Religiously Worthless

Did you know you can be religious and yet not worship God? And no, I am not referring to false religions that ascribe the worship of false gods. I am talking about people who profess to know and follow the one true God but who are not sincerely worshiping Him.

As I will be preaching about Sunday morning, Lord willing, God addressed this very issue with the Israelites in Malachi’s time. They claimed to trust and follow God, but their supposed worship was worthless. They were religious yet worthless because they were not ascribing to God the worth He is due.

Rather than giving God their best, as the Mosaic Law required and as God clearly deserves, they were giving God their leftovers. They were going through the religious motions, making their religion worthless.

VALUE WORTH

If something has great worth, would it not be foolish if we did not value it? Value worth, or you are a fool. This is why we put money in banks, in safes, and in our pockets. We do not set it in buckets in our front yards and then claim that we value that money. Rather, we invest it because we value financial stability and security.

We do not buy a brand new vehicle and park it in the driveway if we have a garage. Well, some people do, while keeping junk in their garage, and that tells me that they probably do not value their vehicle like they probably should. Value worth, or you really do not believe it to be worthy of value.

We do not stick our hands in a fire because we value our hands and our health. When people do not take care of themselves physically, they are proving they do not value their health like they should. Perhaps their health is of less worth to them than the pleasure of overeating or being lazy or submitting to a harmful addiction.

The list goes on and on. Value worth, or you will regret it. And, of course, there is no one of greater worth than God Himself. Do your values point to that truth? Do you value God? Does your daily life tell others that He is worthy.

RELIGION DESPISED

Going through the religious motions is despised by God. Do not do it. Do not give in to the temptation to do “just enough” to look good or appear to be right with God. He knows our hearts, and He knows when we are simply going through the motions.

As is made clear in Malachi 1:6-14, God demands and deserves our best. Giving Him anything less is not acceptable. He is worthy, so do not toss Him your leftovers.

Bring it to your governor! Would he be pleased with you or show you favor?” (Malachi 1:8).

Imagine if you had someone important, like the governor, over for dinner one evening. You know he is coming, and not only is he the governor, he is also someone you claim is a good friend. As you sit down at the table together, you get out some leftover macaroni and cheese from the fridge and set it in front of him, while you begin cutting into a fresh, juicy steak for yourself. Does that show any sort of love for your friend? Does it imply that you value your governor? Are your efforts to be commended? Of course not!

Sure, that example sounds ridiculous, but so is any insincere religious effort we offer God. If we claim to know and follow and value God and yet give Him nothing more than our leftover time, money, efforts and devotion, then we are even more despicable than someone who gives leftover mac-n-cheese to a “dear friend” while eating a steak.

If we claim to love God and yet only think about Him or seek Him on a Sunday, then our so-called love is a lie.

If we claim to be Christ-followers but Christ’s church is no more important to us than sleeping in or getting some extra work done, then we not Christ-followers at all.

Religion that is half-hearted is despised. Do not believe the devil’s lie otherwise.

CHRIST SATISFIED

The truth is that none of us can ever be religiously devout enough to honor and please God. He is holy and perfect, and we are not. Our efforts will always fall short, as we are sinful people in need of a Savior.

For that reason, and because God loves us and desires a relationship with us, He sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus lived a perfect life of devotion to God. He satisfied the Law and did everything you and I cannot. His sacrifice on the cross in our place satisfied God’s requirement of justice and punishment for our sins.

And, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead. He defeated sin and death for everyone who calls on His name. If you desire to be right with God, do not turn to religion. Turn to Jesus. Only He can satisfy you because only He has satisfied God.

Only after turning from sin and surrendering your life to Jesus will you sincerely long to please God with a life of worship. Only then will you begin to despise going through the religious motions like God despises it, but instead honor Him with genuine religious devotion.

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Don’t Ask Dumb Questions

Have you ever asked God, like the Israelites did in Malachi’s time, “How have you loved us?” (Malachi 1:2). Even if you have not verbally spoken those words to God, surely you have at least thought them. We all have our moments of weakness, discouragement, selfishness, and foolishness. And, in those moments, we tend to lose sight of the big picture, if not lose sight of the truth itself.

THERE ARE STUPID QUESTIONS

We have all heard people say that there are no stupid questions, but that is not true. There are stupid questions – questions of foolishness. “God, how have you loved us?” is an example of a stupid question. In fact, is there a more foolish question than this?

Stupid questions are questions that, by intention, fail to recognize and/or remember Truth and rather attempt to justify our own shortcomings. Israel, for example, was an ungrateful people in Malachi’s time, often failing to remember God’s amazing love for them and instead, complaining about their circumstances. They forgot what God delivered them from, and they were instead focused on always wanting more.

Their question was filled with foolishness, much like a child who might ask his mother after not getting what he wants, “Don’t you love me?” Stupid question, whether we want to use such descriptives or not.

GOD’S LOVE IS UNDENIABLE

We would run out of time – run out of physical life – trying name all the ways God has proven His love for us. I will not even try to accomplish such a huge task. Instead, I want to briefly talk about one such proof – Vacation Bible School (VBS).

Our church had our annual VBS a couple weeks ago, and there are few pictures of God’s great love that are clearer than VBS. There are several reasons why VBS is so special, but I will stick to three… three reasons VBS is a great example of God’s undeniable love.

1. VOLUNTEERS SERVING

VBS is impossible without volunteers, and our church had more than 40 volunteers who served this year. Wow! Many of these volunteers showed up to our church facilities after a full day of work to then work for three more hours at VBS. And, let us be clear – VBS is work! VBS is hard work. VBS is exhausting and often overwhelming, but VBS is worth it. That is why so many volunteers serve.

God loves us and loves our children through volunteers who sacrifice their time, their energy, their resources, and even, at times, their happiness for the sake of serving others during VBS. God loves us through His church, and His church does amazing things during VBS.

2. CHILDREN RESPONDING

Children are a blessing from the Lord, even when they do not behave like blessings from the Lord. Oh, what a joy it is, though, when children respond to the gospel message during VBS (or any time)! If we know and follow Jesus, surely we must agree with the Apostle John: “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

That joy is true of our biological children and our spiritual children – those with whom we have the privilege of discipling and encouraging in “the truth.” What a great picture of God’s love when children respond to Him.

In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for their sake – that they get to know and follow God. In their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for our sake – that we get to be a part of their journey. And, in their response, God’s undeniable love is clear for His sake – that He loves people enough to draw them to Himself.

Praise the Lord! God loves us by loving our children and opening their hearts to the truth about Jesus.

3. JESUS SAVING

None of this would matter – VBS, volunteers serving, or children responding – if not for the ultimate picture of God’s love: Jesus saving (saving people from sin and eternal death). We have VBS because Jesus saves. We prioritize VBS because Jesus saves. We exist as a church only because Jesus saves. Volunteers serve but not in vain because Jesus saves. And, children would have no reason to respond if not for the truth that Jesus saves.

How has God loved us?

God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” (Romans 5:8) If you have yet to experience this love, would you surrender your life to Jesus today?

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series – The Greatness of God – through the book of Malachi. And, as is the point of this post, I will be talking about our “Great God of Love” (Malachi 1:1-5). Do you realize and rejoice in God’s great love for you?

VBS Children Performing One of the VBS Songs during Our Sunday Morning Service on July 28th

Faith Requires Truth

Despite what some might claim, “blind faith” is not what Christianity requires. Sure, no one can see God on this side of eternity. We did not see the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. So, in regards to seeing, there is indeed a blind aspect to our faith because there are some things we just will not see in this life. Still, Christian faith is not blind.

THERE ARE THINGS TO SEE

Namely, we can see and experience Truth – biblical Truth. In fact, if an understanding and belief in this Truth are missing, real Christian faith is impossible. While you can claim to have faith apart from eternal Truth, that kind of faith will not last. Rather, it will crumble when your temporary security crumbles.

Faith that endures requires Truth, the Truth of God’s Word. After all, what is your faith actually in, if not in eternal Truth? And, how can you see and experience eternal Truth apart from the perfect Word of God?

JESUS IS THE TRUTH

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The way we see and experience Truth is by seeing and experiencing Jesus. The way we see and experience Jesus is through the Word of God.

For this reason, I am shocked and saddened to hear of so many people who profess faith in Jesus Christ and yet do not seek Him through His Word each day. If you want to see Jesus, learn about Jesus and know Jesus, seek Him through His Word and call on His name in faith and humility. “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it” (Acts 4:12).

TRUTH HAS PROOF

Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 2 John and talking about the proof of Christian faith that comes from the Truth of Christian faith. Going through this short letter, I will talk about three things Christian Truth promotes “because of the truth that remains in us and will be with us forever” (2 John 2).

That message will be available Sunday afternoon, along with previous messages from this series, HERE. Do you know and follow Jesus? If so, there will be ongoing proof in your life from the Truth ruling your life. If not, will you seek Him and surrender to Him today?

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Knowing the Most Important Thing in Your Life

What is the most important thing you must know? Perhaps some would argue that you must know how to do your job, or you will lose your job and source of income. Others might say you must know those you care most about (and those who care about you) because we need one another. Maybe some would argue that you must know what makes you happy because everyone wants to be happy. There are certainly those who would declare you must know your god and/or your religion, or you will have no lasting purpose.

There is probably a long list of claims we could put together about the most important thing you must know in your life. Most likely, though, most of those answers probably have something to do primarily with this life.

THE ANSWER IS IN THE LIFE TO COME

The most important thing you must know in your life, though, is how you can live forever. How can you know God and spend eternity with Him? He created you, and only He can fulfill your greatest needs and longings. You must know Him.

Consider – if you were on your deathbed, but there was a cure, what would be the most important thing you could know? The cure!

Well, this life is about to end for all of us. Whether the end is today, tomorrow or fifty years from now, the end is coming. What then?

In his first letter, John has incredible wisdom and insight regarding this topic. “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

THE LIFE TO COME IS IN THE ANSWER

Jesus is the Answer. Eternal life is only found in and through knowing Him. In fact, John emphasizes throughout his letter three things you must do to know the most important thing in your life – to know that you have eternal life.

  1. Trust in Jesus.

    It is those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” who can know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). You must believe Jesus is who He said He was – that He is the eternal Son of God who came to this earth to live a perfect life, die on the cross for your sins, and rise again to win the eternal victory over sin and death for everyone who trusts in Him.

    You must trust in Jesus to have eternal life and to know that you have eternal life.
  2. Obey like Jesus.

    This truth is all over John’s letter. Those who know the Son of God, obey the Word of God. Period.

    Obedience is proof that you are a child of God and are being changed each day by His Spirit living in you. Does this mean you never sin? No, John made clear that perfection in this life is not what he was talking about (see 1 John 1:8 – 2:2).

    What it does mean is that we will never find contentment and satisfaction in sin. We will not continue in sin. We will repent of sin and grow in obedience.

    But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in God: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:5-6).

    You must increasingly obey the Word of God like the Son of God if you have eternal life and want to know that you have eternal life.
  3. Love like Jesus.

    If you trust in Jesus Christ for your eternal salvation and, as a result, obey His Word, then you will also love God and love others. Jesus Himself said that it is that love that sums up His Word (Matthew 22:37-40) and proves we are His disciples (John 13:34-35).

    To “walk just as Jesus walked” (1 John 2:6) requires love. “The one who loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).

    Like Jesus, loving God and loving others are the obvious fruit in your life if you have eternal life and know that you have eternal life. Love is the natural overflow of someone who has experienced God’s love.

DO YOU KNOW?

Do you know the most important thing you must know – how to live forever with God? How sure are you?

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through 1 John 5:13-21 on the “Proof of Assurance.” I want to discuss two requirements for lasting Christian assurance.

John wrote his letter to help you know. God desires that you know. Do you know?

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Useless Faith

Faith by itself is not enough. Specifically, faith in general – faith in something – will not do. Having faith in faith, faith in yourself, or faith in “religion” will fail you. In this case, faith is useless.

FAITH + TRUTH = ENOUGH

Right faith – faith in the only One who is worthy of all of your trust and devotion – is enough. Do you have right faith?

If you are not trusting in the One who never fails, your faith is not enough. I have had a lot of faith in my favorite NFL team – the Minnesota Vikings, for example, more times than I can remember in my 40 years of life. There have been numerous times that I really believed they were the best team in the league and thought they were serious contenders to win the Super Bowl. Yet, they are 0-40 in even getting to the Super Bowl since I have been alive, and they were 0-4 in the Super Bowl before that.

Needless to say, my faith in the Vikings is a useless faith. Please do not get me wrong – I will continue to be a fan and cheer for the Vikings. I will continue to be optimistic because this “just might be the year.” But, no matter how much faith I have, only the object of my faith will prove whether or not my faith is rightly placed.

Football might be a silly example, so let us think about something much more serious and important: life… Life now and life eternal. Where do you place your faith?

OBJECT > AMOUNT

In 1 John 5:1-12, John keeps reminding His readers that it is the object of our faith that matters. He does not try to persuade us to have more faith but rather to focus on the object of Christian faith: Jesus Christ our Lord.

You might be tempted to take part of one Bible verse and apply it to your life because it can make you feel good. For example, “This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith” (1 John 5:4b). But, to understand the meaning of that statement and apply it correctly, you must understand the context of such faith. “And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5).

The object of your faith is more important than the amount of your faith because it is the one in whom you place your faith that will determine how useful or useless your faith truly is.

JESUS = THE ANSWER

Faith in and of itself is fleeting. It is temporary. It is useless. It is not victorious. But, faith in Jesus Christ is the answer we all need.

This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on the “Proof of Faith” (1 John 5:1-12). I hope to communicate three results of genuine Christian faith, and that message will be available Sunday afternoon HERE, along with other messages in the series.

In the meantime, though, I pray you will sincerely seek God for truth. Trust in Him and in what He has done for you in and through the Lord Jesus. Do not settle for faith in anything or anyone else. The resulting disappointment will be devastating, not just in this life but more importantly for eternity.

Change Required

It is that time of year when we are trying to keep up with all the flowers around our house – watering them, pruning, deadheading, keeping the weeds away, yelling at the rabbits who keep eating the flowers, etc. Zoe (above), for example, is pretty proud of her potted flower on our back deck and has been very diligent about making sure it is well-watered and growing.

If a plant has life, the plant will grow. Yes, flowers need pruning and deadheading at times, but they prove they have ongoing life by their petals and their color and their beauty. A dying plant, on the other hand, withers and wastes away.

CHRISTIANS ARE CHANGED

The Christian life is relatable to plant life, as Jesus explained very clearly in John 15:1-8. Plants are dependent on good soil, sunshine and water to survive. Christians are dependent on God and one another.

And, when someone comes to know Jesus Christ, God gives that person new life. That life is never the same again but rather is in a constant state of change. The ongoing change is what proves God has saved that person from sin and death.

When a flower blooms, it proves it has life. When a tree grows beautiful green leaves, it proves it is getting the nutrients it needs. When a bush grows and needs to be trimmed, it proves it is healthy.

When a Christian continues to change – drawing closer to God with an increasing desire to live for Him and serve others, the Christian proves He belongs to God. Rather, God proves through the changing life of that individual the legitimacy of that person’s faith.

GOD AND CHURCH

When a plant is thirsty, it begins to wither, but when it gets the water and sunshine it needs, it begins to flourish again. Similarly, when a Christian is failing to walk in complete dependence on God and failing to remain in fellowship with God’s church, he begins to wither. He needs God. He needs the church.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I plan to preach through 1 John 4:7-21 on the “Proof of God” in the life of a Christian. What are the life-evident proofs that someone “has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). “This is how we know…” is a phrase that is all over 1 John, and so there are constant reminders of the proof seen in and through the life of those who know Jesus.

You can listen to that message (Sunday afternoon) and previous messages from this sermon series HERE. More importantly, though, I want to encourage you to consider and examine your life. Is there ongoing spiritual fruit growing and proving your faith in God to be legitimate? If not, what needs to change?

Genuine followers of Jesus love God and love others, longing to walk closely with the Lord, serve the church and make disciples.

EVIDENCE OF CHANGE

With Richland Baptist Church, we say, “Our passion is the gospel. Our church is our family. Our world is our mission.” And, we try to remind one another often that all three of those go together. They are not mutually exclusive. Either all three are evident in the life of a Christ-follower, or none is evident.

When God changes a life for eternity, evidence of that change is a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, a longing to be actively involved with a church family, and a growing commitment to live a life on mission. Someone who knows and embraces the gospel loves the church and wants others to know and embrace the gospel, too. Period.

Gospel. Family. Mission. Are any of those evidences of change missing in your life? If so, very likely all three are missing, and if that is the case, God can change your life forever and give you the evidence of change if you will simply surrender everything to Him.

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Love doesn’t always feel good.

If you love someone, showing that love is easy, right? Not necessarily. If you love someone, showing that love feels good, right? Not necessarily. Love is all about how you feel, right? Not really.

As the One who created us and as the One who is the ultimate example of love, God defines love. His Word has a lot to say about love, and He does not say much about love being easy or feeling good.

When you come to know and follow God, you automatically learn more about love. When you experience His love, you are clearly changed and then desire to show that love to others.

Thankfully, we are seeing this at work in our two oldest sons, Noah and Levi. Recently, Noah had an opportunity to help with disaster relief cleanup in Jefferson City, Missouri. Then, he and Levi were blessed to head to Guatemala with a team from our church to minister to orphans and others in a needy community.

Do these mission tasks feel good? Perhaps at times they do, as there is obviously a great sense of encouragement and satisfaction when we get to serve others. But, there are certainly plenty of times when we just do not feel those things. Love – the love of God – still compels us, though.

On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching about the “Proof of Love” in the life of a Christian, looking specifically at 1 John 3:10-24. Later that day, you should be able to listen to the message HERE. In the meantime, though, I want to challenge you to consider three reasons love does not always feel good.

1) Love is unconditional.

If you read 1 John 3:10-15, you will not see any conditions on the love we are commanded and expected to have for one another. We are not told to love others if they deserve our love. We are not told to love others if they love us in return. We are not told to love others for what they can do for us. The Bible tells us to love one another. Period.

In fact, this love proves something very important: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14).

You either have eternal life, or you are headed for eternal death. Unconditional love for others is a defining characteristic for those who have experienced this new life in and through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is your life marked by unconditional love for others?

2) Love is costly.

This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

Did it “feel good” when Jesus was brutally beaten and crucified? Of course not. Love compelled Him, though. It was His love for sinners like you and me that led Him to the cross, and there was nothing more costly than the cross.

No, this does not imply that in order for you to truly love others, you must die for them, but it certainly does mean you are willing to die. And, it clearly means love is not confined to that which is easy and feels good. Love is costly.

Is your love for others costing you anything?

3) Love is exhausting.

To say, “I love you,” is really not very difficult. To show “I love you” is often exhausting. If love is unconditional and costly, then it is certainly exhausting.

Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action. This is how we will know we belong to the truth and will convince our conscience in His presence” (1 John 3:18-19).

Loving a person who has frustrated you is not easy. It is exhausting. Loving those who are hurting and unable to do anything for you in return is not easy. It is exhausting. Loving those who do not reciprocate that love is not easy. It is exhausting.

Yes, I do believe that when our hearts are set on the Lord, we can still experience a great sense of joy and contentment in the midst of this unconditional care, cost and exhaustion. Does that mean it will always feel good and be easy, though? No. Otherwise, the Bible would not have so much to say about the command to love one another and our need to love one another. Doing so takes intentional effort, regardless of how we feel at the time. Love is exhausting.

Do you ever find yourself exhausted because of your unconditional, costly love for others?

Love is transformational.

If you experience God’s love by surrendering your life to Jesus Christ, then you will not only experience this kind of transformational love; you will be transformed by this love and show this love to others. This love, after all, is an essential proof for those who have a genuine relationship with God.

Have you been transformed?

Noah and Levi are currently on a mission trip with our church to serve the children of Casa De Mi Padre orphanage in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Guatemala, as well as others in the community. To God be the glory!