Country Club Christians
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 Jer 31:23 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "They shall again use this speech in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I bring back their captivity: 'The LORD bless you, O home of justice, and mountain of holiness!'
 24 "And there shall dwell in Judah itself, and in all its cities together, farmers and those going out with flocks.
 25 "For I have satiated the weary soul, and I have replenished every sorrowful soul."
 Ps 23:1 <<A Psalm of David.>> The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake.
 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
 Lu 14:12 Then He also said to him who invited Him, "When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid.
 13 "But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.
 14 "And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just."
 15 Now when one of those who sat at the table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"
 ďBlessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.Ē You know, I can just picture this Pharisee sitting at this table with Jesus....patting his tummy, his thoughts turning to the resurrection of the just......ďOh yeah, how sweet it will be for those of us who are the just, to sit around that great heavenly banquet table.Ē

I mean, Iím sure the guy thought he was in like Flynn. After all, he was a Pharisee! Little did he know that in order to be seated at this heavenly table, He would need to bow the knee to the One sitting with Him. He would have to become poor, maimed, lame, or blind in a spiritual sense in order to see the kingdom of God.

Mt.5:3 ďBlessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.Ē

He would have to become totally reliant upon Jesus for His salvation.

Lk 14:11, ďFor whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.Ē

We would do well to remember that. Lest we to quickly start patting our own tummies, in a spirit of Pharasaic self-righteousness, complacency.   

But what is Jesus telling His host here? How can we sum up His message to the Pharisees and how can we apply it to our lives today?

His message is simply this: Beware that you do not develop a mutual admiration society mentality, when it comes to the kingdom of God! Donít allow your church to become the good old boys complacent country club of self-righteousness.

The Bread of Life that has been freely given to you and humbly received by you is not to be hoarded or simply passed back and forth. There was an interesting Bible reference given in the latest Ambassador, that relates well to what Jesus was saying here in Luke.

It seems there were four lepers in a desperate situation. Their best option seemed to be to go to the enemies camp and hope for mercy. When they arrived, they found that the enemy had scattered and left everything behind.

 2Ki 7:8 And when these lepers came to the outskirts of the camp, they went into one tent and ate and drank, and carried from it silver and gold and clothing, and went and hid them; then they came back and entered another tent, and carried some from there also, and went and hid it.
 9 Then they said to one another, "We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king's household."

Thatís what Jesus is talking about here.  Christians are called to give their bread and their treasure away, and if all we do is give it to our closed circle of friends and relatives and rich neighbors, knowing full well that they are going to return the favor....well have we really given anything away?

True almsgiving is giving to those who cannot pay you back. Why do you think giving to the poor is so high on Godís priority list? I mean itís all over Scripture! Do you think it is because in so doing we will eliminate poverty? Hardly. Jesus Himself said that we will always have the poor with us.

And thereís a reason for that. The poor give Christians an opportunity to demonstrate the spiritual truth of the gospel in a physical way. True almsgiving is a reflection of Godís grace. God, who gives salvation freely without payment on our part wants us to mirror His grace as we freely give to the material needs of those  who cannot pay us back.

This graceful almsgiving is a mark of those who have received grace themselves and it should not be overlooked by the church today.   

In the days of Nehemiah, a day was set aside for the reading of the Law of God. Ezra was chosen for the task and he ascended a platform made for that purpose. And when he opened the book, the entire congregation stood, (much as we do when the Word of God is read)

The Law was read and certain men of the congregation and the Levites helped the people understand.

 Ne 8:9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep." For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. (The people were convicted of their sins and wept over their shortcomings.)

 10 Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength." (And the joy of the Lord is giving!)
 11 So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, "Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved."
 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, (The joy of Godís people is giving away that which cannot be repaid, or in the words of Jesus it is more blessed to give than receive.(Acts 20:35) because they understood the words that were declared to them.

They rejoiced because they understood the words that were declared to them. To prove they understood, they sent portions to the poor. You and I truly donít understand the gospel until we are ready to do the same. Jesus said in

 Mt 10:8b "Freely you have received, freely give.Ē

This ďgivingĒ is an unmistakable trait of those who are broken by the Law, and restored by the Gospel. It is evidenced here in the days of Nehemiah. Whatís the first thing they wanted to do after understanding Godís love for them? They wanted to give to others!

This giving was evidenced in the early church as the new believers ďsold their possessions and goods and divided them among all, as anyone had need.Ē (Act 2:45)

 It was evidenced everywhere the Apostle Paul planted a church as they took up a collection for the saints in Jerusalem. It is the main reasons that Christians seek to earn money. It should not be to merely make our ends meet, but the end goal should always be to have something left over with which to help the needy.

 Eph 4:28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

This is why able bodied Christians find joy in their work. It enables them to freely give to others thereby painting a picture of Godís saving grace to the world.  

On my flight back from Florida this week, I was reading the story of a missionary named Jonathon Goforth. He was about to embark on a missionary trip to China in 1888. China was in the midst of a terrible famine and the Presbyterian church of Canada decided to take up a national collection for the relief effort and give it to the China Inland Mission.  
It was a huge sum of money and they gave it to Jonathon and the first thing he did when he arrived in China was give it to the proper authorities. We just donít do that kind of thing any more as the church, and itís a shame. We are missing out on the joy of the Lord!

Oh, that the church would wake from itís slumber and become the reflection of Godís saving  grace again. But alas, we have abdicated our position as charity givers in the name of Jesus to our Christ-less government and various Christ-less aid agencies. Granted, it is easier that way, but we have lost this very important witness of the church in the shuffle.

But I think there is more that can be said about this giving away to the poor. I think we can also talk about the spiritually poor and crippled and what it is that we have to give to them. Namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Look at that Nehemiah passage again and read it in the sense of:

ďGo your way, enjoy the fatness and sweetness of the gospel and send portions to those who are spiritually broke. Give them what you have received!Ē

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus was saying, ďDonít just hoard this feast for yourself give it to the poor, the maimed, the crippled, the blind.Ē These are the ones whom Jesus came for! Remember when He first read the Scriptures in the temple He said,

 Lu 4:18 "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to  the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
Then He said, ďToday this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.Ē

Itís like a message that Jonathon Goforth once preached to a packed church that lacked proper missionary zeal. He was speaking on the feeding of the 5000 and he said, ďLetís imagine for a moment that the disciples fed the first two rows of people. When they were done, instead of moving on to feed the back rows, they went to the front and fed the first two rows a second and then a third time.

After a while the people in the first two rows were so full that they turned  away when food was offered to them (perhaps patting their tummies and exclaiming, ďOh how great it will be when the likes of us will sit down and feast in the kingdom of God) All the while the people in the back rows were fainting with hunger.

My friends, he said, ďarenít we doing the same thing when we put most of our time and money into giving the Bread of Life to those people who have heard it so often while millions of people in China are starving for the Gospel message?

This is what Jesus was trying to tell the Pharisees and itís what He tells us today! Beware of country club Christianity! Learn to give it away!

This prophecy that we read from Jeremiah this morning, donít you see? It was meant for us! ďOh there will come a time when people will say of My people, ďThe Lord bless you o habitation of justice, and mountain of holiness!
Godís church would one day be such a place because Godís church would put on Christ! We are to be a holy people, set apart from the ways of the world. Godís people would be marked by this holiness, this unspotted living, and they would be marked by their just treatment of others.

This prophecy was a picture of what the Gospel would accomplish. A picture of what Jesus would do for the weary and sorrowful soul that would turn to Him and receive Him!

He promises to fully satisfy the thirsty soul.

 Isa 41:17 "The poor and needy seek water, but there is none, Their tongues fail for thirst. I, the LORD, will hear them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

 Joh 6:35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.

We, the church are to be a fountain of refreshment. An oasis in the midst of a dry and barren world.  A storehouse of material and spiritual goods for the physically and spiritually needy.

And look what lies in store for those who receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! Jesus Christ becomes their Shepherd. It is just as the prophet Ezekiel spoke:

 Eze 34:14 "I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.
 15 "I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down," says the Lord GOD.
 16 "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment."

Oh, what a precious promise! And oh what a warning to those who would settle for fat cat country club Christianity! Fat cat country club Christians are doomed for destruction!

Wake up church! By His grace, the Good Shepherd has taken you in and given you great benefits. ďAs the lepers stated, ďThis is the day of Good News....and we remain silent!Ē  Listen again to what has freely been given to you as a Christian, as written by David in the 23rd psalm.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall no want.

 Php 4:19 And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures; (He brings utter contentment and security into my life.)

He leads me beside the still waters. (Not the raging flood or the dry and cracked stream bed, but a steady stream of His grace for all life situations!

He restores my soul! Your soul was in mint condition at your baptism, but years of sin and disbelief have marred it beyond recognition. Oh, put yourself in the hands of the Great Shepherd/Carpenter and let Him turn you back into the useful piece of furniture you were meant to be!

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His nameís sake. (Yes, He will clean up your act! He will show you the way to right living. Not that this right living earns anything for you, but rather for His Nameís sake.

This new found restored right living is a demonstration to the world of His power to transform. It is for His nameís sake....not yours!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. (Look around you folks. Death is on every side. You donít know when it will rush into the valley to sweep you or your neighbor away. You donít know when it will come crashing down on you. But you know what? When you are surrendered to the Shepherd you need not fear itís arrival.

In fact you need not  fear any form of evil.

I will fear no evil.  For You are with me; The Shepherd will always be with you, guiding you with His rod and staff through all of lifeís circumstances.  The rod to discipline, when we become bullheaded and want to go our own harmful way, or the staff to gently prod back us back onto His path.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Oh, if we could only see into the spiritual realm, we would see the truth of this statement. The enemy surrounds us on every side, seeking to devour us and to separate us from the Good Shepherd, but in the midst of this enemy, we have the Lordís Table.

We partake of His body and blood here at Living Word every Sunday, fully assured of our forgiveness and fellowship with Him through faith in what He has accomplished for us with His Body and His Blood. And though the enemy can harass us, he cannot harm us.

 Ro 8:38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,
 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The love of God, Christ, Who is actually presented to us each week in the table of our Lord!

You anoint my head with oil. You have poured the Holy Spirit onto your flock.
My cup runs over. With the associated blessings of the fruit of the Spirit.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. As long as I stay in the fold, entrusting my care and salvation to the great Shepherd, Godís goodness and mercy will always be with me.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. I will spend eternity in heaven. I will be present at the greatest feast of all.

The feast held at the resurrection of the just, not because I have made myself just, but because I am trusting in the only Just One.....Jesus Christ.

 Re 7:13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?"
 14 And I said to him, "Sir, you know." So he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
 15 "Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.
 16 "They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat;
 17 "for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

As a baptized believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, this is your inheritance. But donít hoard it! Give it away! There is plenty of room at the table of our Lord for everyone!    

Isa 55:1 "Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price.

Thatís the gospel! It is offered freely to all who receive Christ and His atoning sacrifice for their sins. Oh that God the Holy Spirit would create that thirst in you this morning. And for those of us who have already been to the well. May we remember how He slaked our own thirst when we first came to Christ, so that we may eagerly ladle the Living Water out to others.

Freely we have received, freely we must give, letís get on with it, lest we fall into the trap of becoming country club Christians.