What the Church Ought to be FOR Today

As I write this, it’s the morning after a dozen police officers were shot, five of them fatally, sacrificing themselves to defend the freedom of people to protest. It’s been a terrible few days for America.

Ironically, before any of this began, I had begun preparing the first sermon in a new series of messages we’ll be preaching at Grace Hills starting on Sunday, July 17 called What We Stand FOR. In a time when the church’s brand seems to have developed around all the stuff we’re against, what are the things that we, as followers of Jesus, are actually for?

I wanted our church to speak prophetically, with truth, grace, and hope, to our community and our culture in one of the craziest election years in the last century of American history. I’m realizing now that the timing of the series is a gift from the Holy Spirit. There’s never been a more appropriate time for us, as Christians, to ask ourselves what Jesus wants his movement, his people, his Kingdom to stand for.

The four major topics, again, chosen before the events of this week, seem quite appropriate for us to re-discover. I believe they reflect the values of Scripture, as modeled and taught by Jesus, and as exemplified by a freshly commissioned early New Testament church. They are timeless values that have the power to bring redemption and healing to a broken humanity…

Equality. Justice. Mercy. Liberty.

These are all good ideas. And they were originally God’s ideas.

We stand for Equality

God thought up humanity. He thought you up, along with every other person on the planet. And because we all bear God’s image – old, young, born, unborn, rich, poor, male, female, slave, free – we possess inherent dignity, worth and value. So the church, carrying out the mission of Jesus in this world, stands for the equality of all people. We’re all precious to the Creator – so much so that he sent his Son, Jesus, to pay a ransom for all of us!

James the Just, the brother of Jesus, understood the principle of equality and drove it home in his general epistle to the dispersed Christians of his day. He challenged us to reject favoritism and prejudice and to practice something America needs now more than ever – empathy. We are increasingly, as a society, slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry. But James urged the opposite. Be quick to listen. Be slow to speak. Be slow to get angry.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, all human life is precious.

We stand for Justice

It was the prophet Amos 5:24 that Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted when he said, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (NRSV) God is just, and justice was his idea. Not only will God render justice for all of the sins of humanity, he will bring to justice all who oppress the disadvantaged. We stand for justice, especially on behalf of those who can’t stand up for themselves.

We stand for Mercy

Mercy is the act of giving good things, including forgiveness, to those who don’t deserve it or who can’t pay it back. God spares us because he loves us, out of mercy. And he commissions us to go and be agents of his mercy to the rest of the world. We stand for mercy for the oppressed. We believe in mercy so much, in fact, that we give our time, our talent, and our treasure to serving people and helping people who can’t necessarily help themselves.

We stand for Liberty

Jesus was the great Liberator, setting free all who were enslaved by sin who would come to him by faith. We believe in liberty and in freedom. And we also believe in restricting our personal freedom, of our own free will, for the good of other people. The church is on a mission to free captives, whether those in literal slavery or those living under the weight of spiritual bondage and addiction.

In times like ours, we need the Prince of Peace more than ever. And he has commissioned us to go in his place, as his hands and feet, and extend the reach of his Kingdom and its values to everyone who will hear us. We carry out the ministry of the Anointed One…

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.

– Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Let the church rise up to speak truth, extend grace, and show radical love to everyone around us so that all the world will know the One whom we follow!

Growing from “Ought To” to “Can Do” Living

You ought to go to church. You ought to read your Bible, eat right, quit smoking, pay your tithes, and be a better mom… dad… husband… wife… yodeler, underwater basket-weaver, etc.

The weight of “ought to” living can be crushing. In fact, it’s really the essence of the law. Our sin nature traps us right in the line of fire of hundreds of “ought to” rules and rituals and no matter how hard we try, we can never quite fulfill our “ought to” quota.

Here’s the big problem with living under an “ought to” approach to life… We will never be able to change our hearts or please God merely by changing our outward behaviors. “Ought to” is a dead end street.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit has a different plan.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3:17 NLT

When you begin a relationship with God by repenting of your sin and trusting in Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior, Redeemer, and Lord of your life, the Holy Spirit moves into the core of your being. And he gets to work. He uses the truth of God’s Word, the lessons of your circumstances, and the wisdom and counsel of friends to shape you into the image of Christ.

And… he grants us the one thing we need to thrive spiritually… freedom.

Now, I can do this! I could never do it before because I was too broken, too sinful, too oppressed, and frankly, too discouraged by my own failures. But now there is grace and forgiveness and freedom.

You’ve been living under “you ought to pray more” but you may not have realized yet that you can pray big, bold, audacious, faith-filled prayers to a God who loves to hear, is powerful to answer, and desires to listen.

You’ve been living under “you ought to share your faith more” but you may not have realized that you can befriend lost people, show them love, speak well of Christ, and draw others into your faith story because the God who wants to save everyone around you desires to speak through you.

You’ve been living under “you ought to be a better husband/wife/mom/dad/leader” but you may not have realized that you can grow, a day at a time, into the person God intends you to be and into the likeness of his Son who went first, calls you to follow, and walks with you all along the way.

You’re going to face days of seeming defeat and moments of failure. Welcome to earth. But you can get up and grow again, move forward, and live life to the full.

I know you can do it because the Author and Finisher of our faith has done it for us and now waits at the finish line, cheering us on toward victory together with a great cloud of witnesses, all of whom testify to the power of big, biblical faith.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is – and if you’re a believer, he is right in the middle of your life – there is freedom from ought to. There is the possibility of can do. So what’s next for you?

Just Remember Who Is Really God, and Who God Really Is

When you read the book of Exodus, you’re reading the story of a God who is determined to free his people from bondage and slavery. No matter how hard the Egyptians fight, no matter how much the Israelites misunderstand God’s motives, and no matter how long the journey ahead might seem, God keeps on working to free his people.

Throughout the story of the Exodus, there is a phrase God keeps repeating through Moses to his people. “I am the Lord.” He continually attempts to shift the focus of his people away from their problems and back to their Deliverer.

Feeling abandoned? I am the Lord who always shows up.

Feeling powerless? I am the Lord, the all-powerful One, who fights for you.

Feeling trapped and enslaved? I am the Lord who absolutely will free you!

God has gone to great lengths to make sure you have a way of knowing who he is. He has spoken, in times past, through his leaders, prophets, and priests. He has written his signature across the stars so that this magnificent universe shouts about his creative power. He has come to earth via the incarnation, when God himself put on flesh as Jesus, the Messiah. He has inspired the prophets and apostles to record his heart and mind for us, and then guided history to preserve his word for us today.

You’re reading this, in fact, as a reminder from God about who he is. He is the God who created. He is the God who sustains. He’s the God who designs, who redeems, who saves. He’s the God who frees from slavery, who fulfills every single one of his promises. He’s the God who keeps his covenants, who sees and draws near to the abandoned. He’s the God who restores and heals.

When you’re in bondage and slavery to sin, know that God has been so gracious and so loving that he’s been willing to become your sin for you on a cross so that you might be made righteous, clean, and pure again. He’s the God who forgives when we don’t deserve it, who grants us the inheritance we could never earn on our own, who gives us eternity with him in his very own heavenly home as the ultimate deliverance from all of our suffering and our struggles in this life.

This is Yahweh we’re talking about. He is God! And he is God alone.

You’ll never fully understand him, but you can trust him. You’ll never predict his next move, but he’ll be there, often behind the scenes weaving your life into a beautiful tapestry that magnifies the glory of his grace to others.

Wherever you are spiritually today, whatever you’re going through financially or physically or emotionally, He is still God. He is still powerful and faithful and strong. And more than anything, he wants to show you his glory by drawing your focus from everything else to himself.

He’s already proven with a cross and an empty tomb that he’ll do anything necessary to draw your heart back to his.

A Brief, Personal Thought on Demolishing Our Strongholds

We have an enemy, and he loves to hurt us because he loves to hurt anything or anyone that God loves. So he uses the most brief or subtle of experiences to create pockets of guilt, bitterness, and resentment. A single experience of abuse, one word of unfair criticism, or perhaps a lifetime of being manipulated by someone close to us can all create warped views of self, sin, and God in us. The pain of these experiences locks us in bondage and puts us in a stronghold.

If we don’t get to the root of the strongholds in our lives, we will be spiritually handicapped for the long haul. Ignoring the source of our destructive tendencies short-circuits our ability to overcome them. Thankfully, every believer has unrestricted access to all of the spiritual weapons necessary to establish lasting freedom in Christ.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

– 2 Corinthians 10:4 (NIV)

I’ve been there. Because of experiences in my life going all the way back to childhood and adolescence, I’ve known what it’s like to wrestle with all of the deadliest of sins. And I’ve experienced breakthroughs and new hope because of the power of Jesus Christ to forgive and break the chains.

In Christ, we can submit every thought, healthy and unhealthy, to a new kingdom ethic as we enter into confession and conversation with God. There is freedom available for you as you learn to flourish in the intimacy of continual prayer and thrive in the arena of grace. Jesus died to free you, and He rose to empower you, and He is coming again in ultimate triumph over your enemy, so live in the light of that victory today!