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Sacred Labor

August 31, 2014

How Should I Work?

“Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:22-24 ESV)

The context here is first-century slavery which is a matter all its own. For the sake of our time, let’s see that in principle this applies to all of us.

Submissive to workplace authority

All authority is God’s authority and most workplaces involve relationships of responsibility. This isn’t bad. The building of the temple had a vast army of leaders and laborers and many of Jesus’ parables involved landowners, workers, and compensation.

Employees here are called to an attitude of submission to those in authority. This is both an action and an attitude. I think we all know what this means and why the bitter complaining in the break rooms is no place for Christians. You might say, But you don’t know how bad it is! Remember, this was written to first-century Christian slaves. If they can apply it in slavery, we can apply it in our modern day employment.

Diligent/industrious

  • “Whatever you do, work heartily.” (Colossians 3:23)
  • “…knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:24)
  • “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

Why would God care about the way I work when I am at work—the quality of my work; my energy; my enthusiasm; my ethic? Why does God care? Remember, the goal of the Father is to turn us into little Jesuses; to conform us to his likeness. That includes every aspect of life, even work, and even the quality of the work we offer our employer. We have to see our work as worship. The cobbler is as much worshiping God when he makes shoes as when he sings or prays to God.

Students, the quality of that paper you turn in or your science fair project says something about your view of God. Make your volcano explode to the glory of God. That’s what the real ones do. This is where it’s so exciting to consider the difference our faith can make in our lives—to see all of it as worship.

I was so proud some time ago when I was told about a local business that employs a number of our teenagers. Apparently there was a young woman who worked there. She watched the Bethel teens work and listened to how they talked and she said, That’s the church for me. She now serves faithfully here each week.

Would anybody at your work or school be surprised to find out you are a Christian? Would the quality of your effort on the job be a positive or a negative for the name of Christ?

“If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, go on out and sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Handel and Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.’” (Martin Luther King Jr., “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.” Sermon at New Covenant Baptist Church, Chicago, IL. April 9, 1967.)

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

It’s All About Him 18: In Him All Things Hold Together

August 24, 2014

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:15-18 ESV)

Salvation

There continues to be the insidious teaching that the incarnation, the cross, even eternal life is all about us. It says God did all this first and foremost because of our value, goodness, or worth in God’s sight. Of course, this appeals to us because it exalts us. It makes us feel important.

But this is like the rooster thinking the sun rises for him, so he can show off his crowing. Roosters naturally like doctrines that make them important. The problem is that it simply isn’t true. In fact, what does the next verse say about WHY God has done all this? Why has Christ created, sustained, incarnated, died, and accomplished this salvation? So that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:18) He, not we. Christ, not us. It’s not all about us. It is all about him. It most certainly was about our sin and his love for us and him bearing our guilt in atoning for our sins. All of that is true and all marvelous and all wonderful. But these things accomplish a greater purpose. They were done for a more glorious reason. So that in everything he might be preeminent.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

“In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:3-14)

In this passage of Ephesians are listed the saving activities of God through Christ on our behalf. Yet what is repeated as the purpose? For the praise of his glorious grace. (Ephesians 1:6)

We have the incredible and eternal privilege of being the canvas upon which God the Father painted the glory of his Son. We bear his image. He is conforming us to Christ’s likeness. This is a wonderful privilege and for all eternity we will marvel that God chose to endow us with the likeness of his Son. But portraits aren’t about the canvas or the paint. They are valued because of whose image they bear. The greater the person, the greater the value of his likeness. Christ is the uniting purpose behind all that God has done, is doing, and will do on our behalf to save us, for the praise of his glorious grace.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

Pastoral Affection

August 17, 2014

“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Philippians 4:1 ESV)

A pastor is not a good pastor who simply loves well, as much as some may admire him. Good pastoring requires leading, and to lead well means to set a direction, to admonish—occasionally say the hard word. Good shepherds have the rod and the staff for a reason.

We see Paul using that rod and staff in this text. He exhorts them, in light of this glorious resurrection and eternal life, “Stand firm! Don’t give up. Don’t retreat!” All leaders must exhort the team. We get it. But notice the next verse; it’s one of my favorites. Pastor Steve, if only we could get back to New Testament Christianity, then everybody would love each other and get along great and always agree on everything. If only the Apostle Paul was our pastor, then we’d really feel the love all the time. Really? You haven’t read the New Testament. Guess what first century Christians were like? A lot like us.

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2)

This may surprise you, but there were two women in this Philippian church who once were friends but at this time they were not getting along! Who ever heard of such a thing? Two women on the outs with each other. They used to be BFFs but now….

Even the New Testament church with all that apostolic love and miracles, struggled to get along. Philippi is Lydia. Philippi is the earthquake and the Philippian jailer. Philippi is the famous letter about joy and rejoicing. In spite of all of that, there were two women on the outs with each other, everybody knew it, and they were called out by name. Their spat was documented in Holy Scripture. In heaven people meet Syntyche and say, “You and Euodia still not getting along?”

What’s the point? Good shepherds love well. Good sheep do too. Good shepherds lead well and strive for the unity of the church. Good sheep do as well. This side of glory there are no perfect shepherds, no perfect sheep, and no perfect churches. Yet we must strive for it.

Sometimes the brokenness of the church only serves to highlight the glory of Christ—the one true and faithful shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. All the Euodias and Syntyches in the church, all the spats about this, that, and the other, all the imperfections we may see in shepherds, all of it points us to our future. There we will not only live in perfect unity, but we will know the love of the great Shepherd of our souls, Jesus. “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

All the love and affections between good shepherds and good sheep on earth are little reflections of what we really want, to be with Christ and to experience his love in all its eternal fullness.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Ten Commandments: The Great Command

June 8, 2014

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the great and first commandment.And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”(Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

The Greatest Map

The whole law of God is a map for us. In this series we’ve seen that even the Ten Commandments are really about heart-level obedience. But the Greatest Command is the greatest map. Map to what? Map to joy. Map to true happiness. Map to fullest human experience. The map to what my soul was made to find true satisfaction in. Psalm 16:11 says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures evermore.” Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “for the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, despising the shame.” Commands get a bum rap; we think they are leading us to sadness. God’s commands lead us to joy because God’s commands lead us to him!

“The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” (Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, p. 62) Think about that. What does it tell us about a man if the biggest and most important thing in his life was his stamp collection? Or what do you think when you hear about the woman who left her whole estate to her dog? Or what about the guy who is buried with his Harley? “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” So we see love for country in the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings this week and we honor it. We see love for spouse and child as noble and right. But the greatest love the human soul can have is to know and love his Creator. To love God. For this love to be the defining love of his whole life and for all of life to revolve around it. All the heart. All the soul. All the mind.

What if God loves us enough to command what he knows will give us the greatest joy? My daughter turned one on Friday. She doesn’t understand much but she understands “no.” She wants to touch an outlet, and we say, “No!” She wants to pull the TV down on herself, and we say, “No.” We tell her we love her over and over again. I don’t think she understands our love talk because at this point, all she seems to understand is “no.”

The Ten Commandments can feel to us like all God is saying is “no.” Don’t do this. Don’t do that. All we hear is “no” because to our sin nature, that’s all it feels like.

Just like with our daughter, behind God’s “no” is God’s love. Behind every command not to bow to idols, not to take the life of an image bearer, not to covet stuff, is the love of God to us. Behind God’s “yes” is God’s love. Out of his love for us also comes his command to love him. To love God and live for God expands the soul and heart and mind. It creates an “inner relish” for God that is the summit of human experience. God knows this because he made us this way. All the commands say it but the Great Command says it most clearly—God is the only worthy object of our heart, soul, and mind.

So ask yourself, if my soul is measured by the object of its love, who or what is that ultimate love?

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Tenth Command: Covet Christ!

June 1, 2014

Covetousness or Contentment?

Each command tells us about the character of God and has a positive command with it. How about the tenth? What does no coveting tell us about God? It tells us that God alone satisfies the human heart. God alone provides what we need. God is sovereign over our lives and our circumstances. God is good in what he provides for us and what he provides for others. If I have something, it is because of the goodness of God. If I don’t have something, God also deems that good. The tenth command is about the sufficiency of God as soul-satisfier and the final judge of what is good for me. All of that is another way of saying that the tenth command is a command to covet God and God alone.

You might say, Wait, what? Are you saying it’s wrong to strive to improve my lot, wrong to improve my car, wrong to improve my savings account, wrong to improve my health? No. God is for human flourishing. 1 Timothy 4:4 says, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

  • The tenth command is about freeing us from the materialistic mindset
  • Freeing us from identity in things
  • Freeing us from thinking he who dies with the most toys wins
  • Freeing us from the lustful accumulation of this world
  • Freeing us from the kind of misdirected, obsessive, and pathological life pictured tragically in Gollum and the ring of power in The Lord of the Rings…his precious

If there is one command that is needed in American materialism, it is the command to covet God. We must never think that having anything but him will satisfy the longings of our hearts. What can satisfy? What can provide my soul with peace and contentment? God alone through his Son Jesus. When I realize that God gave me his own Son as a sacrifice for my sin and redemption for my guilt, now there is no circumstance that I cannot be content in because in every circumstance I have Jesus. This is Paul’s argument in Philippians:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”(Philippians 4:11-13)

People quote verse 13 and apply it to anything and everything. No. This has to do with contentment. Paul was familiar with seasons of abundance and seasons of want; times of plenty and times of hunger. Yet there is a secret he had learned. Are you in a time of want? A time of hurt? A time of trial? Or have you lost something or someone very dear to you? You long for peace and contentment. As Christians, there is a secret. Do you know it?

If we are looking to our circumstances for contentment, we will never find it. Our circumstances are always changing, and in a broken world, ultimately disappointing. There are some circumstances that can never be changed. I’ll never have contentment in those IF I derive peace from circumstances. But Paul’s contentment wasn’t in his circumstances.

Contentment does not come from changing my circumstances to meet my desires, but rather changing my desires to meet my circumstances.

How can the Christian do this?

My circumstances are controlled by a sovereign God who loves me.

Do I believe God is in control or not? If he is, then the things I deem unchangeable and undesirable are here for reasons I may not understand but can trust God in. How do I know he loves me? He gave me Jesus.

In every circumstance, whether desirable or not, Christ is the source of my strength and satisfaction.

That is Philippians 4:13. But what does it mean? It goes back to Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul treasured having Christ so much that even death was gain to him because in death he gained Christ. This is so hard for us because this world and this life have such a hold on us. But Christ assures us of eternal life and that we should live to be rich there.

I can battle coveting what I don’t have or what others do have by treasuring above all else what I have in Christ.

Do you think about your final days on earth or even your deathbed? There will be no more houses to buy. Hobbies to live for. Money to make. Degrees to earn. Possessions to accumulate. All there is ahead is eternity. What do we step into eternity with? Not a house. Not a spouse. Not an ox. Not a donkey. That’s true for Warren Buffet and the homeless man on the street. Death reveals the true value of all these things we covet so dearly. What is their value? Nothing really. So how can the Christian die happy? If in my life I coveted Christ, then I can step into eternity with anticipation because in death I finally get what I have longed for—personal presence with Jesus and eternal life in paradise with God.

Dear friends, the things in this world are not evil in themselves but we make them evil when we covet them and mistakenly place our hope for happiness in them. It is better to covet God. Better to covet Christ. Better to covet the godliness of godly saints. Better to covet commendation from Christ as a good and faithful servant. This is how we fulfill the tenth command: enjoy the freedom it provides to live in this world without loving it and to be rich in eternity as our spiritual longings are fulfilled in Christ.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Ninth Command: Truth-speaking in Love

May 18, 2014

Encouragement, admonishment/confrontation, forgiveness, affirmation, praise, and thanksgiving

These are all graces that smooth out relationships and help us get through the inevitable tough spots. Some people are so good at this. You get around them and when you are done talking with them, you feel uplifted somehow. They may not talk about you but even their talk about themselves is so gospel-gracious that you sense both their humility and their genuine interest in you. This can be faked, but when it is genuine, somehow you know it.

Please also note that admonishment and confrontation is on here. Speaking the truth in love means sometimes we must talk about conflict or sin or failure. This means confronting lies and false doctrine in the church. Jesus describes in Matthew 18 this kind of loving confrontation. These are not as pleasant but they can be most helpful to others. So we aren’t talking about superficial happy talk that sounds like a cocktail party but is devoid of truth. Truth has teeth to it and we shouldn’t resent brothers and sisters who confront us in love to help us.

We would all be so blessed if we consciously and intentionally sought to bless others with our words. I have personally challenged myself in the area of affirmation. When I see gifting or spiritual growth, I need to say it; affirm it. I don’t do it nearly enough. I want to improve. How about you? Do any of these stir your heart to action?

140517_18_pic2 GeeseMy old pastor would often use this as an illustration of what it should be like to be in a healthy church. Apparently they have done studies about the honking of geese. You know when geese are flying around because they make an awful racket. There is so much honking. Did you know studies suggest they are actually encouraging each other with their honking? You are a good flyer! That’s an amazing formation! You can make it! Honk! Honk!

What kind of noise is heard around your church? Have you honked at anyone lately? Affirmed them? Encouraged them? Admonished them with grace somehow?

The power of life and death is in the tongue. When that tongue flows from a heart of gospel truth, motivated by God’s love, what a powerful blessing it can be. Gossip isn’t honking. Mr. Goose told me that Mrs. Goose once….Lying isn’t honking. Bragging isn’t honking. Gospel truth in the heart means I speak the truth with my mouth for the good and joy of everyone in the community of believers.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

The Ninth Command: Truth is Sacred

May 11, 2014

The Gospel: Transforming Liars into Truth-speakers

How do we fulfill the ninth command?

My parents came up with a very devious way to teach their children the need to tell the truth. In the DeWitt house growing up if any of us lied, my parents would say, “Oh that lie made your tongue dirty. We need to wash it.” So in we would go to the bathroom and out came the bar of soap. And some of you know where this is going because you grew up with parents that hated you as well. They would take the bar of soap and rub it on my tongue with some water. Yes, Pastor Steve had his mouth washed out with soap. To this day, I remember that taste. It is one of the nastiest tastes there is.

While that was a pretty good deterrent, it was no solution to the problem. Why? The problem was not the tongue, but the heart. For me to obey the ninth command, I needed to have my heart washed out with soap. “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45 NLT)

My tongue was merely saying what my heart was thinking. To truly be clean, I would need the spiritual soap to get down there. That’s why all the jails and courts and punishments and warnings will not redeem one liar into a truth-speaker. Somehow we have to get the truth in our hearts. If the truth is in our hearts, then truth will be on our tongues.

“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5 ESV) This is God’s soap. The ninth command condemns us and it can’t make us truth-speakers and it certainly can’t save us. “We must know the truth if we are to live the truth.”(John Murray, Principles of Conduct, p. 130.) How do we get the truth in our hearts so that our communication can be truth-speaking?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6) “I am the way the truth and the life.” What is he talking about? A way to get your heart cleansed. A way to get your sins forgiven. Jesus said elsewhere, “The truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) How do we get the truth that cleanses and saves into our hearts?

This is going to sound impossibly simple. We believe. This believing requires a radical turning from sin in what the Bible calls repentance. Essentially, I choose to believe the truth about Jesus, which brings the truth of Jesus into my heart and soul. There, like soap, Jesus scrubs my heart with gospel truth. Truths like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) Truths like, “I am the life.” (John 14:6) Truths like, “Come to me, all who are labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) THE truth that He is Son of God, Savior of the world, my prophet, priest, and king. When the truth is in me, now the truth can flow from me in my words and actions which don’t rely on deceit or flattery but on faith in God. I am now free to speak the truth in love. When truth has my heart, truth has my tongue too.

The gospel does what the ninth command cannot do—turns liars into people who delight in the truth and who speak it too. What a freedom!

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Additional quotations taken from Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

©2014 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

To hear the message of this excerpt in its entirety, click here

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