We showed this video Sunday, seeking to apply the main message in the Book of Job. In the end, the Book of Job asks the question: Do you worship God because of all that he has done for you or do you worship Him simply because He is God? Matt and Janna Shuford share the powerful story of how they discovered the answer to this question in one of the clearest explanations of the Gospel I’ve ever heard. Hit the link below:
I can’t stop thinking about him. I’m shocked, I’m sad, I’m confused, I’m challenged… I’m envious. Paul’s words from Philippians 1:21 come to mind. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” All of us who have been impacted by Brian have experienced an unbearable loss. Those who never knew him have missed out on an unspeakable blessing. I’m one of the blessed ones. I have lost a dear friend, brother, and partner in ministry. I will miss Brian in a million ways. A friend of mine says, “Grief is the price we pay for love” and I am certain, the greater the love, the greater the grief. This is why we are all grieving so much.
I’m often asked at a time like this, “How do people who do not know the Lord make it through something like this?” My answer is always the same: “They don’t.” Oh, they may live on; they may make it to the next day somehow. They may press on in some way and “make it through”. But God has not called us to just make it through life. Following Jesus means that we experience His abundant life in us through all things. The NIV says, we are “more than conquerors” through Him (Romans 8:37). The NLT says it this way: “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us”. Those of us who cling to the grace of Jesus and seek to live in step with the Spirit, live above and beyond whatever may come our way. We know that we are fully alive as we grieve with hope and weep through breaking loss. The Gospel is not that we receive Jesus and all of life will go well for us, or we’ll never get sick, or never walk through tragedy. The Gospel is this: Whatever we face in life (or death) we get Jesus and He is more than enough for us. We are called to live life to the full in Him. His love that defines us comes without condition, never changes, and will never fail us. The extraordinary life that Jesus envisions for us is one of reckless abandon and unrestrained joy because we have Him. We are defined by His love and that is enough for us.
I know Jesus better because I encountered Him in Brian. He lived like Jesus – for others. He has forever impacted my life for the better. In Galatians 5:22, Paul, this painter with words, presents a portrait he calls the “fruit of the Spirit”. Here is Paul’s list of qualities that are present in a life that is being transformed by His Spirit. You tell me (if you knew Brian), do these words not describe him? “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..” This is the Brian I know and love. This is a portrait of Jesus.
Thank you God for the great gift you have been to me through Brian. I look forward to seeing him soon. By the time I do (and it could be today), he will have met every person in heaven and will be ready to joyfully introduce me to each one. I look forward to that. Until then, for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Thank you to my friend Emily Davidson (in our youth ministry) for using her amazing gift of voice to worship her Savior!
This fall at PCBC we walked through a series of messages asking the question, “How much is enough?” “When is enough, enough?” “How much is enough to give?” “How much is enough to keep?”
Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
Liberating Truths That Lead to a Life of Generosity
1. God owns everything.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” Psalm 24:1-2
“‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:8 God owns any and all kinds of currency and wealth.
“You have been bought with a price, therefore glorify God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:20 God owns all of us.
2. We are stewards. We are managers of all that is His.
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” I Corinthians 4: 1-2
3. What we sow determines what we reap. (vs. 6) Whatever you put in the ground is what’s coming up later. This natural law is spiritual law as well.
4. God wants us to be generous and cheerful givers. (vs. 7) The amount of the blessing of your harvest is determined by how much you sow. The question is not, “How much should I sow?” The question is, “How much do I want to be blessed?”
5. We are blessed to be a blessing. (vs. 8-11) We’re “enriched in every way SO THAT you can be generous on every occasion.” The moment we hang on to the blessings of God, His blessing stops.
6. God prospers us, not to raise our standard of living, but to raise our standard of giving. (vs. 10-11) The way we excel in giving is when we determine to cap our lifestyle.
7. How we spend our money reveals our hearts and exposes our priorities. (vs. 11)
8. God multiplies our giving into transformed lives. (vs.12-14) Only God can do that.
9. Our giving is an act of worship. (vs. 15) Oswald Chambers defined worship as “Giving back to God the very best He has given me.”
The Generosity Challenge: “Test me in this” Malachi 3:10
• Start giving
• Become a percentage giver
• Give the tithe
• Give beyond the tithe
God issues the challenge to us all. He dares us to believe in Him, to trust that He will be faithful. At the start of this Christmas season, determine to be a giver. This will be the greatest Christmas you’ve ever known if you will simply practice the simple truth of Jesus: It is more blessed to give than to receive.
“He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
How much do you love God’s Word? Do you cherish it? Do you read it? Do you know what a gift it is to your life?
Please take the time to watch this inspiring story. Let it challenge you to NEVER take God’s Word for granted. Study it. Love it. Obey it.
Let it draw you to Jesus.
“God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
People ask: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” R.C. Sproul noted, “That only happened once, and He volunteered.” Jesus was sinless and yet He “became sin” for us. What does this mean? If you want to live forgiven you must fully grasp what took place on the cross. And the key to unlocking the mystery of the cross is to consider the most perplexing, uncomfortable, and difficult words that ever came from the lips of Jesus. In His final moments on the cross, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 He’s actually quoting Psalm 22:1, but clearly this is a cry of anguish. Here “forsaken” means, “abandon”, “left in trouble”- someone in trouble and turning your back on them. I’ve had many people ask me, “Did He really believe the Father had abandoned Him?” Could it be that God the Father really did forsake Him? To understand the difficulty of these words we must first understand the nature of the Triune God. The Trinity (the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) is at the core of biblical Christianity. It’s important to note that the Trinity is a relationship of submission. The Son says He does nothing apart from “the Father’s initiative” and that He does only what He sees the Father doing. Jesus says that ultimately the Spirit would come and “will guide you in all truth”. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father says, “This is my beloved Son”. In John 17:11, Jesus prays for the Father to make His followers “one even as we are one”. Could it be that for the first time in all of history there was violence done, not only to Jesus, but to the Trinitarian relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Understood correctly, this cry of anguish found in Matthew 27, is one of the most powerful, perplexing, and comforting words that Jesus ever spoke to us. In fact, I pray that as we unpack them you will be overwhelmed, besieged, and undone by God’s love for you.
See Matthew 26:36-46 In an attempt to understand more fully what Jesus meant, we need to go back to the Garden of Gethsemane the night before the cross. As I read the event of Jesus’ last week, I’m struck with the reality that He is in complete control of all that is happening. If you look carefully and listen to His words it seems as though He Himself is writing the script. As the story unfolds you realize that’s precisely what’s happening. He has a secret ambition. It’s interesting to note that just prior to His arrest, John 18:4 says that Jesus knew “all things that were to happen to Him.”
Matthew’s account of the events leading up to the moment of Judas’ betrayal is the most descriptive account of all that Jesus was going through. After Judas agrees to betray Him, Jesus shares the Passover meal with His disciples. During the meal Jesus tells Peter that he will deny Him three times that night. Then they go to a spacious olive grove of the garden called Gethsemane. Emotionally drained (in fact Luke tells us that they were “exhausted from sorrow” in chapter 22:45), the disciples reclined under the moon and stars of a now peaceful night and quickly drift off to sleep. Jesus, however, would find no peace, no rest at all. Matthew says He “began to be sorrowful and troubled” (26:38). Mark adds that He was “deeply distressed”. Often Jesus would go off alone, most of the time to be alone, but on this night He would need His best friends there with Him. Jesus, the Man, needed human companionship. Solitary confinement is the worst form of punishment our species has ever devised and, in this moment, Jesus didn’t want it.
When His disciples failed Him, Jesus did not try to conceal His hurt: “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (vs. 40) His words suggest something more threatening than loneliness. Is it possible that for the first time ever He did not want to be alone with the Father? A great struggle is underway in the heart of Jesus. No formal, well recited prayers would come on this night. No poetic, nicely phrased petitions in these prayers. Dr. Luke tells us, “being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling on the ground” (22:44). He describes a rare medical condition that had taken effect, known as “hematidrosis”, in which the blood vessels, under such stress, expand and burst into the sweat glands. Imagine what happens next: He falls face down on the ground crying out to God the Father.
Why was Jesus in such agony? I would suggest that you and I have never known this kind of anguish. I’ve talked to many people who knew they had only days, even hours to live. Some are terrified but most are accepting, even calm. Jesus seems anything but calm. Knowing what was to come, was He afraid of the beatings, the scourging, the spikes driven through His wrists and feet? Was it the fear of death that tortured Him so? Here we realize that sometimes it’s a blessing not to know the future. Was it the betrayal of His closest friends? Was it the denial of Peter? Was it a combination of all of these things together? No. I believe that the pain Jesus knew in the garden and would experience on the cross was greater than any one of those things and even greater than all of those things combined.
To know what was at the heart of His agony, we must understand what He meant when He referred to the “cup” the night before in the Garden.
What was this “cup”? What was Jesus hoping to avoid? It was not merely death. It was not physical pain on the cross. It was not the scourging or humiliation. It was not the torture of nails being driven through His body, not the horrible thirst, nor was it the disgrace of being spat upon or beaten. Again, it was not even all these things combined. I say this because those were all the things Jesus said not to fear. In Luke 12:4, He said, “And I say to you my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more they can do.” “But,” He went on to add, “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast you into hell; yes, I say to you, fear him!” (vs. 5) Clearly, what Christ dreaded most about the cross was not physical death. It was the outpouring of the wrath He would endure from His Holy Father. The key is a clear understanding of “the “cup”. The “cup” was a well-known Old Testament symbol of the divine wrath of God against sin. Consider just a few references:
“Awake, awake! Stand up, O Jerusalem, You have drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury; you have drunk the dregs of the cup of trembling, and drained it out.” Isaiah 51:17
“Take this cup of fury from my hand, and cause all the nations, to whom I send you, to drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.” Jeremiah 25: 15-16
“Drink, be drunk, and vomit! Fall down and rise no more, because of the sword which I will send among you.” Jeremiah 25:27
Pretty graphic stuff. What Jesus was experiencing on the cross was nothing less than the cup of the terrible wrath of God! It’s worth noting here that “wrath” is not an out-of-control reaction of someone going “postal” on an angry rampage. God is beyond that. Wrath is God’s holy reaction to sin and in this case, it is unleashed on the Son. The “cup” that Jesus was to drink was the vile, repulsive cup of sin bringing upon Him the full fury of the wrath of God.
Now, consider this: The One who had never tasted the tiniest drop of sin, the One who had never been separated from the Trinitarian relationship, will now bear the full brunt of the divine fury of God upon the most terrible, grotesque sins ever committed by every person who would ever live. This, of course, includes your sins.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He made who knew no sin to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” That holy transaction of our sins being poured into Him, the full wrath of God unleashed upon the Son, is what Jesus feared most. He had never been separated from the Father, until the cross. God the Father has never abandoned anyone except His own Son.
This is the only way to explain the perplexing prayer of Jesus on the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) Friend, as you read this, do you realize what you’ve been saved from? God imputed (transferred, exchanged, ascribed) your sin to Christ and then punished Him for it. Peter puts it this way:
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 Don’t you feel a need to stop right now and thank Him? Go ahead and do it.
In the garden we find the only place where Jesus addresses God as “My Father” (Matthew 26:39,42). In fact, Mark records He prayed, “Abba, Father”. “Abba” is the Aramaic equivalent of “Daddy” or “Dada”. I believe that Jesus was experiencing a kind of “holy separation anxiety”. What parent has not seen the terror in the eyes of a child while being left behind- as if their eyes and their cry was saying, “I can’t believe that you are leaving me!”, as if to say, “Why have you abandoned me?!” I believe that is precisely what Jesus went through on the cross, and the garden was a prelude to the pain He knew was coming. With this cry, He yelled, “My God…” not “My Father” (the only place He does this). Did the Father really abandon the Son? Was there really violence done to the Trinity while Jesus was on the cross!? I can’t explain it theologically or understand it rationally, but how else can you justify this cry of Jesus?
As He cried out in anguish, God’s inflexible holiness and boundless love collided, and our redemption was made possible.
That’s what happened on the cross. For you to be fully forgiven, Jesus had to be fully abandoned. In that moment, the Man Jesus was not in charge, the Father was. What does this transaction over 2,000 years ago have to do with you today? Everything. It is more relevant than today’s newspaper and more powerful than any truth you’ll ever know. “You are forgiven”, He says. Jesus, the Lamb of God, took on the full fury of God’s wrath. He died so that you wouldn’t have to and now, you can live forgiven.
What is the “righteousness of God”?
“But now He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Colossians 1:22 What is “the righteousness of God” poured into us?
The “righteousness of God” is to be as righteous as Jesus is righteous.
How can I receive it?
“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
How can I live in it?
“He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
So, grace is unmerited favor- Does God forgive me regardless of how I live? And once I receive His grace, can I go live any way I want to live? I believe this question gets to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. If I truly comprehend the gift of God’s grace and the price that was required to pay so that I might be forgiven, then I will respond with a gratitude that would involve my whole life- all that I am. Otherwise I experience what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”- grace that cost Jesus everything but cost me nothing. To receive His grace is to experience “costly grace”- I understand that the possibility of grace cost Him everything and therefore, cost me everything. It is costly because Christ’s life, death and resurrection becomes a model, the example for MY life. Thus Bonhoeffer’s most famous quote, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” There is no greater cost. Of course this is in line with the call of Jesus Himself:
Then He said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Out of gratitude for this great exchange we die to ourselves in order to live for Jesus. As we die to ourselves it is HIS life now alive in us. Let your life now be one big, constant, ever-growing act of gratitude back to God for all He’s done for you.
Several years ago I sat at a rehearsal dinner with a young woman who was getting her masters degree in mathematics. Not too fond of math myself, I told her how impressed I was and that I felt I had never been real good with numbers. She responded with, “Oh, we don’t really use numbers.” I was silenced. I didn’t even know how to respond, at least intelligently. Math without numbers? Isn’t that like geology without rocks, astronomy without stars, or zoology without animals? Surely she was talking a new math that I had not yet learned.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus takes us to school with the scandalous mathematics of grace. Here He tells the troubling and frustrating parable of the vineyard workers and mathematically- challenged landowner. Troubling because it challenges our sense of fairness and it makes us question what is just. Of course, this is why Jesus so masterfully crafts this great story.
The landowner of the vineyard went out to hire workers for the day and found men waiting at the marketplace. He then hired groups of workers at different times throughout the day- “early” around 6 a.m., 9 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. The workday ended at 6:00 pm. When time came to pay all the workers he started with the last hour crew and paid them a full day’s wage. Those who had worked much longer and harder were eager and optimistic to see what the landowner would pay them. Each one received the very same wage, though the last to be paid had worked hard all day long. We resonate with the tired and frustrated workers as they complain of the injustice served. “It’s not fair!” is our collective response.
The story turns completely when we look harder, not at the characters in the parable but at ourselves- or I should say, as we find ourselves in the story. Every now and then if I read the Bible with a humble introspection and an eye toward application- I find myself in the story (which of course, is the point and power of Scripture). We identify with the frustrated workers because we actually think we’re the first-hour guys, the all-day workers. Our self-righteous angst betrays our misunderstanding, until we recognize that we are, in fact, the last-hour workers. You and I are the ones that others deemed unworthy to hire. We are the ones who showed up late and have done very little. This is the point of Jesus’ story. Perhaps the most profound words in the parable are found in the all-day workers protest against the landowner: “you have made them equal to us”. Praise be to God for the unfair and maddening gift of His grace.
The New Math of Grace
• Grace is not about human merit. It is about divine forgiveness.
• Grace is not about earning wages. It is about dispensing gifts.
• Grace is not about religious moralism or behavioral compliance to rules. It is about a complete reorientation of life to the Gospel.
• Grace is not about finishing first or last. It is about not counting.
I never grow tired of this sequence from “The Mission”- a powerful reminder that we have been set free in Christ. If you have received Christ’s forgiveness you are now completely loved, fully pleasing, totally accepted by God. You don’t have to pay the price for your failures.
Think about your own life for a moment. What burdens are you carrying around? What failures from your past continue to beat you down? John Mark McMillan’s lyrics from, “How He Loves”: “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us.” Life is too short to be burdened by sin that Christ has taken to the cross.
“There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1