trying harder

johnbunyan

A pastor had dropped the ball on many occasions over a short period of time…or maybe it was over a longer stretch…doesn’t matter. Personal relaxation was favoured while the congregation was suffering and in need of the shepherd. It was easy to be ostrich-like and bury his head in the sand when the going got tough. He met with his leaders and after a long, gruelling meeting the leaders were encouraged that this pastor who was simply going to try harder. He may have remembered ‘that without Him we can do nothing’ but his words didn’t show it.

Another pastor challenged his congregation to live a life of distinction. It was a good call for the gang to live differently from the culture but it was short on power. The message could have been preached to a congregation where the gospel wasn’t known. It could have been preached to a high school football team. It could have been preached to a posse who hated Jesus. Much of what he said was good, but he never got to the cross…he stopped short.

I have hard copies of almost all of my sermons. They’re in storage, right now. I cringe at the thought of going back through some of them with a critical eye and a red pen. I remember preaching a Mom’s Day message from Proverbs 31, one time. It was good call for women to live differently from the unbelieving mammas around them. I received great feedback from the sermon. The downside was that the congregation got the what but they never got the how. Believers live differently, empowered by the work of the Spirit, in light of the cross. Unfortunately, that is what some books, some sermons, and some talks never get to…and that’s where the keg of dynamite is…that’s where the power is…in the gospel.

I have a friend who has battled his flesh in a particular area since his younger days. From time to time he thought he had victory and had slayed the dragon…but failure has proven that the beast ain’t dead yet. He has tried a lot of self help books and had short seasons of success that were always followed by a crash and burn.

The gospel has more to offer than a Taylor Swift song. ‘Shake It Off’ offers the what, but not the how. She tells us to shake off what nasty people say about us, that’s the what, but we are left to the how on our own.

It’s easy to give people the list to follow. We were in Ephesians 4 on Sunday morning and there was a good, healthy list of what we should be doing but the power is in the gospel and I am grateful that we were reminded of that on Sunday. It’s the gospel that empowers us to live obediently. There’s a little poem by John Bunyan that you may have heard before:

Run, John, run                                                                                                                                         The law commands                                                                                                                                But gives me neither feet nor hands                                                                                               Tis better news, the gospel brings                                                                                                        It bids me fly                                                                                                                                            It gives me wings

If you have seen any TV ads recently you may be confused at this point. The commercial tells us that it’s Red Bull that gives you wings, but that’s not the case…the gospel gives you wings…the gospel helps you fly. Pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps is practiced by many inside and outside of church world…but that power is so limited. True power to live differently comes to those who have been born anew by God’s Spirit. The gospel doesn’t only save us but the gospel also changes us.

I remember being gripped by a group that I read about in Scripture a few years ago and smile about them every time I come across this passage in my daily reading..but it was only a short time ago I found where they got their power. I may have shared this before.

[8:1] We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, [2] for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. [3] For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, [4] begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— (2 Corinthians 8:1-4 ESV)

For years I was wowed by their generosity. They were being hammered on and they gave according to their means…and beyond. They were joyfully generous. They were diggin’ givin’. They begged to give. For years I was amazed at their loose handed approach to their treasure but I had missed the foundation of their attitude. :1 tells us that God had given them grace. The grace of God enabled them to give generously.

Their generosity started with God’s generosity. They had embraced the ear-screaming good news of the gospel and they understood God’s generosity to them, in Christ, and that led to their generosity to others. The gospel made them generous.

So read carefully and listen carefully. And if they don’t get to the gospel, you fill in the blank and realize that it’s only by the grace of God that you can do whatever it is that the Scriptures are calling you to do.

To quote Heath Lambert ‘God will never demand something of you that he will not empower you to do by his grace.’ That is the powder keg, in the gospel, that believers are sitting under.

 

 

 

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