah 7-9, God promises a Restorer who will come to His people]. Jesus is the Seed that will sprout from the stump and Restore His people through His work on the cross [cf. Isaiah 7:14; 11:1-2; 53].

Making it real: Imagine next Sunday you go to church to attend the worship service and imagine yourself in the throne room of God because He is present. Since He is here how could that affect how the Word penetrates or what comes from your mouth? Who is on the throne in your life? Who rules and calls the shots? How can the characteristics of God give you hope in times of weakness or temptation? What idols are gripping your heart?

Worship is part of our God-given DNA. We are wired [pre-wired] to worship! We were made for God [cf. Roman 11:36]. Worship begins and ends with God. He is the center of our existence. Worship is what God is all about. Worship matters because it matters to God.

Worship matters because God is [alive, authoritative, omnipotent, majestic, revered, holy, and glorious], God is pursuing willing worshipers [STOP, DROP, and ROLL], and what you worship you will become for your ruin or restoration.

 

jealousy

Jealousy is as old as Cain and Abel (cf. Genesis 4). Man has often displayed jealous behavior to get what he wants, when he wants it; usually in spite of a person or situation. Jealousy is a strong response that can be used for extreme harm or extraordinary good. The letter of James (4:5) touch’s on the topic of jealousy with reference to a certain Old Testament quotation. What is jealousy? Is jealousy godly? Is the jealousy of God in the OT the same or different as that seen of God when mentioned in the New Testament?

James 4:5 says, “Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us”?” James 4:5 specifically states he is quoting Scripture, but when scanning the OT, one observes there is no passage that it directly quotes. However, there are many OT texts that it could be alluding or echoing.

The God of the Bible is a jealous God. Theologically speaking, the theme of God’s jealous love for His people is tied to the exclusiveness of his claims like the exclusiveness of a spouse’s claims in marriage. This claim is ratcheted up because God is not only the metaphorical husband of His people but also their God. He alone is God. Since He is personal, God is jealous when His followers commit adultery because of the betrayal of idolatry. God longs for His follower’s faithfulness with a jealous longing.

Teaching God’s Jealous Character from Exodus 20:5 & 34:14.

From the decalogue and the Law we see teachings of a jealous God (Exodus 20). God is jealous within a concrete context of covenant infidelity (Exodus 34). James describes a jealous God who has not changed in His demand of absolute devotion to Himself by obedience to His commandments. The Hebrew word for jealous [קַנָּא] is used only of God with the focus on punishing those who hate Him (Ex 20:5; 34:14; Dt. 4:24; 5:9; 6:15) and demanding exclusive service (Ex 34:14).

The second Commandment expands and explains the first commandment. It deals with the heart, rather than the object of worship. This commandment becomes the gauge that measures the spiritual vitality of God’s people. God desires worship above all else. Commands against idols and pagan gods appear throughout the OT. Although James is so practical in structure, the doctrine of God is vital to the teaching of the letter. Throughout James’ letter there is an emphasis on a monotheistic God who is One (cf. 2:19). Within the doctrine of God is the doctrine of His character. James emphasizes His jealousy. God is jealous because He desires His people to adhere to the law and likewise abstain from being worldly. God’s jealousy is seen in the Law and through James’ command to His people to obey Him exclusively through their faithfulness and denial of worldly pleasures.

Analogy of Worldly Friendship from Deuteronomy 6:14-15.

The character of a jealous God who desires faithfulness in His people continues throughout the OT Torah. God is jealous for His people and desires them to worship Him exclusively. In the Septuagint [LXX] the word for jealousy is ζηλωτής–where we get our English word ‘zealous,’ or better translated ‘envy’. Within James 4:4-5, a discussion exists of worldly attitudes rooted in fights and quarrels among believers. These attitudes were from envy and selfish ambition in the pursuit of worldly pleasures (cf. James 4:2a, ζηλοῦτε). These selfish motives led to worldly lifestyles (cf. James 3:14-16). Selfish living is the antithesis of a faithful relationship with God. Selfish ambition is considered rebellion and adultery against God (Deut. 6:14-15).

The call to reject pagan idolatry in the OT was primarily against the cultic worship and gods of other nations like Babylon and Assyria. However, the idolatry in the NT brings friendship with the world to the level of being an enemy of God. Worldly living is against that which God teaches and expects of His people. One either loves God or loves the world. Loving the world to James means not only that you don’t love God, it means you are His enemy

The idea of friendship in OT and NT culture was not the shallow depiction that we see in today’s culture. God intended friendship to encourage spiritual unity and accountability against idolatry and worldliness. With a deeper understanding of friendship it becomes clear that—as James says—love for God and love for the world are mutually exclusive (cf. Luke 16:13; 1 John 2:15-16; Matthew 6:24). To be friends with the world is to be God’s enemy. Love for the world or other gods is treason toward God. God is a jealous God and does not tolerate compromising relationships, especially with the gods and idols of this world.

Analogy of Adultery from Ezekiel 16:38, 42.

Ezekiel continues the theme of the Law by echoing that God is jealous for His own honor. Ezekiel compares the rebellion of his day to that of the Exile during Moses’ day (cf. 20:1-26). Ezekiel pleads for God’s grace and restoration in the light of His jealous dealings throughout time (20:42-44). Ezekiel also touches on the adultery of his people and the jealousy of a God who desires their faithfulness (16:38, 42). God keeps His covenantal wedding vows and expects His bride—the nation of Israel—to uphold them too.

Ezekiel continues in the vein of James by relating God’s jealousy to that of an adulterous relationship. It is very likely James is thinking of the OT view that God—the jealous lover—is married to His people and His bride is adulterous and unfaithful. The reference to women in Ezekiel adheres to God’s people being His bride. James’ readers are the church, which is the Bride of Christ. Jesus also used this marriage analogy to call His followers to faithfulness.

In a godly marriage, there is a healthy form of jealousy which a husband should have for his wife. If he found out that she was having affections for another man he would rightly be jealous of her love. If he did not, one would question the husband’s love for his bride. James and the OT reinforce this analogy. God loves His people though they have committed spiritual adultery. God is gracious to restore them if they repent and turn back to Him.

James 4:5 demonstrates in the NT that God desires total allegiance as He did in the OT. God is a righteously jealous Husband who tolerates no rivals. We cannot be friends with the world without provoking the jealousy of God. We cannot claim to be the bride of Christ and then run to the worldly “man next door” for comfort. James supports the OT texts that command His people to turn from all spiritual adultery and be exclusively devoted to God. Living for self and seeking pleasure apart from God is to commit spiritual adultery. To James, active faith is tested by the world and God expects His followers to be faithful to Him alone.

To view a more technical paper with sources see JEALOUSLY intertextuality paper [James 4.5]

image is everything

god-of-hand

In our world today, image is everything. What seems to matter is what you represent and what image you portray. People spend lots of money on creating an image for themselves. A picture of a mountain doesnt compare to the beauty of beholding in reality. Images or representations cannot be compared to the real thing.

We often do this with God. We try to make Him into something we can see, touch, feel or experience, and it never compares to who He really is.

The 2nd commandment seems harmless at first, but God views them differently: “You shall have no other image of God.” (Exodus 20:3-6)

The Second Commandment seems like a repeat of the First. This commandment addresses something that hits the core of humans: our concept of God. We all have different concepts of God, and our concept of God shapes who we are. Anything we use to mirror the majesty of our Maker will fall miserably short of Him and will minimize Him. Man’s finiteness cannot create something infinite.

Now is it wrong to have a cross or a masterpiece of art that portrays God? Of course not, but when that image replaces God or becomes your sole representation of God that is when it bucks the 2nd commandment. In your mental picture album, what is your image of God?

How people often imagine God:

picture-11. Grandpa God: this God is popular, forgiving, and giving. Whenever we do something wrong they smile and say, “It’s okay, I understand, don’t worry, I love you.” No offense, I love my grandparents!

picture-32. Santa Claus God: this God is like a Cosmic Easter Bunny or Mr. Rogers. He is deeply involved in our daily lives and world events. He is positive and reluctant to punish. He likes to give lots of gifts; blessings. All we have to do is ask, and He will give us whatever we desire, like a genie in a bottle. The old we get the more faint He becomes.

picture-43. Buddy God: this God is distant, but our buddy. He does not interact with the us. We can call on Him when we need Him. He will look out for us, but doesn’t interfere with our lives.

picture-24. Texas Justice God: this God is like an evil mother-in-law, deeply involved in our daily lives and world events. He is angry at sin and punishes the unfaithful. He wears a long flowing robe and carries a gavel waiting to inflict punishment on sinners. Feeling guilty?

picture-55. Emo God: this God loves to be emotional. We haven’t met God until we have tears on our faces, lumps in our throats, a chill down our spine, and butterflies in our stomachs. Probably, just ate too many Mexican beans. We think we have to be in touch with our emotions before we can be with God.

Is God some of these? Yes, in fact He is all and more, but if we characterize Him only these ways we are missing out on who He really is. God is loving, forgiving, giving, blessing, a friend when we need one, He is just and angry at sin, and God desires us to come before Him with truthful emotions. God is very different, different compared to you and different than our concept of Him.

Why shouldn’t we have any other image of God? He is jealous (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 32:16; Psalm 78:58; 1 Corinthians 10:22). He doesn’t want to share the top spot with anyone or anything. For God to step down and acknowledge something greater than Him, would be to step down as God. The fact is, we do not need to create images of God because He has create us in His image (Genesis 1:26-28 ) and we are to represent Jesus Christ who is the exact representation and perfect image of God (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15ff).