One Heart at a Time

Red Stone Ministries

Transforming Lives

Red Stone Fellowship meets on Sundays at 10:00 am.
236 Hollis Rd. Lexington, SC 29073 (803) 351-2503.

Hope you can make it. Blessings!!

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And then Jesus told them, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone." Mark 16:15


Hey!! PTL!!! Got the website back up and running. In our last series we have been going through the book of Romans. The series stared on January 13, message titled The God Who Is There, if you wanna go back and catch up.

Give me a bit and I'll get the lessons up to date. Thank you for you patience and understanding.

February 17, 2019.02     Warning Label

February 10, 2019     When God Shows Through

February 3,20​19     Burying The Dead

   Our opening passage is found in ​Romans 6:1-7 (NLT) — Sin’s Power Is Broken — 1Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
   5Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.”
   A preacher decided not to baptize a young girl on October 31st because he didn’t want her to associate her baptism with Halloween - a season of death. Was he right?
   One of the boys in a Sunday School class proudly announced to his teacher that he was being baptized the next Sunday. She told him that was really great, and he told her he was going to take his swim goggles.
   She was curious about why the youngster would want to wear his goggles during the Baptism service. When she asked, the boy replied, "So I can see my sins washed away!!!"
   Children often have a very simple and straightforward way of viewing things. It’s only when we get older that we start trying to make sense of it all and usually wind up making things more complicated.
   I heard about a preacher who decided not to baptize a young girl into Christ on this particular Sunday because this was October 31st - Halloween. He was concerned because this is a season reserved for ghosts and goblins and the walking dead. For many people Halloween celebrates death.
   And I understand his concern.
   As you’re on our streets and highways during the Halloween season you’ll see homes decorated with gravestones, men hanging from nooses and images of dead people all over the yard. Most everybody does this tongue in cheek and they don’t mean anything evil by it, but there’s no avoiding the fact that many people decorate their homes on Halloween to represent evil and death.
   And so, this preacher was concerned about the effect it would have on this impressionable young girl about being baptized in a season of death.
   Now I understand what bothers this preacher, but I’m convinced his fears are based on a few false ideas – the first of which is that it would be wrong for this girl to connect her baptism with death.
   After all … the truth of the matter is that Baptism IS all about death.
   Look again at Romans 6:3-4 “... don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his DEATH?”
   We were therefore buried with him through baptism into DEATH in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
   In order to become a Christian… you have to die.
• You have to die to the past.
• You have to die to your old way of life.
   That’s why Romans 6:2 says “…We DIED to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
   And Romans 6:6 says “For we know that our old self was CRUCIFIED with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”
   This theme is repeated in Colossians 3:3 which says “For you DIED, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
   And 2 Timothy 2:11 “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we DIED with him, we will also live with him.”
   One preacher put it this way: “Did you know - because of the resurrection of the Jesus there are dead men walking all over the earth. They are not zombies, they are not the undead, they are not men on death row; they are born again believers in Jesus Christ”.
  We're alive to sin and dead to Christ. But in Christ our position has changed, our situation has been reversed. Ephesians 2 (1-5) says God made you alive, who were “dead in trespasses and sins”.
   A pastor was noted saying “We all used to be alive to sin but dead to Christ … but now we are dead to sin BUT alive in Christ!” (Phil Hammons, Sermoncentral.com)
   Again and again and again in the New Testament we’re told that in order to belong to Jesus we have to die. We have to die to our past sinfulness and our old way of living.
   (PAUSE) — Well … what do you do with dead people? (You bury them.)
   Baptism was God’s way of driving that truth home: Baptism was meant to remind us that our past is now gone. The old man of sin is dead and buried. Our sinful past doesn’t exist anymore … it’s been buried
   Now some churches try to make their congregations believe that baptism can be done by pouring or sprinkling water on people’s heads. But if you think about that for a minute or two – that doesn’t make any sense.
   Let’s say I died this afternoon. They’d take my body on down to the funeral parlor and prepare it for burial. Then, at the funeral you all come and cry… and cry… and cry (I hope you’ll miss me when I’m gone).
   And when the ceremony is all done they’re going to take my casket, with my body in it, down to the cemetery and bury it.
   Now, how they gonna bury my body?
   Are they going to open the casket lid and sprinkle a little dirt on my face?
   Are they going to toss in a couple shovels full of dirt on my head?
   No, of course not!
   They’ll dig a hole 6 feet deep – and they’ll lower my casket into that hole and then they’ll cover that casket with a whole lot of dirt.
   And that’s where my earthly body will reside until Jesus comes and the trumpet call of God calls me out of that grave.
   Romans 6 tells us that when we’re baptized into Christ, we’re buried with Him and that’s why water Baptism always involved a lot of water.
   John 3:23 tells us – “Now John (the Baptist) also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was PLENTY OF WATER…”
   We talked about this last week where Acts 8:38-39 tells us of the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch, and we’re told that “… both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”
   There’d be no sense going “down into the water” and coming “up out of the water” if all Philip did was sprinkle a little water on the Eunuch’s head. He could have done that with a canteen full of water.
   Baptism requires a lot of water because it represented a physical death and a burial.
   But wait, there’s more!
   If you were to come forward and we baptized you into Christ we’d lower you into the water as into a grave.
   But would I leave you there? No.
   What would happen if I kept you under the water? (you’d die and then we’d take you to a real grave.) No, we don’t leave you under the water… we raise you up … as being raised up out of the grave.
   You might say that you were raised up from the dead.
   And that’s part of the genius of God.
   He designed your baptism NOT ONLY to represent your death but also to reassure you that one day He will rise you from the dead.
   That’s what Romans 6:4 means when it says “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
   So, that preacher was mistaken about baptism and Halloween. Baptism IS all about death … and burial … and resurrection.
   But there was something else that preacher had misunderstood. He believed that young girl was already “born again”.
   He believed she’d already died to her past.
   But he was putting off the burial of her past for a few weeks because it was inconvenient to do it right away.
   Repeatedly in Scripture, people were baptized immediately upon making their decision for Christ
• (Acts 16) tells us about a business woman named Lydia. She was down at the riverside studying the Bible with a bunch of other ladies. Paul came along and preached to them… and baptized her. He didn’t wait a few days/ few weeks. He baptized her right then.
• (Acts 2) tells us that on Pentecost, Peter talked to a large crowd of people in Jerusalem. 3000 people responded to the message … BUT Peter didn’t wait a few days/ few weeks. They baptized all 3000 that day.
• (Acts 8) tells us about a Ethiopian Eunuch who was traveling home in his chariot. This man was studying the book of Isaiah as he traveled along and God sent a Deacon named Philip to teach him about Jesus. The Eunuch was convicted of his need to become a Christian and Acts 8:36 says “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’" And they stopped the chariot and Philip baptized him that very hour. They didn’t turn around and try to find a group of believers to “witness” his decision.
• Then Acts 16 (25-33) tells us Paul and Silas were arrested for preaching about Jesus and goes on to say that “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 
   The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!"
   The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.
   He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
   They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved— you and your household."
   Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.
   AT THAT HOUR OF THE NIGHT the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.”
   Again and again in Acts we find people were baptized immediately upon believing in Jesus.
   Why?
   Because you don’t leave dead bodies lying around. If a person is dying to their sin … you bury them.
   In the days of Jesus, if you left a body out for more than 3 days it began to stink!
   So, why do churches wait?
   Why don’t they baptize people right away?
   Well, some wait because they don’t believe baptism is involved in our salvation.
   “You’re already saved” they’ll say and baptism is merely a public declaration of the decision you’ve made.
   They say “baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality.”
   Where is that phrase found in Scripture?
   It’s not, and that’s because this teaching is a relatively new one.
   For the first 1500 years of the church’s existence everybody taught that baptism was part of the salvation act. Every early church leader who talked about baptism taught this.
   Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165) said “We have learned from the apostles this reason” for baptism: “in order that we… may obtain in the water the remission of sins” (First Apology, 61).
   Tertullian (A.D. 145-220) said, “Happy is our sacrament of water, in that, by washing away the sins of our early blindness, we are set free and admitted into eternal life” (On Baptism iii). Also “The act of baptism… is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect is spiritual, in that we are freed from sins” (ibid., vii).
   Cyril of Jerusalem (A.D. 315-386) said, “When going down… into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Catechetical Lectures III:4).
   This was a consistent teaching of church until 1500’s when reformer named Zwingli (1484-1531) came along (Jack Cottrell, The History of Baptism Christian Standard, June 2004)
   Over the past 500 years religious leaders have gradually drifted away from baptism as being a part of the salvation act. They’ve replaced baptism by Praying a “sinner’s prayer” and “asking Jesus into your heart”
   Where does the Bible use phrases like that?
   It doesn’t.
   Instead, the Bible teaches us in Galatians 3:27 that “And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.”
   1 Peter 3:21 says “and this water (referring to Noah’s Flood) symbolizes baptism that now saves you also— not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience towards God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
   But, now wait a minute? I thought I was saved by the Grace of God through faith?
   Yes you are.
   But our faith is shown by our repentance of sins, confession of Jesus as Lord and our allowing ourselves to be buried in the waters of baptism.
   Baptism is an expression of our faith.
   That’s what Colossians 2:12 says “having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him THROUGH YOUR FAITH in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
   Faith and baptism work hand in hand in our salvation.
   As Jesus said in Mark 16:16: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
   To merely be baptized without faith, repentance and confession of Jesus is to just get wet.
   But to believe baptism isn’t part of the process is to go counter to the teachings of Scripture.
   But there are those who say: “Do you mean to say, if I’m not baptized that I’m not saved?”
   A pastor tells this story — Frankly, that’s a legitimate question. And it’s one I struggled with for many years.
   Then I challenged a radio preacher on a highly questionable treatment of a Scripture that dealt with baptism. His ministry responded by asking me that very question: “Do you believe that if someone has believed, repented and confessed Jesus as Lord but isn’t baptized that they’re going to hell?”
   I thought about that question for a number of days, but then one day – while teaching the youth group – I realized how I could answer the question.
   One of the kids asked about what a “testament” was (as in “Old Testament and New Testament). I asked if any of them knew the answer to that and was met with blank stares. So I asked “does anyone know what a “covenant” is. Again blank stares and I realized I’d have to simplify it even more. “Does anyone know what a contract is?” I asked, and hands shot up as several of them knew the answer to that.
   Then I knew how I could answer the radio minister’s question.
   Let’s say Mr. Smith has a house for sale.
   He comes to me – Dooleyville Reality – and says he wants to put his house on the market and he’s asking $100,000… but there is one major stipulation. He has an above ground pool out back that does NOT go with the house. It’s a one of a kind pool and they don’t make them like that anymore.
   So I put my sign on his property and within a few days Mr. Jones comes into my house with $100,000 cash. He tells me that he’s always admired the Smith’s home and he’s so determined to have the place that he wants to sign today and give me the cash immediately. BUT then he tells me that one of the things he admires most about Smith’s house is the above ground pool out back. He just has to have it with the home.
   Now – we have an offer and an acceptance. Do we have a deal?
   No.
   In Real Estate it’s called “the meeting of the minds.” It can be a simple a matter as the color of the light switch in the living room – but if both parties don’t completely agree on the terms of the sale – there is no meeting of the minds and therefore no deal.
   Now, can I tell Mr. Jones “No problem. Mr. Smith won’t mind giving you the pool. Just give me the $100,000 and you’ll be able to move in immediately”?
   No.
   Why not?
   I don’t own the house. It’s not my decision.
   Well, can I tell Mr. Jones “I’m sorry, there is no way Mr. Smith will sell you that house with the pool”?
   Again – no. I don’t own the house. If Mr. Smith wants to sell Jones the house with the pool he’s perfectly within his rights because it is his house… and his pool.
   As a good Real Estate agent I might suggest to Jones that he offer Smith a “counter-offer” (I’ll give you $100,000 but I want the pool). Does Smith have to accept the counter-offer? No. But he can if he wants to because it’s HIS house.
   Now what would happen if I (as the agent) just don’t bother to tell Mr. Jones about that small matter of the pool? I take his money, arrange the signing of the contract and walk away with my commission and let them sort it out later. What would happen?
   I’d be sued! Maybe I’d face jail time! And I’d definitely lose my license.
   Now this is how it all plays out.
   God has a house for sale. It’s called Salvation.
   He’s paid for that house with His own blood and there’s no way I can ever repay that loan. But in order for us to accept His free gift He’s asked us to respond by:
• Believing that Jesus is the Christ … the Son of the Living God.
• Repenting of our sins.
• Confessing Jesus as our Lord and Master
• Being buried in the waters of baptism and rising to a new life
• And by living our lives for Him.
   Let’s say someone comes forward at the invitation and they say: “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, and I want to repent of my sins, but I don’t want Jesus to be the Lord of my life.”
   What that man is doing is offering God a counter offer.
   If God wants to accept that counter offer, He can. It’s His house. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on that happening … that’s not how the contract is written. If I want to accept God’s gift of salvation I’d better do it on His terms rather than mine.
   Therefore, if someone believes, repents and confesses Jesus as Lord but doesn’t want to get baptized they’re offering God a counter offer. And God CAN accept that counteroffer if He wants to because it’s His house. But, you know what? I don’t think I would want to take that chance. I’d rather do it the way the contract (the Bible) lays it out.
   Now, what would happen to me if I (as the agent of God) told someone “No problem. You don’t have to get baptized if you don’t want to”? I’d be in serious trouble.
   James 3:1 says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
   God expects those who teach/preach to know the Bible well enough to avoid misleading others on the things God expects of us. So I’m not about to leave baptism out of the picture for any reason whatever!
   Several years ago a man named Rick Stacy baptized a man in Lake Superior. It was late October and about 9:00 PM. Rick had been talking with a guy named Myron and his wife about accepting the Lord as their personal savior and sealing that decision with baptism into Jesus.
   Myron was hesitant for a long time and then finally said, “Yes, I want to accept Jesus – and I want to be baptized tonight – right now in Lake Superior.
   In case you don’t know Lake Superior is cold. The average temperature (year round) is about 38 degrees and this was late October and the waves were running 3 feet high. The water was very cold.
   They were going to walk out waist deep into the water, but only made it about knee deep. Rick laid Myron down and the waves washed over him as he was baptized in the name of Jesus.
   When they went back to Myron’s home for some hot cocoa and a hot soak for their cold feet, Rick asked him why it was so important that he do this that night in Lake Superior. His answer: “I was in the army, an officer in the infantry during Viet Nam. I saw and did things that no man should see or do. I wanted my sins buried in the deepest and coldest place…” (Rick Stacy, Meridian Christian Church, Okemos, Michigan, October 2001).
   

January 27, 2019     What Do You Believe

   Opening passage — Romans 3:21-31 (NLT) — 21But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
   23For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
   27Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
   29After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.
   Children’s church is dismissed.
   Romans teaches us that we are "justified by faith" rather than by works. But shouldn’t holy people do holy things? And don’t good deeds please God? So, why wouldn’t good works justify us before God?
   Comedian Ken Davis tells of the time he gave a speech in his college class. The title of his talk was, "The Law of the Pendulum."
   For 20 minutes he carefully explained the principle that governs a swinging pendulum. The law of the pendulum is: A pendulum can never return to a point higher than the point from which it was released. Because of friction and gravity, when the pendulum returns it will fall short of its original release point. Each time it swings it makes less and less of an arc, until finally it is at rest. This point of rest is called the state of equilibrium where all forces acting on the pendulum are equal.
   As part of his presentation, Davis attached a 3-foot string to a child’s toy top and secured it to the top of the blackboard. He then pulled the top to one side and made a mark on the blackboard where he let it go. Each time it swung back he made a new mark. It took less than a minute for the top to complete its swinging and come to rest. When he finished the demonstration, the markings on the blackboard proved his thesis.
   He then asked how many people in the room BELIEVED the law of the pendulum was true. All of the classmates raised their hands, AND so did the professor. The teacher then started to walk to the front of the room thinking the class was over. In reality it had just begun.
   Hanging from the steel ceiling beams in the middle of the room was a large, crude but functional pendulum (250 pounds of metal weights tied to four strands of 500-pound test parachute cord.). Davis invited the instructor to climb up on a table and sit in a chair with the back of his head against a cement wall. Then he brought the 250 pounds of metal up to his nose. Holding the huge pendulum just a fraction of an inch from his face he once again explained the law of the pendulum: "If the law of the pendulum is true, then when I release this mass of metal, it will swing across the room and return short of the release point. Your nose will be in no danger."
   After that final restatement of this law, Davis looked the Professor in the eye and asked, "Sir, do you believe this law is true?"
   There was a long pause. Huge beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and then weakly he nodded and whispered, "Yes."
   At that point Davis released the pendulum. It made a swishing sound as it arced across the room. At the far end of its swing, it paused momentarily and started back.
   Mr. David said “I never saw a man move so fast in my life. He literally dived from the table.”
   Deftly stepping around the still-swinging pendulum, Davis then asked the class, "Does he believe in the law of the pendulum?"
   The students unanimously answered, "NO!" (Ken Davis, How To Speak To Youth, pp 104-106.)
   When it came to the law of the Pendulum what did that Professor believe?
   He believed that pendulum was going to hurt him ... so he ran.
   What he believed dictated how he behaved … and where he went.
   In Romans 3 – Paul is telling the same thing is true about what we “believe”
   When it comes to Christianity … people believe one of two things:
1. They either believe that their FAITH in Jesus will make them acceptable to God …
2. OR they believe the number of good WORKS will make them acceptable and make it so that God will love them.
   The repeated message throughout the New Testament is this:
   Good works are good … but faith is better.
   Good works will not save you … says, Scripture.
   Good works will not make you righteous before God
   Good works will not make God love you more or less.
   Romans 3:20 says: “…no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law…”
   AND Titus 3:5 tells us: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…”
   Now that seems to go against all common sense.
   Godly people should do Godly things shouldn’t they?
   And if a Christian doesn’t do “good things” we are quick to call them “hypocrites” aren’t we?
   Inherently everybody realizes that a holy God wants His people to do “holy things” … therefore … it would just make sense that the more “righteous things” we do the happier God’s gonna be …. the more He’s going to love us … AND the more justified you’ll be in His sight.
   That’s one of the reasons ALL the other world’s great religions teach that UNLESS you do a certain number of good works you’ll never please God and you’ll never see heaven (in whatever form that may be for them.)
   It just seems to stand to reason … the holier you are … the closer you’ll be to God and the more God’s going to love you. That makes sense don’t it?
   But the Bible says “That’s Not How It Works!
   We’re justified by faith… not works.
   As Romans 3:28 says “… a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
   Well, how’s that work?
   One time a pastor visited some prisoners in jail and they were struggling with this idea. They were in prison because they had done “bad works”. That’s often why people are in jail. They either don’t play well with others, or they tend to take things that don’t belong to them.
   They were now under the penalty of the law because they did some “bad things".
   Everything in the legal system (and in life in general) has taught them that if they wanted to get of jail and stay out of jail they had to obey the law and devote themselves to doing “good works.”
   And it made sense to them that this is the way it should work with God as well.
   But the prison chaplain had just taught these two prisoners that they couldn’t be justified before God by their good works - and this confused them.
   So the pastor told them a parable of the glass of chocolate milk.
   He said “I like chocolate milk.
   Almost every night, I’ll pour a glass of milk, mix in some powdered chocolate, stir it well and sit down to read a book or watch some TV. Then I’ll put the glass on kitchen counter and go to bed. I rarely wash it out… so in the morning, the glass is coated with dried chocolate milk.
   Now, let’s say you come over to visit me. It’s been a hot day and you’re thirsty. Being a good host I ask if you’d like a glass of Pepsi. “Sure” you say, and I reach into the refrigerator and I pull out a can of Pepsi that’s never been opened. It’s been there for a day or two so it’s nice and cold. Then I pull back the tab and reach over to the counter and pick up the glass I used the night before for my chocolate milk. I pour that cold undefiled Pepsi into that glass and hand it to you to drink.
   How many of you would drink it? (Nobody raised their hand)
   Why not? The Pepsi has never been opened. It’s cold, it’s refreshing.
   Why wouldn’t you drink it?
   You see … the problem is not with the Pepsi.
   The Pepsi is cold and refreshing, it’s clean and undefiled.
   The problem is with the drinking glass it was poured it into.
   Unless the glass has first been cleansed, that cold/clear Pepsi will make us sick.
   And that’s how God sees our good works.”
   There’s nothing wrong with doing good deeds to please God. In fact, holy people should do holy things. But, unless our souls have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus - you can do all the good works you want and they’ll just nauseate God, because we’ll be pouring those good works into an unclean vessel. If you want your good deeds to please Him you’ve got to let Jesus clean you up on the inside first.
    So how do we clean ourselves up? How can we be a better person?
   As we discussed last week – we don’t ... we can’t.
   God does that for us.
   If it weren’t for the grace of God none of us could be forgiven of our sins.
   But there are some things we can do to respond to God’s free gift.
   Faith, repentance, confessing Jesus as Lord and being buried in the waters of baptism and risen up to a new life. All these are ways that God asks us to sign up for His gift of salvation.
   Of those responses to God, faith is the most important aspect of how we respond.
   If you were to do a study of what the Bible says “saves you” you would find that the majority of those verses would tell us it is by the grace of God. But running a close 2nd in that list of verses would be: “You are saved by faith”
   Ephesians 2:8 says “… it is by grace you have been saved, THROUGH FAITH…”
   Mark 16:16 says “WHOEVER BELIEVES and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
   And of course, John 3:16 tells us "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM should not perish but have everlasting life.”
   Those verses all echo what we find here in Romans 3
   Romans 3:26-27 tells us that “God presented Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement, THROUGH FAITH in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice … so as to be just and the one who justifies those WHO HAVE FAITH IN JESUS.”
   Faith is the basic requirement of all who would be acceptable to God.
   Well, if all I need is faith in Jesus… why should I even bother to do good works?
   I mean – if they don’t give me “brownie points” or add anything to my salvation with God, why not intellectually believe what I need to about Jesus and go about living my life the way I want to? After all, it’s God’s grace that does the work for me.
   As Paul asks in Romans 6:1 “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”
   The world is filled with folks who behave like this. According to a 2003 Gallup poll 80% of Americans said they believed Jesus rose from the grave.
   80 % BELIEVED!
   Intellectually, all these people bought into the Gospel message … but many of them haven’t acted like it makes any difference to them in how they live. And if it doesn’t make any difference to their salvation whether they do good works or not, why should any of it matter to them anyway?
   Well, in John 14:15 Jesus said "If you LOVE Me, keep My commandments.”
   Now keeping those commandments won’t make me righteous, they won’t give me brownie points with God or bring me salvation. So why do them? I do them to the best of my ability because I love Jesus. If you don’t try to your level best to keep His commands, I guess it could be said that you really don’t love Jesus, do you, and you don’t really believe in Him anyway. Keep this in mind, He ALONE knows what your level best is!!
   We don’t do good works to earn anything from God or anybody else. We do them because we love Jesus, and if we love Him we will keep those commands because He asked us to.
   It’s kind of like this: Let’s say you’re out there driving down Hwy I on your way to Augusta.
   What’s the speed limit? (55 mph)
   If you went 55 down that road, how many people would pass you? (about everyone)
   In fact, I’d be willing to bet that if I were driving down Hwy 1 at 55 mph … most of you’d be passing me.
   Now – do you believe the speed limit is 55 mph?
   But not many obey that law, even though they believe in it.
   But let’s say you have someone you care about – in the car with you.
   Someone you love who really wasn’t comfortable going over 55 mph on that road.
   For the sake of the LAW you might not keep that commandment, but for the sake of someone you loved … you would.
• So if you love Jesus, you’ll be in church
• So if you love Jesus you’ll study your Bible, you’ll pray, you’ll give to the poor.
• So if you love Jesus you’ll be careful what language you use, what kind of friends you hang out with, what kind of movies and TV shows you watch, what kind of habits you allow to control your life.
• So, if I truly believe in Jesus … it’s going to effect how I live my life, right?
   True belief in Jesus will lead us to live our lives to please Him because we love Him.
   The next question that occurs to me is this: what does it mean to “BELIEVE in Jesus”? What am I supposed to believe about Him?
   There are a lot of churches try to make this really complicated.
   They’ll have people do weeks of classes before they allow them to become a Christian or a member of their church. They do this because they think religious things ought to be fully understood before folks can be acceptable to God.
   They remind me of the story of Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of Chrysler Motors. Back when cars were just beginning to be manufactured, Chrysler bought his first automobile … a $5,000.00, four-door Locomobile. He put the car in his barn took the vehicle apart, spread the pieces on newspapers and made sketches; then he put it back together.
   His theory was - he had to understand it before he could drive it.
   Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually do that.
   I buy a car, put the key in the ignition, and drive it down the street.
   I don’t have to know how it’s put together in order to get in and go someplace.
   Now if you want to take your car apart… you can do that.
   You just don’t HAVE to do that in order to drive it.
   And the same thing is true for belonging to Christ.
   You don’t have to understand everything there is to know about Jesus in order to become a Christian.
   On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up before a crowd and preached the very first sermon ever preached about Jesus. I don’t know how long he preached but when Peter was done, 3,000 people had become believers and were baptized into Christ.
   The heart of Peter’s message was this:
• Jesus came down from heaven to die for your sins
• He died, was buried and rose from the grave
• And the only way you’re going to be acceptable to God is to repent of your sins and be baptized into the name of Jesus.
   It probably took longer to baptize those 3000 people than it did for Peter to preach his sermon.
   And throughout the book of Acts the message was always the same:
   Jesus died for your sins and you need to believe in Him. And the response took place almost immediately.
§ One woman named Lydia was baptized right after a Bible study down by the riverside (Acts 16:14-15)
§ An official from Ethiopia was on his way home in his chariot when Philip was sent by an angel and came along-side his chariot and taught him about Christ. The Ethiopian stopped his chariot by the side of the road and declared “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" (Acts 8:36)
§ A Philippian jailer had fastened Paul and Silas in stocks in the inner prison after the missionaries had been arrested and beaten for preaching about Christ. In the middle of the night a violent earthquake shook the entire prison so that the doors sprung open and the chains fell off the prisoners. The Jailor was about to take his own life because if the prisoners escaped he would face a terrible death … but Paul cried out and assured him no one had escaped. Then Paul and Silas began to teach the jailer and his family about Jesus, and they were all baptized at midnight that same night. (Acts 16:25-33)

   Over and over again the story was the same.
   Every time - it didn’t take long for people to make up their minds.
   They ALL believed the message that Jesus was Christ, the Son of the Living God and they wanted the forgiveness God freely offered.
   So the question this morning is this: What do you believe? Has your faith made a difference in how you live your life? Has your faith made you stop and think about the things you say and do? Has it made you love Jesus so much that you do your good deeds to please Jesus rather than to gain brownie points with man?
   Or perhaps you’ve not yet made that decision to belong to Jesus. For you the question is: has your faith led you to believe that you need to make a decision to follow Jesus. A faith that leads you to realize that you’re a sinner in need of forgiveness? A faith that leads to accept Jesus on His terms rather than your own?
   If so, we offer a time of invitation..

January 20, 2019    If It Weren't For Grace

   Romans 3:19-24 (NLT) — “19Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. 20For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
   Christ Took Our Punishment
   21But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. 22We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
   23For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.24 Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”
   As I look into our second lesson in our series Roman’s Road I ask the questions why couldn’t the Laws of Moses and the Law of the Levites make us acceptable to God? And if the Old Testament Laws cann’t save me, what can?
   The following is a list of police comments that reportedly were taken from actual police car videos where police arrested various law-breakers:
   1. One officer told a man who was complaining about how tight the handcuffs were by saying: "Relax; the handcuffs are tight because they’re new. They’ll stretch out after you wear them awhile."
   2. Another criminal looked like he was going to run: "If you run, you’ll only go to jail tired."
   3. Another dangerous criminal was warned: "Can you run faster than 1200 feet per second? In case you didn’t know, that is the average speed of a 9 mm bullet fired from my gun."
   4. One traffic violator wanted to talk to the shift supervisor: "Yes, sir, you can talk to the shift supervisor, but I don’t think it will help. Oh, did I mention that I AM the shift supervisor?"
   5. A drunk was pulled over and asked a series of questions ending with this one: "Was Mickey Mouse a cat or a dog?"
   These last four were said to speeders:
   6. "No, sir, we don’t have quotas anymore. We used to have quotas, but now we’re allowed to write as many tickets as we want."
   7. "I’m glad to hear the Chief of Police is a good personal friend of yours. At least you know someone who can post your bail."
   8. "You didn’t think we give pretty women tickets? You’re right, we don’t. Sign here."
   9. "Warning? You want a warning? O.K., I’m warning you not to do that again or I’ll give you another ticket." (Alan Smith)
   The law can be a difficult thing for some of us. We don’t mind it when someone else (who deserves to be pulled over) is stopped by the police. But we’re really not all that happy when they pull us over!
   At times like that, it’s hard to remember – Mr. policeman is your friend.
   But (most of the time) policemen really are our friends. They are there to defend and protect us against forces we couldn’t control on our own.
   I once read the true story of a woman who called the police department and complained, "People are speeding on our street, endangering the lives of children walking to school."
   The next morning, she herself was stopped for speeding. "But officer," she pleaded, "I’m the person who called yesterday to tell police about these speeders."
   "Well then, ma’am," he replied, handing her a ticket, "you should be happy we caught one." (Readers Digest 7/93 p.26)
    The law is the law, and if we’re caught breaking it, we pay a penalty.
   And, people don’t want to admit it, but that is the consistent message in the Bible.
   The Law of God is the Law of God, and if you break it there is a penalty.
   Romans 6:23 tells us of that penalty: “…the wages of sin is death…”
   In the Old Testament Law, almost everything was punishable by death
· Idolatry
· Adultery
  Fornication (sex out of marriage)
· Prostitution
· Homosexuality
· Breaking the Sabbath
· Attacking or Cursing your parents
· Blaspheming the name of God
And the list went on and on and on.
(PAUSE) And ultimately, every sin an Israelite might commit called for the death penalty.
   Either the perpetrator of the sin had to die … or there had to be the death of a substitute … like an animal brought as a sacrifice. The law of God repeatedly drove home that we were sinners. As Paul wrote in Romans 3:20: “through the law we become conscious of sin.”
   Now, how many of you have been given a ticket for speeding? (almost everyone raised their hand). Me too. Now, I don’t feel so bad. But do you remember thinking to yourself: “I really didn’t think I was speeding. I was just driving along at a what I thought was a safe speed!”?
   And no one was more surprised than you were when those blue lights went off in your rearview mirror. You didn’t really think you broke the law. But you did.
   And that’s what Paul is telling the Jewish Believers in Rome. Apparently, some of them had the misunderstanding that all they had to do was obey the OT laws and they’d be OK with God. They didn’t think they had ever really broken any of God’s laws. They might have pushed the limit a little bit.
   But break it? Nah. No Way!!!
   So Paul spends a great deal of time in his letter explaining that God’s law was pulling them over to the side of the road. The law found them guilty of sin. And if they depended upon obeying the law to make them acceptable to God, they were in for a rude awakening.
   Paul explained in Romans 3:23 that NONE of them had ever kept the law perfectly and so “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”
   And besides, even during the Old Testament times – the Law had never been meant to “justify” anyone.
   The Law’s purpose was to reveal the holiness of God and sinfulness of man.
   The Bible tells us in Romans 3:19 that the law existed “So that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”
   That’s why there were so many sacrifices that needed to be offered at the Temple.
   EVERYBODY had to offer sacrifices for sin. It didn’t matter who you were or who you knew ... rich and poor … peasant and prince … everyone brought their sacrifices for sin to God.
   And, according to the Bible … individual sacrifices weren’t even enough. Once a year, the High Priest had to offer additional sacrifices for the sins of the people.
   And, as if that weren’t enough, there was even a sacrifice that had to be offered for sins the people didn’t even know they had committed.
   Sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice revealed that even God’s chosen people were sinners.
   NO human being could possibly keep that standard perfectly.
   Every Israelite who lived under the Old Covenant was a sinner.
   (Pause) Just like us.
   The Law’s main focus was not to cleanse people… it was to point to our need to be cleansed ... it was to show us of our need for a Savior.
   J. Vernon McGee was the founder of one of the first Christian radio broadcast called “Through the Bible Radio Network” program in 1967, which, over the years, has been translated in over 100 different languages and is broadcast on Trans World Radio throughout the world every weekday. McGee was inducted into the National Religious Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1989. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Vernon_McGee).
   He was once noted as saying “You have a mirror in your bathroom, which is a picture of the law and there is a basin underneath the mirror. You do not wash yourself with the mirror; it only reveals the dirt. Just so, the law is the mirror that reveals our sin. Beneath that mirror there is a wash basin where that dirt is removed from our lives.”
   So… what is that “washbasin” that I can use to remove the filth of my sin?
   What is it that can save me if my obedience to the Law can’t?
· Can faith cleanse me of my sin?
· Repentance?
· Confessing Jesus as my Lord?
· Being Baptized into Christ?
Do those things take away my sins?
   Well actually yes… and no.
   If you were to do a study in Scripture and look for the passages that told us how we were saved you would find that the bulk of them would tell us that there is ONLY one way we were saved … and that’s “By the grace of God.”
   Running a close 2nd would be faith in Christ.
   There are about 7 or 8 passages that tell us baptism is involved in our salvation.
   Two or 3 talk about repentance being necessary.
   And still another 2 mention confessing Jesus as Lord.
   All of these involve action on my part. In order for me to be saved I MUST physically, emotionally and spiritually RESPOND to God’s calling. Accepting His gift of salvation … being cleansed of the filth of sin by the “washing of the Word” (Ephesians 5:26).
   And, by accepting God’s gift of salvation, He expects me to
1. believe in the Lord Jesus
2. repent of my sins
3. understand the power of the Cross
4. confess Jesus as Lord
5. and be buried in the waters of baptism and risen up to a new life
6. find a church to get involved in
7. start hanging out with Christian people
   All of these are part of my response to God’s offer. But none of those things actually saved me! I don’t have to do any of those things to be saved … I do those things because I AM saved!!!
   If weren’t for the grace of God - if God hadn’t freely offered to save you and me –
· we could believe all day long
· we could repent ‘til the cows came home
· we could lie prostrate before God for weeks
· and we could be baptized 100s of times
And it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.
   WHY?
   Because it’s not about what WE do … it’s all about what God has already DONE that saved us.
   It was what God did on the cross … Jesus did the work of our salvation
   Everything else … our faith, repentance, our way of life are just a few examples of our way of signing up. It’s our way of telling the world that we belong to Christ.
   We can’t do anything to buy our salvation… because it’s not for sale … it’s a free gift.
   Lee Strobel once wrote “As we say around here, other religions are spelled “D-O” because they teach that people have to DO a bunch of religious stuff and practice a bunch of religious traditions to try to please God.
   But, the truth is that Christianity is spelled “D-O-N-E” because Christ has done it all on the cross — and we just need to accept it and receive Him.
   This distinction is starkly demonstrated by comparing a parable taught by Jesus with a similar story found in Buddhist literature. Both stories involve sons who became rebellious and left home, but who then saw the error of their ways and decided to come back and be reconciled with their families.
   In the Buddhist story, the errant son is required to work off the penalty for his past misdeeds by spending years as a slave.
   But you know how the Christian parable of the Prodigal Son ends — with the repentant son being warmly welcomed home by his loving father and being given UNDESERVED GRACE (Luke 15:11-32).
   Grace? What’s this Grace?
   Well, in Romans 3:24, Paul says: We are “… justified freely by His GRACE.” JUSTIFIED … Just as if nothing ever happened. It’s an awesome feeling that can’t be explained if you ever completely wrap your mind around that concept … in the eyes of God I have done nothing wrong. Why can’t we have that same attitude about our fellow man? You understand that we’re called to do just that … forgive and give grace.
   In the book of Ephesians 2, vs 4-5, Paul tells us that “… because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by GRACE you have been saved.”
   So, in other words: grace was when God loved us so much that He reached into our corpse (we were dead in our transgressions) and He personally gave us new life.
   Here’s a question to ponder: Can a corpse DO anything?
   Of course not - they’re dead bodies.
   Thus, our corpse of a sin riddled body couldn’t do anything to bring us hope and salvation.
   And so, in Ephesians 2:8 Paul writes: “For it is by GRACE you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
   God did it for us because we COULDN’T DO IT ourselves.
   So – how did God do it for us?
   Look at Romans 3:24. We “… are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
   Oh? When did Christ give us redemption?
   He did that on the cross the very split second when He said “It is Finished.”
   Our forgiveness was accomplished when Jesus became our substitute and took our place on the cross.
   You see, the Old Testament Law had decreed that the wages of sin is death. Every sin in the Old Testament called for the death of something.
   Sometimes it called for the death of the person who committed the sin.
   Sometimes it called for the death of something that that person substituted for themselves.
   But, in the Old Testament Law, sin called for the death of something or someone.
   But the Bible also tells us that those sacrifices only “pushed back” the penalty of sin. The sting and the fear of death still hung over the head of mankind. Until that penalty was paid… no one was going to go to heaven.
   Why? Because there was no way to get there.
   The Old Testament doesn’t speak of anyone going to heaven. They are several places in Old Testament that says they were “gathered to their fathers” or it is said they go to a place called Sheol (Hebrew for grave).
   No one was ever spoken of as going up to heaven.
   Why? Because until that ultimate price was paid for mankind’s sins everyone was held captive by Satan. Death and the grave were his ultimate tools.
   That’s part of what is meant by the statement in Hebrews 2:14-15 … “Since the children have flesh and blood, (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
   When Jesus died on the cross, he broke the power of death by rising from the grave.
   And of course that’s the image God places in our minds when we’re baptized.
   We die, we’re buried… but we don’t stay in that watery grave.
   Ultimately we rise up to a new life… just like what will happen with our earthly grave.
   But now, wait a minute.
   God is God.
   Why did He even need to offer a substitute for our sins?
   Why couldn’t He just “overlook” our past?
   Why couldn’t He just say “all is forgiven” without Jesus having to pay that price on the cross?
   Years ago someone created a movie which told the story of Camelot.
   It told the story of King Arthur and his fabled reign in England, based upon the rule of law rather than the force of arms. He was very proud that he based his law upon total impartiality. The law applied to everyone no matter who they were.
   But Camelot also told the story of his love for Guenevere, his wife and his queen.
   Tragically, Guenevere fell into an adulterous affair with Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot, and their affair was discovered by King Arthur’s illegitimate son Mordred. Mordred hated his father. And this discovery gave him the opportunity to destroy the very things Arthur held dear.
   Lancelot escapes. Guenevere is not so fortunate. The just and impartial law that King Arthur created for his people, condemns his wife with death. So Guenevere is placed on trial, found guilty by a jury and is sentenced to die at the stake.
   As the day of execution nears, people come from miles around with one question in their minds: “Would the king let her die?”
   Mordred (who hated his father and wanted to destroy everything Arthur held dear) gleefully declares:
   “Arthur! What a magnificent dilemma!
   Let her die, your life is over;
   Let her live, your life’s a fraud.
   Which will it be, Arthur?
   Do you kill the queen or kill the law?”
   Arthur was Guenevere’s husband, and, at the same time, her king, and that created the dilemma.
   If he carries out the sentence, he upholds the law and validates himself to be a just and impartial king. Yet, in doing so, he calls into question his love. Would the king burn Guenevere? His tender wife whom he affectionately called his Jenny? His heart tells him to set her free. And if he did, it would certainly remove any doubt of his love
   But by bending justice and showing partiality, he would call into question his right to rule. It would destroy forever his ability to reign as a righteous and impartial King.
   Tragically but resolutely, Arthur decides: “Treason has been committed! The jury has ruled! Let justice be done!”
   High from the castle window he stands and watches as Guenevere enters the courtyard. She walks to the unlit stake, where the executioner stands with a waiting torch. Arthur turns away, emotion brimming in his eyes.
   A herald: “The Queen is at the stake, Your Majesty. Shall I signal the torch?”
   Arthur is devastated. Again the herald calls, this time with greater urgency: “Your Majesty…! Your Majesty…!”
   But the king cannot answer.
   Arthur’s love for Jenny spills from his broken heart: “I can’t! I can’t! I can’t let her die!”
   Seeing Arthur crumble, Mordred relishes the moment:
   “Well, you’re human after all, aren’t you Arthur? Human and helpless.”
   Tragically, Arthur realizes the truth of Mordred’s remark.
   Being only human, (the embodiment of the ideal human righteous king) he is indeed helpless.
   But where that story ends, the greatest story ever told just begins.
    (Discipleship Journal Ken Gire March/April 1999 p. 50)
   Because God did what no mortal could ever hope to do.
   God stepped down from heaven – took our place at the stake… and died in our place.
  "He paid a debt He did not owe;
   I owed a debt I could not pay.
   I needed someone to wash my sins away.
   And now I sing a brand new song; ’Amazing Grace!’
   Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay."
   IF IT WEREN’T FOR GRACE!!! Where are you in your standing of grace? We’ve talked about it several times so far this year … not making resolutions, but making restitutions … restoring those relationships that were lost or damaged last year. How many of you are upset with someone about something? How many of you don’t like somebody because of this or that? Jesus said we ARE to love God FIRST … then we ARE called to love our neighbors … no matter what!! (Matthew 22:35-40 / Mark 12:28-34)
   I have been told that I can be a real jerk at times (imagine that. LOL!!!) It’s been said that I am too blunt and to the point. I am to much of an “as a matter of fact” person … and I most likely am … but you know what?? Filled with ALL the grace and forgiveness there is … Jesus went to the cross UNCONDITIONALLY … for a jerk like me. And my question to you today is where is your forgiveness towards the ones who have done you wrong and the ones that you don’t like. WHERE’S YOUR GRACE?

January 13, 2019     The God Who Was There

   Our opening passage this morning is found in Romans 1:16-32 (NLT) — “16For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”
   18But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
   21Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
   24So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.
   26That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
   28Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.”
   Science recently found the 1st and smallest planet they think "might" have water and possible life. But their discovery’s weaknesses only highlight the uniqueness of the world God created for us. Why did God create our world, and what does that mean to us?
   Back in London’s Hyde Park in the 1940’s, there was a “Speaker’s Corner” where different people could speak in the open air. One of the regular speakers there was a Catholic author and publisher named Frank Sheed. On one particular day, Sheed had spoken on the beauty and majesty of God’s creation. He described how intricate and extraordinary the universe was and how it proved that it had been created by a loving and powerful God.
   As often happens in these kinds of events, there was a heckler in the audience. And this heckler repeatedly challenged Sheed by pointing to all the suffering and injustice in the world. Then he ended by saying: “I could make a better universe than YOUR God did!”
    Sheed paused for a moment and said “You could make a better universe than God has?”
   “You heard me,” the man replied
   “Well, I tell you what.” Sheed answered: “I won’t ask you to make a universe … but would you mind just making a rabbit … just to establish some confidence in your abilities? Then I’d be satisfied that you MIGHT be able to make good on your claim.”
   What Sheed was saying to that man was this: If you’re going to pass judgment on God you had better be better than He is.
   And when it comes to making a universe no one is better than God is.
   And there’s a reason for that. The Psalmist said in Psalm 8:3-4: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”
   God created the heavens and the moon and the stars. And He created it for you and for me. He created the entire Universe because He loves us.
   The answer to the Psalmist question of “what is man to God?” is “Man means A Lot to God”. It didn’t make any sense that God would love us … but it is true none the less. And the proof of God’s love is displayed in the care He took in making our world.
   (Psalm 136) put it this way:
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever
to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever
who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever
who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever
who made the great lights— His love endures forever
the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever
the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
   Over and over again, the Psalmist is telling us: “Just look at what God has created. Then you’ll begin to realize just how much ‘His love endures forever’”.
   Paul tells us in Romans 1:20 that “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
   The repeated message throughout Scripture is this: God not only is “there”, but “He cares.”
   And one of the proofs of that is the beauty and majesty of the world God created for us to live in.
   Just as an example of this, allow me to take you out into the Universe.
   Several years back Astronomers found a new planet.
   It was the first and smallest planet on which they suspect they might one day find life.
   They named it Gliese 581 C.
   Gliese is 15 times closer to its sun than our earth is to ours, but that’s ok because Gliese’s sun is 50 times dimmer than ours.
   Gliese 581 C is 50% bigger than our earth and 5 times more massive and it is speculated that the gravity on Gliese is similar to ours. (adapted from Space.com April 2007)
   Scientists were so excited about this discovery that there have been various artists have portrayed how they think the planet’s surface must appear
   One artist even visualize life.
   So scientists are all excited about finding life on this “earthlike” planet.
   But, of course, there is one small problem with this Gliese 581 C ... it never turns as it orbits it’s sun. One side of the planet is always facing its sun and the other side is always facing away. This would make the sunny side unbearably hot and the dark side freezing cold.
   This leads most astronomers to speculate that whatever water and “life” that may be found on the planet would be found around the edges where the dark side meets the light.
   Now, that’s nice. They’ve found a planet that JUST MIGHT support life.
   But now, let’s compare that planet to the earth God gave us.
   Our earth is 98 million miles away from the sun, which is just right.
   If it were much closer to our sun, life couldn’t survive the heat.
   And if it were much father away, everything would freeze
   AND unlike Gliese 581 – our earth rotates on its axis. This makes it so that the entire earth is exposed (every day) to the life-giving rays of our sun.
   AND our earth is tilted 23°, just enough to allow the maximum amount of places for life.
   If our earth didn’t have that tilt - the poles would be colder and less likely to support life, and the equator would be much hotter and make that area into a barren desert.
   If during the next orbit around the Sun the Earth deviated only a fraction of an inch every twenty miles or so, within a year - our world would either fry or freeze.
   Then there’s our moon. The Moon causes our oceans to rise and fall. Its pull on the Earth in just the right way to cause the oceans to circulate. This movement helps the oceans to clean themselves and absorb and give off oxygen. Thus, the tides caused by our moon are needed for the ocean to support life.
   If the moon were much closer or bigger tidal waves would be the size of tsunamis.
   If it was much smaller or farther away it would have little if any effect on the on ebb and flow of the ocean and our seas would become dead bodies of water.
   The planet God created for us is so unique, that it is the only known place in the universe where life can exist.
   Back in 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders took pictures of the earth and he noted that “It was the only color we could see in the universe…”
   Our earth is the most unique planet in all of God’s creation.
   And that’s because God created it for YOU and for Me.
   He cares for us.
   He loves us.
   But Romans 1:18 tells us that God also looks down upon our planet with wrath. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
   God’s wrath is stored up for those who “suppress the truth”.
   There are those who criticize the idea that our Universe requires a creator.
   They laugh at the idea of a Intelligent designer
   (pause) But if they take God out of the picture… what’s left?
   Paul says, when you take God away - all people have left to worship are the things God created.
   He says in Romans 1:25 that “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator— who is forever praised. Amen.”
   Is that a fact?
   When man rejects God as the creator, all he has left to praise is the creation.
   That may explain why we find that people who reject the creator give credit to the created things for being “intelligent”.
   For example, just a short inquiry on the internet turned up these statements;
   One site declared “Enjoy Nutrition as Nature Designed:”
   Another site proclaimed “Jewelry Designed By Nature”
   In another place someone stated “nature designed you to hold as little muscle and as much fat as possible” (that should give us at least good excuse for being overweight!)
   But my favorite quote was from the title of a book by an evolutionist at Amazon.com:
   “Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong”.
   Wow, even people who reject God realize there is an intelligent design to our universe.
   But since many of these same people reject God (the “Intelligent Designer”) they have to credit the intelligence they see to “NATURE”.
   They reject the Designer of the Universe, and they praise the things He created as if His created world had the intelligence to design and direct the world around us.
   But we know that’s irrational!
   To believe that a senseless/mindless creation could design anything is absolutely bizarre!
   Why would anybody believe such drivel?
   They believe that because – if they didn’t – they would have to accept the idea that there is a God. An Intelligent Designer. A Being who is far and above them.
   And that would mean:
* they might have to accept the idea that there is a moral standard that’s higher than theirs
* they might have to accept the idea that the things they do is wrong
* they might have to change their lifestyle… or face condemnation
   But people don’t want to do that!!
   Once they accept that premise that God exists … they’re not in charge anymore … God is.
   That’s why Paul stresses the fact that God has the right to judge us because He created everything/ owns everything. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-20: “18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
   God created everything… He owns everything … it’s all His.
   Therefore, He alone has the right to pass judgment on us.
   One person said it this way: “Only God is in a position to look down on anyone." Sarah Brown
   But many people don’t like that
   They don’t want anyone to judge THEM
   They’d prefer to be the judges
   Several years ago, renowned Christian writer & apologist Ravi Zacharias did an open forum on a radio talk show. The host was an atheist. And from the start, the callers were antagonistic to him.
   One angry woman called and said, “All you people have is an agenda you’re trying to promote.” Then she started talking about abortion, she said, “You want to take away our rights and invade our private lives.”
   But abortion had not even been brought up until she mentioned it.
   Why did she bring it up?
   Because – if God existed, He would be able to set the standard of right and wrong
   And since she preferred to be in charge of HER OWN LIFE she used abortion as the focus of her challenge.
   Noticing that, Zacharias said “Just a minute, we didn’t even raise the subject.”
   “Ok,” she said, “what is your position on abortion then?”
   Zacharias then said “Can I ask you a question? On every university campus I visit, somebody stands up and says that God is an evil God to allow all this evil into our world. This person typically says, ‘A plane crashes: 30 people die, and 20 people live. What kind of God would arbitrarily choose some to live and some to die?’”
   “But when WE play God and determine whether a child within a mother’s womb should live, we argue for that as a moral right. So when human beings are given the privilege of playing God, it’s called a moral right. When God plays God, we call it an immoral act. Can you justify this for me?”
   The woman hung up. (Leadership Spring 95 p. 21)
   God is God … and He has the right to judge us.
   He created everything … including US. He owns everything … including US. And He stands in judgment of all mankind.
   Do you remember what day of the week the Jews worship God? (Saturday/Sabbath). Why do the Jews worship God on the 7th day of the week?
   Because they are celebrating God’s creation of the world. God rested from His Labors on the 7th day, so why shouldn’t they?
   Week after week they’re reminded of the fact that everything in this world (including themselves) was God’s creation. And week after week they’re reminded that because God created everything … He owns it all. Everything is His.
   And as God looks down upon His creation, the Bible tells us He looks upon us and sees one undeniable truth: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
   And Paul gives us a whole litany of the sins of people who are
“filled with every kind of wickedness,
They are evil, greedy and depraved.
They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.
They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful;
they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;
they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
   And although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”
   Somewhere along the line … we’ve all done one or more of those things.
   The Bible says we’re all sinners, right? But now – as I stand here this morning and look out over this audience and I see a bunch of really nice people.
   Aren’t you all really nice people?
   Of course you are.
   Look at the person next to you. Aren’t they a really nice person?
   Of course they are.
   We’re just surrounded by really good people in this church.
   And oftentimes people like you and I will say “I’m really a nice person. I don’t really sin all that much.”
   But we’d have to admit that even “good people” sin a little bit.
   So, let’s suppose that a person only sins 3 times a day.
   They commit a sin in the morning, a sin during the day and a sin at night.
   Doesn’t that sound like a pretty good person to you?
   But now, let’s think about that for a moment.
   If that person (who sins only 3 times a day on the average) started sinning at 10 years old and died at 80 years old… over their entire lifetime that would amount to 76,650 sins!!!
   That’s nearly 80,000 sins.
   And that’s in the life of someone we would refer to as a good person
   That’s nearly 80,000 sins that they’d have to give account for when they stood before the judgment seat of Christ.
   Now there’s a reason why Paul starts out his letter to the Roman Christians this way.
   Oftentimes people read the book of Romans and they think of as simply a theological document meant to be studied. And that it is. But it actually was more than that. It was a letter from Paul to a church at Rome that was having some serious problems.
   Apparently at Rome the church had a division of sorts. There were two types of believers there who were at odds with one another.
   One group was made up of Christians who had once been Jews.
   The other group were Christians who had been born Gentiles (non-Jews)
   Somewhere along the line, the Jewish and Gentile believers began to look down on one another. The Jews thought: we’re people of the Old covenant, God loves us more than anyone else in the church.
   And the Gentiles responded: Yeah? Well if you’re such a wonderful people… how come you crucified Jesus?
   Paul’s purpose in Romans is to drive home that neither one of them were righteous enough to be saved on their own merit. They had ALL sinned and had fallen short of the glory of God: Jew and Gentile alike.
   And so, he starts the letter out by saying in v. 16 (Romans 1:16): “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”
   It doesn’t matter who you are.
   It doesn’t matter who your ancestors were.
   The only thing that matters is the power of God’s Gospel about Jesus Christ because in Jesus Christ is the salvation for everyone who believes both Jew and Gentile.
   Everyone on the face of the earth was dead in their sins. And the Gospel has power to take those dead in their sins and give them new life.
   And that simple reality is revealed in the simplicity of God’s creation.
   Repeatedly in nature, God reveals His ability to take that which is dead and make it alive again.
   Consider the simple “wooly worm” or caterpillar.
   In the early fall the wooly worm faces the prospect of death, and so God has designed it so that it takes its final days and builds it own casket – a cocoon. The caterpillar literally dies to this world.
   But several months later, the casket opens.
   But what comes out is not a wooly worm. That which comes from the place of death is a beautiful butterfly. One of God’s most marvelous and fascinating creations.
   The caterpillar is also a unique creation. But nobody I know of collects caterpillars.
   The real collectors collect God’s symbol of new life from death – the butterfly.
   It is in nature that God reveals His eternal power and divine nature
   And for all who are willing to look – God reveals His love for them.
   Astronomer Allan Sandage says he was “almost a practicing atheist as a boy,” but was nagged by mysteries whose answers were not to be found in the halls of academia. Among them: Why is there something rather than nothing?
   Sandage began to despair of answering such question through reason alone, and so, at 50, he willed himself to accept God.
   “It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science. It is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence.” (Sharon Begley Saturday Evening Post Jan/Feb 1999)
   God has the power to bring new life to those who are dead in sin.
   And it’s because we believe that that we offer an invitation at the end of every service…

January 6,2019     Fix Our Eyes On Jesus

   Our opening passgae is found in Hebrews 12:1-4 (NLT) — God’s Discipline Proves His Love — 1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. 4After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
   Our lesson today is re’s a lesson to help us regain our focus as Christians. Far too often we allow our attention to be directed in the wrong direction.
   At the beginning of this new year, I’d like to suggest a theme for the year along with a theme verse.
   I’ve been thinking and praying about it. I’m convinced that if Red Stone is going to have a good year in 2019 we need to have a theme.
   It has to be something that will improve the spiritual condition of our congregation.
   How about this year we have the theme …
   “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.”
   That speaks of united action-“Let us.”
   It speaks of a definite action-“fix our eyes.”
   And it speaks of a single aim-“on Jesus.”
   My prayer is that we as a congregation will stay focused and come to know him better than ever, to love him more and more, to serve him with renewed enthusiasm, and to declare His Name with increasing vigor.
   I believe that God has important things for us to do here. And Jesus must be at the center of all we do. In 2019 we must fix our eyes on Jesus, and proclaim the message of the Cross.
   While crossing the US-Mexican border on his bicycle, Pedro Gonzalez was stopped by a border guard who pointed to two sacks Pedro had on his shoulders.
   "What’s in the bags?", asked the guard.
   "Sand," said Pedro.
   "Get them off - we’ll take a look," said the guard.
   Pedro did as he was told. He put down the two sacks and poured out the contents. Sure enough, they contained nothing more than sand. The border guard stood there scratching his head for a while then he told Pedro to empty his pockets. Pedro complied by pulling his pockets inside out revealing that there was nothing in them. The Border guard was sure that this Mexican was a smuggler. Even so, he told Pedro that he was free to go.
   So Pedro carefully scooped up the sand in his hands and reloaded the two sacks. Putting them back on his shoulders, Pedro continued across the border.
   Point #1 — Our Focus Must Be On Jesus
   “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”
   The word “fix” comes from a Greek word “aphorao” … it means “to consider attentively.” It means to look away from other things so that you can focus all your attention on one object.
   A high school student was on the school track team who’s heat was to run the 100 Yard Dash.
   When the starting gun sounds, he started running as hard as he could.
   He didn’t look back. He didn’t look around. He kept my eyes on the finish line and kept on running.
   That’s what we need to do as Christians!
   We must fix our eyes on Jesus.
   1 Corinthians. 9:24 asks … “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.”
   We are all running the race of life! Each day we are getting closer to the Finish Line! Our goal is to be with Jesus in heaven. Therefore, we must keep our eyes on Him. This is required in all that we do!
   It asks us to consider this:
   How do we use our time? … What fills your eyes? … Is it Jesus?
   How could it be anything else?
   When we take our eyes off Jesus … we’re in serious danger!
   Over the years we’ve had some ups and downs here at Red Stone … both corporately and personally.
   No matter what the situation or circumstance … do you know what was the main reason?
   We took our eyes off Jesus!
   We looked at ourselves!
   We looked at what other people were doing!
   We looked at the circumstances!
   But, the whole time, we should have been looking at Jesus!
   Check out this video by Alan Jackson.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nO4uIyz_d90
   Turn your eyes upon Jesus
   Look full in His wonderful face
   And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
   In the light of His glory and grace
   What does that mean?
   Remember in Matthew 14:29-30 when Jesus asked Peter to walk toward Him on the water?
   “So He said, "Come." And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!”
   Peter was doing great as long as he kept looking at Jesus! But when Peter started looking at his situation and circumstances … He began to sink!
   That’s what’s happened in so many of our lives. We’ve gotten so wrapped up, so bogged down in “LIFE” … our earthly life … that we’ve lost focus and, for some of us, our spiritual life has gone way downhill.
   Let’s pick ourselves back up … let’s get our priorities back in order. Paul said “this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and I press forward” (Philippians 3:13-16) … let’s get focused on the things to come, by setting our minds on the things above, not the things on this earth (Colossians 3:2) As Chris would say, “LET’S DO THIS!!”… Let’s work hard this year and let’s not let that happen again! Amen?
   No one knows what lies ahead for any of us.
   We all have our plans and dreams but things don’t always turn out that way. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 16:9 that we make our plans but the Lord orders our steps.
   Sometimes we run into unexpected problems. Sometimes we encounter difficult situations and circumstances. Sometimes we face big challenges (some challenges bigger than others).
   At that moment we can panic and fall into terrible trouble … or we can fix our eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and follow in His steps.
   If we will become completely and wholeheartedly dedicated to following Him, we’ll find at the end of this year that we have been kept safe and taken care of by His amazing grace.
   Our Bible text this morning gives us wonderful motivation when it says that Christ is the “author and perfecter of our faith.”
   Some may ask … “What does that mean?”
   #1 Jesus laid the foundation for our faith by his death and resurrection. He made our salvation possible.
   #2 Jesus provided the perfect example to follow in that he trusted God perfectly. When He was tempted in the wilderness, He did not give in. And in the Garden of Gethsemane, He yielded up his human will to the will of His Heavenly Father. No one was ever been tested like Jesus! And no one ever passed the test like he did.
   #3 Jesus gives us the faith we need when we feel like quitting. True faith comes from Jesus because faith is a gift from God. In Christ we find everything we need to keep going.
   A week later, the same thing happened. Again the border guard stopped Pedro and demanded to see what was in the two sacks. Once again, they contained nothing but sand.
   As Pedro was leaving, the border guard thought to himself, “Maybe he’s just testing me! Maybe he’s going to keep doing this hoping that I’ll quit searching his sacks! Well, I know he’s got to be a smuggler so I’ll keep stopping him and searching his bags. That Mexican won’t fool me!” This went on every week for six months. Each time, the border guard found nothing but sand in Pedro’s sacks
   Point #2 — Jesus Is Our Example
   “Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame”
   Notice 2 words in this phrase: “joy” and “cross.” Those 2 words don’t seem to go together, do they?
   The cross speaks of pain, suffering, shame, rejection, and ultimate public humiliation. Crucifixion meant a slow, agonizing death.
   There was nothing joyful about death on a cross. It was the worst kind of torture, reserved for the very worst criminals. Where is the joy in that kind of death?
   Well, there is no joy in death by crucifixion.
   But Jesus went to the cross!
   He endured the pain and scorned the shame so that He might obtain the joy that would be His afterward.
   Did Jesus enjoy the cross? Of course not, but He endured it for what would come later.
   Did Jesus enjoy the shame? No, but he scorned it for what would come from it.
   In this phrase there’s a reference to the joy of obedience to His Father’s will … the joy of completing the work of redemption … the joy of bringing great glory to his Father … and the joy of triumphing over death and hell.
   These joys came at the cost of a cruel Roman cross. It’s the principle of delayed gratification.
   We can see this principle at work in our own lives on 2 different levels.
   Level 1 is giving up the good to obtain the best.

   People who want to lose weight go on a diet. They give up foods they crave and give up their TV time to exercise to lose weight.
   Students who want to get good grades have to study. They give up their game time and social media time to study for final exams.
   A football player has to work hard in training. He lifts weights and runs many miles to build up his strength and endurance.
   In all these things … there is pain involved, but it’s pain endured for the sake of the joy that comes when the goal is finally reached.
   Jesus said, “Follow me” … and He went to the cross.
   Are you willing to wholeheartedly and completely follow Him … even to the cross?
   Are you willing to endure pain and difficulty to know the joy of fulfilling God’s will for your life?
   No pain, no gain .... No suffering, no glory … No tears, no joy … No cross, no crown.
   Keep your eye on the prize!!!
   We all enjoy the empty tomb of Easter, don’t we? But, sometimes we all have the tendency to forget that Jesus had to die on the cross … so He could be raised up again … so that tomb would be empty.
   One day, the Border guard was waiting for Pedro to appear with the sand bags. He was convinced that Pedro was guilty of smuggling something into the U.S. This time he was going to find out what it was! However, Pedro failed to appear.
   Point #3 — Our Hope Is In Jesus
   “And sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”
   Jesus sat down in heaven with the Heavenly Father because His work was finished.
   In the Old Testament the priests on duty could never sit down because their work of offering sacrifices for sin was never done. It had to be done over and over again!
   But once Christ offered Himself as the sacrifice for sin, there was no other offering that needed to be made. That’s why Jesus’ dying words were: “It is finished!” (John 19:20-30).
   The work of redemption was now complete.
   Jesus sat down at God’s right hand, the place of supreme honor in the universe.
   There was no higher place or position for the Lord Jesus.
   Therefore, to Him belongs all praise and majesty. God has given Him a name that is above every name. He must have the supremacy in our lives!
   When we go riding there is always a point man … the one who is at the front leading the pack … the one who knows where we’re going and how to get there. Look here … Jesus is your “Point Man.” If God is your “co-pilot” … then you NEED to switch seats … NOW!!!
   Ephesians 2:6 tells us that we were raised us up together with Christ and made us sit together in the heavenly places because we are united in Christ Jesus. By grace we have been saved … by grace we have been raised … by grace we are even seated with Christ in heaven.”
   It doesn’t say “someday” we will be seated.
   It says we “are” (we already are) seated with Christ right now. We “are” joined with Him by faith in a living union, where Christ is right now, we are there with him.
   And because His righteousness is given to us, we have a share in the victory He won through his death and resurrection.
   For most of us this is a very hard truth to comprehend!
   Most of us are slogging through the mud of daily life. Sometimes we don’t “feel” seated in the heavenly places because in our minds we’re in a battle every single day.
   But from God’s point of view, the battle is over and the victory is already ours. And someday when we see Christ, all that is His will become ours because we are “joint-heirs” with Jesus (Romans 8:17).
   Our great hope in the race set before us is that one day soon we will cross the finish line and will be seated with our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. Our work on this earth will finally be over …  and the victory, our cross and crown, will finally be won.
   Let’s find out how our story ends!
   A few days later, the guard happened to run into Pedro in El Paso. "Say friend, you sure drove me crazy", said the guard. "I knew you were smuggling something across the border. I won’t say a word - but what were you smuggling across the border? I know you had to be smuggling something!"
   A big grin spread across Pedro’s face and he replied, "Bicycles!"
   The border guard had his eyes on the wrong thing. His eyes were focused on the sacks Pedro was carrying! If he had focused on what Pedro was riding, he could have seen that it was a different bike each time! His eyes were on the wrong thing!
   Let’s think again how our text this morning can help us in this new year 2019.
   Hebrews 12:1 tells us to strip off all the junk of this life and to run with patience the race that is set before us. Don’t be distracted by the things of the world. Keep running. Don’t look back. Forget about the past and look forward to the future. Fix your eyes on Jesus!
   In Jesus there is full acceptance, therefore don’t doubt Him.
   In Jesus there is peace, therefore trust Him.
   In Jesus there is life, therefore abide in Him.
   In Jesus there is blessing, therefore delight in Him.
   In Jesus there is light, therefore follow Him.
   In Jesus there is power, therefore wait on Him.
   In Jesus there is all truth, therefore learn from Him.
   In Jesus there is forgiveness and grace, therefore receive from Him.
   In Jesus there is joy, therefore rejoice in Him.
   In Jesus there is unlimited wealth, therefore depend on Him.
   In Jesus there is strength, therefore lean on Him.
   Folks … EVERYTHING we need we will find in Jesus. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has already run the race and won. His victory will also be ours if we fix our eyes on Jesus in 2019 … all will be well. Amen.

December 30, 2018     Restoration

   Opening passage -- Jude 1-7 (ESV) — Greeting — 1Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.
   Judgment on False Teachers
   3Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
    5Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day — 7just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
   Intro Video — Moving Forward

   Children’s Church is dismissed.

   Moving Forward!! How many of us are moving forward today?? How many of us are really leaving the past behind and moving forward? As we close out 2018, are we prepared to move forward into 2019.
   As we enter into the New Year, it’s only natural for us to review the last year to see what was accomplished. This is true in our professional life as well as our personal life, but we should also reflect on our spiritual life.
   How much time did I spend in God's Word?
   How consistent was my time with the Lord in prayer?
   Did my witness help to bring anyone to Christ?
   Was my time with the Lord … was my Sunday worship or Bible study a priority?
   How was your spiritual life last year? How can it be improved this year?
   What changes do I need to make to set my priorities straight?
   Once again let's reflect on the past year.
   What did you see God do last year?
   Not only in you, or through you, but around you?
   Did you see God's hand at work?
   I saw God's hand leading and directing me, giving me little signs to let me know that I was on the right track.
   I saw people come to the Lord and give their hearts to him.
   I saw God answer prayer.
   I saw people healed of diseases, illnesses, emotional, physical and spiritual problems.
   I saw people growing in the Lord and learning new things and experiencing new things in Christ.
   I saw some impossible things made possible … some unbelievable things made believable … knowing that only God could have made this happen. My God Is Real, my God is alive, My God loves me, my God wants me.
   I saw God's grace and peace transcend over tragic moments in people’s lives, his strength and power were victorious in a time of despair. Looking back on those times, I see the footprints in the sand. I see how He connected all the dots and carried people and lifted them up through those extreme times.
   I learned to trust the Lord through all things. As hard as it can be to do so, I am learning to question my own feelings of despair and tell myself … remind myself to trust in the Lord and put my focus on the Lord rather than on the problem.
   I have learned that with God all things are possible. I am learning daily about what a walk of faith is. I am taking baby steps at times and giant leaps at other times
   I know most of us make resolutions each New Year. We make promises to ourselves and to others to be better at this or to do more at that. But, for this New Year’s lesson today … I don’t want to talk about resolutions that, the majority of them, are most likely lost and forgotten before February is gone (if not January). Instead of concerning ourselves this morning with empty promises … I want to talk to you about looking back at last year and restoring the things that got messed up.
   In our passage this morning, vs. 3 tells us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” OK??? How do we go about doing that?
   Bobby Bowden, (former football coach of Florida State University) said that when he was in college, he played college baseball. During one game he managed to hit a ball right down the right-field line, into the corner.
   He rounded 1st and looked to the 3rd base coach. He turned at 2nd, was halfway to 3rd - and the base coach was still waving him on to home … and when he reached home, he stepped triumphantly on the plate. He had scored his first home run as a college player, and he was excited. Everybody on his team was giving him high-fives and slapping him on the back.
   (PAUSE)   But then the pitcher took the ball, threw to the first baseman, and the umpire called him out.
   How come? What happened?
   Well, in his excitement … he’d failed to touch first base. Bowden later applied that lesson he’d learned to his personal life … and to his life in Christ:
   “If you don’t take care of first base … it doesn’t matter what you do. If you don’t honor the Lord first … it doesn’t matter what else you do.” Matthew 6:33 tells us to seek the Kingdom of God FIRST in all things … live righteously (always doing the right thing) … and the rest will be taken care of.
   Here in Jude, the writer is telling the Christians of his day:
   Take care of 1st base. “Contend for the faith once delivered to the saints!” Because, if you don’t take care of first base… it doesn’t matter what else you do.
   If you don’t contend for the faith that was ONCE DELIVERED to the saints - if you don’t make it a point to touch THAT base in your church - you could really mess things up.
   Then the writer of Jude goes on to say that the failure to contend for the faith has consequences:
   Jude 4-7 tells us that “4… godless men (will) change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”
   5This will lead to some not believing and facing judgment from God.
   6-7And eventually God will bring damnation on those who rebel because of your lack of faithfulness in contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.”
   You can do ANYTHING ELSE you want to for the church.
   You can be highly successful and build large buildings.
   You can write popular books and receive the praises of men.
   But if you fail to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” you can bring disaster and judgment upon those who depend on you
   Paul makes the same warning in Philippians 1:27-28 — “27Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself.”
   Now why would that be? Why is it so important to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ?”
   Why can’t we believe whatever we want to believe?
   What difference does it make what the church teaches or believes?
   Well, it’s kind of like this: Let’s say Fred owns a stunning sports car. It’s a 2018 Corvette. It’s a thing of beauty. And it has a one of the most powerful engines made. I’m pretty sure it can take you anywhere you want to go as fast as you’ll ever want to go.
   Now, let’s say Fred puts his car up for sale. Just so happens that I come into some money, and I decide to buy Fred’s sports car. But buying that car just about taps me out. Money gets tight and I have to start cutting some corners. And one of the places I decide to cut corners is in the oil I buy for oil changes. The oil I’m supposed to put in that vehicle begins to look a little too expensive for my budget, so I decide to go down to Walmart and buy some Wesson cooking oil.
   I mean – after all – it is oil isn’t it?
   Now, what do you think is going to happen to the engine in that car? It’ll fire up and run … for a minute (maybe)… and then that engine isn’t going to be worth much.
   On the outside it’ll be a beautiful sports car but on the inside … the power of its engine will be destroyed.
   It will ultimately be unable to take me the places I want to go.
   And that is what God tells us about the Faith Once Delivered to the saints.
   If I go to changing the oil and putting something in the engine that doesn’t belong … I might still have a good looking chassis on the outside … but on the inside … I’ll have destroyed the power that the Church has to help people go where they need to go ...
   AND THAT’S THE DANGER!
   (PAUSE)   Now, what does it mean to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints?”
   Well, it means that we try as hard as we can to cling to the things the early church believed and taught. But, you see, the problem is that over the centuries, denominations and church leaders have shown a tendency to change the oil in God’s Church.
   At one point in history, reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin rose to stand against the perversions the Catholic Church had brought upon the faith once delivered to the saints. They (and others like them) became the force behind the Reformation movement that attempted to reform the church of their day.
   But even the reformation churches fell prey to the same temptations that plagued the Catholic Church they opposed. By the time of the early 1800’s many in those denominations felt they were being burdened down by the rules and regulations of men … rather than the commandments of God.
   Back in early 1800’s there was a preacher in Western Pennsylvania named Thomas Campbell. He was a preacher for the Old-light, Anti-burger, Seceder Presbyterian Church. Each of those phrases described a political division within the Presbyterian Church of that day. For example: a church that was “anti-burger” opposed any influence of city mayors in their congregation, while a pro-burger would have welcomed such input.
   Therefore, the Presbyterians were divided over many things, and each group sought to maintain the purity of their positions. So, (like many other denominations of the day) they opted for “closed communion” to make sure that only those who clung to their standards could take communion at their churches.
   In the Presbyterian churches it worked like this: The Lord’s Supper was taken once every month or so… but on the Saturday night before Communion Sunday members were required to come in and answer a series of questions. If they answered the questions correctly, they received a “Communion coin” and the next day they would drop their coin in the box and partake of Communion.    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communion_token)
   This didn’t sit very well with Campbell – who believed that the Lord’s Supper belonged to Christ rather than to him - and on at least one occasion he opened the Communion table to all who belonged to Christ. Word got back to denominational headquarters and they sacked him. He was branded a heretic and eventually left that group.
   About that same time, Thomas’s son Alexander was shipwrecked on his way over from Scotland. He stayed in Scotland another year, and while he was there he attended worship services at a Presbyterian congregation in the neighborhood. On Communion Saturday night he dutifully went in to answer the questions required of him for the coin … and was shocked to find that the questions were different than those he was accustomed to. However, being well versed in Scripture and Presbyterian thinking, he was able to answer the questions correctly and received his coin. The next day he walked in, put his coin in the box and walked away without taking of the Lord’s Supper.
   When Father and Son got back together they both had come to the conclusion that the church had way too many HUMAN rules and regulations. Christians were being segregated from God (even at the communion table). Christians were being segregated from other Christians because each denomination insisted on clinging to their own distinctive denominational names, creeds and practices.
   They were soon joined by Methodist and Baptist groups who were struggling with their own denominations’ teachings. They were tired of all the divisiveness and they just wanted to simply be Christians.
   What these people were upset about was the tendency of Churches to change the rules. To change the oil in the machine of the faith once delivered to the saints. They began to believe that what they needed to do was go back and “restore” – as best they could – the pattern of the original New Testament Church and to only practice and believe what that first group of believers held to. Because they were attempting to “restore” what the early church did, they began to refer to themselves as a “Restoration Movement.”
   They made this decision because the churches they left had fallen into the trap of believing they could improve on the pattern God set up in the New Testament Church. Now, God established His Church just the way He wanted it over 2000 years ago … but the Pharisee folks in those churches (and even in many churches today) don’t accept that.
   These people will often describe the New Testament church as being primitive. They might have said: “I know that’s how the early primitive church did it … but that was back then … this is now.” And as a result … they changed things they felt were unimportant.
   Now, it wasn’t like they wanted to disobey God. They actually felt they were making improvements on His original design.
   Several years ago, a man bought a Chevy Caprice at a used car lot. It was a thing of beauty. It was big and stylish and it purred as he drove it down the road. Well… it purred for the first few days. Then it began to cough and sputter and he had difficulty getting above 30 mph. Now he didn’t know much about cars… but he knew something was wrong. The car was still under warranty so he took it back to the dealership.
   About an hour later, the mechanic came out of the shop and he had a small BB in his hand.
   “That was your problem” he said. “Apparently the previous owner had been told that if they placed a BB in the gas regulator they could improve the car’s gas mileage.”
   “Why on earth would they do that? he asked
   And the mechanic replied, “These engines are extremely efficient. It’s as well designed as any car out there. But every once in awhile folks get to thinking they can improve the car’s gas mileage, and so they’ll do things like put this BB in the regulator.”
   Now, the previous owner thought he was improving the engine’s performance … when in reality he hurt it. It worked just fine … until he messed with it.
   In the same way there are folks who believe they can improve on the design God set up for the church. But they fail to realize that God designed His church the way He did for a reason. I mean - how do you improve on a church that changes the lives of 1000s of people overnight?
   In Acts 2 we read that on the day of Pentecost they had 3,000 converts. Over the next few days the church grew to over 5,000 (Acts 2:41; 4:4). And at one point they were known as the group that had turned the world upside down. (Acts 17:6)
   How do you improve on something like that!!!
   You don’t. There is no way.
   A church that does things the way the early church did will work just fine until someone messes with it. And that’s why we’re told to “…contend for the faith ONCE DELIVERED to the saints.” Other words … “if it ain’t broke and working just fine … don’t try to fix it or improve it.”
   I feel like our church is part of the “Restoration” Movement” (if you will). That means our purpose is to “restore” the church to the basics found in the first New Testament church. We believe – “If the Bible says it, we want to preach it. If the Bible doesn’t, we’d prefer to avoid it.”
   So, how do we go about “restoring’ to this faith once delivered to the saints?”
    Well, we begin by attempting to do the obvious … we attempt to avoid trying to think that the church belongs to us. We hear people all the time … “My church this and my church that … “
   It doesn’t belong to us! It belongs to Jesus!!!
   The Church is His … and it should be run the way He set it up to begin with. And the ONLY way we can know how He set it up and how it should be run is right here in this Bible.
   (I). That’s why we refuse to accept any book or creed other than the Bible. For us, the Bible is our only “Book of Doctrine” that we have and ever will have. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
   Now if that’s true – and it is – then a church really doesn’t need additional confessions, creeds, and catechisms to teach its followers what to believe. If you can’t find it in the Bible, I shouldn’t be teaching it. If you can’t find it in the Bible, you probably shouldn’t even be talking about it. There are several verses in the Bible that tell us that the ONLY words that come out of our mouths should be words that build each other up and words that build up the church.
   Now Creeds and such can be good reference materials - but they aren’t the Bible … they were written by man … not God. Too often churches cling to their specific denominational creeds, doctrines and distinctives, and use them as “spectacles” through which they view and interpret Scripture. And that’s the danger in clinging too tightly to such statements of faith.
   Any Creed that says more than what the Bible says … says too much.
   And any Creed that says less than what the Bible says … says too little.
   Beyond that, our major complaint with creeds, doctrinal books, etc. is that they only serve to create more division and tension between believers. Every denomination has these distinctive teachings that stand on top of their Bibles and each group’s teachings are slightly different from the others. Our contention has always been - if a church would remove those creedal statements and doctrinal books and just endorse the Bible as their sole doctrinal book, the walls that separate believers around the world would begin to melt away.
   (II). One of the other divisive practices that we object to is the tendency to cling to different names. According to the Bible the early believers were called Christians. They weren’t called “Fundamentalists”, “Charismatics”, “Baptists”, “Lutherans”, “Methodists” etc.
   Acts 11:26 says “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.”
   While preparing for today, I read a church motto that said “We’re not the only Christians, but we want to be Christians ONLY.” Don’t you think that might be one of those things we should ponder?
   Now I don’t mean to say that there aren’t Christians in those groups I just mentioned. My point is this: the names they cling to in their groups are divisive. Those names separate one group of believers from another because those titles … those denominational names …  create walls.
   Our hope as part of a “restoration movement” has always been that we can convince other churches and other believers to drop those names, those titles … those separatist ideas. To just call themselves Christians and quit building those man-made walls around themselves.
   If being called “Christians” was good enough for the early believers … it should be good enough for us.
   (III). The Bible also tells us that each New Testament church was set up to be overseen by a group of Elders. These Elders were to work in concert with the Evangelists like Titus and Timothy. These Elders were responsible for helping the church function like a true family and they also were to stand guard protecting that family from false doctrine.
   Their role so was so critical that in Titus 1:5, Titus was told by Paul “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”
   A church was not “straightened out” – it wasn’t a “finished product” - until the elders started looking after it. If that was true back then … it’s still true today.
   (IV). Now, if you’re a visitor from a denominational church today, you’ll notice we take Communion. In fact – many churches take it every week. Acts 20:7 tells us that “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread…” Every Sunday, that’s why they’d gathered … to share in the Lord’s Supper and to fellowship and to help out with the needs of each other.
   Now, we need to realize the Bible never COMMANDS us to take communion every Sunday but that was the pattern the early church followed.
   Even 100 years later, a man named Justin Martyr wrote these words: “On Sunday a meeting is held of all who live in the cities and villages, and a section is read from the memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets, as long as time permits. When the reading is finished, the president, in a discourse, gives the admonition and exhortation to imitate these noble things. After this we all arise and offer a common prayer.
   At the close of the prayer, as we have before described, bread and wine and thanks for them according to his ability, and the congregation answers, ‘Amen.’
   Then the consecrated elements are distributed to each one and partaken of, and are carried by the deacons to the houses of the absent.”
   They did it every Sunday.

   (V) The Bible also tells us that we need to be a people of love.

   We could be absolutely correct in every item of doctrine we teach, but if we don’t love others … all our other doctrines are worthless.
   Jesus said in John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
   That kind of “love” should be so much a part of us that we refuse to get mad at those who disagree with us. 2 Timothy 2:24-25 tells us that Paul wrote: “…the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”
   (VI) Now lastly, we , as a Christian fellowship, have come to believe that the Bible is very clear on salvation.
   I know in some Churches they sprinkle babies with water and call them saved but that’s not found anywhere in Scripture … so we don’t do that.
   Aside from the fact that the Greek word “Baptizo” only means to immerse … babies don’t need to be “saved” … so we don’t have to baptize them.
   Jesus said in Matthew 18:3 “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
   And again: Jesus said in Matthew 19:14 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
   If I have to become like a child to enter heaven and heaven belongs to such as them … we don’t need to worry about baptizing little children. Besides babies are way too young to make that decision to follow Christ anyway.
   Now there are other churches who’ll ask you to bow your head and accept Jesus into your heart. They’ll lead you in the “Sinner’s Prayer” and tell you you’re saved. But the Bible doesn’t talk about a Sinner’s Prayer, and New Testament Christians never “ASKED Jesus into their hearts.” It’s just not in Scripture. It’s another man-made creation that has added another layer of confusion and division within the Christian church.
   When I first got back into motorcycling, MaryLu and I used to hang out with this group that would go to Myrtle Beach every year. They’d set up this huge tent and stand outside and compel people to come in and listen to a 3 minute testimony and invite them to say the “sinners prayer”. So, when the event was over, that group would say something to the effect “WE got 138 people saved at Myrtle Beach last weekend.”
   No they didn’t!!! They got 138 people to say a prayer, but how many of them REALLY got saved? To me personally, the sinner’s prayer is building a false hope in someone’s life. Just because someone says a 3 line prayer, doesn’t mean they’re saved AT ALL!! A prayer has nothing to do with Salvation because Salvation is a “Heart Condition”. If your heart isn’t in the right place … your relationship with your savior isn’t in the right place either.
   Here’s how I look at it. Salvation is like a marriage … after all … we ARE called the “Bride of Christ” … right?? I can go through the motions and say ALL the vows necessary to satisfy the people there, my new bride, the pastor and even my new in-laws … and I can get through the marriage ceremony with flying colors … and get the license signed ... but, does that make me married?? In the eyes of the witnesses and the law … sure. But AM I truly married in the eyes of God? I am … ONLY if I have the right heart condition. I can say all the right vows and “Amens” at the right time, but if my heart isn’t totally immersed in the true meaning of the wedding ceremony … it’s really all for nothing if I didn’t truly mean it with all my heart.
   It’s sad to say how many marriage ceremonies I’ve done or been to where within the first year or two … they’re done ... separated and already talking about divorce. WHY??? Because they THOUGHT they had the right heart condition and later realized they didn’t.
   Jesus said in John 13:34-35 that 34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
   If you’re married … act like you love each other and act like you belong together. If you call yourself a Christian … ACT LIKE IT!!! Act like you belong to Him by Loving Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Act like you’re a Christian by loving each other, forgiving each other and live your life by being obedient to His Word. Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. (Philippians 1:27)
   I want to share some scripture with you … because what we have found is that the Bible is very clear on how to belong to Jesus:
   1. John 3:16 says that you need to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
   2. Acts 3:19 says you need to repent of your sins and turn away from your old life.
   3. Romans 10:9-10 says you need to confess Jesus as your Lord and Master.
   4. Romans 6:1-6 says you need to buried in the waters of Christian baptism.
   5. Matthew 22:37-39 says you need to love God and our neighbors.
   6. And Matthew 6:14-15 says you need to forgive everyone … for everything … no matter what.
   Since that’s what the Bible says … is there something you need to take care of today? Is there something you need to get resolved and restored today?
   In a couple days, we start a New Year. Are the things of your life connected to God? Is EVERY THING in your life 110% connected to your Master and Savior? No matter how hard we try, all of us have our weak points and struggles … from the Apostle Paul right on down to someone who just got save 30 seconds ago.
   What parts of your life need to be restored today? Are there past (or present) relationships that need to be re-kindled and restored? I invite you to make a decision to make that restoration right now. The Bible says that if we know someone who is upset with us (or we them) … it’s OUR place to go to that person and get it straightened out (Matthew 18:15-17). Why pray for forgiveness if you’re holding a grudge in your heart. You see, with that one grudge, the Bible teaches that your prayer won’t make it past the ceiling.
   (Invitation) As always … Nobody needs to leave here if they’re not sure about something … if they need prayer … if they’re not saved. The alter is always open. If you feel the Lord nudging you to come forward … be obedient and do so and be prayer over so those burdens can be lifted. There may be some blessing up here at the alter that you can’t find sitting in your seat. Come as we pray.

December 23, 2018     Mary's Christmas

   Opening passage — Luke 1:26-38 — 26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
   29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. 31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
   34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
   35The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God."
   38"I am the Lord’s servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
   Two friends were discussing family histories when one of them lamented that he knew little about his roots. “I’ve always wanted to have my family history traced,” he said, “But I can’t afford to hire someone. Any suggestions?”
   “Sure” replied his friend, “Run for public office.”
   Politicians know they’ll have little to NO privacy when they run for office. Their family history becomes a public domain.
   So it is with Jesus. He ran for the “office” of the Savior of the World, the Messiah. The Lord of lords and the King of kings. Jesus is God’ own Son … and He too could not escape that scrutiny. You see, Jesus’ beginning was scandalous. Born from an unwed mother … in those days??? That could mean a huge disgrace and it could mean stoning her for adultery. It’s not something any of us would want.
   Today, … we’ll learn a few things about the mother of our Lord and Savior … Mary … and we will see how her world is much like ours … and we’ll learn more about faith in our world.
   A police officer pulled over a guy on a motorcycle for speeding and had the following exchange:
   Officer: May I see your driver’s license?
   Rider: I don’t have one. I had it suspended when I got my 5th DUI.
   Officer: May I see the registration for this vehicle?
   Rider: It’s not my motorcycle. I stole it.
   Officer: This motorcycle is stolen?
   Rider: That’s right. But come to think of it, I think I saw the registration in the right saddlebag when I was putting my gun in there.
   Officer: There’s a gun in the saddlebags? Rider: Yes sir. That’s where I put it after I shot and killed the dude who owned this motorcycle. No big deal though, the dude was a drug dealer.
   Officer: Are there drugs in the saddlebags of this vehicle?
   Rider: Yes, sir. I tried to put the gun in the left saddlebag but there’s several bags of this white powder-like stuff in the left saddlebags and it wouldn’t fit, so I put the gun in the right saddlebag.
   Hearing this, the officer immediately called his captain. The motorcycle was quickly surrounded by police, and the captain approached the driver to handle the tense situation:
   Captain: Sir, can I see your license?
   Rider: Sure. Here it is. It’s valid.
   Captain: Who’s motorcycle is this?
   Rider: It’s mine, officer. Here’s the registration.
   Captain: Could you slowly open the right lid on your saddlebags so I can see if there’s a gun in it?
   Rider: Yes, sir, but there’s no gun in it. Sure enough, there was nothing in the right saddlebag.
   Captain: Now, would you mind opening your left saddlebag? I was told you said there’s drugs in in it.
   Rider: No problem. The rider opened the left saddlebag and no drugs.
   Captain: I don’t understand it. The officer who stopped you said you told him you didn’t have a license, killed the owner and stole the motorcycle, had a gun in one saddlebag and drugs in the other.
   Rider: Yeah, I’ll bet he told you I was speeding, too, didn’t he?
   What’d you do if you were that officer? Go nuts? Tear your hair out? Scream?
   In our Bible text this morning Mary must have felt that way too. It’s like a “get me to the nearest shrink” reaction. Here’s Mary … perhaps thinking of marriage … preparing for the big day … already pledged to be married to Joe … dreaming of driving the family SUV, with kids arguing about who gets to sit in front of the camel, and being the perfect, patient mom. … Then an angel appeared.
   What would you do if I came and told you “I just saw an angel and he told me I am the new Prophet for the Red Bank area”? Most you ordinary people would kindly suggest or say “Ministry here must be really stressful. I think you better go have a serious talk with Pastor Ken or maybe Dr, Phil.” If things like these happen, we’d tend to ask, Is this a dream, is this real, too much turkey and egg-nog, or too little coffee in the morning. Maybe it’s too little sleep because I stayed up watched “How the Grinch stole Christmas” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” , and “A Christmas Carol” back to back to back, all in one night and all the behind the scenes featurettes as well? This angel’s entrance was not welcomed at all. Ever wonder how Mary felt?
   Let’s look at v.29 “Mary was greatly TROUBLED at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” She was immediately reminded of a 3 D world. A 3 D world – a dicey, dangerous and dark world.
   All of sudden due to this angelic visitation, a huge crisis hits Mary’s world, and her world changed dramatically. As you look into her world and ours, it appears there are many similarities between our world and the world of Mary’s time and we feel greatly troubled.
   Her country was under military occupation by the Roman Empire, and that makes life, a three D life - dicey, dangerous and dark. And now she must have thought under the stress and strain “I must be going insane”.
   Today, people are under a lot of strain in a 3 D world. Many people live under financial threat – as they see their investments and savings dip in an uncertain economy. Perhaps some are greatly troubled that way and they look at what the words of business analysts and economists say and they feel greatly troubled, don’t they? Suicide bombers, retaliatory strikes, the unrest in the Middle East, more terrorist threats, the AIDS epidemic, illegal drug trade … all this, and more, fills up our news cast on a daily basis. Is this not a greatly troubled world? Just when you think you can get away for some peace, something happens … ask those many who fell violently ill from with attacks of diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain from the Norwalk virus on the cruise ship Amsterdam off Florida. There seems to be an increase of these attacks on cruise ships in the last few years. Going on a holiday these days is no longer a safe thing to do. Just ask the tourists in Mombasa, Kenya, in Bali, Indonesia, ask the Canadians who travel in the Philippines as they hear their own embassy being shut down as travel advisories are being issued.
   And just when you think you can retreat into safety of your home, we find the lovely town of Paradise, California completely destroyed by the 6th most deadly wildfire in US history. And the volcano in Hawaii destroying houses and cars several months ago. Time and time again we have stories of domestic violence in supposedly well-adjusted families.
   Just when you think you feel OK, you admit you’re not and need help. You want to get healthy, but in our hospitals, nurses and doctors are overworked and greatly troubled, resulting in longer waits for medical help all across the country. Experts in the field are saying this is a recipe for disaster.
   Then you say let’s move to a small community, far away from possible terrorist attacks and overcrowded hospitals. We move to some small outta the way town like Davis Inlet in Newfoundland, who’s alcoholism rate is 80 per cent, has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and has an epidemic of gas sniffing among their young children. A whole generation of people could be wiped out.
   Then some say let’s get into the world of sports. How greatly troubled can you get? The most is spend a couple of minutes in the penalty box if you are greatly troubled right? But, we hear the story of a 15-year-old member of the Kelowna Midget AA all-star hockey team. He hung himself in a motel room one Saturday night after being caught with pot and apparently he thought his life was over … that he’d never play hockey again. It’s a tragic statement that the father said - "He lived for hockey. He loved to play hockey." It seems living for sports is not the answer.
   According to a new report, as was noted in the Toronto Star, more men in Ontario committed suicide in the past decade than died in car crashes. That speaks of a crisis of hopelessness, doesn’t it? Some 591 males committed suicide in Ontario between 1990/91 and 2000/01, while 558 men died in car crashes. Dec 4, 2002 in the news, in Camrose AB, a 27 year old father and his 2 yr old toddler son were found dead and police believe it’s a case of murder suicide. There seems to be more and more cases of murder suicides these days, doesn’t it.
   Then you say let’s head to church. One Sunday evening people in Westmount Baptist Church attended a Christmas Concert at Caronport, SK, which is a tradition for that church. Folks would stay behind and have a Christmas Party together as a congregation. But something happened that would rock the world of that church. Phil Canning pastor of the church reported “A lady from our church and her four friends that came with her were killed instantly when they turned into the path of a westbound semi just as they were leaving Caronport onto the highway. Many of the Westmount people stayed at the scene of the accident.”
   There is grief and sorrow, there is crisis and threats every where we look. It seems people in churches are not immune to pain and crisis. Do we not live in a 3 D world, a greatly troubled world? How can this year’s Christmas be a merry one this December. 2018?
   Looking at the Bible, we find Mary’s friends, family, and countrymen, suffered through some pretty similar unstable troubled times, both politically and economically. And though none is mentioned in our Bible text, I’m quite sure, the same maladies of tragedy, illness, death, and financial worries must have been a part of their daily and personal lives as well.
   For instance, the terror of the crosses standing outside their towns reminds them each day of the brutal reign of terror of the Romans. As they look around them, there seems to be little or no control over their future. They could feel the 3 D’s in a real way as they smell the air of death surrounding where they live.
   REMEMBERING GOD’S FAVOR
   Gabriel greeted this young girl Mary, as one who was favored by God. "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
   Now think about this, wouldn’t it be great to have an angel bearing a message from God come and visit you and give a message similar to v.28? Here you have confirmation that there is a God, all questions about God answered, as you have the attention of an angel. After all, you’ve just been notified that you are specially chosen by God, and not just favored … but “highly favored”. Isn’t that awesome?
   Today, many young aspiring athletes would die for such a recognition. To be “highly favored.” This would mean big money, millions, yes a gargantuan contract, you’d be set for life! To be highly favored, perhaps the top 5 pick in the draft, the top five free agents, top five players in football or basketball, is a most coveted favored position. This is the big time, instant fame and recognition!
   But can we assume those whom God favors will enjoy the good life as well: perhaps gain prestige, social standing, wealth, good health. Highly favored draft pick of God, wow, eh?
   Well, such would not be the case for Mary, the highly favored of God, whom the angel declared “the Lord is with you”. V.29 tells us how troubled she was, she must have wondered if she had gone out of her mind.
   Fast forwarding to the future, - she would have a child out of wedlock, and tell me how scandalous that is in that day and time! Then to have to face the pain of a disappointed and confused husband who had in his mind, a lovely virgin, whom he is in love with, and now his beloved Mary probably committed adultery since they were pledged to be married to each other.
   Then, to face perhaps ridicule and strange stares, from fellow villagers, seeing her pregnant before her marriage to Joseph. Then later being forced by the hated Romans, to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because of a government census. Just to become a number and be numbered! Paper pushing unfeeling bureaucracy, what a joke! Especially when you can only waddle and not walk, being 9 months pregnant.
   And then later, her son would be executed as a criminal, again a scandal for this highly favored one of God. There was no wealth, no recognition, no royal title for Mary, who would be the mother of the man whom Gabriel said would be King, and whose Kingdom would never end, but there is no evidence of that Kingdom any time soon (vs.32-33). That sure doesn’t sound like being “highly favored” … or does it?
   Perhaps this Christmas, like Mary, you too find it impossible to believe you are favored of God. Perhaps you have endured some tremendous losses, this year, you had a rough year, you ask “How can God understand my 3 D world.” Perhaps you feel misled, misguided by God, let down in a big way, betrayed. How can I be favored by God, loved by Him with so much that’s wrong with my life, there isn’t much hope on the horizon?
   Most of the time you just don’t feel God’s favor is with you. Let me remind you of Ephesians 1:3-5 (NLT) — 3How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ. 4Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure. (Here it is we’re highly favored … God’s top draft picks because of His love and His pleasure in us as His children)
   Will you remember God’s favor is on you? In response to the troubled feelings of Mary, the words “Do not be afraid” spoken by Gabriel came to Mary. Can you hear the same as we read the words from the Bible in Ephesians 1? Can you hear that you need not to be fearful for God has you in his hands, no matter what you may have to suffer through? You are chosen by God … your future is secure … don’t be afraid!
   I pray you choose to believe that! For me this is the best gift of Christmas, that God loves me, he is for me, he holds my future, the future does not hold me hostage, no terrorists, NOTHING can separate me from Him! OH, hear these words … they were spoken by the Archangel of God over 2,000 years ago just for you this Christmas “Don’t be afraid”!
   For Mary, the temporal trial of giving birth to a son, born out of wedlock, means a future where the world is blessed. Her Son’s name will be Jesus. He will be the Son of the Most High, the Son of the living God. Yes, through him the entire world can be saved. For God, in His infinite wisdom has a plan. God knew of our need for a savior. God knew of our need for Christmas. God knew we needed to feel the touch of His presence among us, relating to us on one hand, feeling the effects of a 3 D world and yet able to save us on the other. God knew we were drowning in sin and hopelessness where so often suicide is the option people go for. In a world without hope, in a world gone mad, God is with us. Listen to this poem,
   “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator;
   If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist;
   If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist;
   If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer;
   But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”
   God knew there were times then and times now when the uncertainty and the severity of the events of world would overwhelm us. God knew nations and kingdoms would rise to power, that leaders of these human nations and kingdoms would grow strong, overwhelm and over-power others.
   God knew that these kingdoms would gather followers of falsehoods, and that these same kingdoms would oppress and hurt others … then after all the damage they had done, these kingdoms would crumble and fall away.
   God knew we needed a new kingdom, where hope and real peace can be found, and in Jesus – all human and all God – we will find a King to reign over God’s people forever, for his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, one built out of love for all of us who wholeheartedly trust and follow Him. Christmas for us is - Remember God’s favor in a 3 D world.
   You see … the central figure in our lesson today is not Mary … its not even the angel, Gabriel. The central figure in our lesson is the gracious and loving God who gave us his Son, Jesus, whose birth is the promise of God’s redeeming love … Emmanuel … “God With Us.” And Mary was favored, chosen by God, to play a role in this redemption process.
   And so are we! We are favored by God, to tell the impossible story that God loves the world so much that He gave His Son to be born of a woman. Remember this as we live in a 3 D world. Understand that our lesson today is really about FAITH AGAINST THE ODDS.
   In v. 34 we read – “34How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
   35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37For nothing is impossible with God.”
   Perhaps Mary recognized that God’s blessing could be bittersweet. Being favored by God is often a difficult gift to receive … because it calls for great courage, great strength, great energy, a great amount of self-sacrifice … and most of all, a great amount of faith.
   We’re often be called to face what we would rather not face. So, Mary asked “how will this be?” We will often be called to grow through events and in areas we’d rather not grow. So Mary said: “I am a virgin?” However, unbelievable as it may be, overwhelming as it may seem, incomprehensible as it is, Gabriel tells us - “Nothing will be impossible with God.” Yes, in the face of life’s greatest trials and tribulations, remember with faith these words.
   Then, Luke tells us about an old and barren woman - not Mary but her relative, Elizabeth – that she will bear a child in her old age (v.36). If that is so, can a virgin, Mary, conceive?
   Again, the God of impossible things tells of the impossible with the incredible Christmas story. “The Lord entered into human history via a woman’s womb, as a child. And He grew up to die on a cross. From a womb to a tomb. But wait, the impossible happens again – when all hopes were crushed – in the tomb, from the tomb – rises hope. Jesus died but He rose from the dead. Death was destroyed, and yeah - resurrection and life was born. From the most unlikely rag-tag team of 12 disciples and even one big time traitor, comes the impossible … the birth of the church, that reaches out to all the world.”
   Who could have believed that there is such a story of redemption, such a hope for sinners, who could have dared dreamed of this fantastic story of God’s love? Indeed, nothing is impossible with God … not even death could hold him!
   Are you facing some difficult decisions this Christmas season? In some way or another we all live in dicey, dangerous, and dark 3 D world. But remember God’s favor and have faith that bucks against the odds. Hear the words of God again and live again! God is telling have you and I to have faith in Him in the face of incredible odds — “for nothing is impossible with God, so don’t be afraid.”
   When Gabriel finished delivering the message he had come to give Mary, after he spoke of this miracle that was to happen, and did his best to explain how this miracle could happen … as if you could ever explain a miracle …  I’m sure Mary pondered the ramifications of this Miracle - I bet she thought ahead a little, thinking how the news she had just been given was going to be received by her friends and family.
   After Mary heard Gabriel’s news, do you remember what she said in v38? “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”
   You see, I think Mary knew what being favored by God meant and was going to mean. Like most people, I imagine she realized being chosen by God didn’t mean life’s normal burdens would go away or get better. I think she realized being favored by God meant there were greater challenges ahead. I guess you could say that blessings in many ways comes disguised, and may not look at all like a blessing.
   She could have said “no”. She could have rejected God’s invitation. It could have passed to some other girl. She could have said: “Gabe, you got the wrong Mary, wrong address, different postal code, there is this other Mary just down the street, she’s kinda like a virgin too … ” But she didn’t. She said “Yes, Lord.”
   Because maybe, just maybe, Mary knew that what makes Christmas is God’s desire to enter into the lives of ordinary people living in a threat-filled world. Yeah, maybe, just maybe, Christmas is about God entering our ordinary world, and it’s about the willingness and the openness of ordinary people to let God in … trusting His favor and having faith that God’s blessing will work out for the better … even if we can’t grasp it yet.
   I wonder, if we can, can we grasp a hold of how different that first Christmas was?
   I wonder can we understand, just a little, the magnitude of the impact Gabriel’s message had on Mary’s future, and the magnitude of the impact it has on our futures, that it would mean blessings for the whole world.
   I wonder, can we understand, just a little, what it took for Mary to commit to the path that was chosen for her. I wonder - can we comprehend the enormity of the commitment she made. I wonder - can we follow her lead, even if in a small way. To know that being favored by God means God is with us, especially in the trials that are bound to come in the future.
   I wonder. I hope and pray we can all grasp and understand the TRUE meaning of Christmas.

December 16, 2018   Let Christmas Put Hope In Your Heart

   Our opening passage — Luke 2:1-14 (NLT) — The Birth of Jesus — 1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
   6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
   8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
   13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of heaven — praising God and saying,
   14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
   A former instructor for the Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Unit explained this in what he called “The Rule of Threes”:
   “You can survive …
   -3 weeks without food.
   -3 days without water.
   -3 hours without shelter.
   -And 3 minutes without air.
   -But you cannot survive 3 seconds without hope.”
   People can’t make it without hope. But as Christians, we have hope. And one of the best things about being a Christian is that no matter how bad things may get in our lives ... we have hope. Where does it come from?
   [1] First: Our hope comes from the work of God and we can see some of the ways God works in vs. 1-6:
   1At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.
   6And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.
   These vs. remind us that God works through ordinary circumstances. God wanted His Son to be born in Bethlehem. And He used the most ordinary circumstances to get Him there: A census for taxes.
   (Note: I held up a 1040 Tax Form, and said:)
   Can God use this to give glory to His name? -- Yes!
   Can God use this to give guidance to His people? -- Yes, of course!
   God can use:
   -Your taxes.
   -A traffic jam.
   -A new job.
   -A stopped up drain.
   -A broken shoe-lace.
   -A chance meeting at the store.
   God can use the smallest thing to change your life forever, because once you truly become a Christian you are no longer in control … He is!!
   You see … that decree from Caesar Augustus had to go out at just the right time. And it had to pass all the way across the Roman Empire by ship and horseback to get to where it was going … at just the right time.
   God works through ordinary circumstances.
   [2] And He works in the lives of ordinary citizens.
   God worked in Joseph the carpenter, and Mary, the Jewish girl. But He also worked in the lives of the shepherds we see in vs. 8-9:
   8That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, …
   Who were these shepherds? A pastor gave some important background on the shepherds, when he said: “Throughout the history of Israel, shepherding was a noble profession. Abel was the first to have this job, followed by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and of course, David.
   But by the time we come to the first century, shepherding had lost its luster. Shepherds made up the lowest class of people, coming in just ahead of lepers.” (“The Shepherds’ Joy about Jesus” by Brian Bill)
   I read where another pastor tells us that: “Shepherds were borderline social outcasts. Since they were constantly on the move to find new pasture for their flocks, they were looked on with suspicion. Kind of the way people today might look at gypsies, or carnival workers. Shepherds were often accused of being thieves. If something came up missing, it must have been those shepherds. They weren’t allowed to give testimony in court, because their word wasn’t considered trustworthy.
   And on top of all that, they really didn’t have much contact with other people. Most of the time, they were ‘living out in the fields.’ This was not a 40-hour a week job. They didn’t come home at night. They were with the sheep 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” (“The Shepherds” by Alan Perkins)
   They worked all night … kinda like saying that God works the night shift!
   So, these shepherds remind us that God hasn’t forgotten us and God hasn’t forgotten you! And if He could work in those shepherds’ lives, He can work in our lives too.
   Our hope comes from the work of God and from the wonder of God.
   [3] Think about the wonder of His glory.
   We get a taste of God’s glory in vs. 9-14, where Luke says:
   9Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior — yes, the Messiah, the Lord — has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
   13Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others — the armies of heaven — praising God and saying,
   14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
   The shepherds were overwhelmed by it, and the angels were overjoyed by it: The glory of the Lord!
   -Here we see the wonder of God’s glory.
   [4] But in vs. 7, we also see the wonder of the Lord’s humility.
   7And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
   I can’t imagine that Joseph was happy about taking Mary to Bethlehem. That baby was due any minute … not a time you want to get too far from home, much less make an 80 mile journey by donkey and on foot crossing mountains and deserts and rivers.
   -What??? No 4 wheel drive SUVs?
   -No Holiday Inn Expresses?
   -No Cracker Barrels?
   -No Wal-marts?
   -And then, when they got there: No room in the inn? Come on now … how much fun can this trip be??
   Have you ever gotten off from home, and not been able to find a place to stay?
   MaryLu and I were coming back from Gainsville, FL several years ago. The construction traffic was so bad on I-95 that it took us over 9 hours to get from just south of Jacksonville to the SC state line. We rode around for 2 hours and couldn’t find a room.
   -Not a pleasant experience.
   In some circles, Zig Ziglar is a well known author and speaker. One time his brother asked for a room. And the manager told him that they were all booked up. Zig’s brother said, “Now be honest with me. If the President of the United States walked through that door just now and requested a room, … would you have a place for him to stay?”
   The manager replied: “Well, if the President needed a room, we’d find one for him.” And Zig’s brother said, “That’s great. I know for a fact that he’s not coming. So I’ll take his room.” (A Savior Has Been Born!” by Melvin Newland)
   Jesus Christ could have had the best room in the world for His birth. (Even that would have been a shack compared to the glories of Heaven.) But Jesus humbled Himself to be born in a dirty stable. He even humbled Himself to die on the cross for our sins.
   The Apostle Paul put it this way in Philippians 2:5-8: 5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
   Jesus humbled Himself to be born in a stable and die on the cross for our sins. So, the wonder of God’s glory and His humility come together in the God-Man Jesus Christ!
   A pastor put it this way … “He was just like us, and yet He was nothing like us.
   -He walked among us, and yet He came from God above.
   -He grew up in Nazareth, and yet the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
   -He is our friend, and yet He is our Savior and Lord.
   -Little children love him, and yet He baffles the greatest minds.
   -He was called ‘son of Mary,’ and yet He is the ‘Son of God.’” (“The Birth” by Brian Bill)
   Margaret Brown (also know as “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”) explained the wonder of it all with these words: “Christmas is love tugging men’s hearts back to God, -- with the powerful grip of a tiny hand reaching out from a bed of straw.”
   Our hope comes from the wonder of God.
   [5]. We get this hope from the will of God.
   What is God’s will for our lives? -- God’s will is our salvation.
   And God’s Word makes this clear to us in vs. 10 & 11, where the angel said this to the shepherds: 10“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
   Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins! But again, it never would have happened without the suffering of the cross. It’s not possible for us to fully comprehend the physical and spiritual suffering the Lord went through. But Isaiah 53:2b-8 helps us understand. There the Bible says this about the Lord’s suffering: 2bThere was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him.
   3He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
   4Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!
   5But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.
   6All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.
   7He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.
   8Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people.
   Did y’all get that?? Have you heard what Fred and Brenda have been saying about me and Marylu?? They’re saying stuff that’s not true!! I am so fed up with them accusing us of doing stuff we’re not doing. I don’t know what to do.
   How many of us have done that? ALL of us!! Yet Jesus stood there, knowing that what was being said about Him was lies and fabrications. He knew that what He was being accused of would send Him to the Cross ... AND … He said nothing!!!
   Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day so He could suffer and die on the cross for the sins of each and every one of us.
   Pastor Melvin Newland tells about a Christmas play that asks an interesting question: “What did Joseph do the day after Jesus was born?”
   Of course, on the day Jesus was born, Joseph helped with Mary and the baby. He did everything he could to make them as comfortable as possible. And Joseph welcomed the shepherds in to see the new-born Savior in the manger.
   But what about the next day? The play imagines that since Joseph was a carpenter, he began making a crib for Jesus. And as he did, he thought about the celebration with the shepherds the night before.
   Joseph wondered, “If they treated Him like this when He is just a baby, how will they treat Him when they find out He is the Son of God?”
   At just that moment in the play, the lights suddenly went off. And all you could hear was the sound of the hammer driving a nail into the wood.
   How would they treat Jesus when they found out He was the Son of God? They would nail Him to a cross.
   But, we have to fully understand that He went through all of that willingly, because it is God’s will for us to be saved. Jesus died on that cross just for us … you and me!
   There’s a song by Gordon Jenson that says:
-“I was guilty with nothing to say
-And they were coming to take me away
-But then a voice from heaven was heard that said
-Let him go, take me instead!
-I should have been crucified
-I should have suffered and died
-I should have hung on the cross in disgrace
-But Jesus, God’s Son took my place!”
   God’s will is to save us from our sins, eternal death and hell. God’s will is for our salvation.
   [6] And for our celebration.
   God wants us to celebrate the birth of our Savior. But this can be hard when people we care about are suffering and hurting. I think about all of y’all with sickness and pain … with financial and family problems.
   How can we celebrate Christmas in times like this? Jesus helps us in Hebrews 12:1-2. Here Christians are urged to follow the Lord’s example. And the Scripture says: 1Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
   That last verse in the International Standard Version says that we should be “looking off to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
   Please notice that Jesus looked BEYOND the shame and suffering of the cross to see the joy set before Him. And in a sense, that’s what we have to do to celebrate Christmas in the hard times. It doesn’t make the pain go away … but we can look beyond the pain to see the hope and joy of Christmas. We can have a celebration like we see on the first Christmas day.
   Again in vs. 10 & 11 we read: 10The angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
   Good news, Bethlehem. Good news, Red Stone.  Good news, World, -- “for unto you was born that day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
   The heart of Christmas is the good news about Jesus Christ.” And it brings great joy, because yes, Jesus had to die on the cross for our sins. But thank God, He rose again from the dead!
   One church put on a Children’s Christmas program that included a manger scene. There was a little 5-year-old boy on the drama team. I think he was a shepherd that year. And I know he was energetic to say the least!
   This little boy was a handful. During rehearsals he was all over the place. He distracted everyone, and turned the director into a nervous wreck! She was really worried about how he would do during the performance.
   At rehearsal all week, they had used a baby doll for baby Jesus. But during the play, the couple playing Joseph and Mary put their own baby in the manger. And our little shepherd didn’t know it. During the play, he started edging over to the manger.
   Suddenly he saw that it was a real, live baby. And he shouted out: “He’s alive!” At first everyone laughed. But then a holy hush fell over the church, as people thought about the Living Lord who was born into our world.
   Jesus Christ was born to die on the cross for our sins. But the Risen Lord is alive today. -- “He’s alive and doing VERY well in some of our lives!”
   That’s why Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. -- But is He your hope?
   I read where a pastor says: “I know that there are empty lives. I know that there are hurts and pains. We all have them. But you see, Christmas comes to help us deal with those things. A little hand reaches out of the manger and says, ‘Grab hold. I’ll lead you to the throne. I’ll lead you to the Father. Grab hold. I will lead you, if you’ll only follow me.’”
   The Savior invites you to hope this morning. He has given His blood and His life for your sins.
   Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of each and every one of you. He was born to pay a debt you could never be able pay. Now … He waits to see if you will be completely and wholeheartedly devoted to follow Him. He waits to see if you will be completely and wholeheartedly devoted to be obedient to His Word. He said in John 14:15 “If you love Me you will obey My Commands.” He also tells us that “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23)
   As we learned last week that ALL of heaven and earth waits to see if you will completely and wholeheartedly turn from the ways of your past and accept His great gift of eternal salvation. If you will completely and wholeheartedly do this, it will be then and ONLY then that you will truly find hope.

December 9, 2018   Waiting For A Hot Ride

   Opening passage — 2 Kings 2:1-15 (NLT) Elijah Taken into Heaven — 1When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. 2And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”
   But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.
   3The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”
   “Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”
   4Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”
   But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.
   5Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”
   “Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”
   6Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”
   But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.
   7Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. 8Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!
   9When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”
   And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”
   10“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”
   11As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven.12Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.
   13Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.
   15When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.”
   Children’s church is dismissed.
   How many of you like trivia games.
   I really enjoy the trivia openings on Sunday mornings watching y'all trying to get the answers right.
   Trivia question … How many times did God’s people cross water that God had parted for them? And what does this simple trivia question tell us about God’s main message in Scripture?
   The answer: FOUR.
   First – when Moses led the people out of their slavery in Egypt and crossed the Red Sea.
  2nd – when Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land and crossed the Jordan on dry ground.
   And then (in our text today) when Elijah crossed the Jordan to meet with the Fiery Chariot and when Elisha crossed it again to reenter Israel.
   That’s a GREAT trivia question. And as far as I’ve ever been concerned, it had no lasting theological value.
   But then… maybe it does.
   Romans 15:4 tells us (referring to the Old Testament Scriptures): “… EVERYTHING that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
So – how much of the Old Testament was written to encourage us and give us hope?

ALL of it.

Including the stories of people crossing these bodies of water.

Now, I’ll get back to that in just a little bit… but first, let me lay a little foundation.

In Romans 15, Paul was telling us that (as New Testament Christians) the Old Testament can teach us…

… about God

… about endurance

… about encouragement

… and about hope.

But as valuable as the Old Testament is to us Christians, that doesn’t mean that we are to live our lives as Old Testament people. As Galatians 5:18 tells us: “… if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

The Old Testament was a covenant, it was a contract that God established with Israel. And that contract was based upon the Law.

But we all need to understand one VERY important fact. The Law had one major drawback – it couldn’t make anyone righteous … other words … nobody can be saved by the Law. As Hebrews 7:19 says: “…the law made nothing perfect…” No matter how hard someone tries … NO BODY can be saved by living by the Old Testament rules. In other words, if you and I tried to live our lives according to those commandments, we could never be good enough to be good enough to get into Heaven.

You see … the Law says don’t do this – don’t do that … don’t eat this – don’t eat that … don’t wear this – don’t wear that … don’t go here – don’t go there. How confusing can it get?? Who could live by it all?? NOBODY!!!! That’s why God sent Jesus into the lives of those who accept His free gift of forgiveness and salvation and are obedient to His Word. The Law’s purpose was to expose our sinfulness, and to reveal our need for Jesus.

As Galatians 3:24 puts it: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”

The Law was given through Moses (that’s why it’s often called the “Law of Moses”) and that Law could never lead us into heaven. God drove home this fact with a very painful story in the Old Testament

The story is related in Deuteronomy 32:48-52 … “48That same day the Lord said to Moses, 49“Go to Moab, to the mountains east of the river, and climb Mount Nebo, which is across from Jericho. Look out across the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the people of Israel as their own special possession. 50Then you will die there on the mountain. You will join your ancestors, just as Aaron, your brother, died on Mount Hor and joined his ancestors. 51For both of you betrayed me with the Israelites at the waters of Meribah at Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. You failed to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel there. 52So you will see the land from a distance, but you may not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”’”

This passage was saying that the reason Moses didn’t get to go into the Promised Land was BECAUSE he’d sinned against God.

Now, most theologians believe the incident God was referring to here (Numbers 20:1-13), was where Moses had been commanded to SPEAK to a rock so that water would come out. BUT Moses had grown weary of a people that were always complaining and bickering and backbiting. And he’d especially grown tired of their questioning his God-given leadership of the nation. So, in this particular incident, instead of just speaking to the rock, he STRUCK the rock in anger and implied HE was bringing forth the water out of the rock for Israel (not God).
   Now, if that was true – by most standards that was a VERY small indiscretion. This seems to be the ONLY complaint God ever had against Moses. Moses lived 120 years and this one incident keeps him out of the Promised Land?? I don’t get it!! Others had done far worse stuff and they got into the promised Land.
   That’s not FAIR!!!
   But this wasn’t really about fairness at all.
   This was about God using Moses as an object lesson.
   Moses was one of the greatest servants of God in the Old Testament.
   A man of unparalleled righteousness and obedience.
   But even this great man of God had sinned.
   And the Law, carved by the hand of God in the tablets of stone that he had brought down from Mt. Sinai couldn’t remove that sin.
   God’s point was this – even the smallest sin can keep us out of heaven.
   But I think God had another lesson for us in all of this. Not only could the smallest sin keep you OUT of heaven … the Law COULDN’T get you INTO heaven.
   You see, Moses represented the Law, and God chose not to let Moses into the Promised Land partly because He wanted to teach us that – just as the giver of the Law could not enter the Promised Land … that same Law would be unable to lead anyone into heaven.
   It was God that kept Moses out of the Promised Land. You see … God did not allow Moses to lead God’s people into this new land. Because of this “little thing” Moses was not allowed to lead God’s people into the future God had in store for His people.
   So WHO DID? Who did God have lead Israel into the Promised Land? (Joshua)
   Do you know what Joshua’s name is in the Greek? It means “Savior.”
   The Law was not permitted to take the people into the Promised Land… but Joshua (the Savior) could lead them in.
   And when Joshua led the people into the Promised Land God parted the Jordan River so that the people could cross the riverbed on dry ground. And Joshua leads the people of Israel across the river… in exactly the same place that Elijah and Elisha crossed.
   You think that possibly that might have been a coincidence??? I don’t think so.
   You see … this morning we read the story of Elijah and Elisha at the Jordan River. Elijah has always ministered in the land of Israel (the Promised Land). But when it comes his time to be taken up in the whirlwind… where does he go?
   He crosses to the other side of the Jordan. He LEAVES the land of God. He goes OUTSIDE the Promised Land.
   Now, why does God have Elijah do that??
   Because Elijah represents the Prophets of the Old Testament.
   AND the Jews depended upon the Law and the Prophets to bring them to righteousness.
   The point of God’s message here is that neither the Law NOR the Prophets could bring us into God’s rest.
   Elijah doesn’t cross back into the Promised Land, but someone else does.
   Who’s that?
   Who parts the waters so he can walk right back into God’s Land?
   Elisha.
   As I was working on this message this thought crossed my mind: “I wonder what Elisha’s name means?”
   “Elisha” means “God is our Salvation”
   Do see what God is doing here?
   God is using the same imagery as He did with Moses and Joshua.
   Neither the Law NOR THE Prophets could bring people to salvation
   But Joshua (which means the “Savior”) and Elisa (means “God is salvation”) could bring the people of Israel to God’s Promised Land.
   If you don’t get anything else this morning … you must understand this … we needed a Savior to bring us out of our wilderness and into God’s presence.
   Now to drive that fact home, during His ministry on earth, Jesus took 3 of His closest disciples with Him to a meeting on what we call “the Mount of Transfiguration”. And while Jesus is on that mountain He meets with two Old Testament people. Do you remember who those two Old Testament men were?
   (Moses And Elijah)
   The last time we saw these 2 men in the Old Testament they were OUTSIDE the Promised Land, weren’t they??
   But now – on the Mount. of Transfiguration – they’re INSIDE the Promised Land. And the ONLY reason they’re in the Promised Land now … is because Jesus brought them there.
   They understood beyond a shadow of a doubt that they Needed A Savior To Bring Them Into God’s Land!
   Now, how cool is that??
   I personally believe that’s intriguing.
   But Romans 15:4 tells us “EVERYTHING that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
   So, what we’ve talked about this morning concerning Moses and Elijah is intriguing, but how does this encourage ME? How does this give Me hope?
   Well, that’s very simple.
   Skeptics will try to tell you that the Bible is a collection of fables.
   They try to tell you that Scripture is nothing more than the writings of clever men who wanted a book to use for a religion they created for their own purposes. And so they made up all of the things you’ve read.
   But what we’ve just seen in the stories about Moses and Elijah proves that that’s NOT true! The Bible is NOT some motley collection of men’s teachings.
   Oh, no! It’s an elaborate, intricate book that weaves God’s thinking throughout every story found in its pages … even down to the smallest details.
   The stories in your Bible are not just there to entertain you. They are there to assure you that you matter to God.
   And the message of the crossings of the Jordan River is there to assure us that God cares so much for you and me that He took extreme care to give us a Bible that is reliable … even down to the smallest details. And the purpose of giving you such a reliable book was to drive home this repeated message:
   You can’t do this thing called life alone … no matter what you do or how hard we try to go it alone. CANT DO IT!!!
God gave you this Book to remind you that …
   You Need A Savior!
   You need Jesus!
   God loves you so much … and He repeats that message in His Bible over and over and over again.
   (pause…) But there’s more
   When Elijah crossed over the Jordan …he laid his cloak on the water & crossed over into the wilderness.
   He crossed over from a Land of Promise into a land of rock and sand … a desert.
   He literally crossed over from the region of Life … into a place of death.
   It used to be, when people talked about dying, they described it as “crossing over” - as in “crossing the river”. And those outside Christ viewed that place to which they were “crossing over” as being a one-way trip. For them death was a scary and FINAL destination. It was a dark place filled with nothing but sorrow and misery.
   One ancient philosopher wrote: “There is hope for those who are alive, but those who have died are without hope.” Death is a done deal.
   And that’s where Elijah went - into a land without any hope … a land of darkness.
   But there, in that land of death… God was waiting for Elijah.
   Elijah may have walked into a place of emptiness and regret … but God wasn’t going to let him stay there.
   God had a RIDE waiting for Elijah.
   And not just any old ride … it was fiery chariot. A vehicle designed to catch your attention and impress you.
   From that day until this, that fiery chariot has represented the power of God over death.
   There’s an old Negro Spiritual that went this (SING IT WITH ME)
   Swing Low Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home
   Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home
   Well, I looked over Jordan, and what did I see – coming for to carry me home
   It was a band of angels, coming after me – coming for to carry me home.
   Swing Low Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home
   Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, coming for to carry me home.
   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8frEt6w4G8
   Paul wrote about our hope in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 “13And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
   15We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18So encourage each other with these words.”
   This was the image God wanted to place in our minds with Elijah.
   Just as with Paul’s description in I Thessalonians, God was telling us, along with Elijah, that death is NOT a final destination for God’s people… there is a resurrection.
   One man put it this way: “For the Christian, death is not a period, but a comma in the story of life.”
   And God has given us that promise from the day we became Christians.
   Romans 6:3-5 tells us “… 3Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
   5Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was.”
   You see … In baptism, we cross over from death to life, just as Elisha did when he returned to Promised Land. Baptism teaches us that when we go down into the water, our past is buried with Christ.
   But when I baptize someone, do I leave them under water? (wait for a response).
   Somebody would get really upset if we did that … even though I know some that might need to be held under longer … just to make sure.
   No we don’t leave people under the water. We raise them up again … raising them (if you will) from the dead into life … Life with Jesus.
   That’s because baptism isn’t just a promise that God forgives our sins. If we do our very best to live according to His Word (John 14:15) baptism is a promise … God WILL raise us one day from the grave and we will be with the Lord forever.
   The crossing of the waters in Scripture teaches us that God offers us hope and encouragement – just as Romans 15 promised.
   And we know this is true, because when Jesus Rose from the Dead, He showed us that death couldn’t hold us either.
   One person described it this way:
   “What gives a widow courage as she stands beside a fresh grave?
   What is the ultimate hope of the cripple, the amputee, the abused, the burn victim?
   How can the parents of brain-damaged or physically handicapped children keep from living their entire lives totally and completely depressed?
   Why would anyone who is blind or deaf or paralyzed be encouraged when they think of the life beyond?
   How can we see past the martyrdom of a helpless hostage or a devoted missionary?
   When a family receives the tragic news that there child has died or their dad was killed in a plane crash or a son overdosed on drugs, what single truth can become their whole focus?
   What is the final answer to pain, grief, diseases, calamities, and fatal accidents?
   The only thing that can make any difference to those who’ve experienced these hardships: Jesus will come for us… and there will be a resurrection.”
   Revelation 21:4 promises “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

December 2, 2018     Make A Choice

   Opening passage - 1 Kings 18:17-40 New Living Translation (NLT) — 17When Ahab saw him, he exclaimed, “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?”
   18“I have made no trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “You and your family are the troublemakers, for you have refused to obey the commands of the Lord and have worshiped the images of Baal instead. 19Now summon all Israel to join me at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah who are supported by Jezebel.”
   20So Ahab summoned all the people of Israel and the prophets to Mount Carmel. 21Then Elijah stood in front of them and said, “How much longer will you waver, hobbling between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him! But if Baal is God, then follow him!” But the people were completely silent.
   22Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only prophet of the Lord who is left, but Baal has 450 prophets. 23Now bring two bulls. The prophets of Baal may choose whichever one they wish and cut it into pieces and lay it on the wood of their altar, but without setting fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood on the altar, but not set fire to it. 24Then call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by setting fire to the wood is the true God!” And all the people agreed.
   25Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “You go first, for there are many of you. Choose one of the bulls, and prepare it and call on the name of your god. But do not set fire to the wood.”
   26So they prepared one of the bulls and placed it on the altar. Then they called on the name of Baal from morning until noontime, shouting, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no reply of any kind. Then they danced, hobbling around the altar they had made.
   27About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
   28So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. 29They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.
   30Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel,32and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
   Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
   34After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
   36At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
   38Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord — he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!”
   40Then Elijah commanded, “Seize all the prophets of Baal. Don’t let a single one escape!” So the people seized them all, and Elijah took them down to the Kishon Valley and killed them there.
   Video - Reasons People Don’t Go To Church
   Children’s Church Is Dismissed
   An evangelist in South Africa had a van with this sign on the side that said this:
   “Where will you spend eternity?
   Most people don’t decide till the 11th hour.
   Our service begins at 10:30.”
   That evangelist’s van was telling people that there was a “decision” to be made.
   It asked: Where are you gonna go when you die?
   Will you spend your eternity in heaven or in hell?
   You get to make the choice.
   You get to make that decision.
   Now, some people don’t make the decision until the 11th hour but we’re going to make it easy on you – we have services here at 10:15.
   Implied in that clever message was this:
   Make a decision.
   Decide where you’ll spend eternity. We start our services before the 11th hour because we want to help. That gives us 45 minutes to help you come up with something.
   The Bible is filled with scriptures that tell us to make a decision.
   In Deuteronomy 30:19 when God had brought Israel up out of slavery in Egypt He told them: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now CHOOSE life, so that you and your descendants may live.”
   Did you catch that? “Now CHOOSE life, so that you and your descendants may live.” What’s that verse saying to us this morning? That’s telling me that the decisions I make today affect my children, my grandchildren, my great grandchildren and so on down the line.
   You see … when Joshua had led Israel to conquer the Promised Land … we read in (Joshua) chapter 24 vss14-15 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then CHOOSE for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
   Isaiah declared in Isaiah 55:1-2: “Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink — even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk — it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.”
   Listen to me! Choose that which satisfies!
   And that was essentially what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
   If you want to have that which satisfies: Choose God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Place God and His priorities first in your life and you’ll be more than taken care of.
   So, when Elijah stood on the mountaintop challenging the prophets of Baal and Ashteroth, he echoes the very same cry God has always put before His people: CHOOSE!
   1 Kings 18:21 asks this question … “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
   MAKE A CHOICE!!!
   As we talked about last week, in the previous chapter, Elijah didn’t talk to anyone other than the King. He appears out of nowhere, tells the king there is going to be a drought and there will be neither rain nor dew until he says otherwise… and then he leaves. He doesn’t return until now… 3 ½ years later.
   BUT now, he doesn’t just talk to the King. He addresses the entire nation of Israel. He tells King Ahab to assemble these 950 prophets of Baal & Ashteroth at Mt. Carmel and then stands and makes a public challenge before all the people of Israel.
   He says to them: “Choose!”
   “If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”
   Come on people!! MAKE A CHOICE!!
   Why address the entire nation?
   I believe Elijah did that because that’s what he’d come to do. He had come to help the people of Israel make that very decision.
   Yes, he came to confront and convict King Ahab.
   Yes, he’d come to confront and destroy the false prophets.
   BUT the primary reason he’d come back was to preach this message to this audience
   Make a choice! Decide who you will follow.
   Why challenge Israel this way?
   Because the Israelites had gotten into the habit of trying to live in two worlds. They were TRYING to follow BOTH God and Baal. They probably prayed to Yahweh and some of them may have gone down to Jerusalem to worship. BUT the altars of Baal and Ashteroth were more convenient and it was obvious the government didn’t like their God. Many of the prophets of God had been put to death by Queen Jezebel.
   So, they decided to compromise.
   They decided to mix and match their gods.
   They prayed just enough to God to feel comfortable … but they spent a lot of time down at the altars of Baal and Ashteroth. In other words, they put in their hour on Sunday morning … but they spent most of their time in the world.
   But Elijah appears before the nation and tells them …
   You are descendants of Jacob.
  You are Israelites.
   You belong to God
   CHOOSE GOD!
   If you claim you’re people of God … why aren’t you living like it?
   That’s why … when he built his altar … he used a very specific number of stones.
   How many stones did Elijah use for his altar on Mt. Carmel? (Twelve)
   1 Kings 18:31 tells us that “Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob.”
   He was telling his audience:
   You are God’s people.
   Make a choice to follow Him.
   But the people of that day preferred a milk and toast, watered down version of faith.
   Now people in our day do much the same thing … don’t they??
   They’ll worship Jesus to a point… but many are convinced all the other religions are OK.
   According to a 2008 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 57% of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life. In fact, 70 % of Americans with at least some religious affiliation shared that idea.
   The results of the survey led D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion to comment … "The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep."
   Why would people believe that? Why would they accept the idea that all gods were the same?
   My job as a pastor is to tell you the truth. I don’t care what you’ve been taught or what you believe. All religions are not the same. As a matter of FACT … they all differ greatly.
   * The Eastern Religions like Buddhism. Confucianism teaches that there is no god… and no afterlife. Because it’s difficult to have a religion without something to worship, many either worship Buddha or their ancestors. But officially there’s no god, no afterlife in these religions.
   * Now Hinduism does a complete 180 with a vengeance. They have many gods (3 major gods, but thousands of other gods). And they have many afterlifes. They believe they are reincarnated over and over and over again. Many gods, many afterlifes.
   * Then there’s Islam. Like us they have only one god – which they call Allah – and one afterlife. But he’s nothing like the God we worship. Allah is an impersonal god, who actually cares nothing for his worshippers. To attain the afterlife in this man-made religion, you need to accumulate enough brownie points to please him. If you have enough self-righteousness… you get to go to heaven. Other words … if Allah ain’t happy … ain’t nobody gonna be happy.
   But none of those gods in those other religions is even remotely like the Jesus you and I serve.
   Our God is a personal God, who cared so much for us that He gave His only begotten Son so that we might have our sins forgiven. He offers heaven as a gift, but it’s a gift you and I could never earn because none of us would ever be good enough on our own to get through those pearly gates.
   None of these religions is even remotely alike. The belief that all these different religions worship the same god is common … but it’s irrational … it just plain doesn’t make any sense to me.
   Just on pure logic… any god who would reveal himself thru all these world religions would either be a liar or a lunatic.
   You see … He’d be a liar if he told one group "This is the way" and another group "NO… that is the way."
   Or he’s schizophrenic. He’d have a multiple personality disorder.
   One day he’s Shiva, the destroyer.
   Another day he’s Brahma, one of the gods that claims to be the creator of Hinduism. He also claims to be self-born and is an impersonal force that saturates the universe.
   The god you get – kinda depends on what day you bump into him
   (Loosely based on an illustration by Joel Smith, Wellspring Community Church)
   And the competing religions of Elijah’s day were even worse.
   Worship of Baal called for human sacrifice. Children were placed in the red-hot hands of this idol and burned to death… their skin of the face tightening the mouth into a smile that would indicate their god was pleased.
   And Ashteroth’s worship often involved worshippers sleeping with the priests and priestesses in places around the altar.
   No… not all gods are alike.
   And not all religions lead to heaven.
   Now that was then … this is now
   And there are a lot of people in US that are not into Allah, or Buddha or any number of other gods. They believe Jesus Christ is God. They like going to church once in a while … because they don’t want to get too serious about this stuff.
   Their problem is they want God to be God … over there.
   They want God an hour a week (if that) and - oh yeah - they’d like to be able to put in an emergency call every now and again.
   They really haven’t CHOSEN God.
   They haven’t truly decided to follow Jesus.
   They just want God to be around when they want Him.
   Ronald Reagan once said: "We can’t have it both ways. We can’t expect God to protect us in a crisis and just leave Him over there on the shelf in our day-to-day living. I wonder if sometimes He isn’t waiting for us to wake up, He isn’t maybe running out of patience."
   (Ronald Wilson Reagan, September 9, 1982, at the Alfred M. Landon lecture series on public issues)
   I wonder if God isn’t just waiting for us to wake up. He’s waiting for us to make a decision. He’s waiting for us to make a choice. He’s waiting for us to put Him first in our lives.
   You see… many people live a milk and toast kind of life ... a compromised kind of Christianity.
   But that’s a recipe for disaster.
   The Israelites tried to compromise their faith… and they ended up with 3 ½ years of drought.
   Their lives got hard.
   Their existence became harsh.
   They said they were God’s people but they weren’t living like it and they paid a terrible price of their weak religiosity.
   When you SAY you believe one thing… and you DO something else … when you claim to be a Christians and live like the devil … you’re in for a lot of drought in your life. There’ll be discord, uneasiness, conflict. You’ll find you’ll NEVER be totally be at peace about anything. And you will NOT AT ALL be satisfied with your life.
   Psychologists have a term for this: “Cognitive Dissonance”.
   Cognitive Dissonance is when that you BELIEVE one thing, but you DO something entirely different. Psychologists tell us that when people try to live like that … dissonance or disharmony, problems and confusion are the results.
   For most people, dissonance manifests itself as a feeling of uneasiness and a lack of peace. People want their lives back in balance. They want the return of peace. Instead – because they try to live their lives in this type of tension – they experience this “dissonance” in their lives… and just naturally want to get rid of it.
   But they can’t!!!
   God tells us, that if you live your life this way – if you don’t live it HIS way - cognitive dissonance will be the least of your worries.
   Proverbs 13:15 tells us “the way of transgressors is hard.” KJV
   Isaiah 48:22 "There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked."
   By contrast, in the 26th chapter of Isaiah, vs 3, he praises God because “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
   And we read in Isaiah 32:17 “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.”
   Jesus promised in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
   Now, you can choose God’s kind of peace - or you can try for the world’s version.
   And the world’s version of peace will last … for awhile.
   The world’s version of peace is short lived. It’s based upon:
   How much money you have
   How much power you have
   How many friends you have
   How entertained you can keep yourself
   But if those things ever disappear, or disappoint, you’ve got nothing left.
   That’s why Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
   All the things you might think will satisfy will eventually be stolen away or destroyed.
   Once they’re gone, so is your peace.”
   But Jesus said John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
   And Paul wrote to the Philippians in chapter 4, vs7 … that if I live and think the way God tells me: “… the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
   In other words: Jesus can give you peace that will last even if you were to LOSE everything else.
   Or as someone else said: “Peace rules the day when Christ rules the mind.”
   That’s what we want!
   But we’ve got to make a choice.
   We’ve got to make a wholehearted decision.
   To refuse to decide is to decide. Do y’all remember that story I told several weeks ago about the dude that was crossing the field. He sat on the fence and the devil came looking for him. He told the devil that he “need not be looking for me because I didn’t choose you.” The devil said, “oh yes you did. I own the fence.”
   You can NOT have Jesus’ peace if your gonna spend your life sitting on the fence … trying to compromise between the world and God. It just won’t work. All you’ll get when you do that is conflict and confusion.
   Elijah faced off against the most powerful and prominent prophets of Baal and Ashteroth
   He gave them all the advantages and he said “Let’s see who’s God can deliver.” And when the smoke cleared their gods came up empty.
   So, let’s have a contest with the world and see who’s “god”, who’s version of “reality” is best.
   Let’s take the best that society has to offer and see how well things turned out for them.
   During the last century there were 2 prominent atheists … H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw. They rejected God … and placed their trust in their own systems of belief.
   Could their lack of faith give them peace?
   Well… no.
   H.G. Wells’ final literary work, for example, has been aptly called "a scream of despair."
   He declared: "I have no peace. All life is at the end of the tether."
   And George Bernard Shaw, shortly before he died in 1950, wrote, "The science to which I pinned my faith is bankrupt. Its counsels, which should have established the millennium, have led directly to the suicide of Europe. I believed them once. In their name I helped to destroy the faith of millions. And now they look at me and witness the great tragedy of an atheist who has lost his faith."
   Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and basically told the people “Watch and see which God supplies.”
   But once you see the contrast, you need to make a choice.
   Charles Bradlaugh was an outstanding atheist in England. Down in the slums was a minister by the name of Hugh Price Hughes. All London was aware of the miracles of grace accomplished at his mission.
   Charles Bradlaugh challenged Mr. Hughes to a debate on the validity of the claims of Christianity. This challenge perked up the ears of all in London ... what would Hughes do? He immediately accepted the debate and in doing so added one challenge of his own:
   Hughes said. "I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women and I challenge you to do the same.
   "If you cannot bring 100, Mr. Bradlaugh, to match my 100, I will be satisfied if you will bring 50 such men and women who will stand and testify that they have been lifted up from lives of shame by the influence of your teachings. If you can’t bring 50, then bring 20 people who will say, as my 100 will, that they have a great joy in a life of self-respect as a result of your atheistic teachings. If you cannot bring 20, I will be satisfied if you bring 10.
   "Nay, Mr. Bradlaugh, I challenge you to bring one, just one man or woman who will make such a testimony regarding the uplifting of your atheistic teachings."
   You know what happened? The debate never took place. Bradlaugh couldn’t meet the challenge. The world never could and never will meet that challenge.
   But now you need to make a choice.
   Make a decision.
   If God is God, then follow Him.
   Jesus said you will know the false prophets by the fruit that they bear (Matthew 7:15-20). Other words, you’ll know the people of the world by the way they live their lives.
   We are reminded in Joshua 24:15 “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then CHOOSE for yourselves this day whom you will serve, …” Moses screams to the crowds in Deuteronomy 30:19 “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Therefore, CHOOSE life, so that you and your descendants may live.”
   The Bible is filled, from cover to cover, with call after call after call for us to “make a decision.” Choices – Choices – Choices – the Bible is filled with choices. It’s not hard to live according to the world’s standards … you don’t have to do anything special … all you gotta do is stay live. But, you see, the challenge is to live according to Kingdom standards. I stand here at this pulpit this morning and I call upon heaven and earth as witnesses against you to choose this day whom you’re gonna serve. Is it our God and Father in heaven … or is it the gods of this world?? And once you have firmly made that decision ... then I ask you … live like what you believe.
   If you choose to serve the king of this world – the devil – then serve him – serve him well by doing nothing. But if you choose to serve the King of kings and the Lord of lords, then love Him and serve Him with all you heart, soul, mind and strength. Serve Him well by accepting His grace and forgiveness, by being obedient to His teachings, by loving and communing with His people.
   A teenage girl can’t say “Daddy, I think I’m a little bit pregnant.” Like the old saying goes ... “You either is or you ain’t.” You’re either all in or you’re all out!!! Remember the field and the fence? The devil will ALWAYS own the fence. You HAVE to choose which side of that fence you’re going to put your heart on … the left or the right? Which is it?? For the world (left) or the Kingdom (right)?? For Satan or Jesus?? There’s ONLY two options ... none of us can HAVE both. Of course, we can PLAY on both sides, but in reality … if we’re trying to play both sides of the fence … then we’ve made our choice … and, I promise you, that’s not the right choice. Jesus said to “it is better to be either hot or cold because If you are luke-warm I will spew you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16), and say “Depart from me for I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-24).

November 25, 2018     Training in the Wilderness

   Our opening passage for today is found in 1 Kings 17:1-24 (NLT) – Elijah Fed by Ravens
   1Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”
   2Then the Lord said to Elijah, 3“Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. 4Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.”
   5So Elijah did as the Lord told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. 6The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. 7But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land.
The Widow at Zarephath
   8Then the Lord said to Elijah, 9“Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.”
   10So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” 11As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”
   12But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
   13But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. 14For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”
   15So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. 16There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.
   17Some time later the woman’s son became sick. He grew worse and worse, and finally he died. 18Then she said to Elijah, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?”
   19But Elijah replied, “Give me your son.” And he took the child’s body from her arms, carried him up the stairs to the room where he was staying, and laid the body on his bed. 20Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?”
   21And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” 22The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived! 23Then Elijah brought him down from the upper room and gave him to his mother. “Look!” he said. “Your son is alive!”
   24Then the woman told Elijah, “Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the Lord truly speaks through you.”

   I Kings 17 is a litany of the events that shaped and prepared Elijah for his greatest challenge (facing the prophets of Baal (ball) on Mt. Carmel). How did God use these circumstances to train Elijah... and how does God use events in our lives to train us?

   A junior high music teacher had just organized a band in her school. The principal was so proud of the music teacher's efforts that without consulting her, he decided that the band should give a concert for the entire school.
   The music teacher wasn't so sure her young musicians were ready to give a concert so she tried to talk the principal out of holding the concert, to no avail. Just before the concert was ready to begin, as the music teacher stood on the podium, she leaned forward and whispered to her nervous musicians, "If you're not sure of your part, just pretend to play."
   And with that, she stepped back, lifted her baton and with a great flourish brought it down.
   AND… nothing happened!
   No music was played.
   The students pretended to play… but no one made a single sound.
   Now, why didn’t those children play their instruments?
   They weren’t sure of their part. They weren’t confident of their abilities. And the reason they weren’t sure, the reason they weren’t confident … was because they weren’t prepared.
   The Bible tells us that – as Christians - we need to be prepared. There are numerous passages in the Bible that tell us to be prepared.
   We’re told in the Gospel of Luke, 1st chapter vs 17 that John the Baptist’s ministry was “… to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
   And from that day until this, it has been (or at least it should be) the goal of everyone in the church to prepare one another to serve God as we wait for that Great Day. From Sunday School teachers to Bible studies, to preachers in the pulpit, to personal devotions – God’s people have always understood that they needed to be prepared and to help others be prepared.
   Peter wrote to the Christians of his day in 1 Peter 1:13 and commanded them: “…PREPARE your minds for action; be self-controlled…”
   And Peter also wrote in I Peter 3:16 that we should “Always be PREPARED to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
   And Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us Jesus gave the church “…some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to PREPARE God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
   The Bible tells us that – God wants us to be prepared to serve Him.
   • Our minds need to be prepared to act on His behalf
   • Our tongues to be prepared to speak on His behalf
   • Our church needs to be prepared to do works of service on His behalf
   God wants us to be prepared!
   And there’s all kinds of things WE can do to prepare ourselves to serve Him.
   • We can be faithful in prayer and fasting.
   • Focus on Bible Study
   • Worship through our giving
   • Be committed to be in church services on Sunday Mornings
   There’s all kinds of things we can do to get “prepared to serve God.” And we should!
   But then I read things in Scripture – like our text this morning, and I begin to understand that none of this is about me. When it comes to getting prepared, sometimes it’s God who does the preparing. And how well I’m prepared by God may depend on how I view what God is doing in my life.
   Now, with that thought in mind, let’s revisit what we’ve read about Elijah up this point.
   The first verse of this chapter is the very first time we hear anything about Elijah.
   Let’s read 1 Kings 17:1 again. “Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!”
   And that’s it??
   There’s no introduction.
   No description of his qualifications to be a prophet.
   No details on what Bible knowledge he had.
   And I believe that’s deliberate on God’s part.
   Because I think God wanted us to realize that Elijah was a man just like us.
   I believe God wanted us to see Elijah as he was. A man who had the same struggles and conflicts in his life as we do. A man who had to wrestle with his own humanity. A man who had the same needs as we do.
   He wasn’t superhuman.
   He wasn’t super trained.
   He was a man just like us.
   And just like us he needed to be trained by God. He needed to be prepared.
   We have a couple clues in that verse as to what kind of man Elijah was from vs. 1
   1st – we’re told that Elijah served the LORD.
   Elijah tells Ahab he comes on behalf of “the LORD, the God of Israel”. (When you see “LORD” or “GOD” in all capital letters that indicates places in our English Old Testaments where God’s personal name, Yahweh/Jehovah, is used).
   Elijah served Yahweh. He was a on a first name basis with Him.
   In fact, his very name Elijah means, "Yahweh is God."
   So, he took his marching orders from the God of heaven and earth. (pause…)
   2ndly – not only did Elijah serve GOD… we also find that he was a very brave man. Being a Prophet for Yahweh wasn’t a safe thing to be in those days. King Ahab was a very wicked and dangerous King.
   1 Kings 16:30 & 33 tells us that “Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him… and (he) did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.”
   And not only was King Ahab wicked and dangerous man - so was his queen – a woman named Jezebel. I Kings 18:4 tells us that “Jezebel was killing off the LORD’s prophets” and forcing them to go into hiding in caves.”
   So, when Elijah confronted Ahab… he was literally taking his life in his hands.
   But that doesn’t matter to him because he was there on behalf of his God! He was there to confront a wicked King. He was there to speak God’s judgment on an Israel mired in evil.
   He declared there would be a drought. There would be no rain nor dew until he said otherwise.
   Now, every year, farmers watch anxiously to see how much rain will fall on their crops. If there’s too much rain, the crops drown. If there’s too little, some of those crops dry up and die. BUT if there’s no rain at all… ALL the crops will die anyway.
   We read in the book of James 5, vs 17, that “Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years.”
   Three and a half years without rain is a looooong time.
   Three and a half years of drought is enough to turn a paradise into a wasteland.
   And three and a half years of dryness can make men and kings desperate enough to do anything to change the weather… even kill a prophet.
  So, God sent Elijah on an extended vacation.
   What I find interesting is that, during this three and a half years, God doesn’t pamper Elijah.
   He doesn’t send him to a Hilton, or a Marriott. He doesn’t even send him to a Motel 6.
   For this rest of Chapter 17, we find Elijah being sent by God to places I wouldn’t want to go and he experiences things that I’m not sure I’d want to experience.
   FOR THREE AND A HALF YEARS.
   Why? Because God was preparing Elijah for a specific task He had prepared for him.
   Now notice where God sends him first in 1 Kings 17:3 "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith (ker-rith′) Ravine, east of the Jordan.”
   The Hebrew word our Bible translates as “Ravine” is nachal which people now call “wadis”. A Wadi is essentially an on-demand water supply. If there’s a lot of rain in the mountains, that water rushes down the wadi and once that water has passed by, the wadi dries up.
   NO RAIN… NO WADI
   In other words… a wadi is not a place you want to be in a drought. A drought like the one Elijah prophesied would have dried up all the wadis for miles around.
   So, God sustained Elijah by a creek filled with water that SHOULD NOT have even existed at that time because there was a drought going on!
   Then there was his food supply.
   How did God supply food for Elijah during his stay at the Wadi? With (Ravens)
   He didn’t send a friendly sheepherder or a majestic angel. No… God sent ravens.
   Now this is odd for several reasons:
   1st Ravens don’t generally like being around humans … they avoid us if at all possible.
   2ndly Ravens were unclean birds.
   God’s people were not allowed to eat them, nor offer them in sacrifice.
   3rd The food of ravens has usually been dead for a while.
   They eat road kill. They were scavengers. They’re kind of like small vultures.
   Who would want to share their food?
   AND 4th Even if we wanted to share their food, Ravens would never share.
   They don’t even share their food with their babies.
   So, God supplied Elijah from a brook that shouldn’t have held water.
   And fed him by Ravens that shouldn’t have shared their food.
   Why? Because was PREPARING Elijah for a specific task.
   Remember that.
   Next, we’re told in I Kings 17:8-9: “the word of the LORD came to him: ‘Go at once to Zarephath (zer-ee′-fath) of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.’”
   Elijah isn’t sent to the palace of a King to eat at his table.
   He’s not even sent to the home of a humble farmer or shepherd.
   NO!!! He’s sent to the home of widow… and she’s supposed to supply him with food.
   What’s peculiar about that? (She doesn’t have any food)
   In 1 Kings 17:12 She tells Elijah: "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don’t have any bread— only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it— and die."
   You’d think this would have been the wrong person for God to send Elijah to, but God sent him there anyway.
   Then, 1 Kings 17:13-14 tells us that “Elijah said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’"
   And that’s exactly what happened.
   But then I Kings 17:17 tells us of one more event in Elijah’s life during this time: “Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing.”
   The boy died!
   It was such a tragedy that the woman complained to Elijah that her son must have died because Elijah had come to visit them to remind her of HER sins and kill her boy.
   Elijah was clearly devastated by this, and carried the boy up to his room and prayed over him.
   And God heard his prayers and raised that boy from the dead.
   This had NEVER happened before!
   Up until that time in Biblical history, no one had ever been risen from the dead.
   This boy had died and – by all reasonable considerations – should have stayed dead.
   BUT he didn’t. He lived again.
   So let’s revue.
   In I Kings 17 we find that God
   • supplied food and water for Elijah at the brook at Kerith that shouldn’t have been there.
   • supplied food and shelter for him with the widow at Zarephath who didn’t have it to give.
   • supplied Elijah with the power to raise a boy from the dead, who should never have raised from the dead.
   None of that should have happened.
   Those were NOT normal events in his life
   They were all miraculously and divinely accomplished.
   The question is why? Why did all these events happen in Elijah’s life?
   Why did God send him to Kerith?
   Why did He send him to the Widow?
   Why did He allow the widow’s boy to die?
   I believe all these things happened because God was preparing him.
   After this time of training, Elijah was sent back to face King Ahab.
   After this time of training, he was sent to challenge the prophets of Baal (ball) and Asteroth.
   After this time of training, he was sent to do miraculous things in the name of his God.
   Each event in this chapter challenged Elijah’s faith more than the one before
   o At Kerith, Elijah was all by himself relying on God’s providence. And as he sat there by that Ravine, he learned that God could supply all his needs.
   o At Zarephath Elijah had to enlarge his faith to include a widow who had only food for one meal… then she was going to die. I don’t know if Elijah spoke as boldly as the text implies here. I suspect he told this widow only what God told him to tell her. Then he had set back and watch and marvel as God supplied what He’d promised.
   • And lastly, Elijah’s faith was challenged by the death of the widow’s son.
   o And because of all the great miracles he’d seen before, Elijah boldly asked God to give life back to that boy. Elijah had never seen anything like this happen before. He’d never heard of it happening before. BUT he’d learned to depend on a God who had shown He could accomplish the impossible with the insignificant.
   These events were all training grounds for Elijah’s faith.
   Each miracle only confirmed the power of the God he served.
   And so – when Elijah had been fully trained, totally prepared for his task… God sent him back to King Ahab and the confrontation on Mt. Carmel.
   NOW my point in telling you all this is this:
   Much of what happens in our lives can be used by God to prepare us to serve Him.
   God wants us to be prepared.
   He wants our minds to be prepared to act on His behalf
   Our tongues to be prepared to speak on His behalf
   Our church to be prepared to do works of service on His behalf
   But part of that preparation is the way God uses the events in our lives to train us in faith.
   God wants us to get to the point where – when we see difficulties, when we see the trials in our lives - that we automatically ask = what is God going to do HERE.
   Instead of looking at our problems as crises that can damage or destroy us one person suggested (as Christians) we should change our way of looking at the situation.
   Instead of saying “I have a problem” she said we ought to say “I have a gift”.
   I have a gift??
   Yeah, that’s right.
   With every problem you can’t handle you’ve been given a gift.
   A gift to be able to see God’s power workings in your life.
   I mean – if you could handle the problem by yourself … If things could just work themselves out on their own …then … What would you NEED God for???
   Roman 8:28 says that “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
   Now, I’m not sure that means that all things that happen in my life happened because He caused it. But whether He did or not – He can take it all and turn it to our good. Therefore – no matter what “difficulty” I’m facing, I’m actually being given a gift. The GIFT to be able to find out what God can work together for good on my behalf.
   God trains us to see the things He wants us to see.
   Because what we are expect to see is what we will see.
   There’s an off-beat story that explains this truth:
   The story is told of a very wealthy family who had two sons. One son was the ultimate pessimist. No matter what happened in his life he saw a dark cloud of disaster hanging over his life. The other son was the most optimistic boy in the world. In didn’t matter how dark the cloud in his life – he saw silver linings. The parents were disturbed because they felt neither boy had a realistic view of life… so they came up with a lesson they could teach each child.
   One day they took the pessimist to the door of one of the rooms of their mansion. They opened the door for him and there before his eyes was every conceivable toy a boy could want! The boy looked at the toys, looked at his parents, looked back at the toys, looked back at his parents… and then began to cry.
   “Why on earth are you crying?” his parents asked.
   “There are so many beautiful toys in here that I’m afraid I’m going to break one of them.”
   Frustrated, the parents still decided to use a similar lesson for their optimistic son. They took him to another room of the mansion and opened the door for him. He looked inside – and there was a room filled about 4 feet deep with horse manure. The boy looked at the manure, looked at his parents, looked back at the room, looked at his parents… and joyfully turned and jumped feet first into the manure, digging for all he was worth.
   “What on earth are you doing?” his parents asked.
   Looking up, he smiled and said “With all this horse manure in here, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”
   Each boy looked for what they expected to find.
   In the same way God wants us to begin expecting to find His hand at work in our lives. But we spend so much time looking for what we want instead of looking for what God wants.
   Ephesians 2:10 says “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that He PREPARED in advance for us to do.”
   God had prepared things for us to do. And He then prepares us for those tasks. The most important thing we need to see in our lives is that we have an advantage in this world.
   Our advantage as Christians is that we have the same God Elijah had.
   We have a real God
   We have a God who can do great things
   We have a God who can take our problems and turn them into gifts.
   But we need to be trained to look for His power and direction in our lives
   And how do I know that my God will help me?
   Romans 8:32 tells us “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
   In other words: if God gave His Son to die on the cross for you… if He was willing to give up His only Son for you to be saved… don’t you think He’d be more than willing to give you everything else.
   And one of those other things He’s promised is: IF you love Him with all your heart, soul and strength and if you belong to Him… “ALL THINGS will work together for good” (Romans 8:28)
   Back in the 1500s, when Martin Luther was having the Bible translated into the common language of the people, the printer’s daughter was sweeping up the shop when she noticed a piece of paper on the floor.
   When she picked it up, she found that it was part of the bible that her dad was printing for Martin Luther, and it said, “For God so loved that He gave...”
   The rest of the verse was not printed yet, but what she saw struck her in a powerful way.
   The idea that God would give her anything moved her.
   Her mother noticed a change in her and asked her why she seemed so happy.
   The girl pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket and showed it to her mother.
   The mother read it and asked, "What did He give?"
   The girl answered, “I don’t know. But if God loved us enough to give us any thing we should not be afraid of Him.”

November 18, 2018     Thanks Be To God

   Opening passage - Romans 7:14-8:14 – 14So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
   18And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
   21I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22I love God’s law with all my heart. 23But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
   8:1So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
   5Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. 7For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
   9But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. 11The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.
   12Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. 14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
   Children’s church is dismissed.
   Our lesson title this morning is “Thanks Be To God” … and as I researched this lesson, I discovered a powerful message in Paul’s thanksgiving that was both simple and profound. What it taught me has changed my entire view of how to give thanks.
   There’s supposedly a true story about a family that was seated around their Thanksgiving table. It was their custom for everyone to share what they were thankful for. From the oldest to the youngest, they each took their turn to express their thanks and praise.
   When they came to the 5 year old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks for the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good.
   Then he thanked his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey.
   Then he said he was thankful for the grocery store for stocking the turkey, and the workers there who put it in the refrigerated section for his dad to find.
   Then he said he was thankful for the cashier at the grocery store who checked it out
   And he was thankful for the farmer who raised it and for the man who made the feed and for those who brought the turkey to the store.
   Having said all this, he looked up solemnly and said “Did I leave anybody out?”
   His older brother rolled his eyes and said: “God.”
    Without batting an eye, the 5 year old turned to his brother and said “I was about to get to Him.”        (Joel Gregory, The Unlikely Thinker)
   Thanksgiving is a time to be thankful for all things. The sad truth is that there are many people who aren’t really thankful for anything. They believe that they deserve what they have and they complain about what they think they should have … but don’t.
   And there are others who ARE thankful, but they’re very quiet and discreet about it.
   Then … there are still others who are so thankful they just can’t hardly contain themselves.
   For example, the great classical composer Joseph Hayden, was criticized because his church music was too cheerful (and some of you thought "contemporary music" and Christian Rap was a tough sell).
   He replied: “I cannot help it. I give forth what is in me. When I think of the Divine Being, my heart is so full of joy that the notes fly off as from a spindle. And as I have a cheerful heart, He will pardon me if I serve Him cheerfully.”
   There’re people who are so excited about their blessings that they can hardly stand it. The truth of the matter is that the more a person loves Jesus … the more excited they get about being thankful. … That was particularly true of Paul.
   Here in Romans 7:25 Paul says “THANKS BE TO GOD — through Jesus Christ our Lord!” You can sense the excitement in how he says it.
   But this isn’t the only time he wrote something like this. Earlier in Romans 6:17 he writes: “But THANKS BE TO GOD that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.”
   In 2 Corinthians 2:14, Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth and again he says: “But THANKS BE TO GOD, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”
   And speaking of the change God had brought about in the Corinthian Christians, he says in 2 Corinthians 9:15 “THANKS BE TO GOD for his indescribable gift!”
   But Paul’s most powerful statement of praise shows up in I Corinthians 15:51-57: “51Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — 52in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
   55“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
   56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
   There’s no mistaking the fact that Paul was excited about giving thanks to God. And this truth was so obvious that a legend grew up around Paul and his love for Jesus.
   This legend tells of a wealthy merchant who had traveled to Rome to find this preacher he’d heard so much about. In his search, the merchant found Timothy … and Timothy arranged a visit.
   At the time, Paul was a prisoner in Rome. Stepping inside the cell, the merchant was surprised to find a rather old man, physically frail, but whose serenity and magnetism challenged the visitor. They talked for hours.
   Finally, the merchant left and outside the prison, he asked Timothy "What is the secret of this man’s power? I have never seen anything like it before."
   “Did you not guess?" replied Timothy. "Paul’s in love."
   The merchant looked bewildered. "In Love?"
   "Yes," the missionary answered, "Paul is in love with Jesus Christ."
   The merchant looked even more bewildered. "That’s it. That’s all?"
   Timothy smiled and then replied, "Sir, … that’s everything."
   Paul was in love with Jesus. It was obvious in everything he did and every he said in every letter he wrote.
   But why?
   What was it that led him to get so excited about his Savior?
   I want you to hold that question in the back of your mind for a few minutes while we watch this video (Jesus Visits Simon's House Luke 7).
   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haNL6rpYCjA
   In Luke 7 (36-50) we’re told of the time Jesus had been invited to the house a Pharisee named Simon. No Simon didn’t really like Jesus. He didn’t go out of his way to make Jesus feel welcome. He didn’t even bother to show the traditional courtesy of having Jesus’ feet washed by one of his servants. But I suspect that Simon invited Jesus anyway because of the prestige of having this great Teacher in his home. Simon gave a great banquet, and they all reclined at the table to eat.
   I get the impression that there were a great many others who were present, gathered around the table to get close to this famous Rabbi. Because that’s the only thing that could explain how a woman got into the room who Simon never, never would have allowed in otherwise. She wasn’t a nice a woman. She was a prostitute My guess is that originally she had only wanted to get close to Jesus and see for herself what kind of man this Teacher was.
   But then… as she got closer to Him she became increasingly aware of how holy He was … and how empty and hollow her life was in comparison. That feeling must have been overwhelming because she began to weep. And her tears fell on Jesus’ feet.
   It helps us to remember that Jesus’ feet were dirty … filthy from walking through the streets of the city. And if you think about how a dusty window can look after it gets wet from a few drops of rain that streak down it’s glass, you can begin to understand the horror that enters this woman’s mind as she realizes her tears have made this man’s feet look even more grimy than before.
   Dismayed, she drops to her knees and began to wipe the dirt away with her hair. Then she opened a vial of perfume she had with her and anointed his feet with its liquid.
   Now, Simon noticed all this … and I suspect he smiled. Because you see … he thought to himself “Hmmm. Some Rabbi this guy is! He doesn’t even know this lady’s a prostitute” … one of the biggest whores in Biblical history And he began to think of a way to embarrass both Jesus and the woman who was washing Jesus’ feet with her tears.
   Now Jesus can tolerate people insulting Him ‘cause He’s used to that ... it comes with the territory.
   But He’s angry that this Pharisee would seek to insult this woman who has humbled herself at His feet. She’s lived a very sinful life … she’s sick with sin … and she wants to be healed. And here … Simon the Pharisee … intends to slap her down.
   But Jesus … isn’t about to let that happen.
   “Simon” says Jesus “let me tell you a story”
   “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
   Simon replies “I suppose the one who owed the greater debt.”
   ”You are correct” says Jesus.
   Then Jesus turned to the woman and said "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time she entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — for she loved much.
   But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:36-47)
   Understand this story today folks …people who have been forgiven little, love little. People who have been forgiven little, aren’t very thankful. People who have been forgiven little aren’t really excited about Jesus, because that was the reason Jesus came – to forgive their sins.
   But Paul loved Jesus ... Paul was excited about Jesus. In fact, Paul couldn’t hardly contain his excitement about Christ because Jesus had forgiven him of so much in his life.
   Now, I know most of you have heard the story in Acts 9 (1-19) of Paul on the road to Damascus, the story of how Paul became a Christian, but I think it’s worthwhile to revisit it one more time. Check out this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3JfPCFFcfA
   Before Paul became a Christian, he was a very devout Jew who went by the name of Saul. He saw Christianity as a threat to the people of Israel and he was bound and determined to destroy this heresy before it could grow.
   The Bible tells us that Stephen was the first Christian to die for the faith. He was stoned to death for using the name of Jesus by a violent crowd of people (Acts 7:54-60) and Saul was unquestionably one of the ringleaders. And he found a special pleasure in the death of this man he viewed as a heretic.
   Later, when he heard that Christians had spread as far as the city of Damascus, Saul began “breathing out” murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found anyone there who belonged to “The Way”, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).
   It was while he was traveling to Damascus to destroy the church that was there that Jesus paid him a visit.
   Acts 9:3-6 tells us that “3As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
   5“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
   And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! 6Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
   The encounter left Saul blinded so that he had to be led by the hand to find his way into the city. He went to a home on a street called “Straight” and spent 3 days waiting for God to send someone to him to tell him what he was to do.
   For 3 days, he sits in darkness, unable to see. For 3 days he neither eats nor drinks. And for 3 days he feverishly prayed that God would forgive him of what he’d done.
   Then God sent a man named Ananias to him, and Ananias laid his hands on Saul’s eyes and something like scales fell from them. Then this messenger proceeded to tell Saul that God had chosen him for a special ministry. And then, in Acts 22:16, Ananias said to Saul: “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”
   From that time on, Saul knew that his sins had been washed away. From that time on, Saul (who was later called Paul) was in love with Jesus. From that time on, he would always say “Thanks be to God…” From that time on, he realized just how much God loved him because God had been merciful to him and had forgiven him a great and terrible burden of sin.
   At one point, in 1 Timothy 1:15 Paul wrote to Timothy and said: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst.”
   But he didn’t stop there, he went on to say in vs 16 “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
   Paul loved much, because he’d been forgiven much.
   Now I only have one point in this lesson. And that point is this: Many people don’t get excited about Thanksgiving like Paul did.
   Now, I’m not even talking about just “giving thanks”. Don’t get me wrong; giving thanks to God is a good thing. Making a list of all the blessings we’ve received is extremely important for you and I.
   Many times people will come to me who are struggling with mild depression and they are so frustrated with life that they just don’t know what to do. I’ll often give them an assignment. I’ll tell them to write down 10 things for which they can be thankful and bring that list with them the next time we get together. More often than not, they have difficulty even listing 10 things to be thankful for. But as they work at building this list, they find that the darkness in their lives begins to lift and they are more filled with hope than ever before.
   It’s a good thing to make a list of the blessings that we’ve received. But there’s a danger in focusing on “things” that make us happy. There’s a danger in keeping a list of items we might build our lives around.
   We read in Matthew 6:19-20 where Jesus said "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
   When Paul said “Thanks be to God” he wasn’t praising God.
   When Paul gave God thanks, HE DIDN’T SAY “thank You, Lord, … for the house he lived in … for the money he had in the bank … for the possessions he owned.
   Now – it’s not a bad thing to be thankful for those things and all the other possessions you may have. And it’s not a bad thing to be grateful for the earthly comforts you enjoy. But if it stops there… if that’s the main focus of our thanksgiving, that can create some serious a problems.
   What happens if you lose those possessions? What happens if you no longer have those earthly comforts? What happens if you lose your home, your car, your family? What happens if you lose your health? What happens if you lose your freedom? If you suddenly lost those things … would you also lose your ability to be thankful?
   The things of this earth are temporary. They don’t last that long … the Bible says they will ALL pass away. They break and they get lost and they get stolen and they deteriorate… and they die. And there’s not one single thing any of us can do to stop it.
   And if those earthly things disappear – and they form the principle basis for your thanksgiving – your joy and hope in this world will disappear right along with them.
   But Paul based his thanksgiving on something else entirely. Paul based his thanksgiving on the mercy and forgiveness that he had received from God.
   Several months ago I received a text from someone in our congregation. That person doesn’t have much in this world, but wanted me to share with you how thankful she was to have a church family such as this one and all the friends that she enjoys here. But then she wrote something to the effect: “But most of all I’m so thankful for JESUS giving HIS life so I can have forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life with HIM!!!!”
   A pastor told this story: “At our Thankspiration last night, Chuck shared a song that he said Roger (a man we’d baptized a few weeks ago) had written the words for. It was a beautiful song, but what struck me was the power in the words. Roger’s poem spoke of the things he was thankful for, but each chorus had these simple words: “But most of all, I’m thankful you forgave me of my sin.”
   These people understood the message Paul was trying to get across … true Thanksgiving is more basic than simply a list of blessings. True thanksgiving is based on how much you really love God. And true love for God starts with realizing how much He’s forgiven you.
   There’s a song that goes something like this:
   ”Lest I forget Gethsemane, lest I forget Thine agony
   Lest I forget Thy love for me – lead me to Calvary.”
   The lyrics of that song implies that God’s gift of forgiveness can easily be forgotten if we’re not repeatedly led to Calvary. And, of course, that’s why Jesus instituted His Lord’s Supper.
   Every month we gather at this table and are led back to Calvary. Each time we eat this bread we remember that it represents the body of Christ that was broken for us. And each time as we drink of the cup, we remember that Jesus shed His blood for our sins to forgive us of the things we’ve done wrong.
   When people just go through the motions of Communion without being thankful, it can be a sign that they don’t realize how much they’ve been forgiven of. For he who’s been forgiven little, loves little.
   But – by contrast - he who has been forgiven much, loves much. That’s what drove Paul to serve God so strongly and powerfully in his life.
   Here in Romans 7:24 he writes: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
   And in Romans 8:2 he says “Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
   Paul’s thanksgiving began and ended with Jesus Christ because he loved Jesus with all his heart, soul and strength. And because he loved Jesus like that, his thanksgiving was more than just a list of his possessions and comforts. It was a declaration of how much God had done in his life.
   This was so much so that he later wrote in Philippians 4:12-13 “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.”
   A man named Jack Hinton was on a short term mission trip at a leper colony on the island of Tobago. One of his duties was to lead singing during the worship times.
   One Sunday, there was time for one more song, so he asked if anyone had a request. A woman who had been facing away from the pulpit turned around.
   He said “It was the most hideous face I had ever seen. The woman’s nose and ears were entirely gone. The disease had destroyed her lips as well. She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, ‘Can we sing ‘Count Your Many Blessing’”
   Overcome with emotion, Hinton left the service. He was followed by another team member who said, “Jack, I guess you’ll never be able to sing that song again.”
   “Yes I will,” he replied, “but I’ll never sing it the same way.”
   We talked last week about how all of us associated with this church came from the world … the same world as the woman at the feet of Jesus. We all came from a world that was just like the feet of the Savior … filthy and dirty from walking in all the dust and animal matter laying in the streets. So, my question this morning is this: “What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving Holiday??” Is it for all your stuff … or is it for all of God’s love, mercy, grace and forgiveness??
   We read in 1 Timothy 1:15 & 16: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst.
   But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

November 11, 2018     Friendly Fire - When Church Hurts

   Our opening passage – Zechariah 13:1-6 (NLT) – A Fountain of Cleansing – 1“On that day a fountain will be opened for the dynasty of David and for the people of Jerusalem, a fountain to cleanse them from all their sins and impurity.
   2“And on that day,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will erase idol worship throughout the land, so that even the names of the idols will be forgotten. I will remove from the land both the false prophets and the spirit of impurity that came with them. 3If anyone continues to prophesy, his own father and mother will tell him, ‘You must die, for you have prophesied lies in the name of the Lord.’ And as he prophesies, his own father and mother will stab him.
   4“On that day people will be ashamed to claim the prophetic gift. No one will pretend to be a prophet by wearing prophet’s clothes. 5He will say, ‘I’m no prophet; I’m a farmer. I began working for a farmer as a boy.’ 6And if someone asks, ‘Then what about those wounds on your chest?’ he will say, ‘I was wounded at my friends’ house!’
   Jeremiah 20:9 “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But [his word] was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not [stay]’”.
   I’d like to ask all the Veterans to please stand as we watch this video.
   Thanks to our veterans video – https://www.worshiphousemedia.com/mini-movies/79531/thank-you-veterans
   Children’s church is dismissed.
   I know what Jeremiah meant when he said it’s like fire shut up in my bones.
   So many times in church we preach “it’s like fire shut up in my bones” and we shout with excitement because it sounds good and it supposedly communicates the joy that one feels deep down on the inside. That statement is often said with exuberance in order to get you into a mode of praise and worship … “my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones.”
   Church uses that statement and makes it seem that everything is alright and that one is on fire for God. However, when Jeremiah said that statement “It’s like fire shut up in my bones” he was not on a spiritual cloud nine. He wasn’t feeling joy unspeakable and full of glory. He didn’t have peace that passes all understanding. He wasn’t saying God is great and greatly to be praised.
   Understand that Jeremiah didn’t want to preach God’s word, not because he was back-slidden, not because he was spiritually weak, not because he had a spirit of disobedience. Jeremiah didn’t want to preach the Word of God because he was hurt. He had been wounded by those that he was sent to preach to. He was rejected by the religiosity of organized religion. His message had been ignored by the church folk. He had poured his heart and soul into relationships with those in the congregation only to be ostracized, criticized, talked about, cast down, ridiculed, persecuted, and bound by those that were supposed to be his friends, the “called out” ones, the church.
  He was a product of the statistic of friendly fire. He had been wounded and hurt by the church and because of this hurt he didn’t want to say anything else about the Lord God to the church that had hurt him so bad.
   People don’t expect to get hurt in church, so when it happens the piercing pain that penetrates our hearts runs especially deep. Since we are not prepared for church wounds … when we receive them … they’re completely out of left field and are seldom fully healed.
   We find within the body of Christ that there are people who have been hurt deeply. They’re becoming worn out and exhausted … struggling within the body of Christ, robbed of the joy that Jesus has promised.
   Sadly, accepting that this is the way church is, some leave the church bitter and hostile … never to return … wounded not by the fire-power of the enemy, but wounded by friendly fire from their Brothers and Sisters within the church.
   Then there are those that stay at church, but are not a part of church. They’re neither hot nor cold … but are in a spiritual state of shock because they have been wounded by friendly fire in the church.
   Then there are those that put on a mask, they clap their hands because that’s church, they sing every song because that’s church, they shout and speak in tongues because that’s church … and that’s what is expected in church.
   But if you would only take time to ask just how they were really doing … if you could see on the inside you would find a heart pierced … crying tears with a gut-wrenching scream … pleading “I’ve been hurt!!! Please won’t somebody help me?” Yet they continue on trying to stay with the program hoping that the problem will just go away. They try to bury the hurt. Many can masquerade the pain fairly successfully until they unfortunately are hurt again.
   Understand that these are not some super sensitive elite group of people walking around with their hearts on their sleeve, but are people looking for life, carrying an unquenchable thirst.
   They understand that they are destined for more than the way they are currently living their lives. They are hungry for substance, desiring relationship, and clammering for commitment in search of life … searching for life more abundantly (John 10:10). They’ve tried the bottle, they’ve been to the drug house, they’ve been to the whore house, they’ve done all that they were big enough to do … yet they’re still seeking for someone to help them.
   So, they go to the only place they know to find refuge from the world… and that’s church.
   But when they get there, they don’t find what they had expected. Instead of acceptance, instead of compassion, instead of understanding, instead of Love, they are wounded by friendly fire.
   Friendly Fire – is a term originally adopted by the U.S. Military and is fire, which is the process of shooting guns or other projectile weapons, from allied or friendly forces, as opposed to that from the enemy. A friendly fire incident is when friendly or so-called allied forces attack and damage those on the same side, this attack of friendly forces may be deliberate or accidental.
   Look back with me at Zechariah 13:6 “And if someone ask, then what about those wounds on your chest he will say, I was wounded at my friend’s house.”
   I want to use for a subject today “Friendly Fire” and as a subtopic “When Church Hurts”.
   To be wounded or hurt is to have trauma, to damage or decrease the efficiency of, by rough use, improper care, to affect adversely, to cause mental pain, to offend or grieve, to insult.
   When we get hurt in the world we usually get over it by saying something like “Well, you know how people like that are.” When we get hurt in the church we don’t expect it to happen and it’s hard to get over it.
   The thing that we must understand … is who comes to church. Who stands here on Sunday morning singing songs of praise and worship? Who sit on the church’s executive board? Who makes up the congregation? Who stands at this pulpit every Sunday morning? You see, the thing that we must understand is that people who run the church … are people who come from the world.
   Every person sitting in this room came from the world. I know a lot of history about all of you and all of us were headed for a place that none of us truly wanted to go. One of my most favorite songs in my BC days was AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” but that’s not the road we’re on anymore. We’re definitely not perfect people, but we’re are striving for perfection. Paul said in Philippians 3:12 “I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” With that being said … hurt is a part of life both natural life and Christian life.
   The hurts received by the church folk are especially painful and run extremely deep because they catch us completely off guard and there’s nothing worse than a sucker punch that you never see coming. The church is supposed to be place of healing and acceptance, but when wounded in the church those wounds, those hurts, never receive closure, the wounded are seldom, if ever, met with a humble embrace and a true desire to pursue reconciliation.
   The pain caused by the church becomes a silent killer because of what it does deep in the tapestry of the mind, heart, and soul of the wounded. If not dealt with it will destroy the one wounded and like a black mold infiltration that slowly infects the whole house. So, if left unattended it will infect and affect the spiritual life of the one wounded and, eventually, it will infect and affect most of the congregation.
   Sometimes the wounded will slander the church that hurt them to whoever will listen. Philippians 2:14-16 instructs us to “14Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people. 16Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless.”
   The first thing we want to say is that they need to shut up and stop complaining. They slander the church simply because “the church” will not hear their cry, their heart has been pierced and its crying out “I’ve been hurt!!! Will somebody help me?”
   They feel like the man in the parable of “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37) He was on the road from Jericho and fell among thieves, he was wounded and left alone, no doubt feeling as though he was going to die when long came a priest, a leader of the church, no doubt he thought, “Surely my help has come,” but the priest didn’t even take time to see about him. Then came the Levite, this man represents the church folk, no doubt the wounded man said, “O.K. I know I will be helped now.” The Levite looked at the man but didn’t have compassion upon him. Then along came the Good Samaritan, he represents the unchurched, anyone that would listen, he took time with the wounded and tended to his hurt.
   Oftentimes that’s the reason that the hurt slander the church. They just need someone to listen and tend to their wounds and since the church didn’t take the time. They’ll find the first person ... any person … that will listen to their gripes and complaints about the church and about all the goody-two-shoes Christians that go there. Sometimes they find them in the grocery store or beauty salon … they find them in the gym or barber shop … wherever they find someone will that will listen … they begin to talk and slander and cut.
   When I was a bar owner, I heard stories that would curl your hair from people that I had no idea who some of these people were. People go to bars to escape their problems, failing to realize that their problems are still right there with them when they sobered up. The more they drank … the more they talked and griped and complained … mostly about other people.
   But, you see, the thing about the Good Samaritan story is that we all say I don’t want to be like the priest or the Levite, I want to be like the Good Samaritan, but in all actuality we’re the ones that have been wounded … and are in need of a Good Samaritan … and in our desire for him … we long to be him, because we’ve been wounded.
   A pastor shared his story. He said … “Personally I have been around and in the church all my life. Even when I was in the military and back-slidden doing whatever I wanted to do, I would often find myself in church because church is what I knew, I tried the world, but I knew church.
   Therefore, over the years I have experienced some contradictory things in church. Understand that I love church, but I hate certain parts of it. I love the people of God, yet I have been utterly hurt by some of them. I’ve met some of the sweetest saints in the church, yet I have also been lied on and slandered behind my back. I’ve developed true friendships in the church, but have also experienced the Judas kiss of betrayal. I have encountered God in church and have almost been killed by religion. I’ve experienced rejection and character assassinations that have left me cautious and partially bitter. I’ve become tired of church services that try to inspire me to get into the presence of God by some type of manufactured praise and worship that leaves me with no real power of change.
   I’ve been hurt. I’m thirsty. Looking for a quenching only to leave out the doors more parched than when I came in. Instead of receiving that humbled embrace, that compassion and understanding - I’m criticized by piercing words of “if you only would have put into service, if you would have performed by my standard or religious piety you would have been blessed, if you only get into worship.” But I was looking for someone to help me – I’ve been hurt and I need someone to help me.
   If I’m not careful or receive help soon I’m gonna spiritually die. I’ve been hurt and I need help, I’ve experienced a deep emotional, damaging and life changing experience that has caused me to internalize the experience. I’m emotionally scared and feel devastatingly degraded. I’m hurt and I need help. I’ve been hurt, inflicted, and ultimately overlooked by the church. Will somebody help me?”
   I’ve heard so many stories very similar to this story. MaryLu and I have talked to people who were pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers who have turned their backs on “CHURCH” … the people in it … and the God they serve. You see folks … if this isn’t corrected … if this type of behavior doesn’t change … if this isn’t controlled … the church will have the blood of countless individuals on their hands. People are being hurt by the church, the body of Christ … and this is dangerous because it causes the thinking of those that have been hurt to be affected … and when their thinking is affected, you begin to operate in the result of that hurt. They begin to build walls around themselves trying to protect their feelings from such hurt again. However, in the building of these walls the hurt find themselves trapped in pitfalls that are the product of being hurt.
   They develop an incorrect concept of what “church” is and because of this incorrect concept of church they get angry with church and everything associated with church … even God.
   Once you get angry with church and God they begin to rebel. The Bible says in 1 Samuel 15:23 “Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.”
   If you’ve never been hurt in church then you don’t know what I’m talking about, but for those that have ever felt hurt in the church … then this is for you.
   After their rebellion, they begin complaining about church because they’ve been hurt. They find the first person that will listen to their hurt and attend to their wounds and if it’s not the church … then the only other choice they have is the unchurched. Then, after all their complaining, the devil places discouragement on top of that and that is where possession takes place. Understand that possession doesn’t always mean that the devil is on the inside and needs to be cast out, but whomever you lend your members to has possession (Romans 8:9).
   When you become discouraged the first thing that we lose is control of our patience. Luke 21:19 says “By standing firm in your patience, you will posses your souls.” The meaning of patience is the ability to wait for something without getting upset. So, if in patience we posses our souls, then if we loose our patience … we’ve opened a door for the devil to come in and take control. This is a vicious cycle that is perpetuated by being hurt from so-called friendly fire.
   After discouragement comes doubt. We become doubtful and begin to feel that this pain will ever stop hurting and we start asking ourselves “Will I ever get out of this situation?” If you’ve never been hurt you don’t understand this, but if you have been hurt in the church then as the old saying goes … “you feel me” … you know where I’m coming from.
   I’ve been hurt and I don’t think the pain will ever go away. So now I go into another phase … and that’s called fear. I develop a phobia of the church and begin to avoid those “Christians” … the people of the church because I don’t want to experience anymore hurt.
   Because of that fear, now that I’m separated from the church because I’ve been hurt, I now come to a place of hopelessness.
   Listen up … I’ve been wounded and separated from the church. I’m now isolated and vulnerable. 1 Peter 5:8 says to stay alert because the devil is like a roaring lion that’s seeking someone to devour … and he sees me. I’m hurt and all alone, and in his eyes I’m easy prey. Unless I get some help … I’m gonna die all because I’ve been hurt. In this place of hopelessness … if I don’t get some help … I’m gonna miss-out on my inheritance, which is everlasting life with God … all because I’ve been hurt … by the church. Will somebody help me?
   Now that I have been hurt in the church how do I keep the hurt from infiltrating into every fiber of my being and destroying my soul.
   The Bible says in Proverbs 4:23 “Guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life.”
   The number 5 in the Bible represents God’s Grace. Here is God’s Grace shown in 5 steps to protect your heart.
   1st – we protect our hearts by doing as the Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant because your adversary, the devil, is as a roaring lion walking about seeking whom he may devour.”
   The word “Vigilant” means “to be carefully observant, constantly on the lookout.” In other words expect the unexpected. There’s an old saying that goes “hope for the best, but expect the worse”. Remember the worse punch you can receive is a sucker punch that you never see coming, but if you’re vigilant, constantly looking for the sucker punch, you’ll be able to see it before it happens. Sure, it’ll hurt … but at least you’ll have your heart guarded.
   2nd – way to protect your heart is to do as the Bible says in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
   Understand that the main thing we have to remember is that most of the people sitting in the pews and chairs in the churches this morning have come from the same place and been in the same mud holes that you and I have been in. So, don’t dwell on the people that hurt you and don’t dwell on the weakness of the church. I know this isn’t going to be easy because do you know what it’s going to take to get outta this funk?? It’s going to take humility … and LOTS of it.
   James 4:6 says “And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Even though you have been hurt you must be humble … giving grace and forgiveness to those who have hurt you.
   And that leads us to Ephesians 4:32 … you must have a forgiving attitude. Ephesians 4:32 says “And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.”
   Not only must you forgive, but you can’t have any desire for vengeance. Romans 12:19 says “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.”
   But God!!! You want me to do what?? NOTHING??? I know you said that vengeance is Yours and You’ll pay them back (Deuteronomy 32:35), but God, can’t I have just a little piece of that? Can’t I have my own little piece of self-satisfaction??
   It’s going to take the leading of the Holy Ghost to get through this. Ephesians 3:16 says “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.”
   3rd – way to protect your heart is don’t blame God for how his people act. I know we’ve all heard the saying that goes “An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but it sure does roll a long way.” We read in Philippians 3:12 … the people of God are striving for perfection. They’re not there yet, but they are supposedly working on getting there. So, we can’t get mad at God for what people do.
   4th – way to protect your heart is not to leave the church. Understand this … church is the body of Christ … not a building. The church is made up of the people in that building and all of them aren’t bad. There ARE more loving, sincere, genuine, spirit-filled, grace-loving people in church than you may realize … take the time to seek them out. Remember the Bible says in Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find it, knock and the door shall be open unto you.” Pray with all your heart asking God to get you connected with all the right people in your lives.
   I read an interesting article the other day that said “If you call yourself a Christian and you hang out with the unsaved, then the Devil is your father-in-law.” Think about that for a minute. If the people you’re hanging with aren’t helping you grow in your walk with Jesus … then get rid of them … you need to find you some new people to hang out with. I once heard a pastor say “If you’ve got things or people in your life that cause you to sin … stay away from those things and those people.” You can’t walk in relationship with Jesus while you’re holding hands with the devil!!
   5th – way to protect your heart is to understand Psalms 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” Because He cares and understands, He was despised and rejected of men, betrayed by those he called His friends. Judas sold him out for 30 pieces of silver and betrayed Him with a kiss. Peter denied Him 3 times in one night. He goes to pray and His disciples go to sleep. All the disciples run away from Him in His darkest hour. Jesus is crucified and dies … the disciples turn around and head home … feeling that was a wasted 3-1/2 years.
   You see, Jesus understands what it means to be hurt; a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. He’s been there!!! He knows and cares about your hurt so he says so lovingly and tenderly in Matthew 11:28-30 “28Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you. Learn of Me and let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.””
   Understand that Isaiah 53:5 says “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed.” Understand this … by standing on this passage we’re not only healed in our physical bodies, but we are also healed from the damaging effects of sin … as well as the effects of so-called Friendly Fire.
   In closing, remember the words of Psalm 61:1-3 “1O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! 2From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, 3for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.”
   How many of you have been “Church Hurt?” How many of you have caused the “Church Hurt?” We all have to one degree or another … because none of us are perfect.
   Speaking from experience there are so many ways to get hurt by the people in the church. How many of us owe people money and won’t pay them? How many of us haven’t been honest with someone … maybe not ball faced lie, but have exaggerated the truth … and they found out about it? How many of us have made rock solid promises to our brothers and sisters … and not kept them? How many of us … we all know this list can go on and on with questions that will never end.
   The bottom line here is how many of us KNOW that someone is upset with us or has been hurt by us … and we don’t really care. We just brush it off by saying “They need to grow up and get over it.”
   Folks … that’s the WRONG attitude to have. We are instructed … commanded … ordered in Matthew 5:23-25 to “GO to that person and get this problem worked out ... to be reconciled to that person.” This passage also tells us to get it worked out quickly to the point that it has been “justified” … just as if nothing ever happened.
   I ask you to please pray for us. Pray for this church and the people in this church. I ask that because we all know someone who had started coming to this church … and no longer attend. I ask you to reach out to those people and find out why. If they left because this isn’t the church for them … then we need to pray that they find the one that is. If they left because someone in this church has hurt or offended them … then the Bible says that if someone has gone astray we are to gently deal with those who are wayward and try to draw them back in (James 5:19 & Hebrews 5:2).
   How about you?? Who do you have in your circle of friends that you need to go to and get it worked out? I pray right now, in the name of Jesus, that the Lord will reveal to you the ones in your life that you might have said or done something to that has pushed them away from the church and the faith … someone who needs your grace and forgiveness. God gave His grace and forgiveness freely and unconditionally, without question … and no matter what … we’re to do the same.

November 4, 2018     All Things New

   Opening passage - Revelation 21:1-4 (NLT) – The New Jerusalem – 1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
   3I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
   Revelation 19:7-8 (NLT) – 7Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.
   8She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.” For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.
Children’s church is dismissed.
   The central core of the Christian faith is that someone lived, died and lived again to tell us what lies beyond death’s door. The Easter claim is that Jesus died at the hands of professional executioners, that he was placed in a heavily guarded tomb, and that three days later Jesus Christ conquered death and rose from the grave. Jesus appeared to hundreds of people alive and well. He appeared to his friends and family over a 40-day period of time.
   According to the Bible itself, if this claim that Jesus Christ rose from the dead isn’t true, then the Christian faith crumbles and Christians are a pathetic group of wishful thinkers who are out of touch with reality.
   Yet the evidence that Jesus Christ did rise from the grave is overwhelming. The last several weeks we’ve been looking at what the Bible teaches about death and the afterlife in a series called BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR.
   We’ve looked in this series at the evidence for believing in life after death, we’ve looked at the question of whether heaven is for everyone, we’ve looked at the Bible’s teaching about hell, and about what happens immediately after a person dies. But today as we finish this series BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR, we’re going to look at the ultimate destination of those who have received God’s love through Jesus Christ. Today we’re going to explore four word pictures the New Testament gives us about this final destination, and, as we’ll see, these four word pictures have real relevance to how we live our lives today by making All Things New.
   I. A Change
   The first word picture we’re going to look at is the picture of a change. Most of us don’t deal with change very well these days, especially since things in our culture nowadays seem to change so rapidly. That famous theologian Mark Twain once said that “The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” So, at first the idea of a change may not seem real appealing.
   As Paul writes his letter to the Philippian Christians he’s concerned that they’ve lost sight of their final destination with God. They’ve been living what we might call the secular life, a life that measures success by our culture’s standards, a life that acts as if this earthly life is all there is. So, to remind them of the final destination that lies ahead, Paul describes a change that’s going to happen in Philippians 3:20-21. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (NIV).
   True followers of Jesus Christ don’t belong to this world system we live in, because in Romans 12:2 we’re told “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
   Paul tells us this because we ultimately belong in heaven, that’s where our citizenship is, that’s where our allegiance is, that’s where our true Leader is. Until Jesus returns to this earth, we eagerly await him. We’re standing on our tiptoes looking over all the debris and clutter in our lives waiting for him to appear. When that happens, Jesus will "transform" our present bodies into bodies that are like His, and that transformation is the change we want to zero in on today.
   The word "transform" used here is the Greek word we get the English word "metamorphosis" from, and it means "to cause a change in the form of something." What’s changed is our physical body, what’s the object of this change, this metamorphosis, this transformation. Like a caterpillar that’s transformed into a butterfly, our present body will be transformed into a body that’s like Jesus’ resurrection body. This change won’t just look like Jesus’ body in superficial ways, but it will be of the same kind, the same inward nature and quality, as Jesus’ resurrected body. By looking forward to this coming change—this future transformation—the Philippian Christians can get back on track.
   Now what exactly will this changed body be like? Paul doesn’t tell us here, but in 1 Corinthians 15:42-44 he tells us some important truths about the nature of this resurrection body: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body” (NIV).
   This entire chapter focuses in on the resurrection, beginning with the importance of Jesus Christ’s bodily resurrection, and then branching off from that to our own eventual resurrection from the dead. Paul uses a metaphor here of planting a seed and the eventual plant that grows up from that seed. The seed appears to die when it’s placed in the ground, yet when the seed is buried in the ground, out of that seed comes new life, a plant. There’s an organic connection between the seed and the plant, yet their appearance — their form — is very different.
   This image of a seed and a plant makes even more sense in light of modern physics. We know from the first law of thermodynamics that physical matter can’t be destroyed, but that it can only change form into energy. So, the physical matter that our bodies are made of doesn’t disappear after we die, it merely changes form. So, it doesn’t really matter whether we’re buried in the ground or whether our bodies are cremated or whether we’re buried at sea … the physical material that make up our bodies never disappears.
   Paul tells us that like a seed, our present physical body is perishable, it’s subject to decay and disintegration. Whether we like it or not, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, our physical bodies are disintegrating, winding down a little more each day, gradually limping towards death. Yet like a seed that’s placed in the ground, our perishable body after it dies will be raised imperishable, immortal, free from decay and disintegration, just like Jesus Christ’s resurrection body was.
   Our body in its current condition is in a state of dishonor. But when it’s raised from the grave, like a seed that’s sprouted into a plant, our bodies will be raised in glory. Our bodies in their current condition are in a state of "weakness," which points to our physical limitations. How many of us can run a one minute mile? How many of us are in the same physical shape we were in ten years ago? While our soul seems to be getting stronger — our minds in education, our emotions in maturity, our spirits in our Christian growth — our bodies are moving in the opposite direction, they’re getting tired, growing weaker every day. Yet, like a seed after it’s planted, our bodies will be raised in power. This points not so much to God’s power, but it points to our own ability to do things with our bodies that we’re powerless to do now.
   So, our bodies in our present condition are natural bodies, bodies that might be fitted for life in the world in its current condition, but bodies that aren’t fit for life in heaven with God. But when that seed is planted and sprouts into a plant, when our bodies are raised from the dead, we’ll have spiritual bodies, bodies that are fit for life with God, bodies that are fully obedient and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. This is still a physical body — Paul doesn’t call it a spirit but a body — but it’s a spiritual body, a body that’s been sufficiently changed, so it’s fit for life with God in heaven.
   This is God’s promise to Christians: That he will transform our bodies. Since God will transform our bodies, we can endure affliction.
   This promise of a change, that our bodies in their present condition are just the seed, not the eventual plant, we can endure affliction in our lives. Even though it’s painful and difficult, even though we are perishable, our bodies are lowly, even though our bodies are growing weak and tired, we can endure these things because of God’s promise that this is just the seed, that a change is coming.
   A pastor shared this story. “I really learned this from a college friend of mine named Mike. When Mike was 13 years old he was in a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders, a quadriplegic. Suddenly the perishability, dishonor and weakness of Mike’s body confronted Mike in a way that few of us will ever know, and as an active 13 year old it was simply too much for Mike to endure. Mike refused to participate in rehabilitation, refused to learn how to manipulate a wheel chair. Instead Mike stayed in bed, screaming and yelling at everyone who came into his room, filled with bitterness and anger. But then someone told Mike about Jesus Christ, and Mike became a Christian. That gave Mike hope, and this promise of a change enabled Mike to endure his own affliction. Mike got out of that bed, and when we met Mike was a college student, married, he eventually adopted a child, and today he works at a seminary in the pacific northwest. What changed in Mike’s life? This promise of a change helped him endure affliction.
   II. A Home
   But God has not only promised us a change in heaven, he’s also promised us a home in heaven.
   Jesus said in John 14:2-3 “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (NIV).
   Here Jesus pictures heaven as a house, his Father’s house. Now we all know that what makes a home isn’t the size of the house, it’s not the color of the trim or the architectural style. It’s not the square footage, or the condition of the yard, or the view. What makes a home is the people inside, the atmosphere. When Jesus pictures heaven as like a home here, he’s suggesting a place of comfort, security, companionship and good times. And in this home — his Father’s house — is ample place for us, a "room" that’s prepared.
   Now the King James Version of the Bible has the word "mansions" here, and that’s led to all kinds of speculation, as people envision having the Hearst castle in heaven. But that’s really a mis-translation based on the Latin word mansiones which at one time just meant "room," but now means "a large imposing house or estate." The Greek word here simply means "room" or "dwelling place." The idea is that in heaven — the Father’s house — there’s ample room for each of us, and that the reason Jesus went to the cross was to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house.
   Jesus also promises here that he will come again — that just as he went to the cross and rose from the dead, he will return at the end of the age. And when he comes again, there will be a place for us with him, at his side, in his father’s house, in that place he’s prepared for us. So, the word picture of heaven as a home describes a place to belong. Since God will give us a place to belong, we can endure being outsiders.
   We’ll never truly be at home in this life, we’ll never experience the complete security, comfort and safety we long for. Even the most loving and healthy of families will let us down at times.
   There are times in this life when we feel like outsiders, like we just don’t fit in. Have you ever felt like that? Like everyone around you is speaking a different language, living by a totally different value system? Have you ever wished that there was a place where you fit, where you didn’t have to perform or pretend to be something that you’re not, a place that would accept you for who you are and not just for what you can do?
   Jesus is telling us that there is such a place, that it’s in his Father’s house, there’s a place for us. Heaven isn’t like choosing sides for baseball in Junior high, where there’s inevitably one or two students who neither side wants. Heaven is a place where we can belong, a place that’s safe and secure, a place to kick off our shoes, let our hair down, and be ourselves in the company of Jesus and the rest of God’s children. That promise of a home can help us face those times in this life when we feel like we don’t belong.
   III. A Wedding
   So, our final destination is a change and a home, but it’s also like a wedding in the book of Revelation. Now let me just warn you that the book of Revelation is full of symbols and word pictures that can be a bit tough to understand at times, yet in the book of Revelation we find more written about the end of the age and the nature of heaven than any other book in the New Testament. By the time we get to chapter 19 of Revelation, we’re seeing a vision of what happens when Jesus Christ returns again to this earth. In that context we find heaven pictured as being like a wedding:
   We read in Revelation 19:7-8 “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)” (NIV).
   The voice urging people to rejoice and be glad is the voice of the heavenly singers who are caught up in the worship of God. This voice urges us to "rejoice" and "be glad" to "give God glory." These are all words of excitement, of celebration, and jubilation. In fact, the verb translated "be glad" here means "to experience great joy and gladness with verbal expression and body movement." This is the ultimate concert where people can’t help getting on their feet and clapping, this is the stadium crowd doing the wave and cheering.
   The reason for all the excitement is a wedding, but not just any wedding. It’s the wedding celebration of the Lamb. We all know that the book of Revelation is chocked full of metaphors and symbolisms because, so far as we know, lambs don’t get married. But we know from the rest of Revelation that the Lamb stands for Jesus Christ, with the image of the Lamb being a symbol for the fact that Jesus Christ died as the sacrifice necessary to forgive our sins and give us entry into heaven. Just like the nation of Israel sacrificed a lamb on the day of atonement for their sins, so Jesus Christ, as God’s final Lamb, was sacrificed for the sins of the world. This Lamb of God — Jesus Christ — is presented with a bride, and, like all bride’s, she’s all gussied up and ready for her wedding day.
   We know from the rest of the Bible that the church — the entire Christian community — is the bride of Christ, that this bride, that’s all ready for the wedding, is us. It’s every person who’s trusted in Jesus Christ and received forgiveness of sins through that faith. And all the Christians who make up the bride are dressed in fine linen, bright and clean, and we’re told that the fine linen here stands for the things we’ve done in our lives that are righteous and pleasing to God.
   You see, the saints here aren’t a special class of super Christians, but “saints” in the Bible describes all Christians, every person who’s trusted in Jesus Christ. Every single true follower of Jesus Christ will stand that day in fine linen, wearing on the outside all the things they’ve done in their lives to serve Jesus Christ.
   This wedding celebration gives God the credit for what we’ve done in our lives, it celebrates that the bride of Christ has made herself ready by doing the things that would please and honor God. This wedding picture is God’s promise to celebrate what he’s done with our lives. Since God will celebrate our lives, we can advance in our devotion.
   Think about what this passage is telling us for a minute. Everything that you and I do in this life that gives God honor and glory becomes the clothing that we wear at this great celebration. The changes we’ve allowed God to make in our character, the acts of love we’ve shown to other people, the worship we’ve given to God, the money and resources we’ve invested in God’s work on this earth, the time we’ve volunteered to help God’s people, all of it is worn as clothing at this celebration. And the amazing thing is that we won’t be wearing gowns of self-righteousness — it’s not as if these righteous deeds are what got us to heaven — but these righteous deeds become a reason to celebrate, to be glad, to rejoice and get all excited, and to give God the credit. This means that every step we advance in our growth and maturity as followers of Jesus Christ today have significance for the celebration we read about here. This means that our devotion to Jesus Christ — and growing in that devotion — will matter. That’s why its so important to examine everything we say and do. “Is what I’m fixing to say bringing honor and glory to God?” “Is what I’m fixing to do bringing honor and glory to God?” If they’re not, then why waste our time doing things that actually bring him dishonor?
   Are you making yourself ready for this day? Are you advancing in your devotion to Jesus Christ, learning to be more and more like him, growing in your ability to love him, taking new steps of faith to serve him? Do you pray more effectively today than you did a year ago? Are you more patient and loving today than you were six months ago? You see, not every gown is going to have the same thread count, not every linen robe is going to shine as bright, but we are told in Amos 4:12 to Prepare yourself to meet your Maker.
   Knowing that God is going to celebrate what we’ve done in our lives motivates us to keep advancing, to never grow lax, but to take that next step each day, each week, each year. This is why we offer our Tuesday night Bible studies … to help you never grow indifferent or careless in this journey of devotion, to challenge each of you to keep advancing, to keep growing. Let this promise of God’s celebration over your life motivate you today to take some new steps to advance in your devotion.
   IV. A Cure
   In Revelation 21:1-4 we get a glimpse of the new order in eternity as being like a cure: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
   The new heaven and new earth will be a transformation of this current system into something totally new, much like our present bodies will be transformed into a glorified body that’s new. In this new order, the new Jerusalem will be a link between heaven and earth, and in this new order of things God himself will live in close, intimate relationship with his children. This is a return to what life was like back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, only what started in a Garden and went wrong is now restored in a city, the new Jerusalem.
   And that last part of v. 4 zeros in on the cure part, where God promises to wipe every tear from our eyes. No matter how small and insignificant that tear appeared to others, no matter how ignored the hurt was by those around us, every tear matters to God here, and each one is wiped away. These tears are associated with the grief and pain we experienced in the old order of things, the old heavens and the old earth. Words can’t explain what that will be like, so the only thing we can know is what won’t be there, that there won’t be any more death, or grieving, or crying, or pain, that the absence of these things — all associated in the Bible with the entrance of sin into the world — will be banished from this healing community, this place of finding a cure. This presents heaven as a cure, a place where our hurts will all be healed. Since God will heal all our hurts, we can trust him in our grief.
   Many Christians think that God has promised to heal all our hurts in this life, to wipe away every tear, to banish death, grieving, crying and pain from our lives in this present world. But God has only promised to help us walk through these things, to strengthen us in the midst of our grieve, to comfort us in the midst of our crying, to help us in the midst of our pain. In this life we carry around with us deep hurts, the hurts of abuse from childhood, the hurts of tragic death, the hurts of incurable sicknesses, broken relationships and bad marriages. Christians are just as susceptible to these hurts as non-Christians are, and in the midst of these hurts we cry out for healing, for a cure, we scour the local Christian bookstore looking for a book that will give us the key, we flood into seminars looking for the cure, but what we find here is that the cure is yet in the future, that final healing of all of our hurts will be ours in heaven. Until then, God invites us to walk in faith, to trust him in the midst of our grief, to seek him in the midst of our pain, to discover his comfort, his love, his forgiveness, his strength, as we look forward to that final healing moment.
   God gives us a glimpse of the eternal state, of what life is going to be like when we live with him forever. He gives us these four-word pictures to help us today, to enable us to face death. God shows us that our final destination is like a change that helps us endure affliction, that it’s a home that helps us when we don’t belong, that it’s a wedding celebration that helps us advance in our devotion, and that it’s a cure that helps us trust him in our grief. Now some will tell us that this is just wishful thinking, just man’s attempt at making himself less fearful of death.
   But Christians know better, and they know because of Easter, because Jesus Christ rose from the grave, conquered death, and gave us these word pictures from first-hand experience. If Jesus truly conquered death as the Christian faith claims, then we can live in light of these promises because they’re true, not just because they make us feel better.

October 28, 2018     Not Harps and Halos

   Opening passage — 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (NLT) — New Bodies —1For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
   6So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7For we live by believing and not by seeing. 8Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. 10For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   I would like to mention the fact that that no matter how prepared we think we are for parenthood, we’re never really ready. Somehow all the books, seminars and advice can’t prepare us for those dirty diaper blow outs, or those embarrassing grocery store tantrums, or teaching our teenager how to drive, or giving away our little girl on her wedding day. Yet parenthood is filled with deep joy and satisfaction that defies explanation as well. But neither the challenges nor the joys of parenting can truly be explained ... it’s one of those things that you just have to experience for yourself.
   I suspect heaven is kind of like that too. Although the Bible tells us a lot about what life in the hereafter will be like, the reality is that we won’t truly understand all that until we actually experience it. But it’s funny all the things that have become added to people’s understanding of what heaven’s like. For instance, where did the idea of playing harps and having halos come from? According to a 1997 Time magazine poll, 43% of Americans believe that we will play harps in heaven, and 36% think we will have halos in heaven. Most likely the idea of harps and halos comes from medieval artwork about heaven. But harps and halos are never mentioned in the Bible.
   Today we’re going to talk about what happens immediately after we die. What will happen in the first moments after we leave this life? That’s what we’re going to look at today.
   I. What Part of Us Does God Want To Save? Let’s take a step back and review. When we started this series we talked about a few explanations our world has given us about what happens after we die. We talked about the idea of EXTINCTION, that’s when we die physically and that’s it, we’re done, we no longer exist.
   We also talked about the Eastern idea of REINCARNATION, that after death we are reborn as another living being based on our karma.
   Finally, we mentioned DISEMBODIMENT, the Greek idea that the real "me" is my soul, which is imprisoned in my physical body, and that at death my soul--the real "me"--finally finds liberation by being free from my body.
   Now I mention these three views again because many people confuse the Greek idea of disembodiment with the Christian view of life after death. It usually goes something like this: Our bodies are so polluted by sin that God sent Jesus to save our souls. So, when our physical bodies die, if we’ve trusted in Jesus Christ our soul goes to heaven to be with God and live forever ... end of story, right??? I would like to ask you to please rethink that idea. You see, that point of view has more to do with the Greek philosopher Plato than it has to do with the Bible or the Christian faith. What part of us does God want to save for heaven?
   So, if you will, let’s look at 1 Thessalonians 5:23 … “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).
   This is what scholars call a "wish prayer," where the apostle Paul expresses his passionate desire for his Christian friends who live in the city of Thessalonica. Paul’s prayer is that God would "sanctify" the Thessalonian Christians, and "sanctify" is simply a fancy word for "making something holy."
   The idea is that every follower of Jesus Christ is involved in an ongoing process of "sanctification," of being made holy, as God renews our minds, transforms our habits, reshapes our emotions, and so forth. The goal of this process is for us to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ who wholeheartedly love God and love other people. In fact, that’s our discipleship goal for every member of this church, for God to use our congregation to help those who already know Jesus Christ to make progress in this process. But, notice here that God is not just sanctifying our souls and ignoring our bodies. God is sanctifying Christians "through and through," entirely, all that makes us who we are, spirit, soul and body.
   Now Christians differ as to whether human beings are essentially composed of two parts — body and soul — or three parts — body, soul and spirit. I’m going to leave that debate for another time, so we’ll just assume here that human beings are essentially composed of at least two components--body and soul. This means that human beings in their essence are not souls imprisoned in physical bodies--as the Greek philosophy of Platonism suggests--but that both our physical nature and our non-physical nature make up who we are.
   Christian theologian Robert Saucy says, "The body is not the whole person...nor is it the prison house of the soul...Instead the body or ‘the outer [self]’ is designed as a partner of the [soul] or ‘the inner [self]’...The body is the only avenue of expression for the inner person in the world of time and sense."
   Christian philosopher Stephen Davis from Claremont McKenna College agrees by saying: "Human beings consist both of material bodies and immaterial souls...the body is not merely an adornment or drape for the soul...What the body does is provide the soul with a vehicle for action in the world and expression of intentions and desires; and the soul provides the body with animation and direction."
   This is why Paul prays for completion of this sanctification process in every component of our person.
   What part of us does God want to save for heaven? Since human beings are composed of both physical and non-physical parts, God has provided salvation for the whole person.
   God doesn’t want us to be less of what we are now in heaven, but he provides cleansing and freedom from sin for both our internal self and our external self. Greek philosophy thought our soul was saved from the prison of our bodies, but the Bible teaches that our soul and body are both saved from the prison of sin.
   Think of an egg. Which is the egg, the shell, the yoke or the white? Of course, all three are parts of the egg — the shell, the yoke and the white. They can be separated from each other — but you don’t have a real egg unless you have all three components intact together — the shell, the yoke and the white. Humans are the same way: to be human is not to be a soul, but to be a person we have to have all three –body, spirit and soul — physical parts and non-physical parts.
   The implications of this are staggering for how we live our lives. You see, if certain parts of me are not going to exist beyond the grave, then I can neglect certain parts of my life and it’s no big deal, right? But ... if all that I am today is ultimately going to live forever, then that means that the little things I may ignore now might have big consequences if left unchecked. For instance, if I have an anger problem that I don’t deal with, my neglect of dealing with that part of me means that the problem will get worse and worse. You see, if you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, a big part of your life today is training to prepare you for heaven, as God sanctifies you through and through--not only your thoughts, but your habits, and emotions, and so forth. Christians can’t afford to neglect this process, because God is preparing us to be at home with Him in heaven forever.
  II. What Happens To Our Soul At Death? Now this brings us to our second question: What happens to our soul when our body dies? If our body’s laid in a grave, then obviously God hasn’t yet saved our bodies...that awaits the final resurrection at the end of the age. So what happens in the meanwhile, what happens to that part of me that isn’t composed of physical matter?
   How you answer that question largely depends on whether that person has received God’s love or refused God’s love. So, let’s talk about those who receive God’s love first.
   Looking back at our opening passage, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (NLT) — New Bodies—1For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies. 4While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
   6So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7For we live by believing and not by seeing. 8Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. 10For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body (NLT).
   This is a complex passage, so let me try to briefly explain it. There are three separate conditions described here: our current condition of being mortal body and soul, our future condition of being immortal body and soul in heaven, and the in-between condition of our soul being separated from our mortal body but still waiting for our immortal body. Paul says our body in it’s mortal condition is like being in a tent--temporary, with no foundations, vulnerable to the elements. Our body in it’s immortal condition as being like a house--permanent, with a strong foundation, built by God. The ideal state is for us to be out of the tent and inside the house, out our body in its mortal condition and in our body in its immortal condition.
   But Paul also uses another word picture, that of clothing: Our current condition with our mortal body is like having clothes on, our future condition is like putting on an immortal overcoat over our current clothing, so immortality swallows up our mortality. But in-between is like being naked, without the clothing of our mortal body and not yet having the overcoat of our immortal bodies.
   This in-between state isn’t bad because it means that we’re at home with the Lord, yet it also isn’t the most desirable either because although we’re at home with the Lord in our soul, we don’t yet have our permanent house — our immortal body. So you might say Paul is describing our current condition in this mortal body as good — because we can serve God in our current condition, and our condition of being separated from our bodies and at home with the Lord without a body as better — because even though we’re without a physical body we’re at home with the Lord, but the best condition is to be within our immortal bodies and at home with the Lord, which is what Paul looks forward to with the most anticipation. So for those who’ve received God’s love, when our bodies die our soul is at home with the Lord awaiting the final resurrection.
   But what about those who refuse God’s love as it’s been revealed through Jesus Christ? The Bible doesn’t tell us that much, but it does tell us a little.
   Revelation 20:13-15 tells us “13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (NIV).
   In the context, this is describing what happens to people who’ve rejected God’s love and refused the gift of salvation offered through God’s son Jesus Christ. Now the sea and death "giving up" the dead is a way of describing a physical resurrection of people at the end of the age. But we’re also told that people come out of "Hades."
   As we mentioned last week, lots of people think that Hades is the same as hell, but it isn’t. Hades is never used in the Bible to describe a permanent place, but it’s always used to describe a temporary place for people’s souls. The Bible teaches that when a person who’s refused God’s love dies physically, that their soul goes to this place called Hades — a temporary dwelling for people who choose not to be with God in heaven — until the resurrection happens that’s described here in Revelation.
   So, what happens to our souls when our bodies die? When we die, our souls become temporarily separated from our bodies.
   This temporary separation is what Christian theologians call the "intermediate state." For those who’ve received God’s love, those on that pathway of sanctification, where God is transforming them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, to be absent from this mortal body is to be at home with the Lord in a place called “paradise” (2 Corinthians 5:8; Luke 23:43). But for those who’ve refused God’s love, God honors their freedom of choice by allowing their souls to be in Hades until Christ comes again. Both places are conscious, and both places are temporary.
   III. What Do Our Souls Do? That brings us to our final question this morning: What do our souls do in during this temporary state? Some people have thought our souls exist in a state of unconsciousness during this temporary period of time. That’s what the Seventh Day Adventist church believes, that we exist in a state of soul sleep, unaware of anything until our bodies are raised from the grave. Others have thought that our souls become angels during this period of time. But angels are a different species of creation than human beings are. Human beings — body and soul — are made in God’s image, something that’s never said of angels. God doesn’t change our species during this time, we simply exist in a disembodied state.
   The Roman Catholic church teaches that some people go into a place called purgatory during this period of time. In Roman Catholicism purgatory is an extension of heaven for Christians who still need purification from their sins. So, in Roman Catholic thought, every soul that goes into purgatory eventually ends up in heaven, because the fire of purgatory is designed to purify us and make us ready for heaven. Now most Roman Catholic theologians admit that the Bible doesn’t teach purgatory, that it comes from church traditions. Roman Catholic biblical scholar Zachary Hayes says, "We cannot find a clear textual ‘proof’ for the doctrine of purgatory in the Scriptures."
   So, what does the Bible teach about what our souls do during this temporary state? Again, we have to make a distinction between those who receive God’s love and those who refuse it.
   Let’s start with those who receive God’s love. As Jesus Christ was dying on the cross, a convicted criminal was being executed next to Jesus. We’re given the indication that this guy had lived a life of violence and ungodliness, yet as he was stretched out on the cross dying, he said to Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your Kingdom." Jesus’ response to that person is recorded in Luke 23:24 … Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (NIV).
   Now that word "paradise" is a loan word from the Persian language that described an enclosed park or garden. When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, this word "paradise" was what the translators used for the garden of Eden in the book of Genesis. Its basic idea is that of a beautiful garden, perfectly kept, and this became a word picture for the kind of happiness and blessings of being with God in heaven. Now, because Jesus said the thief would experience this "paradise" that very day, it’s clear that Jesus is talking about the thief’s soul, not the thief’s body and soul. So immediately upon death this newly converted criminal’s soul would be present with Jesus in paradise, not in soul sleep, not in purgatory — and certainly if anyone needed purgatory it was this guy — but Jesus said “TODAY” — that very day he’d be with Him in paradise.
   Now what we do in this paradise I’m not sure, but if it’s anything like the garden of Eden in Genesis we can be sure that we’ll be active, not strumming harps or comparing halos. It will be anything but boring, as we wait for that time when Christ raises our bodies from the ashes and the graves, so we can experience the completion of our salvation, both body and soul.
   But what about those who refuse God’s love as it’s revealed through Jesus Christ? Certainly, God doesn’t force these people into "paradise," because God’s simply not that kind of God. The Bible teaches that if they don’t go to paradise be with Jesus when they die … then we know these people go to Hades, but what do they do in Hades?
   2 Peter 2:9 tells us “So the Lord knows how to save those who serve him when troubles come. He will hold evil people and punish them, while waiting for the Judgment Day” (New Century Version).
   Peter is contrasting God’s ability to rescue Christians from difficulties, with God’s ability to keep people incarcerated for judgment at the end of the age. This passage tells us that this temporary place … this intermediate state … for those who refuse God’s love is a place of punishment while they await the final resurrection and judgment.
   You might think of hell as the state penitentiary, with Hades as the county jail, the place where those who’ve refused God’s love wait until they stand before the judge and the sentence, “Depart from me … I never knew you” … is pronounced.
   So what do our souls do during this temporary state? The intermediate state is a state of conscious and active waiting for Christ to come again.
   That conscious waiting is either in the garden paradise of God, with Jesus Christ himself, or in the county jail, awaiting our day in court. But regardless of where, our soul is conscious and waiting.
   Conclusion — Harps and halos have nothing to do with the Bible’s teaching about what happens to our souls after we die. God’s not just interested in saving our souls for heaven, but he’s interested in saving us … all that we are, the physical as well as the non-physical parts. When our body dies, our souls become temporarily separated from our bodies, consciously waiting for that “Great Gettin Up Morning,” when Jesus Christ comes again to this earth.
   Now when we talk about these things our initial reaction is to think about those we’ve loved who’ve died, and to wonder where they are today. When we think about people who clearly received God’s love, our hearts are filled with comfort, as we think about them in paradise, in a better place, at home with the Lord, waiting for that time when they receive their eternal immortal body … and that brings us comfort.
   But for those who showed no evidence of receiving God’s love, maybe they even flat out, openly and blatantly refused that love, our hearts are troubled. We envision those we love and care about locked in Hades awaiting judgment, and it burdens our souls, and we wonder how we could ever be happy in heaven knowing that some who we’ve loved won’t be there.
   I don’t have an easy answer that, but I do know that God loves those people even more than we love them. And I’d caution that we should beware of thinking we know exactly who will be in heaven and who won’t. Imagine those who knew the thief on the cross, those who’d seen his prison record, imagine his parole officer, his broken-hearted family members. The only kind of life they’d ever seen him live was a life that refused God’s love by cheating people and stealing from them. Must done some pretty bad stuff because that’s what led him to be crucified next to Jesus. If we didn’t know of that final exchange minutes before he died, we’d have no reason to believe that he received God’s love. Yet, because we have the book of Luke, we know that he did and that Jesus took him with Him to paradise. That in itself should lead us to give up trying to figure out who’s in Hades, who has truly refused God’s love, because ultimately that’s totally God’s business, not ours.
   One of my pet peeves is to hear someone say “Oh! Fred and Brenda? (our imaginary friends) They’re not Christians. You can tell because of this or that” ... What business is it of ours. God has never called any of us to try to figure out who is and who ain’t. I got enough problems keeping me straight. God called us to love them … NO matter what … no matter if they are or they aren’t.
   So instead of our initial reaction of thinking about those who we care about who have passed on, this should cause us to look at our own lives. Have we settled where we will be if death comes swiftly into our lives? Have we refused or received God’s love as it’s revealed through Jesus Christ? And if we have received God’s love through Jesus, are we living the kind of life that is preparing us for heaven? Amos 4:12 tells us to “Prepare yourself to meet your Maker.” Are you doing that … are you preparing yourself to see Jesus face to face … or are you just bumping through life bound and determined come hell or high water I’m gonna live my live according to my rules. Are you going to stand before God with the words of Elvis Presley on your tongue … “I Did It My Way?”

Are we seeking God’s sanctification, His work in our whole person … body, soul, emotions, habits, thoughts, deeds, memories … so we can be prepared for heaven? Are we allowing God to transform us into the kind of people who will truly be at home when we get there, or will we feel out of place, like a fish out of water, because we’ve refused God’s free gift of salvation and allowed God to change us from the inside out? Are we becoming more fully devoted followers of Jesus, who wholeheartedly loves God and sacrificially loves other people? A lot of people are standing on the sidelines, watching and waiting, surely hoping we are.

October 21, 2018     When The Hereafter's Not So Sweet

   Our opening passage is found in Daniel 12:1-4 (NLT) – The Time of the End – 1“At that time Michael, the archangel who stands guard over your nation, will arise. Then there will be a time of anguish greater than any since nations first came into existence. But at that time every one of your people whose name is written in the book will be rescued. 2Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. 3Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. 4But you, Daniel, keep this prophecy a secret; seal up the book until the time of the end, when many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.”
   Our second passage for today is Matthew 12:22-37 (NLT) – Jesus and the Prince of Demons – 22Then a demon-possessed man, who was blind and couldn’t speak, was brought to Jesus. He healed the man so that he could both speak and see. 23The crowd was amazed and asked, “Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?”
   24But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.”
   25Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. 26And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. 27And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. 28But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. 29For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house.
   30“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.
   31“So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.
   33“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35A 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. 36And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   Over time some things lose their usefulness, they become obsolete. Just like 8-track tapes, Disneyland e-tickets, turntables, and typewriters. In our modern world these things have become artifacts of days gone by. And not only do things outgrow their usefulness, but ideas do as well.
   For instance, the idea of a flat earth is now obsolete. The idea that the universe revolves around the earth is now an obsolete idea that people no longer believe.
   Today we’re going to talk about a topic that many people think is as obsolete as belief in a flat earth or an 8 track tape.
   At the end of the 20th century most people belied that hell was as outdated as being a part of the flat-earth society. University of Chicago historian Martin Marty has observed that the doctrine of hell has all but disappeared in the contemporary society and no one really noticed it. Several years ago, when Britain’s Secretary of Education and Science John Patten suggested that the reason crime was rising was because the fear of hell was declining, the British newspapers thought he was nuts.
   John Lennon urged us in his song to imagine there’s no heaven or hell, so the world could be as one. So, society has reduced hell to a relic from the dark ages, something we joke about or make creative milk cartons about. Woody Allen says, "Hell is Manhattan at rush hour."
   Yet despite this decline, many people in our culture today cling to the idea that hell is for real. In 1997 Time magazine conducted a poll where they found that 63% of Americans believe that hell exists as a place where people will be punished forever in the afterlife. Of course, only 1% of Americans believe they’d end up in hell. So, the doctrine of hell seems to be making a bit of a comeback.
   We’ve been in a series on death and the afterlife called BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR. In this series we’ve been talking about what the Bible teaches about life beyond the grave, as we seek to peek beyond the curtain of death and catch a glimpse of what might lie beyond it. Today we’re going to look at the Bible’s teaching about hell, when the hereafter’s not so sweet. Let me first clarify that what I’m talking about here is some people’s ultimate destination, not what happens immediately after we die, but what happens after Jesus Christ comes again and judges the world.
   When people die today they go to a waiting place – what theologians call the intermediate state – and we’ll talk more about that next week. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that this temporary place – this intermediate state – is a place called purgatory, where they can become cleansed from any residual sins in their life and then move on to heaven – but we all know that’s not correct because the Bible plainly states in Hebrews 9:27 – “27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: …”
   By talking about hell I’m talking about the final destination of those who reject God. We’re going to start this lesson with three questions. These three questions have been debated to death over the years and I wanted to try (to the best of my ability) to help us to come to some Biblical answers. Today we’re going to ask the questions – Is there a hell, what is hell like and why is hell necessary?
   I. Is There A Hell? – Theologian Reinhold Neibuhr once cautioned, "It is unwise for Christians to claim any knowledge of either the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell." He’s right…we should realize that there is much more about heaven and hell that we don’t know than what we do know. But there are some things we can know – maybe not the temperature – but we can know whether it’s for real, what it’s like and why it’s necessary.
   Our first question – "Is there really such a thing as hell?" We start in a passage in the Old Testament book of Daniel that looks forward to the end of the age.
   Daniel 12:2 says "Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (NLT).
   As Daniel looks forward to the end of the age, that moment that all human history is leading towards, God reveals through the prophet Daniel that there will be a resurrection, where everyone who’s died will rise up from the grave and stand before God in judgment. Some people … those who’ve loved and served God … will rise up to eternal life. But others will be raised up for judgment, what Daniel calls shame and everlasting contempt. The Hebrew word translated "shame" here describes an internal sense of disgrace and reproach. So the "shame" comes from within the person, as he or she realizes the utter finality of their choices on this earth; the regret from those choices wells up as disgrace, reproach, "shame." Throughout the Old Testament this sense of "shame" is the consequence of people standing under God’s judgment and realizing the utter finality of their failures.
   The word "contempt" describes external hostility, the kind of "contempt" that comes from being a guilty criminal who stands convicted before a just judge. And this "contempt" is said to be eternal, never ending; it doesn’t peter out or diminish with time. I chose this passage in particular because some people claim that the Old Testament doesn’t teach anything about hell.
   But now let’s turn from the Old Testament to the New Testament, and especially the words of Jesus.
   Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (NIV).
   The single person most responsible for the New Testament doctrine of hell is Jesus Christ. Of the thirteen times the word "hell" is used in the New Testament, twelve come from the lips of Jesus Christ himself, and this text here in Matthew 10:28 is just one example. Jesus is contrasting our fear of people who can take away our physical life with the kind of concern we ought to have for God, since he holds not only our physical life in his hands, but our spiritual and our eternal life as well.
   Reading this text reminds me of the young Christian girl who was reading her Bible when the two gunmen started their rampage in Columbine, Colorado. When the gunman pointed his gun at her and asked young Cassie if she believed in God, I wonder if this verse passed through her mind. I imagine she realized that although her classmate could take her physical life, he couldn’t touch her soul, so she answered, "Yes, I believe in God." Our physical life can be taken away … Cassie is proof of that …but ONLY God can deal with our soul.
   Notice Jesus doesn’t say the soul can be killed like the body. Instead of saying, "fear the one who can kill our soul," Jesus says, "be afraid of the one who can destroy our soul." That word "destroy" means "to ruin," and it’s not so much talking about ceasing to exist as it’s talking about being rendered unfit for further use, no longer able to do that which it was designed to do, being utterly ruined. Hell is where a person is ruined, both body and soul.
   So, in answer to our question, "Is there really such a thing as hell?" we come to a reluctant conclusion. A commitment to Jesus and to the Bible requires us to admit the existence of a final place of judgment.
   Most of us can relate to C. S. Lewis when he said that there’s no other doctrine he would most like to remove from the Christian faith as much as the doctrine of hell. Christian theologian J. I Packer agrees that none of us can take pleasure in the thought of people being eternally lost, that if we want to see people condemned to hell there’s something wrong with us. Yet the price we pay for rejecting the Bible’s teaching about hell is the price of Jesus Christ being wrong, and if Jesus is wrong about hell, what makes us so sure we can trust Him to be right about anything else? Rejection of the things from the teachings of Jesus that we find troubling leaves us with a God without wrath … saving people without sin through a Christ without a cross. So, if we take the teachings of Jesus Christ seriously we must agree with C. S. Lewis, that as distasteful as the idea of hell might be, there is indeed a final place of judgment.
   II. What is Hell Like? – But that, of course, leads us to our second question: What is hell like? Christians down through the ages have disagreed with each other on exactly what hell might be like. During the middle ages people speculated a lot about what hell was like, and they came up with R-rated images that were so horrific and graphic that they’d even cause Stephen King to wake up in a cold sweat. Dante’s classic work of literature The Inferno pictured hell as a horrible torture chamber where the devil tormented people while the people in heaven looked on in delight. On July 8, 1741 the American Christian theologian Jonathan Edwards preached his now classic "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," where he portrayed hell in such graphic terms that people literally ran out of the church with their hands covering their ears.
   What’s hell really like? Once again we go to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one we can trust, the one who conquered death on Easter, and we learn from Jesus that hell is a place of judgment for Satan.
   He said in Matthew 25:41 & 46 – 41“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 46And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life” (NLT).
   This is the final part of a story Jesus Christ told to describe the final judgment. Those who refuse God’s love are consigned into that place of judgment we already talked about. But here we learn that this place of judgment was originally "prepared" for the Devil and his angels. This tells us that hell is not a place that was originally intended for people, that God didn’t create some people with the intention of sending them to eternal judgment. This place of final suffering was designed for Satan and the angels who followed Satan in rebelling against God. No human being has to end up there, it wasn’t created with people in mind, but … tragically … according to Jesus some will in fact end up there. So, hell is a place of judgment all right – eternal judgment – but it’s a place of judgment designated for the Devil and his angels, not a place intended for human beings.
   We also learn from Jesus that hell is like a burning garbage dump. We read in Mark 9:47-48 “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where "’their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched’" (NIV). This is the passage where the term “If you have things or people in your life that cause you to sin – get rid of them.”
   Now this teaching of Jesus is not recommending self-mutilation as a means of getting to heaven; it’s merely using literary exaggeration to urge us to get rid of any excess baggage that would prevent us from being with God. Our eyes and our hands don’t cause us to sin, so we know that Jesus is merely using a figure of speech to motivate us to do whatever it takes to make sure we’re right with God.
   But here we find that word "hell" again. Now often people think that the Greek word hades describes hell, but it doesn’t. Hades describes a temporary place that we’ll talk more about next week. The Greek word translated "hell" here isn’t hades but gehenna. Gehenna is an actual place located in the valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem. Gehenna was the place where the people of Israel in the Old Testament had rebelled against God and sacrificed their children to the pagan god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3 & 33:4). Because such horrible things had happened in this valley, it became symbolic for all that was evil, so the people of Jesus’ day turned the valley hinnom--or gehenna--into a garbage dump, a place where everything from refuse to animal carcasses were discarded and burned. There was a always a fire smoldering in gehenna as the garbage was consumed, and the worms--or more accurately maggots--had a field day. This image of a burning garbage dump became synonymous with the final place of judgment, gehenna, the place where those who reject God’s love are consigned to the worm that never dies and the fire that’s never quenched. This is the primarily image in the Bible of what hell’s like, a burning garbage dump. But, we also find hell described as eternal darkness in the Bible.
   Jude 13 says "They are waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever" (NIV). So, Jude describes this place of punishment as the gloomiest darkness that can exist, an eternal absence of all light that lasts forever. Jesus also described this final place of punishment as "outer darkness" (Matthew 22:13). So, these three images of a place of judgment for Satan, a burning garbage dump, an eternal fire and eternal darkness are the primary ways of describing hell in the New Testament.
   Of course, the question is how literal to take these images: are we talking about literal fire, actual darkness? Or are these images metaphors that describe a reality that’s much more horrible than literal fire and literal darkness? Christians have differed on this issue, with some like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon opting for a literal understanding, and other Christians like John Calvin, Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis viewing these images as metaphorical of something even more horrible.
    My hunch is that the fire and darkness are symbolic, but that they’re symbolic for something real, something far worse than literal fire and literal darkness. My reasons for this is that literal fire and literal darkness would be mutually exclusive, because literal fire creates light. Also, literal fire would have no effect on the devil and his angels because the devil is not a physical being but a spiritual being, so the fire that brings judgment must be some sort of fire that inflicts judgment on non-physical beings.
   The 16th century Reformer Martin Luther said, "What hell is, we know not; only this we know, that there is such a sure and certain place." So, whether the flames and darkness are literal or figurative, we’re forced to a second reluctant conclusion here. God has revealed that hell is an eternal place of conscious isolation and misery.
   We learned from the parable of Jesus in (Matthew 25) that hell is as "eternal" as heaven is, that it’s everlasting. We learned from the image of the burning garbage dump that hell is a place of misery. And we learned from the darkness that hell is a place of isolation from all companionship.
   This tells us that some of the things we’ve heard about hell are not taught in the Bible. For instance, the idea that hell is the annihilation of those who reject God can’t be true because Jesus called hell "eternal punishment" that lasts just as long as eternal life. And those who conceive of hell as a torture chamber with the devil and demons in charge are wrong, since hell is a place for the devil and his demons to be judged. Most of the medieval images of hell say more about the imagination of theologians with too much time on their hands than they say anything about the Bible.
   So, we’re forced to concluded that though there’s a lot we don’t know about hell, we can know that it’s an eternal place of conscious isolation and misery.
   III. Why Hell? – That brings us to our final question: Why is hell necessary? Why would a God who’s good and loving create such a horrible place in the first place? Well the Bible offers some answers as to why hell is a necessary part of God’s creation.
   The first reason is because God has promised that he will judge evil.
   Colossians 3:5-6 tells us to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (NIV).
   The phrase "the wrath of God" describes God’s sure judgment on evil and sin in the world. You see, God is holy and just, so when evil things are done in our world … things like what happened at Columbine High School … these things must be dealt with. Often people who perpetrate evil in our world slip through the cracks of our justice system. Somehow it seemed unjust for the two gunmen in Colorado to take their own lives without having to answer to society for their horrible deeds.
   The sad fact is that we live in a world where all too often people get away with things, either by never getting caught, or by hiring an expensive defense attorney, or simply because our criminal justice system isn’t perfect. Life is not fair, if you haven’t figured that out yet. But, God will deal with every wrong ever done, nothing slips through the cracks of God’s justice. The phrase "the wrath of God" is simply a description of the fact that God will make every wrong right, that every human being who’s ever lived will have to give an account before God.
   I believe when we ALL get before God on that great day He’s going to ask us ALL the same question. He’s going to say something like “I gave you the best gift that could have ever been offered to anybody anywhere … the gift of My Son. I gave Him to you, no strings attached. What did you do with Him?”
   For those who’ve rejected the gift of His Son and rebelled against God, the wrath of God sends them to a place of wrath, hell.
   But hell is also necessary because human beings are truly free.
   Romans 10:13 tells us that "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (NIV).
   This verse is a clear statement of human freedom, that God has given human beings the capacity to call on God and find salvation. Since God created human beings as free moral beings, able to choose God or to reject God, able to serve God or rebel against God, hell is God’s provision for those who freely choose the path of rebellion. This is why some people have called hell "the greatest compliment God has ever paid to the dignity of human freedom" (G. K. Chesterton).
   In the end people either stand before God and say, "God, thy will be done" and God says “Well done My good and faithful servant,” and lets them into heaven … or they stand before God and God says to them, "Thy will be done," as they enter into hell.
   Hell’s been called "the last refuge for the sinner" because it’s the only place a person who refuses God and spurns God’s love can be in a universe that’s permeated with God’s love and God’s presence. If God is real and humans are truly free, there must be a place of judgment for those who freely turn away from God. If hell’s not real, then either God is not real or humans are not truly free. Therefore, hell is necessary because God created human beings ... me and you … as free creatures.
   I have to admit that hell is a distasteful subject that most of us prefer not thinking about. Yet the Bible tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to hear. We’ve learned today that hell is real, hell is eternal, and hell is necessary. We may not like it. It should in fact grieve our hearts … but this is the way life is.
   Maybe you’ve seen the famous sculpture "The Thinker," that was sculpted by the French artist Robin in 1880. What is the thinker thinking about? According to the artist "the Thinker" is sitting in mute amazement as he contemplates lost people in hell. Hell ought to cause us to think as well, to think about how God’s heart breaks for those who refuse His love and His provision.
   The grim reality of hell makes many of us cry out in frustration, “If hell is so real, why doesn’t God do something?" Why doesn’t God do something to wipe out the sins of those who’re on a crash course with eternal destruction? Why doesn’t God give people a fresh start, no matter what it costs God? Why doesn’t God offer people miraculous help to prevent them from ending up in such a horrible place?
   But as soon as we ask the question we realize that God has done something, that he’s given all that He had to give … His very own Son … who died a horrible, cruel death in order to give all of us a fresh, new start, to forgive our sins, to provide a means so no one has to end up eternally separated from God. God has done all He can do short of turning us into mindless robots. And now He waits on us to respond.

October 14, 2018     Is Heaven for Everyone?

   Our first opening passage is Matthew 7:13-20 (NLT) – The Narrow Gate – 13“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
   The Tree and Its Fruit – 15“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. 16You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
   Our second passage for this morning is found in 2 Corinthians 5:10-21(NLT) – 10For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.
   We Are God’s Ambassadors – 11Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. 12Are we commending ourselves to you again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart. 13If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14Either way, Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for all, we also believe that we have all died to our old life. 15He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them.
   16So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
   18And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   I want to open up this morning with a story I read that was told by a pastor — “Have you ever felt totally out of place somewhere? One of the things I do to be involved in our community is I’m a chaplain for our local Police Department. Now I’ve been a police chaplain for over three years now, and that role takes me some places I wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to as a pastor. One night about six months ago I was on a ride-along on a Friday night and the officer I was riding with received a call to a popular single’s bar in the city. As we walked into the bar in our uniforms, I felt totally out of place, like I stuck out like a sore thumb. The music was too loud and the crowd was all younger than I was (I never thought I’d hear myself say those words). We’d no sooner gotten there and I was counting the seconds to when we’d be able to leave. My feeling of being uncomfortable had nothing to do with my past problems with alcohol. I simply felt totally out of place, like a fish out of water. When we walked out twenty minutes later I breathed a sigh of relief and swore I’d stay in the police car the next time."
   All of us have had those kinds of experiences where we feel like we’re out of place. Maybe some of you here today are guests and just being in church makes you feel that way. The first thing we’re thinking when we walk into a new group of people is, "Is there anyone here like me?"
   Last Sunday we started a new series on death and the afterlife called BEYOND DEATH’S DOOR. In this series we’ll be looking at what the Bible teaches about life beyond the grave, and last week we explored the topic of whether there’s such a thing as the afterlife at all. But today I want to explore the question of who will be at home in heaven? Is heaven the kind of place where everyone will be, or would some people feel like a fish out of water in the afterlife … in the presence of God? Who will "fit in" in heaven? Is heaven for everyone? When all is said and done will every human who’s ever lived end up in heaven? Or are certain people just not "heaven people"? That’s what we’re going to look at today as we continue to explore what the Bible teaches about beyond death’s door.
   I. Will Everyone Be In Heaven? We start with this question, will everyone ultimately end up in heaven? Now the belief that everyone will ultimately be in heaven is what theologians call UNIVERSALISM. If you’ve ever heard of the Unitarian Universalist Church, that’s what they believe … they believe that no matter what … everyone will be heaven in the end. The second century church leader Origen believed this ... in fact Origen even thought the Devil himself would ultimately end up in heaven. Diverse people throughout the ages have embraced universalism, including biblical scholar William Barclay, U. S. president John Quincy Adams, author Hanah Whitall Smith, and in our own generation, popular author Robert Fulgham. But what does the Bible teach? Does it teach universalism, that everyone will end up in heaven in the end?
   Let’s look at the teachings of Jesus Christ on this issue. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (NIV).
   According to Jesus there’s a right way and a wrong way in the spiritual life. There’s a way that ends in life and a way that ends in destruction. The path that leads to destruction is described as having a wide gate and a broad path. It’s a well-worn road, it’s a road paved with "good intentions" as we like to say. The broad path is a direction in life that seems normal and pleasant, it feels agreeable and accommodating, and it’s easy to follow. Yet it ends in destruction, and the word here describes "eternal destruction."
   In contrast to this easy way, this common way, there’s a narrow gate, a gate with only a single entrance, and this narrow gate leads to the narrow road of following Jesus, a road of blessing and eternal life. This is where we get the saying "straight and narrow" from in our culture, looking back on this restrictive road.
   What we find in this teaching of Jesus Christ is a warning against danger. Basically He’s warning us to be careful because, as so many of us have been lead to believe … NOT EVERY ROAD LEADS TO HEAVEN.
   I didn’t make this up. It’s not an arrogant claim that my way is better than someone else’s way, but it’s the clear teaching of Jesus Christ himself.
   Now it’s popular in our culture today to believe that all roads ultimately lead to heaven. The spiritual life is often pictured as a mountain, with heaven on top of the mountain, and every religion taking its own unique path up the mountain, and all paths end up at the same destination. But if that’s true, then it must be true that all religions, without distinction, ultimately end in heaven. When we think about that it poses a problem, because Satanism is also a religion. We have some religions alive today that practice human sacrifice and pray to idols and people who are still in their graves. These religions must also be equally valid ways of approaching God if “every road leads to heaven”. In fact, we’d also have to include cultic groups like David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and the UFO cult Heaven’s Gate as equally valid ways to heaven.
   You see, if we can’t make distinctions between truth and error when it comes to religion, then we must include all religions, including ones that have practices that we find repulsive and immoral.
   Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft says, "If all roads lead to the same place it makes no ultimate difference which road we take." If that were the case … then our spiritual beliefs end up being no more significant than which flavor of ice cream we prefer … making our choice of religion strictly a matter of personal preference. In fact, even the road of non-religion must be an equally valid road.
   Universalism also has another major problem with it as well. For all people to ultimately end up in heaven God would have to force some people to be there. You see, the Bible teaches that God has given us the freedom to reject his plan, the freedom to spurn his love, the freedom to reject his offer of heaven. God didn’t have to give us that freedom — in fact he has the power to override our freedom at any time He were to so choose — yet He’s given us our free will. So, if everyone ultimately ends up in heaven, God must overpower some people’s will and force them to be there even though they don’t want to be.
   If everyone ends up in heaven — including people who didn’t want to be there — then heaven will be just as bad as earth and the cops have job security in the hereafter.
   Oxford theologian Alister McGrath is exactly right when he says, "Universalism denies humanity the right to say no to God."
   The clear teaching of Jesus is contrary to universalism, as Jesus warns us that the broad road doesn’t lead to heaven at all, but that it leads to a much more disastrous destination. So, the answer of Jesus to our question — and therefore the answer of the Christian faith —is no, not all will end up in heaven.
   II. What Is The Entrance Requirement To Heaven?    That leads us to our second question: What’s the entrance requirement for heaven? If entrance into heaven isn’t automatic, then what’s the deciding factor? Is it like the academy awards where some committee somewhere votes on who to let in? Maybe some of you remember that movie Albert Brooks directed a few years ago called Defending Your Life. In that movie, the character played by Albert Brooks has to prove before a heavenly court that he deserved to be admitted into heaven.
   The first place we look to for what qualifies entrance into heaven is our own MERITS. After all, EVERY religion of the world presents its own unique method of gaining merit for the afterlife, to try to earn our way into bliss. Whether it’s Buddhism’s eightfold path to nirvana (near vana), Islam’s four pillars, or Hinduism’s cycle of reincarnation and karma, every major world religion presents a "do it yourself" way to gain brownie points for the afterlife … except for Christianity.
   If we were to multiply these major religions a hundredfold we’d find all kinds of cults and sectarian groups promising their own brand of “merit” to earn access to heaven, whether it’s the Hare Krishnas, the Moonies, Scientology, or whatever. According to a survey by Time magazine several years ago, 62% of Americans think our merits play a role in determining whether we end up in heaven or not.
   But still, in Christianity, so many people are deceived by the enemy because they’ve been led to believe the lie that because “Brother Fred” was such a “good ole boy” and that he did such good for his family and friends and the community … that he’s in a better place. That’s a LIE!!! That ain’t the way it works folks. The Bible presents a very unflattering picture that it doesn’t matter how “good” we are … we can’t get there from here based on our own merit.
   Isaiah 64:6 teaches us that "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags... (NIV)"
   The best we have to offer to present ourselves as deserving heaven is woefully inadequate. We’re like Cinderella trying to get into the big dance with only our peasant’s smock. The best we have to wear won’t get us through the front door. We need something beyond what we can provide for ourselves, we need Cinderella’s fairy godmother to provide a heavenly gown.
   You see, for all our attempts to do the right thing, all of us have miserably failed. This is why the Bible tells us very bluntly in Romans 3:23 that "All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory."
   We’ve blown it folks, we’ve all sinned, and that’s caused us to be in a state of moral uncleanness, a condition of alienation from God and hostility toward Him. We’ve been quarantined from God’s perfect goodness and holiness, so much so that if we were in the holy presence of God in heaven in our natural condition, it would be more like hell for us because God said in Exodus 33:20 “But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” Instead, the Bible offers us a different way to find entrance into heaven.
   2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ."   The ONLY person who doesn’t stand before God unclean and in filthy rags is Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, Jesus never sinned in thought, word or deed, not once did he break any of God’s law, not once did he fail to obey God to the fullest. This is hard for us to even imagine since all of us have grown so accustomed to failure and sin in our own lives, yet this is the clear claim of the Bible. Yet this one person who stands before God righteous became the offering for our sin.
   The text literally reads, "he became sin on our behalf." This doesn’t mean that he became a sinner, but that “his perfect life” was the sin offering for us, as the prophet predicted back in Isaiah 53 (10). He willingly and voluntarily became that sin offering on the cross so we could be made right with God, so Cinderella could exchange her filthy smock for a heavenly gown to gain entrance into the great dance. This passage is clearly claiming that entrance into heaven is gained through the merits of Christ. Since our merits are at best inadequate, Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to provide us with His merit.
   The New Testament describes two totally different approaches to getting right with God. One way is the way every other world religion seeks — the way of self-improvement, do-it-yourself righteousness, the way of relying on our own merits and seeking to establish our own righteousness before God.
   The other way — the Christian way — is a pure gift, because it’s someone else’s righteousness that comes to us and covers us as a gift. The New Testament author, the apostle Paul, contrasts these two ways in Philippians 3:9."Now that I belong to Christ, I am right with God, and this being right does not come from following the law [my merits]. It comes from God through faith. God uses my faith in Christ to make me right with him" (NCV).
   You see, as long as we’re clinging to our filthy rags to defend ourselves before God, we’re not ready to receive the gift. We find ourselves tightly grasping to our own merits, white knuckling our own efforts … and by holding on to all that stuff … our hands aren’t open to receive the gift of the Cross.
   We’re like the little boy who reaches into a vase to pull out a piece of candy: As long as we hold the candy in our hand we can’t get our hand out of the vase. As long as we hold onto our filthy rags, we can’t receive the gift God offers through Christ.
   These passages lead us to some good news in answering our second question: ENTRANCE INTO HEAVEN IS AN UNDESERVED GIFT THAT’S MADE POSSIBLE ONLY THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST.
   This is why it’s not arrogant for Christians to claim that Jesus is the ONLY way to heaven. Peter Kreeft tells us, "It is sheer imperialism to insist that only one man-made road up the divine mountain is the right road and all others are wrong. But Christ does not claim to be a man who became [a way to God] ... Christianity claims to be the road God [himself] made down, not the road we made up."
   It’s not arrogance for one person in a burning building to show the other people where the fire escape is. It’s not arrogance for a doctor to prescribe a medication because that medication will provide healing from the disease. This is good news, what Christians call the gospel, something that’s exciting to share.
   III. What About Those Who’ve Never Heard? And that leads us to one of the most difficult and often asked questions of all: What about all the people who have no opportunity to receive this gift? What about all the people who have never had the opportunity to hear the message of the Cross? How does God treat them? How does God treat the natives of a tribal group in South America that’s never heard about Jesus Christ?
   Christians have offered creative solutions to this question down through the ages. Some have suggested that God has something called middle knowledge, that God not only knows what every person will do, but God’s knowledge also includes what every person would do in every possible situation and every set of circumstances. So, based on what God knows what a person would do if they had been given an opportunity to respond to Jesus Christ, God automatically provides salvation to that person when they die.
   Others have suggested that God works through creation and our inner sense of right and wrong to draw us to Christ, and that if people respond to the light that they do have (no matter how dim), God will provide more light through a vision or a dream. These are reasonable solutions that I find helpful, but we must admit that the Bible nowhere tells us exactly how God treats people who have never heard of Jesus Christ. God has not given us any census of data of heaven’s population. The Bible’s point is not to tell us “who” will be in heaven … but to tell us “how” to be in heaven. But, with this said, let me list a few truths from the Bible that we know to be absolutely true that can help us respond to this question.
   We know that God loves the world. John 3:16 — "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
   The universal love of God is self-evident for any honest reader of the Bible. God doesn’t just love religious people, or republicans, or married people. God loves every human person who’s ever lived and who ever will live, and he loves them with an unquenchable love, a love that didn’t just give God a warm fuzzy feeling, but — according to this verse — a love that motivated God to give His one and only Son.
   The word "world" in the New Testament usually refers to people in this world system in its condition of hostility to God. This refers to people at their worst, people in rebellion against God, before they ever consider responding to God’s grace, yet God loves them anyway. God loves Marilyn Mansen as much as he loves Billy Graham, he loves Saddam Hussein as much as he loves James Dobson.
   The heart of God is as wide as the way to live is narrow. And God didn’t just give something He could replace, He gave his one and only Son, or as older Bible translations put it, "his Only Begotten Son." And God gave his only Son — Jesus Christ — so people God loves wouldn’t perish — that’s the same word that’s translated "destruction" in Matthew 7 (14). So, we can be sure that God loves people who have no opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ just as much as He loves each of us who have been given that opportunity.
   We can also know for sure that God is fair. Deuteronomy 32:4 says “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
   All of Deuteronomy 32 is a song that Moses taught the nation of Israel to sing whenever they gathered together to renew their commitment to God. So, several times a year they’d get together and sing this song that affirms the fact that God is just, his ways are just, he’s faithful, he won’t do anything morally wrong, but he’s upright and trustworthy. They could be absolutely true, that God’s standard of justice is not lower than ours, but His character is the very source of justice. So, God is fair, he doesn’t play favorites or suspend justice in his treatment of people.
   We also know for sure that God desires salvation for ALL people. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us "This is good and pleases God our Savior, for he wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth" (NLT).
   Now it’s difficult for us to comprehend the idea that God can desire something that won’t necessarily come to pass. After all, God is God, and if he really wants everyone to be saved, can’t He just snap his fingers and make every single person a Christian? And the answer is yes, he could do that, he possess the power to do that, but he chooses not to do that because it would violate the freedom God’s given us. If God erased our ability to say yes or no to Him, He would also have to erase His image on us, and we’d cease to be human. We’d become puppets with God pulling the strings. So, although God’s heart is for all people to come to salvation, God will not coerce anyone against their own personal will to receive this gift. So, we can know for sure that God desires the salvation for those who have no opportunity to hear about Jesus Christ.
   And yet we also know for sure that salvation comes through Christ alone. Acts 4:12 tells us "There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them" (NLT).
   Without the sinless sacrifice of Jesus Christ, all we have to rely on for entrance into heaven is our own merit. So, without the sacrifice of Jesus, no one would end up in heaven. This claim that sounds so exclusive, so restrictive, so dogmatic, is the clear teaching of the New Testament, and it’s been the position of the Christian community for over 2,000 years.
   Buddha might have been an enlightened teacher, Muhammad may have inspired people, Moses might have led a nation out of slavery, Ghandi might have helped India find freedom through non-violent resistance, but the names of Buddha, Muhammad, Moses, and Ghandi cannot save people. If you took a shovel and dug up their graves – they’re still there!!! If you walk into the tomb of Jesus – He’s GONE!!! He’s RISEN!!! … and THAT’S what makes the difference.
   So how can we put these clear teachings together, that God loves all, God is fair, God desires salvation for all, yet salvation comes through Christ alone? This calls us to a reality check: WE CAN TRUST GOD TO BE FAIR AND LOVING IN HIS DECISIONS.
   The problem of people who have never heard the Gospel is God’s problem … not ours. It’s His dilemma to solve it the way He sees fit. Surely, it’s motivation for us to get out there and share God’s good news with the people God puts in our path, but the reality is that God’s not like us at all. He doesn’t have a communication problem. If we can trust God to forgive our sins through Jesus Christ’s death, then surely we can trust Him with those who’ve never heard the Gospel.
   Can I get personal with you this morning?? I’ve gone out of the business of taking heaven’s census, guessing who will or will not make it to heaven … guessing who’s a Christian or who’s not. I think we’ll all be surprised by who’s in heaven when we get there, so I don’t want to venture a guess about anyone being lost in the end. Don’t get me wrong, people will be lost — and we’ll talk about that next week — but we’re not the ones who makes that decision. God doesn’t consult us with these matters, so can you take some friendly, pastoral advise?? I think it’s wise to just leave them to Him.
   Is heaven for everyone? 2 Peter 1:10-11 (ESV) tells us “10Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
   God certainly didn’t intend to exclude anyone when He created heaven, yet we’ve learned today that not every road leads to heaven. We’ve also learned that entrance into heaven ONLY comes as a gift through faith in Jesus, because you see … we must confirm our calling and practice the qualities that are laid out for us in the Word … then we know that we can trust God to be loving and fair in dealing with everyone.
   Now when many people in our culture first hear these concepts it shakes them to the core. They feel like they’ve been going in one direction — thinking that entrance into heaven is based on self-effort and personal merit — only to find that the Bible claims otherwise.
   They feel like Roy Riegals must’ve felt when he played in the most famous Rosebowl game in history. It was 1929, and Georgia Tech was playing the University of California. In the first half Roy Riegals recovered a fumble for his team, University of California. But in his confusion he ran the wrong direction … 65 yards in the wrong direction … until one of his team mates outdistanced him and tackled him just short of the end zone. When California attempted to punt, Georgia Tech blocked the punt and scored a safety, which was the ultimate margin of victory.
   You see … many people feel like Roy Riegals when they find out they’ve picked up the ball but run in the wrong direction — not just for 65 yards, but, they’ve been running in the wrong direction for many years.
   During half time at that Rose Bowl everyone wondered what coach Nibbs Price would do. Would he bench Riegals the rest of the game? As the men sat in the dressing room, Roy was in the corner, a blanket around his shoulders, face in his hands, weeping like a baby. Finally, the coach looked at the team and said, "Men, the same team that played the first half will start the second half ... and that includes you Roy."
   Maybe you’ve spent many years running the ball in the wrong direction, maybe you feel like it’s too late to receive this gift and go in a new direction, but today God is giving you the same chance Coach Price gave Roy Riegals. Georgia Tech ultimately won that Rose Bowl, but the Georgia Tech players will tell you that they’ve never seen a man play football with the intensity as Roy Riegals did that second half.
   The Scriptures tell us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to “5Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith.” Some people sitting in this room (or reading this on the web) think they’re “all that” … when in reality … they’re not. They think they’re “deserving” because of all the “good deeds” they’ve done or are trying to do … or whatever their reasoning may be. If any of you have that type of thought process … my friend … you’re just like that football player … you’re running in the wrong direction.
   Since you have sat there and heard this lesson (or read it on the web), answer this question honestly … Which way are you truly running today?

October 7,2018     Is There A Life In The Hereafter

   Do y’all remember last week we looked at the titles of our songs and just marveled at the awesomeness of God … how God arranged all the titles in just the right order to tell us something. Michelle picks out the songs (I’m assuming with no rhyme or reason). We don’t discuss the songs … I just get a list of 6 or 8 songs via email. To show you one of the ways I see the awesomeness of God is to look at 4 of the titles that Michelle sent. The last (closing) song was given to me on the Tuesday morning before I got the list from Michelle. Sunday morning.
   God Of All My Days
   He Knows My Name
   Jesus I Believe
   No Matter What
   Who You Say I Am
   To me, that’s saying Heavenly Father, You’re the God of all my days and you know my name because Jesus, I believe in You with all my heart no matter what because I am who You say I am.
   In Ezra 10:26 (KJV) we read this passage: "And of the sons of Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, and Jehiel, and Abdi, and Jeremoth, and Eliah."
   What do you get out of that verse? We can see that seven names are listed; a father and his six sons ... but what does that verse say to you?
   I want you to understand something … this verse is buried twenty-six lines deep in the midst of a long list of laborious names. Very few people would even bother reading it. I guess I'm one of those few.
   You see … in 1 Chronicles there are nine chapters of “begats” (so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so … and on and on for nine chapters. The thing that intrigues me about that is that 4-1/2 chapters later we read the words “And there was Jabez” (I Chronicles 4:9-10).
   Just like Jabez, there was nothing said about Elam or his sons — who they were, what they did, how their lives mattered … if their lives even mattered at all. Nothing. Just names.
   But names are important. A name defines who you are, and a good name is to be desired above great riches.
   So, if you were to take the Strong's Hebrew Dictionary, the Easton Bible Dictionary, and the Hitchcock Bible Names Dictionary, and look up the meaning of each of these names, what would be uncovered might be worthy of your consideration.
   Elam — a secret hidden by distance in the highlands
   Mattaniah — the gift of hope from the Lord; the hope laid up in heaven
   Zechariah — The renowned Lord has remembered
   Jehiel — God's life will be seen in me
   Abdi — serviceable, servant of the Lord
   Jeremoth — elevations; uplifted beyond the fear of death
   Eliah — The Mighty God, the Lord who works in wonder and power
   Putting the meaning of these several names together (Elam; Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth and Eliah) in one continuous thought produced the following treasure:
   "There was a secret hidden in the heavens, far away from the sight of man. It was a gift of hope, laid up in heaven for us by the Lord. At the perfect moment, in the fullness of time, the Lord remembered the gift and brought it forth for us to have and to behold. Because of this His name is now renowned throughout the whole earth. His life has now been made manifest in and through us, making us useful unto every good word and work, and lifting us far above the power of sin and death. He is the mighty God, who works wonders of love by His great power."
   Next time you’re whizzing through the Bible on your way to a place called Hurry Up and Get Here, take a break. Slow down and read with an inquisitive mind, a curious soul, and an investigative hunger. You might just stumble upon a buried treasure or two.
Please stand fro the reading of the Word.
   Our opening passage for today is found in Genesis 2:15-17 (NLT) – 15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden — 17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.”
   Our second passage is Romans 5:12-19 (NLT) – 12When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. 13Yes, people sinned even before the law was given. But it was not counted as sin because there was not yet any law to break. 14Still, everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. Now Adam is a symbol, a representation of Christ, who was yet to come. 15But there is a great difference between Adam’s sin and God’s gracious gift. For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. 16And the result of God’s gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man’s sin. For Adam’s sin led to condemnation, but God’s free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. 17For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.
   18Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. 19Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.”
   Children’s church is dismissed.
   Video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7OPPWlKV2A
   That was a video clip from the movie “We Were Soldiers” where Mel Gibson (Lt. Col. Hal Moore) said in his address to his troops that “We’re going into battle … against a tough and determined enemy.” We all know that when troops go into battle, like the one portrayed in the movie, people die. We KNOW that. But did you know that most of us don’t think that when we go in spiritual battle, people also die. The enemy we face on a daily basis is very tough and determined because he wants your soul in hell with him ... and if we’re not equipped and ready for those daily (sometimes minute by minute) battles … we too will die.
   For the past couple of months we’ve been studying different aspects of an Invisible War. Not a physical war between flesh and blood, but a spiritual war between good and evil. The outcome of our decision of all this will determine where we’ll spend eternity and that brings us to our series today … “Beyond Death’s Door.” Today we’re going to ask the question that’s been asked for thousands of years … “Is There A Life In The Hereafter?.” According to the Bible there is compelling evidence for an afterlife for people investigating the Christian faith.
   Are our lives parts in a play scripted by God, or is this all there is? Is this life merely a stage, with life-like props? Is there life beyond this realm?
   The vast majority of Americans believe that there is life after death. We see it in popular movies like Ghost, Heaven Can Wait, even in Disney cartoons like All Dogs Go to Heaven. We saw it in the Robin Williams movie What Dreams May Come, with its dramatic portrayal of heaven and hell. Entertainment Weekly called What Dreams May Come a lost verse from the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" as it presents the afterlife as a kind of metaphysical candy land. Yet What Dreams May Come was a very popular movie.
   Several years ago Time magazine devoted its cover story to the question of the afterlife. In that article, they published the results of a Time/CNN poll, where they found that 81% of Americans believe in the existence of heaven. 63% of Americans believe that hell exists, but only 1% of that 63% believe that they’ll end up there. So, belief in life after death is certainly not on the way out in our culture.
   Yet many people wonder if life after death is just wishful thinking. Are beliefs about an afterlife merely our way of dealing with our anxiety about death?
   Philosophers Paul and Linda Badham point out, "To many contemporary philosophers, life after death is not merely unlikely, it is inconceivable."
   Atheist philosopher Anthony Flew agrees, when he claims that the idea of life after death is a foolish statement that has no meaning, much like a square circle.
   This idea too has crept into our popular culture, as the band Collective Soul tells us "Heaven’s Already Here" (Hints, Allegations, And Things Left Unsaid), and Gloria Estefan reduces heaven to "how I feel when I’m with" the person I love ("Heaven’s How I Feel" Gloria Estefan).
   The former Swedish Secretary General of the United Nations and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Dag Hammarskjold once said, "It is our conception of death which decides our answers to all the questions that life puts to us." He’s exactly right … and the Christian faith presents a very distinct concept of death and the afterlife that many people today have never been exposed to or learned before.
   So, in this series I’m not making any assumptions about what you know or don’t know, but we’re coming to this topic with a freshness, an openness, to hear what the Bible itself says about what lies beyond death’s door.
   Today we’re going to talk about death, about some of the theories that have been suggested for what lies beyond death, and how death fits in to the message of the Christian faith and the Bible.
   I. The Mystery of Death
   In many ways death is a mystery. This is why we love movies about the afterlife. In his book The View from a Hearse, Christian author Joseph Bayly describes the mystery of death this way: "We may postpone it, we may tame its violence, but death is still there waiting for us. Death always waits. The door of the hearse is never closed."
   This brings us to our first idea we’re going to explore together because death is a mystery, our world has offered different explanations for what happens when we die.
   It’s human nature for us to try to figure out mysteries, to explain away things that we can’t understand. Let’s explore a few of the oldest and most influential explanations.
   Probably the oldest explanation is DISEMBODIMENT, which is the idea that when we die our soul is liberated from the prison of our body. This is probably the oldest Western explanation, tracing its roots back to the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle. According to this view the real "me" is not my body but my soul, or my mind … that non-physical, spiritual reality that makes me who I really am. My physical body is a prison for my soul, limiting it, preventing it from being free, so death is a kind of liberation. Therefore, this approach views the afterlife is a disembodied —- or bodiless —-existence. This view has been extremely popular throughout history, and it manipulates incredible influence today. That Time magazine poll found that 66% of Americans believe that only a person’s soul goes to heaven. This disembodiment view is what’s behind those who believe in ghosts, it’s the view of most tribal religions in primitive parts of the world. Yet disembodiment is not the explanation offered by the Bible.
   Another popular explanation is REINCARNATION, which is the idea that after we die we are reborn as another living being based on our karma. This view goes back 1,000s of years before Christ, and it lies at the heart of the eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Reincarnation is tied to the idea of karma, which is believed to be the universe’s justice system. Karma claims that everything painful that happens in our lives is a direct result of bad things we’ve done in our previous lives, and our suffering is the universe’s way of balancing the scales of justice. This means that all pain and suffering in this life is deserved, whether it’s the Albanian refugees we see on TV or a ten year old who’s been abused by her uncle. ALL suffering is a direct result of bad things we’ve done in previous lives, and suffering bad things in our present life is the universe’s way of settling the score. Reincarnation and karma have emigrated from the East to the west, and been popularized by people like Shirley MacClane and Peter Sellars and by groups like the Unity School of Christianity and Astara.
   According to a 1996 poll in George magazine, currently 30% of Americans believe in reincarnation. The Bible nowhere affirms that reincarnation is true, and in fact the whole idea of karma goes against the entire message of the New Testament, yet belief in reincarnation remains very strong in our world today.
   Finally, some people believe in EXTINCTION, which is the idea that when we die we cease to exist. PERIOD!!! Although few people believed this in the past. For the last 100 years extinction has become a very dominant, popular view. For instance, the Humanist Manifesto II states, "There is no credible evidence that an individual life survives the death of the body."
   Extinction assumes that God does not exist, that matter is the only thing that’s real, and that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge that’s true. This is why the atheist philosopher Anthony Flew suggests that the entire idea of life after death is meaningless, since he assumes that life is a biological life, which ceases at the moment of death. Atheist Keith Augustine admits, "When confronted by the death of someone close to me, or contemplating my own inevitable death, I am not comforted by such words of wisdom. Nevertheless, we cannot base our beliefs on what we want to be true." Although only 13% of Americans hold to this view, it is the dominant view of the major cultural power structures in our world today.
   These three views — disembodiment, reincarnation, and extinction — are the major explanations we find in our culture today, as we seek to probe the mysteries of death.
   II. Death Is Not Natural
   But what does the Bible say? What perspective does the Bible offer? Well the very first mention of death in the Bible is found in the very first book, Genesis 2:17: "But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”
   These are the words of God to the first man—Adam (which is Hebrew for "man"). This verse brings out the fact that God told the first man that the very day he ate of the tree he would die. Now the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was simply a source of wisdom and truth apart from God, so to eat of the tree was to declare independence from God.
   In English when we want to really emphasize a word, we underline it, we put it bold letters, maybe we make the font bigger. In Hebrew instead of doing that kind of stuff, they’d use a form of grammar called an infinitive absolute to really emphasize the verb, to underline it and call our attention to it. This is the form that the Hebrew for word "die" is in here in Genesis 2:17. That the emphasis is on the verb “die”, that the very day they eat of this tree, they would die … underlined, bold, in a large font.
   Now we know that the first man and first woman did eat of the tree—-declaring their independence from God—-but they didn’t physically die that very day. This is because death is used in the Bible in several ways.
   The word "death" in the Bible can refer to our MORTALITY, which puts emphasis on the process of physically dying. This is what the Bible means when it says in 2 Corinthians 4:16 that "outwardly we are wasting away." Our bodies are slowly breaking down, as our hair starts to fall out, our energy starts to wane, our memory begins to fail us. This kind of death is the process of decay that ends in our physical deaths. This process began the very day the first man and first woman declared their independence from God.
   But "death" can also describe the actual event of PHYSICAL DEATH, which is what our mortality leads to. Although this didn’t happen the day the first man and woman disobeyed God, physical death became inevitable for them at that moment. Physical death does not mean non-existence, but it means a separation of our physical body from our non-physical soul, or mind, or spirit, or whatever you want to call that part of us that’s not composed of atoms.
   In the Bible death can also refer to SPIRITUAL DEATH which is a state of being alienated from God. This is what the Bible means when it describes us as "dead in our sins" (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13). We have a biological life-—we’re breathing, our hearts are beating—-but we’re dead to the things of God, separated from God, unable to respond to God, deaf to God’s voice. This separation from God—-this spiritual death—-occurred immediately the moment the first man and first woman declared their independence from God.
   Finally, in the Bible there’s a thing called ETERNAL DEATH, which is a person’s final separation from God forever. This is where "spiritual death" inevitably leads to without intervention from God, the final destination of those who are spiritually dead. This became inevitable for the first man and woman when they ate of the tree, what Revelation 20 calls "the second death." Vs. 6 says “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.” Vs 14 & 15 tells us “Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
   So, as you can see, when God said that in the day they ate of the tree they’d surely die, there was a lot to that statement. The Bible presents a complex idea of what death is.
   But we’re likely to say, "That was then, this is now. What’s that got to do with me?" So, let’s continue to trace this theme of what happened in Genesis into the New Testament.
   Romans 5:12 says "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned" (NIV).
   Here we find that what happened in Genesis is our story too, that somehow—-in some mysterious way—-we were present in the first man and first woman’s declaration of independence from God. This thing called sin entered into the realm we live in through that act, and right on the heels of sin was "death," mortality, physical death, spiritual death, and ultimately eternal death. Somehow our sins—our own failures to live up to God’s Word, our own rebellion against God—-is somehow linked to what happened back in Genesis. Now this verse is not telling us exactly how this happened; it’s not giving us a theological theory of original sin, but it’s merely establishing a link between what happened in Genesis and what’s been repeated in every human being’s life since then. Adam sinned, and we’ve sinned; Adam died, and we’ll die.
   Now 1 Corinthians 15 takes this another step forward.
   We read in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22—"For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (NIV).
   Just as the first man’s action had cosmic consequences for the entire race, so Jesus Christ’s action is claimed to also have similar consequences. If Adam’s failure marked the start of death—-with all the different aspects of death—-Christ’s resurrection from the grave marks the defeat of death—-with all the same different aspects of death. Again, we’re not told exactly how all this works—-we can leave that to the theology classrooms in the seminary for now—-but we’re merely told that whatever happened when Adam sinned (and when we sinned) is answered when Jesus Christ rose from the grave.
   This leads us to Hebrews 9:27, which says, " And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: … (KJV).
   In this progression of thought we find our second truth about life after death. Because death was not part of God’s original intention, we can be certain that death will not have the final word.
   Virtually every book on grief and dying tells us that death is natural, that death is simply part of being human, that we need to accept death. Yet something within us rages against death, it defies death. When we lose a loved one, it refuses to accept that this is the way things are supposed to be. This is because death was not part of God’s original plan, it is not natural or neutral. The Bible calls death in 1 Corinthians 15:26 "the last enemy to be destroyed." So, although death is the fate for every person, it’s not natural, it’s not the way it was supposed to be, it’s not part of God’s original intention.
   This is why we know that death won’t have the last word, because God is in the business of restoring things that are broken, of taking things that have gotten all mixed up and setting them right. If Adam made a mess of things—and we’re all co-conspirators with Adam because of our own sins—then Jesus Christ—God’s Son—is able to set things right, to clean up the mess we’ve made.
   III. Easter and the Afterlife
   That word is connected to what we celebrated every year, Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ over death. When Jesus himself faced the death of his friend Lazarus, and when Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha suggested that somehow Jesus had failed them because their brother died, Jesus said these words in John 11:25 "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies."
   The Bible’s teaching about the afterlife is not Plato’s disembodiment, it’s not Hinduism’s reincarnation, or atheism’s extinction. The Bible’s teaching is summed up in that ONE word … RESURRECTION!!!
   God seeks to not only preserve our souls after death, but also our physical bodies. We’ll talk more about how that works in the weeks to follow, but here we’ll just mention that this is the claim of the Bible, that since humans are composed of both body and soul, since we’re not souls chained inside bodies and we’re not bodies without souls, but since our essential identity is both physical bodies and non physical souls, our afterlife existence will be both body and soul.
   In this passage Jesus claims to hold the key to this existence, this resurrection of the body, this reuniting of body with the soul. Jesus claims that even though a person may die, fullness of life awaits on the other side.
   Look also at what Jesus said in Luke 23:42-43 as he himself was dying on the cross to one of the thieves crucified next to him. Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Somehow even in the face of physical death, conscious existence awaited both Jesus and the thief on the other side.
   We’ll speak more about these things later in the series. But for now, I want to state this third and final reality about life after death. Because Jesus Christ conquered death on Easter Sunday, we can trust what Jesus says about the afterlife.
   Although hundreds of thousands of people claim to have had near death experiences, only Jesus Christ died a complete physical death, and three days later rose from the grave to never die again. This is why the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the central claim of the Christian faith, because without a literal resurrection, the entire Christian message crumbles.
   Claremont McKenna College professor of philosophy, Stephen Davis, says that this resurrection was so real, so historical, that if the disciples would’ve had a camera they could’ve taken a picture of Jesus’ body. The British theoretical physicist John Polkinghorn is exactly correct when he says, "The Christian’s belief in a destiny beyond death finds its principle support in the particular event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
   We can trust Jesus Christ, we can trust Him because He rose from the grave, we can trust Him because He’s God’s son, we can trust Him because Jesus Christ doesn’t lie.
   The existence of the soul suggests life after death. If we don’t have a soul or a mind, or whatever you want to call it, if we don’t have a non-physical component to who we are, then we’re merely atoms and our thoughts and personality are merely a complex chain reaction of bio-chemical reactions in our brain and nervous system. If all we are is body, then our brains are secreting our thoughts and beliefs like our livers secret bile. We know from physics that our atoms are completely replaced every few years, which means there is no continuity to who I was, say, seven years ago and who I am today. But if we are composed of both body and soul—as the Bible claims and as many philosophers today contend—then it makes sense that we would survive physical death.
   Also, the need for justice suggests an afterlife. If God is real—as the Bible claims and Christians believe—and if this world is filled with injustice, then it makes sense that a God of justice would rectify the injustices of the world we live in. The natural place for that to occur is in the afterlife.
   Finally, the hundreds of thousands of near death experiences that are reported suggest that there is an afterlife. Now I’m not saying we should believe everything a person who has had a near death experience says. We can’t use near death experiences to try to describe the details of the afterlife, but the fact that they do exist suggests that there’s such a thing as the afterlife. Frankly, I’m extremely skeptical about anybody who claims to have details about heaven or hell from a near death experience—whether it’s Betty Eadie with her message in Embraced By the Light, or whether it’s a TV evangelist who will send me his chronicle of heaven for the right price.
   Christian researcher William Alnor warns us that these stories "are usually contradictory on significant details. Out of all the stories I’ve examined there are no perfect matches. In other words, one man’s picture of heaven did not correlate to the pictures given to us by any of the others." Yet these experiences do suggest that we do survive beyond death’s door.
   So, all this brings us full circle, back to the question the drama left us with in the first place: Is this life a carefully crafted script or is this all there is? Because death is a mystery there are lots of opinions about the afterlife, but we can be sure that death will not have the final word. Because Jesus rose from the grave, we can trust what he said about the afterlife.

September 30, 2018     To Forgive or Not to Forgive

   Opening passage - Matthew 6:12, 14-15 — 12… and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
   14“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
   Good morning. Glad you could be here with us this morning. Were finishing up our eight week series titled “The Invisible War.” This series is about the struggles and fights we all have with the enemy trying to take over and control our lives.
   Last week we talked about giving – money – tithing. I think that the devil works overtime trying to control the way we handle our finances … because if “I ain’t got it – God can’t get it.” The devil does his very best to make sure we spend our money on ALL the pleasures of this world so none of our money will be left over for God to use.
   Isn’t that about the way we usually do it? Instead of giving God our “FIRST” … we usually wind up giving God our “LAST” … and that most likely just a piece of what we have left over … because we gotta have money to get us through the week, right??
   I got a couple questions for ya this morning — How many of you remember my challenge from last week? For those of you that weren’t here … my challenge was to start getting up on Friday mornings … and through faith that God would supply all your needs (Philippians 4:19) … write out your tithes check before you even got paid and bring it here on Sunday mornings and, without hesitation, put it in the collection helmet. I’m not looking for a show of hands because you giving is strictly between you and God … not between you and any man … but how many of y’all did that this week?
   For those of you who took that step of tremendous faith this week … I pray you continue taking those steps of faith … leaning and completely depending on God for all things. I pray a special blessing over you and your house today … especially over your finances that God will open up the floodgates of heaven (Malachi 3:10) and shower you with so much blessing that you won’t be able to stand it. I know He will do this for you because, like the rainbow, He promised.
   This week we’re going to look at what I believe to be another choice that Satan tries to control in our lives … FORGIVENESS.
   What image comes to your mind when you hear the word – Bounty Hunter?
   If you are like me, I picture a loner - a Clint Eastwood type. I remember the Bounty Hunter in Raising Arizona.
   Leather Chaps
   Broken Down Motorcycle
   Unkempt hair / Hadn’t washed in months
   Relentless focus – capturing the person you are after.
   In the book “The Great House of God,” Max Lucado talks about his bout with a Bounty Hunter. “Living in the cross hairs of a hit man is no treat. I should know. I had one after me for three months. He wasn’t a Mafia member, nor was he a gang member. He didn’t carry a gun with a scope; his weapons were even deadlier. He had a phone number and a commission – track me down and make me pay.
   His job? Collect past-due payments for a credit card company.
   A good day for him means a bad day for everyone he contacts. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why such an occupation is necessary. I just wonder what kind of person would want such a job? Who wants to be a missionary of misery?”
   Can you imagine what their morning is like as they get ready to face their day. Their souse says “Have a safe day at work today. Break a leg, honey. Make ’em squirm, honey.”
   Do their bosses motivate them with the ‘blood out of a turnip’ award? Who is their hero? Godzilla? What a job. Their payday is your paycheck, and they are out to get it. Can you imagine spending your days like that?
   Perhaps some of you can. Perhaps all of us can. Even the best among us spend time demanding payment. Doesn’t someone owe you something? An apology? A second chance? A fresh start? An explanation? A thank you? A childhood? A marriage?
   I don’t encourage you to do this for too long … but stop and think about it for just a moment. Can’t we all make a list of a lot of folks who are in your debt. Your parents should have been more protective. Your children should have been more appreciative. Your spouse more sensitive. Your preacher should have been more attentive.
   What are we going to do with those in our debt?”
   Have you ever noticed in the western movies how the bounty hunter travels alone? Who wants to hang out with a guy who settles scores for a living? Cantankerous sorts, these bounty hunters. Best leave them alone. Hang out with these guys and you might catch a stray bullet. Debt-settling is a lonely and dangerous occupation.
   So, do you want to be a bounty hunter? Maybe you have been riding the trail seeking to make someone pay! Maybe you’re thinking to yourself – “wait a minute Dooley – what does all this have to do with the opening passages we just read about forgiveness?”
   Reading and working on getting this lesson ready for this morning, I had those same thoughts! But then, I noticed that the next section of the Lord’s Prayer is about our having a proper understanding of God’s forgiveness.
   Greg Laurie, from Harvest Christian Fellowship said “Jesus Christ came to pay a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay.”
   When we have a proper understanding of God’s forgiveness of us … we’ll have a proper disposition of forgiveness towards those who do us wrong.
   The day after Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and His rejection by the people … he cursed the Fig Tree because it wasn’t producing fruit and then He cleansed the Temple of the money changers.
   What did Jesus say? In Matthew 21:13 we read “It is written,” he said to them, “My house will be called a ‘house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’”
   This morning we are going to look at the middle section of the Lord’s prayer. In vs 12 (Matthew. 6:12) Jesus asked our Father to “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
   As I was studying for this message I discovered that the subject of forgiveness is one of the most needed topics in our world.
   WHY?
   Nations are at war with Nations
   Neighbors are feuding with neighbors
   Church members have conflicts with other church members
   Spouses are fighting with one another and one marriage after another is being torn apart
   Families are having upheavals and hostility as parents are angry with their children and children are enraged with their parents!
   Turmoil, bitterness and the lack of forgiveness are about us everywhere!
   As humans, we have invented all sorts of inventions and solved all kinds of problems. But we have yet to solve mankind’s greatest need and that is to be able to get along and place nice with other people!
   Forgiveness, the word itself sounds like it must be associated with God in some way or another because it is not something that comes natural to us. Selfishness and wanting to get our own way and our own rights is what comes natural from sinners!
   So many in our society want and need to receive forgiveness. They’re looking for some remedy for being weighed down and burdened down by guilt and sin! They long to hear the words “I love you” and “I forgive you.”
   While many want to receive forgiveness and absolution for the wrongs they have done almost everyone finds it hard, if not impossible, to forgive others who have wronged them in life!
   When we have wronged others, we want forgiveness to come quickly and easily! But, when we have been wronged by someone we want justice to prevail and find it hard (if not impossible) to forgive!
   There is a Sicilian Proverb that says “Vengeance is a dish best served cold.”
   Jesus teaches us to pray. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
   When we hear these words we think to ourselves: “Yea, right! Was he serious?”
   Withholding forgiveness is our: “ACE in the hole!” It is our trump card!
   Listen to the power and control people think they have by not forgiving individuals who hurt them.
   In a book by Lewis B. Smedes, here are the words of a woman whose husband left her for another woman. Later he wanted her forgiveness for what he had done. But she wasn’t ready to let go of her trump card.
   “‘I want you to go to hell,’ she replied. What? Forgive? Throw away the power she had – the strength of her hate, the energy of her contempt? Her contempt was her power, her dignity, her self-esteem. It was unfair to ask her to forgive. The least the louse deserved was the steady stream of her scorn.” (Forgive and Forget, pg 166)
   Forgiveness is almost impossible if it were up to us in our flesh! Our dark heart desires to see those who hurt us suffer for the wrongs they inflicted on us! Let them pay for what they did! I hope they suffer greatly for how they treated me!
   Bitterness sets in and it can strangulate the person’s heart! Grudges, conflicts and unforgiveness can set in for years!
   Illustration: Many of you have heard of the Hatfields & McCoys! This feud happened in the 1870 & 80’s. The Hatfield Clan was from West Virginia and the McCoy Clan was from Kentucky. The whole thing really started in 1878 when Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing one of his pigs, a valuable commodity back in those days. The feud lasted for decades. In the end as many as 100 men, women and children were killed! Somewhere along the way a wrong was committed and the lack of forgiveness prevailed!
   Satan is clever! The sad truth about having an unforgiving heart is the one who refuses to forgive locks themselves in their own prison of horror and torture! You are deceived into thinking that your vengeance is hurting the other person! It can, but not as much as it is hurting you!
   HERE IS SOME CONVENTIONAL WISDOM: Comedian Buddy Hackett said “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”
   Jesus is very serious about our need to pray and to daily ask for His forgiveness and to pray that we have a willing heart to forgive others who hurt us.
   Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matt. 6:12 NIV
   WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS? Is Jesus speaking about financial debts? The word for “debts” is similar in meaning to an Aramaic word (hoba) that means: “a moral or spiritual debt.” It is what we would call sin! Forgive us our sin as we forgive those who sin against us!
   Debtors = “those who fail in their duty toward us”
   Forgive = “to hurl or to send away.”
   Let’s see if this is what Jesus is trying to communicate. Luke 11:4 puts it this way - Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
   But in case we missed it Jesus is crystal clear in Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
   Did you catch that last phrase? “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
   The lack of forgiveness causes us problems between ourselves and God!
   Some people have asked me the following questions: Do we earn our salvation by forgiving others? Is forgiveness a barometer of whether I’m a Christian or not?
   I’ll try to answer those questions!
   Peter was trying to figure this need to forgive others at another time with Jesus. Jesus illustrates clearly what He is trying to teach here in this text. Let’s look at Matthew 18.
   Peter asks Jesus a question in vs 21 (Matthew 18:21): “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”
   Peter is trying to be generous with his forgiveness. Jewish Law taught that you should forgive an individual three times. Probably an ancient version of 3 strikes and you’re out! So, Peter doubled that and added another one for good measure!
   Jesus’ answers Peter in vs 22 (Matthew 18:22) and says: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”
   Peter’s listening and thinking — “OK – that’s 70 x 7 = 490 times – really??” I guess (just like us) Peter needed to learn that true Christian love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs! Jesus is saying to FORGIVE them for everything … no matter how many times they do the same stuff to you. If you won’t forgive – our Father can’t forgive.
   But Jesus wants to get this message through to Peter and to all of us this morning and so He tells the parable that’s recorded in Matthew 18:23-25.
   “23Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.”
   The King called for an audit! This servant was found to have owed an incredible debt!
   You see in those days – 1 talent = 6,000 day’s wages which is 13 years of work. He owed 10,000 talents which = 130,000 years of work!
   For the first time this servant is faced with the enormity of his debt! The audit made him dreadfully aware of his debt owed to the king!
   The servant is naïve before the king. Look at what he says in vs 26 – (Matthew 18:26) “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’”
   I’ll pay you back! He is as naïve as many Christians who think that somehow they merited God’s grace and favor because of their works!
   What was the King’s response to the servant’s remorse? Vs 27 (Matthew 18:27) tells us that “The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”
   Now that is a sign of mercy and grace!
   The King could have put him in prison for life! But he forgave the debt and let the man go free!
   So, what does the man learn from receiving this grace? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!! In vs 28 (Matthew 18:28) we read “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.”
   He found someone who owed him some pocket change and he grabbed him, choked him and begged him to pay! The man begged him for mercy and look at how the first servant reacted!
   Vs 30 (Matthew 18:30) says “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.;
   This disheartened the other servants who witnessed all of this!
   Look at vs 31 (Matthew 18:31) “When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.”
   AND HOW DID THE KING RESPOND? In vss 32-34 (Matthew 18:32-34) we read “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”
   The servant could have been liberated, forgiven and free! Now he is going to be tormented for the rest of his life!
   NOW LET’S INTERPRET THE PARABLE
   The King is God Himself!
   The Servant with the great debt - is each and every one of us in this room!
   Each of us owe God an astronomical debt for our sin!
   The word for sin in the passage in Luke 11 (Luke 11:4) = “…missing the mark!” “Falling short of God’s standard.” “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …” (Romans 3:23) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
   We had no way that we could have paid God back for the debt we owed to Him for our sin! Nothing we could have done would ever, I repeat, ever, have satisfied His Holiness and righteous! 10,000 years of suffering in hell would not even begin to pay the interest payment on the debt!
   That’s why Jesus came — “We owed a Debt we could not pay.”
   The servant who owed a minor debt is someone who has wronged us and we fail to forgive them!
   Individuals wrong us and we want to grab them by the neck and shake the living day-lights out of them and demand that they pay us for the debt they owe us!
   You hurt me!
   You wronged me!
   You’re going to pay for what you did!
   WHAT DOES THIS TYPE OF BEHAVIOR DO FOR THE CAUSE OF CHRIST?
   We just read the answer to that question in Matthew 18:31 “When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.”
   The lack of forgiveness and love amongst the believers in the body of Christ grieved the other Christians! Christ ruling in our hearts is suppose to make us different!
   This upsets the KING!
   What does He do? He sees that the forgiven servant wanted to live by justice and not by grace and so He measures out to Him the full penalty of the Law!
   Matthew 18:34 tells us “In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”
   Thrown into prison to be tormented and tortured! The parable isn’t talking about Christians being thrown into hell after they have been forgiven by the LORD Jesus Christ because, believe it or not, many Christians are living in prisons of their own making!
   Failing to enjoy their fellowship with God!
   Feeling unforgiven!
   Tormented!
   Bitter!
   You see …forgiveness allows your heart to be unshackled and set free! It allows you to enjoy the power and joy of your salvation!
   The first part of the parable deals with our judicial pardon by God! The parable is talking about our justification before God where by His grace we are declared righteous! The Bible tells us “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
   Our forgiveness of others who have hurt us deals with how we maintain our intimacy and relationship with God. Jesus is teaching us how we are to enjoy perfect and complete fellowship with God! Our forgiving others allows God to forgive us and walk intimately with us!
   UNFORGIVENESS CREATES MANY PROBLEMS FOR THE CHRISTIAN:
   1) It hinders and keeps our prayers from being answered!
   2) It hinders our fellowship and intimacy with the Father.
   3) It allows the devil to have control of our lives.
   4) It invites God’s discipline on us!
   Hebrews 12:6 tells us that “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
   Lord Herbert said “He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must someday pass.”
   And Charles Haddon Spurgeon said  “Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death-warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer.”
   WARNING! The LORD Jesus Christ places a premium on forgiveness! Let’s read again Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
   Jesus tell us in Matthew 18:35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
   When thinking about forgiveness each of us needs to think through whether it is we can’t forgive someone or whether it is we won’t forgive someone!
   If we habitually and willfully can’t forgive, and won’t forgive, then we need to do some soul searching and try to consider whether or not we are a Christian in the first place!
   I’m not saying that the hurt isn’t real!
   I’m not saying that some space and time might not be needed!
   I’m not saying we need to excuse sinful behavior!
   I’m not saying that we might not need God’s strength and power to do it!
   But a willful, hard, and unforgiving heart may indicate the absence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the absence of our salvation!
   Romans 8:9 reminds us that “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.”
   The Holy Spirit motivates and prompts us to forgive!
   The Bibles instructs us to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
   Joseph forgave his brothers!
   David forgave King Saul
   Stephen forgave those who were stoning him
   The LORD Jesus Christ forgave those who put Him on the cross and all of us who dumped all our sin and junk on Him by putting our faith and trust in Him as our LORD and Savior.
   Forgiveness cannot be done in our own strength and power! We need the Holy Spirit to help us forgive those who hurt us!
Susan Maycinik gives us this advice on learning how to forgive:

   1) Resolve not to let the offense cause you to sin.
   2) Don’t harden your heart against the offender.
   3) Remember that God would forgive your offender.
   4) Resolve to forgive every day.
   5) Seek help from mature believers.
   (Discipleship Journal, Plodding Towards Forgiveness)
   WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HATFIELD-MCCOY FEUD? “In May 1976, Jim McCoy and Willis Hatfield – the last two survivors of the original families – shook hands at a public ceremony dedicating a monument to six of the victims. Jim McCoy died February 11, 1984, at age 99. He bore no grudges – and had his burial handled by the Hatfield Funeral Home in Toler, Kentucky.
   ANOTHER GREAT EXAMPLE: “Mamie Mobley’s only son was visiting relatives and friends in Mississippi one summer in 1956. Outside a general store, with boys playing games on the front porch, eleven-year-old Emmett decided to go into the store and buy some bubble gum and candy. As Emmett and some other boys came out of the store someone asked Emmett, “How’d you like that lady in the store?” Emmett whistled his approval. Someone nearby heard his whistle and did not like an African-American whistling at a Caucasian woman.
   It was 2:30 AM the next Sunday when two men stormed into the house where Emmett was staying and took him at gunpoint. Three days later they discovered his badly beaten body. I’ve been told the hardest thing in the world is losing a child. Years after the tragedy she was asked, ‘Don’t you harbor any bitterness toward the two men?”
   Mamie’s reply reveals the depth of her faith: “From the very beginning that’s the question that has always been raised. What they had done was not for me to punish and it was not for me to go around hugging hate to myself, because hate would destroy me. It wouldn’t hurt them. I did not wish them dead. I did not wish them in jail.
   If I had to, I could take their four little children and I could raise those children as if they were my own and I could love them. I believe the LORD meant what He said, and I try to live according to the way I’ve been taught.” Throughout his terrible ordeal she can honestly say, “I haven’t spent one night hating those people.”
   The questions we need to ask ourselves this morning is which path are we going to chose?
   The Path of Obedience, Following after Christ’s Commands and desires?
    We read in 1 Peter 2:21 “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
   1 Peter 2:23-24 says “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 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.”
   Or are we going to live a life of torment and lack of intimate fellowship because we are not set free because we refuse to forgive those who hurt us?
   A life of keeping lists? Keeping track of wrongs? Tit for tat! — an eye for an eye — a tooth for a tooth. Jesus forgave us the greatest debt anyone could ever owe!
   Are we walking in the full understanding of grace? Can’t we learn to forgive one another, no matter what the situation? Do we need to go and make something right with someone who gas wronged us … or we them?
   The Bible teaches us that if someone has done you wrong … go to that person and get it straightened out (Matthew 18:15-20). Folks, there is nowhere in the Bible that say to go tell your friends what Fred or Brenda has done to you … that usually starts a gossip column. The Bible says to “go to that person.” There’s nowhere in the Bible that even indicates that we’re to go tell your social media buddies either. Where does it say in the Bible that we’re to air our laundry in public? NO WHERE!!! It says to go to that person … and, no matter what it takes … get it straightened out.
   If you need to talk to someone about the situation … that’s what the leadership in your church is for. Gentlemen, go to your pastor. Ladies, go to his wife. Go to them first and let them help get you headed in the right direction. No matter what the circumstances … TRUE, COMPLETE forgiveness is the bottom line here.
   Kathy E. Dahlen is recorded saying “True forgiveness rises from a deep-rooted trust in Jesus Christ and the values of His kingdom.” (FREE TO FORGIVE, Discipleship Journal)
   And how do we know that we have truly forgiven someone?? We’ve talked about this before … Justification!! “Just as if it never happened.” If Someone has offended you, do you treat them any differently today than you did before the offense? If you do, then there’s work that needs to be done.

September 23, 2018     To Tithe or Not to Tithe

   Our opening passage for today is found in Malachi 3:8-10 (NLT) — 8“Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
   “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
   “You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
   For the past six weeks we’ve been studying the series “The Invisible War” … the spiritual attacks we get in our lives from the devil. I believe there are many places in our lives that the devil can (and will) build up strongholds in our lives and I truly believe that our finances is one of those major places.
   Throughout the years, God has released great blessings when his children whole-heartedly followed Him. According to Proverbs 3:9-10 if you “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first-fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
   What a great promise from Scripture! Do you realize that this inspired promise still applies to us today? Deciding to make your tithe a starting point in your giving allows God the opportunity He’s looking for to bless you in ways He would not otherwise.
   The book of Malachi, chapter 3 vss 8-10 reveals how important the tithe is to God. When his people refused to honor him with their wealth, God actually accused them of stealing from him — “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, ’How do we rob you?’
   "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - the whole nation of you - because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse (Temple), that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
   You see guys … this right here is what breaks my heart. I’ve talked to so many people about so many different things. And through our discussions I can see so many ways the Lord can (and will) bless them … if only they’d only let him. We just read two GREAT promises from the Lord.
   We read where we’re told to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse … bring your whole tithe into the Temple … bring your whole tithe into the church. We’re told to honor the LORD with our wealth, with the first-fruits of all our crops. We just read that IF we do these things then our barns will be filled and overflowing. You see … to me … it’s like the Lord’s daring us … “Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
   Let me ask you a question … where is your “storehouse?” One of the biggest lies from the devil is that he has deceived lots of people to believe they can put their money anywhere and that’s their tithe. He’s made them feel they can give money to this TV preacher or to that charitable organization … and that’s their tithe. That’s WRONG!!! That’s a lie straight from Satan himself.
   Your storehouse is the church that you normally attend. Those of you who consistently attend here … this is your storehouse. If you wanna give to this TV preacher or to that charitable organization … that’s OK. BUT, that’s considered offering, not tithe … because your 10%, your “tithe”, should be given to your church before you start giving out offerings.
   The Bible says that we “have not” because??? That’s right … because we “ask not” (James 4:2-3). But here’s another way to look at it. We have not because we’re big ole group of disobedient children. When I disobeyed my parents I got my behind tore up. When I was a good little boy … I got ice cream … and y’all wonder why I like Sonic so much.
   God’s word says that when His people obey Him by tithing, He will shower them with material blessings. But when they refused to follow His wishes regarding their giving, the Bible says they fell “under a curse.”
   So many people have told me “I don’t have the money to do this or do that … to go here or go there.” When I hear those type excuses … my first question to them is “Do you tithe.” Survey says …The response I get the most often is “I can’t afford to tithe.” Folks!! Let me tell ya something … you can’t afford NOT to tithe.
   Those of you that keep saying “I don’t have the money” will NEVER have the money. Why?? Because we just read that you’re under a curse because you don’t tithe … you’re under a curse because you’re not being a good steward with your finances ... you’re under a curse because you’re not being obedient to God’s word. If you were a good steward with your finances … you could afford to tithe.
   I’ve heard Christians sometimes get swept up in a debate over whether or not we’re required to tithe in the New Testament, when that’s not the real question at all. The real question is, does the two promises we just read in the 3rd chapters of Proverbs and Malachi still apply today?
   I have found no New Testament passage that ever rescinded God’s rainbow promise about a flood. The rainbow is a symbol that represents God’s promise that the earth will NEVER be flooded again. Just like the promise about the flood … there is not ONE passage in the New Testament that rescinded those two promises we just read.
   Do you believe God’s promise that He will never destroy the earth by water again? How do you know that beyond a shadow of a doubt … how do you know that? Because He said so and God is not a liar (Numbers 23:19). Your confidence that will never happen again is based on the promise found in Genesis 9 (13-17). This promise did not have to be restated or confirmed in the New Testament in order to be valid today, just as the promise of Proverbs 3:5-6 about guidance did not have to be restated. “5Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
   God’s promise in regard to tithing is no different. Our decision to give 10% of our income back to God reflects our reliance on Him as the source of all our blessings. This kind of faith and trust pleases the Lord and brings abundant blessings into our lives.
   I don’t want us to fall prey to legalistic righteousness and require the New Testament to command us to tithe before we use this simple measure as a generosity standard. If we were to get legalistic over this (or anything else) we could (and most likely will) miss out on many of God’s richest blessings … if we refuse to take Him at His word.
   Both biblical principles and practical experiences demonstrate the power of tithing in a Christian’s life. Since God’s word repeatedly uses the sowing and reaping illustration to encourage giving back to Him, it’s a powerful exercise to see what will happen when we take Him at his word and tithe as a starting point for giving. You see … your tithe was your tithe in the Old Testament … 10% of all you had … that’s what you gave. But please understand this today … we’re taught in the New Testament that our tithe is just the beginning of our giving.
   So … If we do all of this what will we reap?
   Power Principle 1 — Tithing motivates greater faithfulness. (The 10 Commandments)
   Did you know that Jesus actually taught his followers to live by a higher standard than the one given in the Old Testament? Obviously, we too, want to please Him and be faithful to His call. Jesus contrasted the requirements of the Law with the plan for his followers.
   On your outline in your bulletin, look at the Scripture references under Power Principle 1: I want to see which is the higher standard, the Law of Moses or the way of Christ?
OT: Do not murder   NT: Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.
OT: Do not commit adultery   NT: Anyone who lusts commits adultery in his heart.
OT: Do not swear falsely by God’s name   NT: Do not swear at all.
OT: The entire tithe will be holy to the Lord   NT: Give as you are prospered.
   An exhaustive study of Scripture reveals this often overlooked truth: Jesus’ way always calls for greater faithfulness and commitment than what was required in the Old Testament. Can giving possibly be an exception? It follows clearly that no one who wants to be faithful to God would ever think of doing less than the Old Testament believers.
   When it comes to tithing, we all too often think that Christ didn’t come to fulfill it, but to destroy it. That isn’t the case. Hebrews 10:1 says, “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming … not the realities themselves.”
   Jesus came to bring us the “good things.” If we want these things in our life, then we must sow the seed necessary to reap them. This thing we put all our trust in is called the Word of God … and it teaches that tithing is one of the pathways to receiving the spiritual and physical blessings He desires for us to have.
   Did you know that tithing was not unique to God’s chosen people? Other ancient civilizations also practiced giving a tenth of their income to various pagan deities. Archaeological research indicates that the people of Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria also tithed. Imagine that! Both Jewish followers of God and pagans devoted to false deities saw that spiritual faithfulness included tithing.
   Dr. John Willis, a distinguished professor of Old Testament studies, has written a profound paper on tithing. In it he says: “By giving their tithes, the Israelites were proclaiming that they were giving back to the Lord a portion of that which he had prospered them (Deuteronomy 26:10-15). Just as God had given his people the food and resources they needed for their existence, by tithing the people were imitating Him by giving their God-given food and resources to the slaves, the poor, the sojourners, the orphans, and the widows. Thus, tithing was the means God gave the Israelites to express their love to God for all he had given them (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and to express their love to their neighbor as God had expressed his love to them” (Leviticus 19:18).
   Surely as recipients of the “good things,” it’s also clear that the Lord has commissioned us to do the same today!
   Power Principle 2 - Tithing releases God’s financial blessings.
   Look again at Malachi 3:10, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
   To me, this is one of the most remarkable passages in the whole Bible. The God of the universe actually told his people to test him. The Hebrew word for “test” means “to examine.” God said they could check Him out and see if He was telling the truth. This is the only time in Scripture when God allowed his creation to see if he really would keep his word. The Lord told them that if they would once again put him first and prove their loyal devotion to him by bringing in their whole tithe, he would drench them with material blessings. They could bank on this promise!
   Hear this … God said it then and he still means it today! Do you believe that? I know many people who have taken God at his word and tithed when they didn’t know how they possibly could.
   I want to share a couple stories I read.
   “One of the farmers in the church was a very wealthy man. One day I was riding in the combine with him, he told me that the reason he had been successful was because he started tithing so many years ago. He had never done it before, but when he started, his farm began to prosper in ways that even he could never imagine. He hadn’t changed any of his farming practices, it was just God pouring out his promised blessings.
   I read of a single-parent mom that was financially strapped determined that she would tithe, even though she couldn’t cover her current monthly expenses. She signed a pledge card in her church one Sunday, not knowing where the money would come from. Two days later her boss called her into his office unexpectedly. He praised her work and gave her a 13% raise on the spot! She realized God came through for her because she came through for God!
   I could go on and on with story after story, but in all the stories I have heard, I have yet to hear of a single story where God did not abundantly bless obedient, grateful love like this. Just remember, we don’t give to be blessed, we give because we are blessed.
   Tithing declares our realization that God has already blessed us, as well as our conviction that he will continue to take care of us.
   Power Principle 3 - Tithing expands Kingdom work.
   Did you know that the average percentage of Christian giving is only 2.5%? It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to see that church-wide tithing would allow ministry efforts to virtually explode.
   For us, we have ventured into new territory in our church … we’re in this building. And having done so has meant that we have grown. We have trusted God to lead us to the point that we are. Do you believe God has brought us here?
   10% …it’s something so small, yet it’s a part of something so large … literally the kingdom of God! That’s God’s standard mode of operation. He takes something small and transforms it into something of grandeur.
   There’s a story about a guy named Randi who was a preacher’s kid. When he finished high school he was unsure of what to do with his life. He went from Iowa to Chicago to go to school at Moody. Feeling an ever-increasing sense of frustration at what it was that God wanted him to do with his life, he found himself laying awake at night. And as he laid there in the dorm bunk, he read the graffiti scrawled on the wood slat above his head. The inscription read — “If you are reading this … pray for Derek.”
   Randi didn’t know Derek from Adam but he prayed for Derek that night. And he prayed for him the next day off and on as he thought about it. Several weeks later, Derek went to a church that his friends had been bugging him about going to with them.
   He went and in the middle of the service a lady stood up during prayer time. She said, “As many of you know, my little Derek has been battling leukemia for all his life, but I’m thrilled to share with you that at his last doctor’s report a couple weeks ago the doctor said that Derek’s leukemia is in full remission.”
   That’s how it is with God. A little prayer can cause great effect. A little giving on your part ushers you into a kingdom that is so much larger than you or I could never comprehend in a million life times. That’s the power principle … tithing expands kingdom work.
   Power Principle 4 - Tithing changes spending habits.
   If your giving standard has been low, starting to tithe may seem a stretch to you financially at first. But in the process of giving, you learn to prioritize your spending patterns, you learn how to be good stewards and develop a sound Biblical financial budget.
   2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” If you’re not used to tithing, maybe ten percent is too much for you right now. It’s just statistically not going to happen as you crunch the numbers. Well, what about 5% or 2.5%?
   Those of you who don’t tithe or tithe every now and then … need to start somewhere being faithful in your finances. And the starting point needs to be an agreement between you and God. Whatever that starting point is, you need to be faithful about it. If God instructs you to give 2.5% every week, then make sure you do. You made a promise to God to do this. If you bite the bullet and make your tithing a priority in your life and be careful about your spending on other stuff (being a good steward with what God has given you) … it won’t be long you’ll start seeing some changes in your financial situation.
   This is where I would start … make a promise to God with an amount … and keep it faithfully. If you promise to pay your tithe every week … then by ALL means … pay them every week. I feel God will bless the faithfulness more that the amount.
   Tithing is like investing. If you don’t put something in, there’s nothing there to take out. If you don’t faithfully tithe you can’t sit around a cry because you have no money. God can’t bless something that’s not there. If you faithfully invest 10% of your income into the kingdom, then God promised He will pour out His blessing. If you will trust Him with the 10% … He promised He would take care of the other 90%. Pastor Ken at the Harvest said “I can live better off of 90% than I can 100%.”
   Will you do that this week? Will you start right now praying with all your heart that God will show you an amount that you can faithfully give each week? Ask him right now and see what He says. This is not about raising money for the church … it’s about being obedient to the Scriptures. It’s about God calling you to do something and your willingness to do it. We have free will and God’s not going to force you to do anything. It’s your choice whether or not to be obedient … I pray your choice is on the side of righteousness.
   Before closing I want to challenge all of us. MaryLu and I faithfully pay our tithes. She gets paid twice a month. I get paid twice a month. Our tithes are set up at the bank to be automatically deducted from our bank accounts and transferred directly into Red Stone’s account the day after our direct deposits. So, here’s the challenge and here’s an awesome way you can show yourself and your family that you are totally trusting God.
   It’s time for you to take a step of faith. Pray about it and you and God determine an amount that won’t put you in a financial bind. How many of you get paid on Friday? On your payday (Friday as an example) sit down on Friday morning and write out your tithes check before your check hits the bank. Put it in your pocketbook or wallet. Then the first thing you do is walk in here on Sunday morning and put that check in the collection helmet.
   Here’s another challenge for you. It’s like spring cleaning. What do you have in your life that you can do without. What are you constantly spending money on that you really don’t need. Lets use cigarettes as an example (not condeming anyone ... just trying to use simple math). Let's say they cost $50.00 per carton. Your weekly pay is $500.00 per week. Your tithe (10%) from your pay would be $50.00 per week. If you were to give up smoking, you would have your tithe. Does that make sense?
   James 2:26 teaches us that “Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” You have to put feet to your faith folks. You can stand in the garden waiting to pick the green beans if you want to … BUT if you never put the seed in the ground there’s nothing there to pick. There is no way to reap something that you don’t sow.
   I want to close sharing this touching story. If you are experiencing great financial difficulty, have you considered that you might be living under the curse that we were just reading about?
   If there’s an area in your life where you continually feel defeated, maybe it’s time to see if that problem is caused by your inattention to the promises of God which are linked to your being able to receive a blessing. That is exactly what Malachi was trying to communicate. It’s also why I believe God’s curses still occur today.
   I read of a man who shared a letter with his church that communicates this very thing. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
   “As you know, I came to this church a very hurting person. I carried burdens that left me completely helpless. I was existing, but not really living. Three years ago I grew gravely ill and lost most of my physical strength and much of my immune system. At my lowest point, I literally crawled across my front lawn to get to my car because I was too weak to walk. I felt that I was dying, and I was morbidly afraid of death and literally terrified of going to hell. I was out of touch with God. I felt if I could just find another doctor surely everything would get better.
   Then, in desperation, without asking for anything specific, I cried out to God to help me. “Please God,” I prayed, “Do something to let me know you’re here.” I was ready to do anything. Now I know that God was humbling me so that I would come to trust him more completely.
   On my first visit to church, I was astonished! I felt comfortable here immediately. I felt a keen sense of the presence of God which I had never felt anywhere else. The preacher gave me the moment of truth when he preached a sermon on stewardship and said, “Anyone who does not give back to God 10% of his income is a thief.” I had never even seriously thought of giving 10% and couldn’t imagine how in the world that could possibly fit into my tight budget.
   But the word “thief” hit me hard as the truth always does. I now realize that I was so miserable precisely because God was last on my list of priorities rather than first. So I asked God’s forgiveness, and I pledged to give back 10% of my income for the rest of my life. This is the most important decision I have ever made.
   From that moment, things began to change dramatically for the better. The people who are closest to me have marveled at the changes in my life. Too many positive things have happened to be coincidence. Most obvious is my greatly improved health, which has been immediate. Most practical is that, after looking for a job for three years, I found one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life!
   Most gratifying is the deep feeling of inner peace, which, for the first time in my life, I feel. I feel different on the inside than when I first came to see you, and everybody who knows me says I’m different on the outside, too.
   Avoid curses in your life. Let faith take charge of your heart as you take hold of God’s promises. It’s not a matter of whether or not you can afford to tithe, it’s whether or not you can afford not to. When you put the Lord first, he promises to open up heaven and pour out his blessings into your life!”

September 16, 2018     Back To Church Sunday

   Our opening passage is Acts 2:41-47 NLT — "41Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day — about 3,000 in all.
   42All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
   43A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved."
   It’s so easy to hit the snooze button on Sunday morning when the alarm sounds at seven o'clock. Many of us hit that button and just roll over and go back to sleep. Maybe you had every intention of going to church ... even had your clothes laid out, but your sleepy side wins and you satisfy your conscience with the thought, "Maybe Next Sunday."
   Then again, why do we even go to church?
   You go to school to get an education so you can make a living. You go to work to make money so you can pay the bills. You go to the gym for exercise and better health. You go to the mall to shop for clothes and the grocery store to buy food. You go to the lake to fish, the ball game to cheer, and golf course for fun, you go to the woods and you work for months to get things ready to sit in a deer stand … and get nothing.
   But church? Why go to there? Why get up early on one of your few days off? Why go through the hassle of dressing up and the getting the kids ready? Why go to the trouble of finding a parking space near the front and pew space near the back?
   Why go to church?
   If you've ever found yourself wondering about that little question, you're not alone. Surveys tell us that as many as 79% of Americans “claim” to be Christians, yet only 20% of that 79% regularly attend church. I guess some people look at going to church as a bother—an unnecessary burden to be avoided whenever possible—a perfectly good hour or so wasted in order to keep a wife or a preacher or a parent off their backs. Others see it as sort of like punching a spiritual clock or earning brownie points with their Maker.
   But to someone … who understands church and what it means and what it's really all about … going to church can be the most spiritually fulfilling and inspiring thing you do all week.
   The Book of Acts tells the story of how the church got started. Fifty days after Jesus rose from the dead, he sent the Holy Spirit to empower His disciples. They went out and began preaching about the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus—the Good News. Millions of people listened, thousands believed. Then at the end of Acts 2 (41-47) we find this short snapshot of what life was like in the early church:
   "41Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day — about 3,000 in all.
   42All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
   43A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — 47all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved."
   Could we pause and intently look at this moving passage? If we’d take the time to meditate on it for a few minutes, I think we'd finally begin to realize the real purpose of the church and why we meet here together every week. Looking at the example of this very first group of Christians reveals five reasons why the church exists and why you should be a part of it. The first thing that church brings into our lives is membership.
   1 - MEMBERSHIP - In other words, the church gives us a place to belong. The passage we read in Acts 2:42 is absolutely flooded with fellowship. The Bible says, "All the believers devoted themselves... to fellowship, and to sharing in meals...and all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had." Jesus gave these new believers a sense of community, a sense of belonging, a sense of togetherness at a level that you cannot find anywhere else in the world.
   All of us need a place to belong. All of us need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. All of us need to experience family and fellowship. Vance Packard calls America "a nation of strangers”, and studies show that 4 out of 10 people experience feeling of intense loneliness. Our American culture produces people who more closely identify with characters on a weekly TV series than with their next-door neighbors. Everywhere you look, there are signs that people are hungering for fellowship, community, and a sense of family. Beer commercials don't sell beer; they sell fellowship. Advertisers don't portray someone drinking alone; it's always in the context of enjoying each other's company. People long to be connected with other people.
   There are many analogies for a Christian disconnected from a church: a football player without a team; a soldier without a platoon; a tuba player without an orchestra; a sheep without a flock. But the most understandable and biblical pictures is that of a child without a family.
   That family is the church. God does not want his children growing up in isolation from each other, so he created a spiritual family on earth for us. A Christian without a church family is an orphan.
   This fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in V formation, you might be interested in knowing what science has discovered about why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying distance than if each bird flew on its own. Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are traveling on the thrust on one another.
   Also, when a goose gets sick or wounded and falls out of formation, two other geese follow him to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is either able to fly, or until he is dead, and then they launch out to catch up with their group. Jesus gave us the church so that we could do the same for one another: support each other and stand by each other when we're down and out.
   Secondly, church gives us an opportunity to magnify the God who made us.
   ll - MAGNIFICATION - Going back to Acts 2:46-47, one translation says, "They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity, all the while praising God."
   In case no one has ever told you this, it's not all about you. It's about Jesus. Church gives us an opportunity to worship God the Father and his Son Jesus, though the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, I've said more times than I can count that worship is far more than what goes on in a brick building for an hour or two on Sunday mornings; worship (Christianity) is a way of life. But the truth is that most of us don't worship God on our own.
   Life is busy and hectic, and we're so easily distracted. Everything we do in life should be some form of worship, but usually it's not. Church gives us about one hour a week of focused worship and attention on Jesus Christ. I've always liked how David described worship in Psalm 34:3. He said, "Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!"
   Do you know what it means to magnify something? When I was a kid, my dad bought us a telescope for one of our birthdays one year. I remember taking it out in the back yard and my daddy steadied it as I climbed up on a small stool to peer through the little lens. That telescope magnified the moon! In other words, it made the moon bigger to me as I gazed in awe at its radiance, its craters and majestic mountains.
   The same thing happens when we magnify, or worship, God. He becomes bigger in our hearts and lives as we stand in awe of his indescribable beauty, his inexpressible splendor and incomprehensible wonder.
   If you let yourself be truly immersed in worship, no matter what style of worship service you prefer, you will feel God's presence in this place, and it will stay with you.
   Third, church helps lead us to spiritual maturity.
   lll — MATURITY - Jumping back to Acts 2:42 again, the Bible says, "All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to prayer." In other words, they were committed to learning more about Jesus, who was the focus of the apostles' teaching, and growing to become more like him.
   Let me explain something that I don't think a lot of preachers say: We don't study the Bible so that we can sound spiritually smart when talking to other people about the Lord, His people or His Church. We study the Bible so that, through it, the Holy Spirit can change us and make us more like Christ. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." God want to develop in you the kind of character described in the beatitudes of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) and Paul's great love chapter (1 Corinthians 13).
  The Holy Spirit uses a variety of methods to lead us into Christ-likeness. He often uses the circumstances of life — trials and tragedies — to shape our character. He uses worship — as Emerson once noted, “It behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.” He also uses other people — “fellowshipping with people who are more spiritually mature than we are helps us to grow.” He definitely uses prayer — “the more time you spend talking with God, the more you start to sound like him yourself.”
   But I still believe the tool he uses more than any other is God's Word. In fact, the Bible calls the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit. As Rick Warren puts it, "The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to make you more like the Son of God."
   When you come to church — when you get involved into the fellowship of other spiritually growing people — and when you hear the Word of God being preached, it teaches you what it really means to be like Jesus, it challenges you to follow in His steps, and hopefully it inspires you and equips you to be able to do it. Church helps us grow to spiritual maturity.
   Fourth, going to church prepares you for ministry.
 lV — MINISTRY - Look at what else the church was doing in Acts 2:43-45 "A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders ... They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need."
   While the apostles were out healing the sick, blind and crippled, other Christians were helping the poor and looking out for one another. This points us to another great reason the church exists and you should be a part of it — ministry.
   You were put on earth to make a contribution. You weren't created to stand on the street corner looking for a hand out. You weren’t created just to consume resources — to eat, drink, take up space or keep a pew warm. God designed you to make a difference in other people’s lives with your life. While many best-selling books offer advice on how to get the most out of life, that's not why God made you. You were created to add to life on earth. God wants you to give something back. None of us were created to “TAKE”. We were created to “GIVE.”
   The Bible says in Ephesians 2:10 "God has made us what we are. In Christ Jesus, God made us to do good works, which God planned in advance for us to live our lives doing." These "good works" are your ministry. God has a ministry for each and every one of you and the best place to discover and start fulfilling your ministry is in his church.
   Unlike the apostles, we can't all go around healing the sick. We don't all have the resources to sell some property and give to the poor. But we all have special gifts, abilities, experiences and interests that God has given us for ministry.
   If you love to cook, you can make meals for shut-ins. If you've got a heart for kids, you were probably made for children's ministry. Who better to help a recovering alcoholic than someone who fought that demon and found freedom? If you've been through the tragedy of divorce, God can use you to comfort others who are experiencing that same heartbreak. The possibilities are limitless. Unfortunately, so are the excuses.
   If you've been saved and you're not involved in any service or ministry, what excuses are you using?
   Moses had a stuttering problem and was not a great speaker; Jonah ran from God and was swallowed by a whale; Jacob was a liar and insecure; Noah got drunk; Joseph was abused; Samson had long hair and was a womanizer; Elijah was suicidal; Isaiah preached naked; Job went bankrupt; Jeremiah was depressed, Rahab was a prostitute; Naomi was a widow, David had an affair and had a son by another man’s wife and was a murderer; Leah was ugly; Jeremiah was depressed, a lot; Solomon was rich in wisdom, but poor in lifestyle; John the Baptist, was just plain poor; Isaac was a daydreamer; Zaccheus was too small; Timothy was too young; Abraham was too old; Lazarus was dead; Sara was barren; Naomi was a widow; Gideon was afraid and doubted, so did Thomas and Sara; the Samaritan woman had five failed marriages, the Disciples fell asleep while Jesus was praying; Martha worried about everything; Mary Magdalene was promiscuous and was divorced several times; Timothy had an ulcer and was timid; Peter denied Christ 3 times! and lacked self control; James and John were self righteous; Paul was too religious and had a short fuse, well, so did Peter and Moses . . . Actually lots of people did — and Yet, God used each of them in his service … AND He'll use you, too, if you’ll let him.
   Finally, being a part of the church helps you to understand and carry out your life's mission.
   V — MISSION - Returning to Acts 2:47 one last time, the Bible says, "And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.” The church's mission is the same as Christ's mission was — to seek and save the lost. When you get saved, Jesus adds you to his church and, therefore, his mission becomes your mission.
   In church, we all have the same mission: to share the Good News of Jesus and his saving grace with a bent and broken world. You might fulfill your mission by sharing your testimony — the story of how you came to Jesus and what he's done in your life. You might carry out your mission by telling people the Good News — explaining the sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection of Christ and what that means to the world. Or maybe you will accomplish your mission by simply inviting people to church and letting them hear the Good News there.
   In Acts 2, the church grew from 120 to 3,000 in just one day. By Acts 4, that number had risen to 5,000 and, by Acts 6 there were too many to count — all because they knew they had a mission and they set out to get it done.
   Is anyone going to be in heaven because of you? Will anyone in heaven be able to say to you, "I want to thank you. I'm here because you cared enough to share the Good News with me." Imagine the joy of greeting people in heaven whom you helped get there. The eternal salvation of a single soul is more important than anything else you will ever achieve in life.
   I hope that I've given you enough reasons to get up and go to church next Sunday! The truth is church isn't just something you attend; the church is something you become. When you understand what it means to not just go to church, but BE the church, you discover your life's true purpose — you were created to be a member of God’s family, to magnify His glory, to mature in His image, to be a minister of His mercy, and a missionary of His grace.
   Maybe you've been out of church for a while and you want to get back into it. Maybe you've been coming to church your whole life and you've missed what it's really all about. Or maybe you've never been born again into God's eternal family. In any case, this invitation is for you. You can come to the front and dedicate or re-dedicate yourself to Christ and his church or you can talk to me privately and we'll figure out the next step together.

September 9,2018     The Destruction Of Spiritual Fortresses

   Our passage for today is found in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (NLT) — 3We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 6And after you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient.
   The title of our lesson today is “The Destruction of Spiritual Forces.” There is a spiritual battle going on in each of our lives. The principal battlefield where this fierce conflict is being waged is in the mind of every man, woman and child on the face of this earth. These battles are not fought with guns and bombs or by combat soldiers on the battlefields of this world; they are fought in the minds of the people. The mind is the oldest, most common battlefield known to the human race. Ever since God provided Adam and Eve clear instructions on how to live joyful, successful lives, a fierce battle has been raging over who will control man's thinking, God or Satan.
   The first objective of the spiritual warrior is to capture his mind for God … and that is what I want to help you do today. I want to help you capture your mind for God.
   God wants us to fully know Him and to tear down anything that holds us and others back from fully knowing Him. Old patterns of thinking and behavior keep us from right thinking and from right doing … so that we are not actively involved in the ministry of God as He would have us to be.
   Do you have beliefs, thoughts or actions that lessen or weaken your service to God? Do things, people, or situations cause you anxiety or frustration? Are you hindered in your personal prayer life and in the comprehension of your Bible reading? If so you need to listen intently to the Bible’s description of how to obtain victory through spiritual battle. Here God teaches how to tear down debilitating old habits and thought patterns that assault and frustrate or baffle us when we attempt to move closer to God. May we learn what the weapons of our warfare can accomplish and put them into obedient service for the eternal glory of God.
   I. A SPIRITUAL BATTLE
   A distinction is drawn between existence in this world and living for this world. People wanted to judge Paul as if all his action and abilities were focused on himself and his place in this life. But that was not the case, his energies and interests were focused on Christ, not himself. The world was (and still is) focused on people who were waging a fleshly fight, but we are informed in verse 3 that it is impossible to win a spiritual battle with fleshly ability or weapons. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.”
   The Corinthians were being lead by fleshly thinking and judged Paul’s ministry by outward appearances. They lived and evaluated things according to the flesh … not according to the Spirit, so, the sad part of this is that they (as with many people today) completely missed the power of the Spirit that was available to them.
   You see, Paul followed a different direction in life. He may have lived in a fleshy body like everyone else and was subject to its laws and limitation that are common to all human flesh, but (just like us) he could not let go of his old way of living until he came to truly know Christ and wholeheartedly allowed Jesus to direct his life. Though Paul lived in a body of flesh, he would not walk after the pattern of the flesh or according to the natural man. Paul walked in the Spirit depending on God in everything.
   The follower of Christ cannot allow his/her conduct to be controlled by the environment in which they live … considerations of expediency and self-seeking … which are characteristic of their lost condition when they walk according to the flesh or in the way of the world.
   You see … Paul’s strength was not found in the flesh. He refused to develop and use the fleshly weapons on which natural man depends. Paul’s weapons were spiritual.
   He knew how to wage spiritual war. The term war (στρατος) is literally “lead an army.” The Apostle Paul states that though he does not fight according to the flesh, he admits that he leads a spiritual army to war. This war was not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:10). His foes were the devil and his demonic agents. He warred against the powers of darkness. Therefore, Paul used spiritual weapons. You cannot win spiritual battles with bows and arrows and spears. Just like Paul, we too must put on the full armor of God and fight with all the spiritual weapons provided in that armor. Let me remind you again, our Christian life is not merely a walk in the park … but it’s also a warfare (1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2: 3f, 4:7; 2 Corinthians 6:7).
  II. SPIRITUAL WEAPONS FOR DESTROYING FORTRESSES
   The thought of spiritual war is more fully developed in verse 4. “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction (tearing down) of fortresses (strongholds).”
   Anyone can use fleshly weapons … but few in Christian circles can use spiritual weapons effectively. A Christian who engages in warfare must have the weapons with which to fight. The armor of the Christian warrior is given in Ephesians 6:11-18. “11Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
   13Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.15For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
   18Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.”
   That is God’s spiritual armor. The armor of King Saul, though splendid in the eyes of men, cannot overcome the spiritual giants who come against us. These are not flesh and blood foes and attempting to withstand them with fleshly weapons makes them laugh in our faces.
   No, we need divinely powerful weapons. We need weapons that are made mighty by God. Since pride places us in the control of Satan, one of the main weapons Paul used was an attitude of humility. Spiritual weapons like the Word of God, prayer, love, peace, the Cross, the sinless life of Christ, the shed blood of the cross, obedience, surrender to His Lordship, the power of resurrection and Christ’s ascension into heaven are the weapons that defeat the enemy. As Jesus said in John 8:32, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
   Only spiritual weapons are divinely empowered for over throwing the fortresses of evil. There is a temptation to meet a challenge of one who is in the flesh, who is under the sway of the evil one, with fleshly weapons of human wisdom and strength but that is not where true victory lies.
   A “stronghold” is an entrenched pattern of though, ideology, value or behavior. It is a mind-set that causes us to accept “unchangeable” situations that we know are contrary to the will of God. [Stronghold: NT:3794, ochuroma (okh-oó-rō-mah); from ochuróō remote derivative of NT:2192 (meaning to fortify, through the idea of holding safely); a castle (figuratively, argument)] So then, a stronghold is something we have fortified or built up in our lives and now think we can’t remove it. It’s something we have fortified or built up in our lives that we think we can’t live without. Some strongholds are good: those built up by the Word of God are good, but, those built up against the Word are very harmful and destructive in our lives.
   Developing a stronghold … good or bad …is like planting a tree. While it is still small it is easy to bend and mold, but that tree gets to be 25-30 years old it can’t be bent, the roots are deep and it becomes a major project to move.
   One of the most basic of principles taught in the Bible is that of sowing and reaping found in Galatians 6:7-8. “7Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.” It goes like this: sow an action, reap a habit. It has been shown to take about 21 days to tear down one habit and start another.
   We start with one cigarette, one drink, one cuss, and then it leads to another, and another. Eventually we have a full-blown stronghold with all the repercussions that come along with them! Like some cancers, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes. We did this to ourselves folks and we cannot … we dare not … blame the devil for it.
   This verse promises that those who find and learn how to use God’s spiritual weapons in the power of God’s Holy Spirit are empowered by God Himself for the destruction of strongholds in their life, in the life of their loved ones, in their church and in their community in which they battle. When engaging the enemy with these weapons the church is assured of victory. The world scorns these weapons … wanting to provoke you to use fleshly weapons and we too often turn to human methods and are eventually overcome by demonic forces.
   When Joshua and his army marched around Jericho for a week, the spectators thought they had gone mad. But the weapon of obedience to God’s Word brought down the high walls and the enemy was conquered (Joshua 6:1-20). These spiritually powerful weapons are the ones the powers of darkness fiercely fight against and keep us from knowing, remembering and using because they are the only weapons by which they and their work can be torn down!
   So, we all have some negative strongholds in our lives, don’t we?? … and we need to GET RID of them … but it won’t be easy. You may have some hard, difficult work in front of you. Tearing down fortresses in your life must often be done the way they were erected, brick by brick, or thought by thought. Can God deliver you? YES HE CAN!!, but you did this to yourself over time and it will usually takes time for us to get to the point of deliverance, so we must go through a continuous process to get rid of all that stuff and get ourselves to that point. So, how do we get to that point??
   III. THE SPIRITUAL STRONGHOLD OF OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST
   Verse five demonstrates the destructive and constructive capacity of God’s divinely empowered weapons. “We are destroying reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
   The mind of man is compared here to an enemy's stronghold or fortress. Many evil and negative thoughts are housed in this fortress and need to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ. These reasonings are walls of resistance build up by worldly, fleshly and demonic influences in our minds and in the minds of others around us, and like the walls of Jericho must be pulled down from the proud hold over our way or our pattern of thinking. Remember what we talked about several weeks ago?? … “If you lay down with dogs you’ll eventually get up with fleas.”
   God’s spiritual weapons can destroy reasonings and things that stand against the knowledge of God. The indication is that there are reckonings, reasonings, speculations or thoughts that invade and lay siege to the mind. The Bible treats them as fortresses or strongholds that need to be destroyed. These strong mental attitudes or patterns rise like a fortress filled with enemy soldiers in our minds.
   What are those mental fortresses? These strongholds are more precisely defined as belonging to the will and intellect of man. They are reasonings within man that are opposed to the truth of God’s Word. The exalted proud mind, both conscious and subconscious, and the stone harden selfish will are the fountain of human actions as they determine our conduct. Attitudes patterns and thought patterns can be strongholds that effect our expectations and philosophies of all we do or don’t do. The proud human mind which sees the Cross of Christ as foolishness in 1 Corinthians1:18 is an example and obedience to Christ as a waste of time are strongholds. “18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”
   We need to understand that there are many more deceived reasonings within each of our minds where Satan has built up his fortress within our way of thinking. By building these strongholds over our way of thinking, he controls our mind and if he controls our mind, then he controls us … in everything.
   The relationship between a thought and an act is expressed in this poem:
   Sow a thought, reap a word;
   Sow a word, reap an act;
   Sow an act, reap a habit;
   Sow a habit, reap a destiny.
   Please understand this today — EVERYTHING … I mean every single thing in our lives begins with a thought. Since our thoughts are subject to sin, they too should be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. How are you doing in your thought life?? Is it fully in line with the Word of God?
   Christian warfare is aimed at pulling down these proud reasonings, these rationalizations of self-centered man. These proud fortresses within each of us stand against our knowledge and the truth of God. These strongholds that we have believed and professed to be wise have been repeatedly fortified by the lies of Satan. Little by little we have exchanged the truth of God for the lies of the devil (Rom. 1:18-25).
   For us to break free from sinful thoughts, God must have first place in our life and in our manner of thinking. Fellowship with God is the best deterrent for wrong and deceived thinking and impure thoughts. We must fill our minds with Truth, instead of the vain or eternally empty thinking of the way of the flesh or of way the world. The acceptance of the way of the world has caused billions of people to base their life on the thinking that their own way for themselves, for life, is better than God's way. We must firmly reject these lies and transform our way of thinking by receiving and meditating on the truth, meditating on the Word of God. If the devil can get control of our minds, he has the control room of our lives. You see, backsliding doesn’t begin by our actions … it begins in our minds with the wrong thinking.
   So, God’s spiritual weapons cast down imaginations, or carnal reasonings of the minds of natural men against God, His providences, and purposes and the methods of salvation and every truth of the Gospel. These are all disproved, silenced, and confounded, by the preaching of the Word, which though supposed foolishness and weakness, becomes wiser and stronger than men by God; and with which the wisdom of the wise is destroyed, and the understanding of the intelligent is brought to nothing. Every high opinion that exalts itself against the knowledge of God; every proud thought of the heart, every great swelling word of conceit, every arrogant look, and all the haughtiness of men, that have become a high towering of fortified reasonings and arguments advanced against the Gospel of Christ (or the knowledge of God), and into a better knowledge of Him can be torn down.
   Some days MY COMPUTER helps me fly like an eagle. Other times, it bogs me down like a hippopotamus. On "eagle days" I'm grateful for my computer. But there are those hippo times when I regret the day I bought one.
   A pastor tells this story — “A while back I had to contend with a man-made virus that invaded my computer. What bothers me most is that viruses are created maliciously. Bright people who live with a darkness in their lives want to make other people miserable. What's worse, I permitted the virus to enter my machine by opening what I thought was an innocent e-mail.”
   You see, sin resembles a computer virus. Satan wants to destroy Christians by infecting their minds. The Bible urges believers in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to bring "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
   Just as we let a virus into our computers, we also let darkness into our lives when we open ourselves unthinkingly to the godless messages that permeate our culture. We let down our guard and hardly notice the sin that infects our minds.
   But by admitting our sinfulness, reading God's Word, and praying, we can build a firewall, or barrier, to safeguard our minds. With the help of the Spirit, we'll keep our minds from becoming unwitting hosts for the unwanted. You need to guard your thoughts as you would your wallet.
   Heavenly Father, I’m often careless with what I allow to enter my mind and exit my mouth. By Your Spirit please help me to guard my mind and my words. By Your grace, keep me from situations that wage war on my thought life so that my thoughts, my words and my actions will be for Your honor and glory. Thank You!! Amen.
   Not only can we pull down these centers of opposition against divine truth by these spiritually powerful weapons, we can also use them to capture or subdue every thought to the obedience of Christ. After storming and pulling down and destroying these lofty high towers, we can take possession of prisoners. These rebellious thoughts, preconceptions, and intentions are made captives and brought into obedience to Christ. The obedience of Christ is the only stronghold that the enemy cannot enter into or conquer … therefore we so desperately need the fortress of obedience to Christ in our life.
   Oh, that rebellion in our heart and mind might be quelled and that God’s divine and sovereign will might reign in its place! Paul recognized that we have to live in the world with its trouble and "in the flesh" with its frailties. But the real battle is spiritual. Understand this today … Satan's stronghold over our lives is our minds … and NOTHING else!!! He is ever seeking to capture our thoughts. God has not left us to the whims of the flesh or to Satan. We have been given the weapons we need to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Obedience is possible because of what Christ has already done. Because the victory was (and still is) won on the Cross, we have the right to evict thoughts that come from the world, the flesh, and the devil.
   IV. THE SPIRITUAL VICTORY FOUND IN COMPLETE OBEDIENCE
   How do you know if you have torn down Satan’s strongholds in your life and are fortifying your life in obedience to Christ. Verse six explains the action of complete obedience. “6And after you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient.”
   Once you have torn down known strongholds in your life, taken your will and thoughts captive for Christ and no longer running from God’s discipline, you become ready to punish all that is not of Christ in your life. There are always places in our life that as we grow in God’s truth we discover are still not in line with His Word. When these raise their ugly heads we relentlessly jump on them because we realize what would happen if they again gained a beach-head in our life.
   Bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; or taking captive our whole understanding; means our mind is so saturated with divine light, that it clearly sees Christ alone as the One True Savior, and so become obedient to Him as Lord. Complete obedience means we look to Him alone for life and salvation, and completely rely upon Him in ALL things. We become truly willing to be saved by Him in His own way, we receive and embrace all His truths and doctrines with faith and love, and we obey them from the heart. It means we cheerfully and willingly submit to all His commands and directions so that we, by the grace of God, are demolishing all the enemy’s strong holds and reasonings. Our heart and mind have been captivated by Him and His love for us so that we want no other master of our soul than Him alone. Complete obedience means that we will not tolerate disobedience in our life.
   We read in Hosea 10:12 “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till He come and rain righteousness upon you.” So, seek the Lord till He comes and rains righteousness down on us.
   It is All About the Seed we plant (Luke 8:11). The soil is neutral; it will grow whatever seed you allow to be planted there. If you search the scriptures about the type of life you want to have, the kind of traits you want in your character, the type of relationships you want in your life … pray those verses to God, meditate on them and chew them over and over in your mind. If thoughts come in contrary to them, cast them out! Get rid of them, they do not belong in your life. Do not let them take root.
   You have by God’s grace and strength broken up the fallow ground. This ground will not be so hard where seed cannot not take root nor is it shallow where it cannot gain root. Neither will it have weeds to choke out the good seed if we keep it tended with diligence and repentance and obedience. Yank out those weeds by the roots while they are small and keep yourself growing in the right direction.
   We all need to understand that strongholds are self-inflicted bonds that we placed on ourselves and they need to be removed one by one. Just as it takes time to build strongholds, they need time to come down. It takes 21 days to make a habit, but in 21 days we can replace it with a new, God glorifying lifestyle, but we need to remember that we have to want to change. God will not change us if we are not willing to allow Him to change us … He will not go against our will.
   Is anything in your mind trying to high-jack God’s place? Is anything keeping you from knowing God more fully, from following Him more closely, from serving Him more faithfully? If so it is a stronghold and must come down and God has given us the weapons to tear them down and destroy them. What thoughts come up against you when you attempt to apply yourself to Christian teachings? If your thinking is not consistent with obedience to Christ, you are being deceived by false teachers, pride or sin. For if you were totally and completely in Christ’s you would cast out anything in your life not of Him. Tear down the strongholds and open your life more fully to being obedient to Christ. Fight the good fight of faith with divinely empowered weapons with Christ as your Commander in Chief.
   In 2 Timothy 4:7-8 the Apostle Paul made some closing comments on his life. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord Himself, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
   I don’t care what anybody says … there is NO WAY you can love God and not obey Him. If you think you love Jesus and yet you do not obey His Word, Satan has built a stronghold in your mind and heart (John 15). Come today as we close in song… the alter is open … and lay hold of the grace you need to fight the spiritual fight of faith in and for the Lord Jesus Christ.

September 2,2018     The Spiritual Warrior's Divine Armor (Part 2)

   Our opening passages for today are found in Ephesians 6: 16-18 (NLT) — 16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
   18Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
   Isaiah 59:15b-17 (NLT) —15Yes, truth is gone, and anyone who renounces evil is attacked.
   The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. 16He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm, and his justice sustained him. 17 He put on righteousness as his body armor and placed the helmet of salvation on his head. He clothed himself with a robe of vengeance and wrapped himself in a cloak of divine passion.
   2 Samuel 22:31-43 (NLT) — 31“God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. 32For who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock? 33God is my strong fortress, and he makes my way perfect. 34He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. 35He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. 36You have given me your shield of victory; your help has made me great. 37You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.
   38“I chased my enemies and destroyed them; I did not stop until they were conquered. 39I consumed them; I struck them down so they did not get up; they fell beneath my feet. 40You have armed me with strength for the battle; you have subdued my enemies under my feet. 41You placed my foot on their necks. I have destroyed all who hated me. 42They looked for help, but no one came to their rescue. They even cried to the Lord, but he refused to answer. 43I ground them as fine as the dust of the earth; I trampled them in the gutter like dirt.
   A young football coach was hired as a scout for his college. Before his first assignment, he said, “Coach, what kind of player are you looking for?
   The coach said, “Well, there is the kind of guy who when you knock him down, just stays down.”
   “We don’t want him do we Coach?”
   “No. Then there is the kind of guy who, when you knock him down, gets up. But if you knock him down the second time, he just stays down.”
   “We don’t want him either, do we, Coach?”
   “No, we sure don’t. But there is the kind of guy who, when you knock him down, gets up; knock him down, and he gets up; knock him down, and he gets up; knock him down again, and he just keeps getting up every time.”
   “That’s the guy we want; right, Coach?”
   “No, we don’t want him, either. What I want you to do is find the guy who is knocking all the other guys down. That’s the guy I want.”
   Can we say amen to that. I’m glad God enables us by His grace to keep getting up and starting over every time Satan knocks us down, aren’t you?
   But, you know what I would like? I think it would be better if we could avoid being knocked down in the first place. Because, you see, if we could avoid falling, we wouldn’t have to keep getting up … and starting over again and again.
   Christ has forged an armor that renders its wearer perfectly safe against all spiritual warfare hurled against us. Christ used it when He was led out into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. It was thoroughly tested on Christ … so that all who put it on would prevail against the gates of hell. The Lord holds this promise out to all who will put on the armor of God.
   Emperor Napoleon once went to a very skillful workman, and inquired of him if he could make a bullet-proof jacket or under garment, one that he himself would feel safe to wear as a protection against bullets.
   The workman assured him he could make just such a garment; one he would feel entirely safe to wear himself. The Emperor engaged him to make the article, requesting him to take time, and see that it was bullet-proof.
   The workman took much time and pains in its construction. The jacket was finished, and the Emperor was notified that it was ready for him. Napoleon, after carefully examining it, asked the maker if he still felt sure a bullet could not pierce it. The workman said he was sure no bullet could penetrate it; that he himself would feel entirely safe with it on in a shower of bullets. The Emperor asked him to put it on, that he might examine it more fully. The maker put the jacket on himself, that the Emperor might see how finely it fitted and protected the body.
   After a careful examination of its make-up and apparent safety, Napoleon stepped back a few feet, and drew his pistol on the man, who cried out: "Don’t try it on me!"
   But the Emperor said: "You told me it was perfectly safe," and fired. The armor proved itself bullet-proof.
   Christ has made an armor that renders its wearer perfectly safe against all spiritual warfare hurled against us. Christ used it. He was led out into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. For forty days and nights Satan tried to pierce this armor, but all his attacks were repelled by it. It could not be penetrated. It was thoroughly tested on Christ and He proved that all who put it on might feel safe.
   At the start of his/her Christian journey, each soldier who has enlisted in the Army of God is told, commanded, ordered in Ephesians 6:11 by our Commander in Chief, the Lord God Himself, to "Therefore [that’s you and me], put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil."
   This armor covers the Christian’s loins, his breast, his feet, and is a complete shield to his whole being against any temptation or trial he may encounter. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Christ was "tempted in all points … just like we are … yet He was without sin."
   Let me say to all who feel a little timid about the Christian’s armor … it has been tested by our "Captain" and thousands of his soldiers, and those who properly wear it find it un-pierced by our enemy’s bullets.
   In verses 16 and 17 we find the fourth, fifth, and sixth pieces of God’s armor with which we need to be equipped in order to defeat the enemy. “16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
   These next three pieces of spiritual armor are distinguished from the first three. The verb type for putting the piece of armor on is consistent with the first three pieces and varied with the last three. The wording “in all these things” or “in addition to all these things” (Ephesians 6:16) is an indication that “faith” is necessary with all pieces of the Christian’s armor.
   The fourth piece of God’s divine armor with which we need to be equipped is:
   I. THE SHIELD OF FAITH
   I could not help but notice what the Bible says about this particular piece of armor. The Bible has told us twice to “put on the WHOLE ARMOR of GOD” Now, in verse 16 Paul informs us that this particular piece of armor, is most important because he says, ‘above all’ or “In addition to”, take up, or hold up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
   The roman shield referred to (èõñåüv) is a large four-and-a-half feet long by two-and-and-a-half feet wide rectangular shield. [Thureos is derived from the Greek word thura, which means “door” indicating its large size.] It was constructed of wood and edged with iron. The shield was covered on the outside with either metal or layers of leather. The metal covering deflected arrows and the layers of treated leather were often soaked in water so it would extinguish the fiery pitch on the arrows. The large size provided considerable protection for the body and fulfilled a strategic role by becoming a giant portable wall. Interlocking hooks were attached to the sides which could be fastened together to form a wall that would help keep the line from breaking in an attack or forcing the enemy back in a uniformed advance.
   In our fight of faith, we also need to unite our self in faith against the fiery attacks of the adversary (Philippians 1:27). When the church unites in faith even the gates of hell cannot stand against it and our faith, especially when banded together with other believers, can take over the territory of the enemy (Matthew 16:16-19).
   One of the most dangerous arms of ancient combat was arrows. These deadly projectiles were made even deadlier when tar or some other combustible material was attached to their point. These arrows could not only wound their target, but when they were ignited, they burned and caused massive disruption.
   Satan often wars against Christ, His church, and its members by firing flaming arrows of malignancy. These fiery arrows are shot at the heart, mind, and body of the believers. They come to us as thoughts, situations, and desires to sin. Satan shoots at God’s children with the flaming missiles of lies, unbelief, blasphemies, hates, doubts, fears, worries, discouragements, pride, conceits, envy, anger, covetousness, despair, distrust, sensualities, and selfishness … just to name a few. The bombarding with these flaming projectiles should awaken us to the scheming craftiness of our adversary’s nature and methods. He desires not only to hurt us but to preoccupy and distract us with inner and outer fiery eruptions. He plans to keep us occupied with the fires his arrows create so that we fix our attention on them … instead of Jesus Christ and the advancement of His kingdom. If we do not extinguish these burning darts by faith in Jesus Christ, they will injure and destroy not only us but also the lives around us and our ministry.
   So, what is this shield of faith? What does it mean to us? The definition of faith in this context — it’s "our absolute confidence in God, His promises, His power, and His program for our lives.” The shield against the blazing arrows is faith in Jesus Christ and His Word. 2 Samuel 22:31 affirms “As for the Lord, His way is blameless. The Word of the Lord is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.”
   God is the object of our faith. He is our shield. Trusting in the God of sovereignty, goodness, and faithfulness is the way the believer appropriates His shield. The true definition of FAITH (pistis) is trusting completely, whole heartedly and unconditionally in God and His Word. You must understand that this faith is confidence in God and His Word because it is not faith that protects us … but God … because it is our obedience to His Word that protects us.
   How did Jesus extinguish the fiery missiles of the father of lies? He answered each shot with the Word of God … “It is written” (Matthew 4:1-11). When a provocative thought, a hot accusation or a flaming temptation enters our lives … or even our thoughts … we must come against it with the Word of God. Every time you truly read the Word, listen to a sermon, study the Bible, or memorize a Scripture you fortify your shield of faith because Romans 10:17 tells us that “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.”
   Here’s a question to ponder — How can a person have ANY faith if they’re not coming to church, reading and studying their Bible, attending a Bible study class or building relationships with true Christian friends. A TRUE Christian should be saturating themselves in God’s Word in any way they can get it.
   Now, for our Christian growth, God allows some arrows to test us so that our faith in Him and His Word might increase. When those blazing missiles come, have faith in God and demonstrate that faith by your obedience to His Word and He will extinguish all the arrows from the enemy in His time.
   In addition to the shield of faith there is another vital piece of armor which we need in our fight against Satan.
   The fifth piece of God’s divine armor with which we need to be equipped is:
   II. THE HELMET OF SALVATION
   Next in vs 17, we are commanded to take up our helmet. “And take up the helmet of salvation.”
   If the shield was being used properly the enemy would first attack the head. The Roman helmet was made of solid metal or of leather with metal reinforcements that would help protect the head from arrows and sword blows. Blows to the head are deadly without a protective helmet properly in place. Just as a soldier is foolish not to protect such a vital and vulnerable area, so is the spiritual warrior.
   Those who have enlisted in the kingdom of God are to take up the helmet of salvation. Well, how do you do that? You do that by taking on the mind of Christ, becoming like-minded with Him, in order to renew your mind … in order to change all that stinkin thinkin.
   This helmet saves us from our vain manner of thinking. Believers receive the mind of Christ when they receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life (1 Corinthians 2:16). Yet the actual experiencing of the mind of Christ only occurs when, by the mercy of God, we surrender our intellectual processing of thought to Him and walk in the will of the Head of the church. Through surrender to Christ our mind not only is guarded from evil but our mind is also transformed so that we can prove that the will of God is good, acceptable and perfect. As Paul said in Romans 12:1-2 “I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, (which is) your spiritual service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the will of God, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
   Living life by the mind of Christ enables us to perceive, comprehend, and discern the will of God in the circumstances of our daily life. It enables to understand, learn, and apply the Word of God to our lives. It renews us so that the voice of the Holy Spirit is clearer and so that we can walk in agreement with Him (Psalms 119:105).
   If we study, learn, and practice the principles of Scripture, we are not deceived nor detoured by the enemy. The devil casts his missiles of thoughts at our mind in order to stimulate fleshly, worldly or immoral thoughts and capture our mind with his lies. If we accept his ideas and priorities he can side track and blind-side our lives. The believer though, that walks in daily submission to the will of God, guards his thoughts by taking them captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
   Another reason we firmly put the helmet in place is that it brings security of our eternal salvation. Our mind needs divine protection so that we don’t doubt the salvation that we freely received by the grace of God is real and eternal (Romans 8:35-39). We need to understand that Satan fills our heads with so much garbage that we sometimes question and doubt our own salvation, don’t we? If we walk in debilitating doubt we cannot walk in faith … and our faith is the only thing we have in our lives that will give us our victory over the world (1 John 5:4).
   A times Christians even think after falling into temptation and sin that they don’t deserve their salvation, and this is true, but not the complete truth. We are not saved because we deserve it. We are saved because we placed our faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the Cross and, because by grace, God justifies us. And what’s the definition of justification? “Just as if nothing ever happened!!”
   God transferred us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Since we did not earn it, we cannot un-earn it. Salvation is a gift from God … not the reward of works because we have been made positionally righteous before God. Our conditional unrighteousness cost us fellowship and sanctification, not salvation. We presently have eternal salvation … not a “chance” at eternal salvation (John 10:27-29). 1 John 5:13 says “These things have I written unto you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
   Take up the helmet of salvation in Christ Jesus. Believe His Word that declares that if you have been saved, you have been eternally, irrevocably saved. Protect and sanctify your mind by systematic studying, meditating and memorizing the Word. When you start learning and putting into practice what you’ve learned … the peace that passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Philippians 4:6-9).
   The soldier’s thinking ability was the most important factor in determining his victory or defeat. He must protect his mind and its thoughts, keeping all thoughts in agreement with his Leader, the Lord Jesus Christ
   Following (1) the belt of truth, (2) the breastplate of righteousness, (3) the shoes of peace, (4) the shield of faith, and (5) the helmet of salvation there is one more essential piece of armor we need in spiritual warfare.
   The sixth piece of God’s divine armor with which we need to be equipped is:
   III. THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
   If you want to win spiritual battles, you will need the next piece of equipment. Verse 17 instruct us to take up “the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.”
   The Greek word translated sword refers to near razor sharp double edged, short sword about 18 inches long (Matthew 26:47; 10:34). Roman soldiers practiced frequently with this sword because their life depended on perfecting it’s use. The fencer must become strong, quick and skilled to use this weapon intended to thrust and penetrate.
   The sword of the Spirit is both defensive and offensive and no matter what type of sword you’re using, training is needed to use it effectively. It is the only offensive weapon of the armor, but no other is necessary. There must be no doubt that the divine Word is adequate because it is without error or fault, perfect and impeccable.
   The Greek word used here for “word” is rhema and not logas. Paul is definitely referring to the written Word of God. It was the written Word that Jesus applied to defeat Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness. Three times Jesus reached into his scabbard and in a loud voice replied to Satan “it is written” and then quoted from memory a Scripture to shut down Satan’s lies (Matthew 4:1-11). If you wanna know what the sword of the spirit is, open Matthew 4 and watch Jesus do battle with the enemy. And the enemy comes and says to Jesus in Matthew 4:3, 3“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
   4But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,
   ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
   Yet on the same occasion Satan altered and misinterpreted Scripture. This practice of misusing Scripture is still used by Satan today by various groups. The Christian must know the Word and be trained in how it is to be used for it is his spiritual weapon. The better you know the Word the easier it is to detect the lies of Lucifer, reject his temptations, and win spiritual victory for yourself and others.
   Martin Luther learned to use the Word to defeat the devil and proclaimed its value in his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”
   “And tho’ this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
   We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph thro’ us.”
   The better we know and treasure the Word of God in our heart, the better we can use it as Jesus modeled for us. Though difficult, the study and memorization of Scripture is necessary for each disciple. As you study and memorize the Bible you will understand the meaning of the passage found in Hebrews 4:12 “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
   If we are reading our Bibles every day, finding verses to meet the conditions and needs in life, and claiming promises that counter our trials and temptations, the devil will become discouraged with us. He can’t do much with people who keep stabbing him with Scripture and he will eventually flee from you (James 4:7).
   As an added note, be sure to speak or read the Word out loud. Remember, Satan cannot read your thoughts. Demons will need to hear the Word from your mouth before they will understand and obey what God is commanding them to do.
   The sword of the Word of God is different than any other type of sword. A material sword is used with physical and mental power. This sword is the sword of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of God that trains us and gives us the ability to use His Word properly and effectively. The Word is taught and brought to remembrance by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Spirit resides in believers and enables us to understand and minister the Word to the world. The teacher and administrator of the Word must be the Holy Spirit and not the flesh of the old man.
   No physical or intellectual ability has anything to do with success in spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4). It is the authority and power of the Lord that sends malignant spirits running (Matthew 7:22-23). The power is the Word of God spoken in the power of His Spirit. If we do not yield and the Spirit does not control us, we will not use the Word of God as it was intended to be used. It’s the Spirit that makes the sword invincible in battle.
   Spiritual attack is an unseen reality. Satan continues to seek ways to divide, debilitate and destroy us all. All we have to do is look around us to realize there are a lot of wounded Christians in our families, churches and communities. They have perished because of being grievously wounded in the battle because they failed to put on the ‘whole armor’ of God.
   We’re involved in a spiritual battle for the souls, hearts and minds of the people we love and hold dear to our hearts. This war is a spiritual battle and will not be won by flesh and blood means.
   Jesus is the One who must defeat Satan but we can stand against our adversary in Christ. We can successfully resist him in Christ. When we put on the spiritual armor of God we are protected from the conflict against evil and the evil one. God has given us some awesome divine armor … none like it anywhere in the universe. It only remains for the believer to make proper use of what God has provided. When we do, we overcome the attack of the enemy and our victory is secure.
   Will you take hold and use what God has already given you at such an un-calculatable cost? You have God’s Armor at your disposal … will you take a stand with Christ today?

August 26,2018     The Spiritual Warrior's Divine Armor (Part 1)

   Opening passage — Colossians 3:12-17 — 12Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

   16Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

   Ephesians 6:14-15 — 13Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.
   Satan opposes believers in many ways, some of them direct and obvious and other methods are indirect and subtle. He is too deceitfully powerful and ferocious for any of us. The promise of Scripture is that in the Lord Jesus Christ we can become victors instead of victims. Through Christ we can stand up against Satan, hold our ground and resist him successfully.
   Paul employed the imagery of a soldier equipped for battle to help us understand that we are in a war. He asserts that the Christian through using the whole armor of God and the practice of unceasing prayer finds not only protection but victory in this spiritual conflict. Satan loses the battle with us when we learn to stand our ground against him in the grace and strength provided by our Savior.
   Our lesson title this morning is The Spiritual Warrior’s Devine Armor and we’re going to learn to appropriate God's ongoing protection for daily living. God's given us some armor. You need to know how to put it on and how to use it.
   Paul uses the armor to represent something that is spiritually real. To understand the reality we must look beyond the figure. So let’s examine the resources at the Christian’s disposal which insure ultimate victory if used correctly. The pieces of the Christian warrior’s armor are listed in various places but are concentrated in Ephesians 6 (13-18). By analyzing each piece we will gain a greater understanding of the armor’s purpose and usefulness.
   1st, THE BELT OF TRUTH

   The Bible has just commanded us to "Therefore, take up the full armor of God." It is an urgent command of our Commander and Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ, to all of His children. Everything you need to defeat the enemy, He is putting at your feet. You though are responsible for grasping it and wearing it. Your appropriation of your spiritual armor is a prerequisite to standing firm and fearless against demonic attack.
   Paul lived in a different day, so he’ll use the picture of a Roman soldier to depict our Spiritual Armor. If it was a Marine or a soldier it would be a certain kind of rifle, flap jacket, helmet, backpack, etc. God is drawing on what they're familiar with so they understand and remember the kind of protection necessary to stand firm.
   Today we’re going to unpack the first three pieces of our spiritual armor. These specific pieces of real spiritual armor believers must “put on” themselves.
   The first piece of spiritual armor we must put on is God’s Truth found in verse 14. “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth.”
   The first thing a Roman soldier would do when he went on duty was to put on his belt. If he was to be active in his duty station he would tuck his tunic into his belt. To gird up your loins is sort of a weird expression but what it really means is to lift up and tuck your tunic into your belt, so you’re ready for action, ready for battle.
   So, the spiritual battle gear listed first is the belt of truth. Jesus said in John 10:6 “I AM... the truth.” Soldiers in God’s army must be faithful to Him and to His truth. As children of the Light we must love and live the truth. Our lives must be free of any falseness or hypocrisy. We won’t be successful in resisting and overcoming the evil of Satan if we are hypocritical or dishonest.
   The Bible teaches that the very nano-second you truly accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior … He lives in you, therefore the Truth is in you. Yet you are not going to be able to consistently choose the way of truth if you don’t abide in the Word of truth, the Holy Scriptures (John 15:10). We read in John 17:17 where Christ prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth, Thy Word is truth”. The truth is the only authority that God will support. The Bible is the truth … period (2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18)!!! We must accept the Bible as the truth, as the only and final authority, without error as originally written.
   Satan is the promoter of lies (John 8:44), and he uses them so that we might fall under the power of his kingdom. The believer that is controlled by the Holy Spirit actively embraces Jesus and His Word of truth as His protection against the deception of the devil. We prepare our self for battle by taking hold of God’s truth and living it out in our daily life.
   The loins represent the lodging place of strong desires and longings. We gird our loins with truth so that our desires and longings, both material and sensual, are protected, cleansed, and controlled by God’s truth.
   The Roman soldier would cinch his belt in order to keep the breastplate in place and to support the back and to protect the kidneys. The belt was placed over the tunic and the ends of the tunic were tucked under it for greater mobility. The sword was also attached to the belt to keep it close to the body.
   The wide, thick leather belt was not an offensive weapon but provided support and protection. When we practice the truth daily, its support and protection cause us to love it more and more until we live with such transparent honesty that we give no place for the enemy. God’s truth keeps us from being deceived and it keeps us from deceiving our self and others. Living in the truth frees us from the destructive debilitating lies of Satan. If we do not believe his lies, we are not under his power and he does not have an open door to do damage to us or through us. Girding our self with God’s truth will not prevent our being attacked by lies or liars but will protect the believer from being destroyed by them.
   2ND, THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
   One of the most important pieces of divine armor for God’s warrior is righteousness. We’re commanded in verse 14b to “Put on the breastplate of righteousness.”
   Another essential part of a soldier’s equipment was the breastplate. It was made of metal plates, chain links or shaped metal. A full breastplate covered the torso from the neck to below the waist both front and back. It protected vital organs like the heart, the lungs and the intestines. The Jews called the stomach cavity the entrails or bowels. The entrails symbolized the emotions because of the way the stress and strains of our emotions affect the digestive organs. The heart frequently represented our affections and/or will, and was thought of as the seat of our intellect. Even the intentions and attitudes of the temperament or disposition were thought to lodge in the heart. In order to protect these vital areas of life we need to put on the breastplate of righteousness.
   On the day of our salvation, we surrendered our life to the Lord Jesus Christ. On that day God justified us by placing the righteousness, or the sinlessness, of Jesus Christ to our account. The justification of Jesus was attributed (Philippians 3:9) to us as a legal act by the Father. Positional or imputed righteousness can occur because God placed all our sins upon Christ and charged Him with them and then punished Him for them on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that “He who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is the reason God turned His back on the sin that was on His Son [and Jesus experienced being forsaken (Matthew 27:46)]. God also takes the righteousness of Christ and accounts it, or applies it to the account of repentant sinners (Romans 3:24-25; 4:25; 5:18, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 3:5). Justification is God’s act of grace when He declares the believer just by the acts and merits of Jesus Christ. Our position before the Judge of the Universe is one of acquittal in the shed blood of Jesus. Our refuge against the attacks of the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10) is that we are justified by the gift of the righteousness of Christ. This justification is an unalterable historical event based on Christ’s death for us on the cross.
   This righteousness of Christ is not only over us … it is also in us, because Jesus who IS our righteousness lives within each person who has totally surrendered to His Lordship. As we believe right, think right, behave right and live right … as we get rid of all that stinking thinking and our stupid actions … we will become more and more like Christ.
   As the righteousness of Christ is properly worn and properly experienced it produces holy living and God’s righteousness protects the spiritual warrior’s life. Even though we are positionally saints, it does not mean we are conditionally or completely sanctified (Philippians 1:6). We won’t be completely sanctified until the return of Jesus (1 John 3:2-3). In order to develop relational righteousness, sanctification or personal holiness we must win the internal war to follow God’s will and way. The battle to develop personal holiness is an intense daily fight. Satan looks for a weak area in the believer’s spiritual armor so that he might exploit it. Without this personal sanctification vital areas in the believer’s life will be vulnerable (Ephesians 4:24).
   If we have problems in the vital areas of the emotions, priorities, attitudes or actions, then we have a problem properly putting on the breastplate of righteousness. If your ambitions, decencies, loyalties, or affections are incorrect … you are vulnerable and the enemy has entrance into your life to detour, exploit, and destroy.
   The process of sanctification occurs though daily obedience to the revealed will of God for your life. God has provided the breastplate of righteousness to protect the vital areas of our spiritual life, but we are all adults right?? So that means we’re responsible to dress ourselves in the righteousness of Christ by our own desire for personal sanctification. In the Christian’s battle against enemy forces … righteousness, integrity (Proverb 28:6,18) and a pure life (Titus 2:7) are armor for keeping an enemy spear from hitting you directly in the heart of your life.
   3rd, SHOD IN THE GOSPEL OF PEACE
The third piece in verse 15 deals with the Christian warrior’s feet. “Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”
   The shoes of the Roman soldier were thick, reinforced, and had nail studded sole. The metal nail protrusions helped give the warrior greater stability and quickness of movement. The shoes covered from the middle of the leg down with wide strips of leather that securely fixed the shoes to the soles of the feet. They were fitted securely to facilitate the rapid, non-slip foot movement necessary for hand-to-hand combat.
   The ability to stand firm without slipping or falling was a great help in battle. The soldier who lost his footing could lose his life. The Christian with his feet firmly planted in the Gospel of peace will have confidence and assurance when he confronts the enemy of the abundant life. To attempt to stand against the enemy on any other ground than the Gospel of Jesus Christ is slippery footing sure to cause defeat.
   The Gospel is the way of peace with God … because it’s from God. When you receive Christ, you are united with the Prince of Peace. To walk after the way of Christ is to put on the sandals of peace. Ephesians 2:13-14a reminds us that “He is our peace.” Every true Christian has positional peace with God both now and always (Romans 5:1-2). This peace is objective and legal, for we have been justified by God through Jesus Christ and no longer an enemy to Him. God changed our position from enemies to friends and adopted us as sons and daughters when we placed our faith in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:9, 10). No one or nothing can change this reconciliatory positional peace with God through His Gospel. Let’s be clear about this … the Christian can lose his relational peace by not daily walking in the straight and narrow path of the Gospel … by spending too much time in the world instead of the Word.
   The peace of Christ must rule in our hearts if we are going to experience the conditional peace of God which surpasses all comprehension which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:5-8). This peace does not depend on your actions or circumstances …  but on your relationship with Jesus Christ. When you permit the Word of God to reign in your life more abundantly, you will have such peace (Colossians 3:15-16). When we walk in submission to Christ, and when we walk in obedience to His Holy Word … then and only then can we walk in His peace.
   A soldier must be trained and prepared for God’s work and the Christian soldier must be trained and prepared in this most important ministry of sharing the good news of peace with God to others. We call it “the Gospel of peace” because it can destroy the hostility that resides in man and replace it with the tranquility of God (Isaiah 52:7). Each day we must be ready to share the Gospel of peace. First, as ambassadors of peace (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) we share the good news with those who do not personally know Jesus so that they can establish a relationship with Him and walk in His path of peace. There are people and families living in the agony of anger, hate, fear, and mistrust. God wants to establish His reign of forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace there.
   Second, those who walk in the peace of God reach out to restore peace in relationships among the brethren. The accuser of the brethren practices the old proverb “divide and conquer.” The infiltrator, Satan, provokes dissension, distortions, distrust, and disloyalty in the army of God. His demons use rumors, cursings, misinterpretation of facts, accusations and presumptions to separate within the local church. Those who walk in the peace of the Gospel calm the roar of the lion in situations and lives by applying the Word of peace (Colossians 3:15-16).
   We need to realize this, you CAN NOT give to others what you do not possess yourself. If you live in the peace of profound fellowship with Jesus you can jump into a spiritual attack with settled determination and calm security of your position. A soldier who cannot maintain his footing is useless in battle. The Christian who does not walk in the Gospel of peace is useless to God.
   The Christian soldier fights to establish the peace of God, not to make war. He spiritually fights against the malignant in order to bring the peace of God to persons and situations. Satan is the principal cause of agitation and division in the world. The peacemaking Christian makes peace by opposing Satan and his works and by promoting reconciliation and fellowship with God and man. The peacemakers can claim the promise found in Romans 16:20 (which is one of my favorite passages) that “the God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
   Although the believer is assured of victory in this war because of Jesus’ victory on the Cross, we must engage in the spiritual struggle for daily victory until our Lord returns. You may walk away from the fight, but Satan will not. He will constantly defeat all who are not equipped with the spiritual armor of God. We need supernatural armor to simply stand our ground against Satan. God has provided us His Holy Spirit and His spiritual armor that we might stand in the strength of His might. The question is, are you? And if not, will you?
   The alter is open … will you renew your commitment to stand with Him as we stand and sing our closing song?

August 19, 2018     When Jesus Was Tempted

   Our opening passage today is found in Matthew 4:1-11 (NLT) — The Temptation of Jesus — 1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. 2For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.
   3During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
   4But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
   5Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, 6and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”
   7Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”
   8Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9“I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”
   10“Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”
   11Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.
   Chris and I went to the grocery store to buy groceries. In addition to the healthy items on MaryLu’s carefully prepared list, we returned home with one of those BIG bags of M&Ms.
   MaryLu asked, "What did ya get that for?" "You know M&Ms aren’t good for you!"
   Chris & I looked at each other and I said "Don’t worry, Babe, this bag of M&Ms has one third less carbs than usual."
   She looks the package over with a fine-tooth comb and asks, "What makes you think that there’re one third less carbs than usual?"
   I assuredly replied, "Well, you see, we ate about a third of the bag on the way home, so there’s one-third less carbs than usual, right??"
   How many of you have heard the scripture in Matthew 26:41 that says “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak?” Don’t we all have areas in our lives where the spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak?
   Since the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden, temptation has been a constant, unrelenting part of human life. Men have tried to avoid it, resist it and ignore it. But no living person has ever found a place or a circumstance that can make him safe from temptation.
   In our text this morning one of the most monumental and mysterious spiritual battles of all time is recounted … the personal confrontation between Jesus Christ and Satan himself. The devil’s temptations directed at Jesus in the wilderness of Judea were observed by no other human being. Jesus was entirely alone, and it’s therefore obvious that we could know nothing of what transpired there unless Jesus Himself had told His disciples of it. I believe Jesus told His story to the disciples to reveal to us the victory secret of His momentous struggle with Satan.
   The encounter with Satan occurred immediately after Jesus’ baptism, where, in Matthew 3:17 the Father proclaimed out of heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
   You see … we all need to understand the fact that when God speaks to you, Satan strikes at you. When God fills you, the devil fights you! Our text demonstrates why Jesus was well-pleasing to His Father. Jesus listened to His Father’s Word and applied His Word to His daily life.
   The purpose Matthew’s recounting this event is to demonstrate the pattern of Jesus’ victory over temptation and sin, a pattern that Jesus longs to share with all who belong to Him. When we face testing and temptation we too can be victorious over the adversary’s attempts to corrupt us and to displace the Lord’s rightful place in our lives. I hope and pray that we too can look at this passage and learn how to stand our ground and stay strong in time of battle and find the same victory Jesus found over the enemy of our soul.
   The momentous encounter that Matthew describes here, and from which believers can gain such help and encouragement, may be divided into three parts for our study this morning: the preparation, the temptation, and the triumph.
   I. THE PREPARATION (vss. 1-2)
   The goal and aim of all believers is to please God. We all would love to hear that our life is pleasing to God. But it caused a showdown in the desert, between good and evil, between light and darkness, between obedience and disobedience, between Jesus and Satan, and it will cause the same in us. Satan wants to test, try, and devour all those who are pleasing God in any way, at any level. Jesus had the testimony of Enoch, "that he pleased God" (Hebrews 11:5), but His commitment is about to be tested as we see in verse 1. “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”
   One of the truths of life, from which even the Son of God was not exempt on earth, is that after victory - comes temptation. At times of success we can let down our guard and temptations can take us unprepared. Have you ever noticed that? When we get to feeling all good in God … all hell breaks loose … just like what happened with Jesus. According to Scripture, after the victory of Jesus’ baptism - comes His testing in the wilderness.
   The devil’s purpose is to frustrate the plan of God and to turn God’s place in our lives upside down. Yet God often uses Satan’s tempting of evil as His own means of testing for good. What Satan intended to lead the Son into sin and disobedience, the Father used to demonstrate the Son’s holiness and faithfulness. That’s God’s plan for all of His children. Christians cannot be tempted in a way that God cannot use it for their good and His glory.
   James 1:2–4 tells us to “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
   You see … God’s plan and purpose is to use Satan’s temptations as a means of testing and strengthening our faith in Him and as a means of our growing stronger in righteousness. God allows testing in our lives in order that our spiritual “muscles” may be exercised and strengthened. Whether it’s a testing by God’s initiative or a temptation sent by Satan, God will always use it to produce good in us when we meet the test in His power. Joseph told his brothers that what they did to him was meant for evil but God turned it around and meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).
   In verse 2 we read an understatement of Jesus’ physical condition in which He underwent His time of testing. And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.”
   At the conclusion of this time of full concentration upon God, Jesus became hungry. It may be that He was so caught up in His communion in the Spirit with the Father that He did not notice His hunger. Hunger not only makes us physically weak but also tends to weaken our moral and spiritual resistance as well. When we are tired, hungry, or sick we are usually less concerned about other needs and dangers and tend to be vulnerable to anything that might provide relief from our present distress. Satan may attack more fiercely during times of weakness, unawareness or unpreparedness. Temptations that have been anticipated, guarded against, and prayed about have less power to harm us. Jesus tells us in Mark 14:38 to “keep watching and praying, that you may not come into temptation.” Victory over temptation comes from a constant abiding in the Sprit and the Word [Jn 15].
   Fasting is a form of self-discipline, a refraining from the good and necessary substances of this life, in order to hear from God more clearly. Jesus, though physically weak and susceptible having fasted and prayed for over a month, was alert to spiritual danger. Even in His weakest physical moments He did not allow Satan to gain any foothold because He had spent the time in communion with His Father. The accounts in Mark (1:13) and Luke (4:2) seem to indicate that Jesus was in some way tempted throughout His stay in the wilderness. Possibly it was the devil’s strategy to gradually wear the Lord down little by little before confronting Him with the three great temptations that are specifically recorded. But Jesus would not yield to His adversary on even the slightest point. [MacArthur, John. NT Com. Matthew. 1-7, 88-89]
   So, at the END of the 40 days, when Jesus would have been as hungry and tired as a person could be, the devil went after Him. That’s how the devil is with us. He waits until we’re tired and weary and discouraged. And then he breaks out the big guns.
   You come home after a hard day at work. Your wife says “Honey, I wish you would put your laundry in the hamper instead of leaving stuff strewn all over the floor.”
   You say “Whatever happened to the phrase “Hey Babe. How was your day?” Why are you hitting me with this now? I’m tired. I’ve been working hard all day.”
   She says “What do you think I’ve been doing?! I don’t want to come home from work and look at your messy clothes.” And just like that, two devout Christian people who love God, and each other, with all their hearts are duking it out like rock’em sock’em robots.
   The devil’s strategy is to hit the people of faith when they’re tired and weary. That’s what he did to Jesus.
   II. THE TEMPTATIONS (vss 3-10)
   Satan came at Jesus in three different areas ... Three Temptations for Three Needs … Overcome By Three Answers from Jesus.
   Most people forget that it is not a sin to be tempted but we sin when we yield to temptation. Remember temptations are merely opportunities to sin, but God always provides a way of escape so that we can handle any temptations that comes our way (1 Corinthians 10:13).
   The first temptation was for Jesus to distrust the providential care of His Father and to serve Himself. The second was to presume on the Father’s care by putting Him to the test. The third was for Him to renounce the way of His Father and to substitute the way of Satan.
   1. Temptation #1 - Self-satisfaction: or live to satisfy your needs and desires.
   And the tempter came and said to Him in verse 3, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
   Need #1 - The devil tried to use the real physical need of hunger to tempt Christ into succumbing to temptation to turn the stones into bread.
   “If you are” was a challenge to prove Himself to be “the Son of God.” Satan wanted to twist the divine mission of the Son of God. What kind of Messiah will You be? Use Your supernatural power for physical needs. If You turn rocks into bread people will follow You. All You need to do is save them from hunger, met their legitimate human needs.
   It was a temptation to act independently of God. To act supernaturally to meet His needs instead of depending on God to meet them for Him. Would Jesus use His position, power and authority for selfish ends?
   The devil wanted to raise doubts in our Lord’s mind. He wanted Jesus to say, "I haven’t eaten for forty days. Is God ever going to come through for Me? Can I trust Him? Is He going to be there for Me when I need Him? Am I going to have to act on My own or will I follow God & depend on Him to meet all My needs, however pressing they may be?"
   Satan often uses a legitimate need but tempts us by seeking to fulfill that need in an illegitimate way. Many people have doubts that God can provide for their physical, financial and human needs. Satan sought to exploit a weakness of hunger to cause Jesus to be impatient with the Father. Rather than launch out in an independent self-satisfying life, Jesus trusted His earthly well-being to His Father in heaven. In the Father’s time He would supply Jesus’ physical need.
   Christ’s response in verse 4 is Biblical and profound. “But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
   The Lord Jesus answer the devil by proclaiming that the Word of God is sufficient to sustain, sanctify and to support us in the most desperate hour of need or temptation. The Lord Jesus insisted that people need more than bread for their life. We must feed on the Word of God if we are going to sustain our spiritual life. God has said if we would follow Him completely, He will take care of or physical needs. Matthew 6:33 instructs us to “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.”
   Psalm 119:9,11 asks the question "How can a young man keep his way pure, by keeping it according to your word. Your word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you." Memorize the scripture and it will preserve you from sin, self-destruction and disobedience. Focus on God’s eternal purpose … not your own temporary concerns as you face your test.
   True life depends not upon satisfying material wants but upon obedience to following God. For Jesus to turn stones into bread would have been to place personal and physical need ahead of obedience and trust in God. God calls us to a reordering of priorities that places confidence in Him as our highest good [Mounce, New International Biblical Com. Mt, p 29] The guiding principle of Jesus’ life, revealed in this verse, should be the guiding principle of our life also.
   Temptation #2 - Self-accomplishment:
   Satan’s next strategy is to get Jesus to focus the attention on Himself instead of upon God. He wants Jesus to rationalize and compromise and attempt to complete God’s purpose in the wrong way. In verse 5 we read of the miraculous transportation of Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. “Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will give His angels charge concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’”
   “The devil takes a beautiful verse about trusting God, and he twists it into an invitation to test God!” [John MacArthur] You say Jesus that by not turning the stones into bread You are trusting God, now publicly demonstrate that trust in God by jumping and letting people see your trust and God’s promised protection. Satan takes a verse out of context (Psalm 91:11-12), [he omits the part that says (“To guard you in all your ways”)] and then twists it to get it to say something God never intended.
   God has promised His providential care for our life as we daily live it out in a normal fashion. He has not promised to supernaturally intervene when we decide to step outside of His will and jeopardize our life in order to force Him into action [Mounce, New International Biblical Com. Mt, p 30].
   There were many people at the temple at that time. Jesus could have popularized Himself through a sensational display of angels bearing Him up. But that was not God’s will and purpose. Sensationalism appeals to the flesh and Jesus wants men’s hearts. It was God’s will that He takes on the nature of a servant, not of a dynamic celebrity.
   Many of the battles that we find ourselves in are over the same thing. Satan will come and try to force us out of focus, trying to cause the word, will or way of God to become fuzzy, and unclear, so he can get us sidetracked. Satan will offer you an alternative to God’s word, will and way and try to get you to think you are still following God.
   This second temptation is about the plan that God has for you. God has a purpose for YOUR life. God has designed you and is trying to mold you for His eternal purposes. When following His Word, will, and way your life will be lived for, and turn out for, your eternal best. When you try to take matters into your own hands then you run into trouble and cause enormous pain for yourselves and others around you.
   A case in point is when God called Abraham to trust Him and WAIT for his promised son. God promised Abraham that he would father a child with his wife in his old age. That God would bless the world through this child. Rational thinking told Abe that he’s getting really old and his wife was barren and they could not have children.
   You see how Satan can cause you to doubt and to not listen fully to God. He said to WAIT. But … Abe took his wife’s maid and had sex with her, thus causing her to become pregnant with Ishmael. This seemed like a better quicker way to accomplish God’s plan. Big Mistake! All of us, all over the world, are suffering to this very day because of Abraham’s disobedience and lack of trust.
   Once again in verse 7 Jesus turns to the Old Testament Scripture for a wise response. “Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
   Jesus’ words come from Deuteronomy 6 (16) and refer to the time when Moses struck the Rock in order to get water to satisfy the grumbling Israelites (Ex. 17:1-7). Because God didn’t immediately meet their expectations, they questioned His leadership and faithfulness. Faith is simply trusting God and taking Him at His Word no matter what our circumstances or trials may be. We are not to try and force God’s hand, but simply to take God’s hand as He decides to give it and follow Him.
   So, Jesus refutes the notion that we have to rely on our pride, human efforts and sincere personal efforts to accomplish things. Zechariah 4:6-7 says "It is not by power or by might but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts. This mountain will be removed by My Spirit says the Lord."
   Focus on God’s plan not your own. Our desire should not be to prove or force God’s faithfulness, but to prove our faithfulness to Him.
   Jesus quoted Scripture when confronted by Satan. But it wasn’t His ability to quote Scripture that gave Him victory. He quoted Scripture to let Satan know that He was committed to trusting God. Jesus was committed to obeying the Word of God
   Many people know the Word, can quote the Word and shout up a storm … but, deep down inside, they’re not committed to the Word. The Bible teaches that it’s not the hearers of the Word of God that are justified … but it’s the doers of the Word (Romans 2:13). It’s our commitment to obey the Word of God that gives us victory over temptation and sin. You can’t go around compromising the Word and expect to walk in victory over temptation.
   Temptation #3 - Self-glorification:
   Having failed in his first two attempts Satan came blatantly at Jesus in verse 8. “Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things will I give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
   From the vantage point of some unknown mountain Satan gave Jesus a vision of all the great kingdoms of this world. There Satan displayed the wonders of earthly kingdoms and offers them to Jesus. Later Jesus would call Satan the ruler of this world (John 14:30) and the apostle John stated that the entire world is under the power of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19). So apparently Satan had the right to give them to Jesus [Ed Glasscock, Moody Gospel Com., p88].
   God has also promised Jesus a kingdom (Psalm 2:8), but these kingdoms would not require the shame and suffering of the cross. So, Jesus is faced with that age old temptation that the end justifies the means. The way of obedience is long, hard and difficult. So … Why not make a deal with the prince of this world (John 12:31; 16:11)? Why not compromise to obtain the desired end immediately?
   Use the arsenal of diabolic political and worldly weapons to seize the prize of sovereignty without the delay or suffering that God Himself had promised Jesus. The price of immediate possession was simply bowing a knee in compromise before Satan.
   Instead of enduring the long, bitter, humiliating, and painful road to the cross and the even longer wait in heaven for God’s time to be completed Jesus could rule the world now!
   Satan always comes at us in that way. He suggests that the world of business, the world of politics, the world of fame, or the world of whatever our heart desires can be ours if we would only WHAT?? We can get what we want; we can fulfill our lusts and our fantasies; we can be somebody. All we gotta do to get those things of the world is to give in to his lies and deception and go after them in the way of the world … which is Satan’s way.
   He tempts each of us in the same way. “Why set your standards so high? What’s the use? You can get what you want by cutting a corner here and shading the truth there. Why wait for heavenly reward, when you can have what you want now?” When we set our hearts on money, prestige, popularity, power, selfishness or worldly happiness, we’re doing exactly what Satan wanted Jesus to do … putting self first
   Had Jesus fallen for Satan’s temptation the statement of those who mocked Him at the foot of the cross would have had to have been reversed: “He saved Himself; others He cannot save” (Matthew 27:42). Instead of redeeming the world He would have joined the world. Instead of inheriting the world, He would have lost the world.
   Jesus’ response was straightforward and clear. In verse 10 Jesus stood up in the Spirit and using Scripture for the third time told the devil that He was not getting distracted from living for and worshiping only the Lord God. “Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”
   There can be no compromise with the Devil. Referencing again the Word of God as Jesus’ ultimate authority He quotes Deuteronomy 6:13 “You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.” God’s Word is the final argument and ultimate authority against our enemy. The Lord Jesus proclaimed in no uncertain terms He would not compromise with evil.
   He advocated a focus on God’s person. Many people are more interested in the blessings than the Blesser. If you find yourself craving something the world seems to offer, quote Jesus’ words to the devil. “Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”
   Psalm 107:9 teaches us that “He satisfies the longing soul and fills the hungry soul with what is good.” And we read in Psalm 34:10 that “They who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.”
   There was a tragedy in Florida several years ago bought a baby BURMESE PYTHON. The Oxford, Florida family that brought the serpent home as a pet would live to regret allowing such a creature in the house.
   The snake, now 12 feet long, broke out of the glass aquarium during the night. It silently slithered into the bedroom of a 2-year old girl, wrapped itself around her defenseless body, and strangled her to death; a horrible, yet entirely preventable tragedy.
   I want to tell you that Satan, that old serpent, works tirelessly to get us to believe that allowing him in the house is no real danger. After all, we know how to restrain him behind the “aquarium glass,” don’t we?? We know how to control him
   III. THE TRIUMPH. (vs. 11)
   Verse 11 says “Then the devil left Him and angels came to attend Him.”
   Satan’s present power is given ONLY by God’s permission, and when the Son commanded him to leave, Satan had no choice but to obey. Though Satan would be back as soon as he had “an opportune time” (Luke 4:13) but, for now, he was forced to leave.
   After Satan left, angles came. Jesus waited for His Father to provide, and in the Father’s time, He sent angels to minister to Him. I’m sure Jesus thought it was worth the wait.
   Jesus will inherit the kingdom in God’s time, and we will inherit the kingdom with Him (Matthew 5:5; 25:34; Romans 8:17; James 2:5). In the eternal, heavenly state all the universe will be ours! Who would want to sacrifice that for the deceptive, disappointing, and short-lived imitations Satan offers?
   There are many good things that God will give us even in this life. No one desires our joyfulness more than our heavenly Father. Matthew. 7:11 says “If you then, being evil,” Jesus says, “know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
   We can have the joy God gives. So why would we settle for the cheap substitute Satan offers? We can have the glory of living righteously and pleasing our heavenly Father. Why should we settle for the brief and disappointing successes sin produces? By God’s grace we can have the peace that passes all understanding. Why should we settle for the cheap satisfaction of a world which will soon pass away and be gone forever and ever?
   The reason this story is in the Bible is very simple. The same way Satan attacked Jesus is the same way he attacks us. And the way Jesus responded to the attack is the same way we should respond to Satan’s attack. The Bible is the only authority for right living. Since Jesus had mastered the Bible, He could not be mastered by anything or anyone … including the Devil himself.
   When the devil does attack us – when he comes against us or our families or our businesses or our finances, or even our health – how do we respond to the devil? How do we actually stand up and face up against the devil? He seems so intimidating, because next to God himself, the devil is the most powerful being in the universe. How do we accomplish this seemingly impossible task? Answer him in the Spirit of God with the Word of God. Like he did with Jesus … once you start throwing Scripture at him … he has no choice but to leave. The Word of God!!! Now that’s where our victory stands.
   This is a poem I found several years ago that has helped me in my walk with the Lord.

FELLOWSHIP OF THE UNASHAMED
   I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed”.  I have the Holy Spirit Power.  The die has been cast.  I have stepped over the line.  The decision has been made.  I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still.  My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure.  I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving and dwarfed goals.
   I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits or popularity.  I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded.  I now live by presence, lean by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer and labor by power.
   My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my mission clear, my Guide reliable.  I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted or delayed.  I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
   I won’t give up, back up, let up or shut up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up and stayed up for the cause of Jesus Christ.  I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.  I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know and work until He comes.  And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me.  My colors will be clear.     Author unknown
   Romans 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.


August 12, 2018   Who Is Satan

   Ezekiel 28:12-17 (NLT) — 12“Son of man, sing this funeral song for the king of Tyre (tire). Give him this message from the Sovereign Lord: “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty.
   13You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone — red carnelian (car-knee-lee-ian), pale-green peridot (pear-ri-doe), white moonstone, blue-green beryl (ba-rrel), onyx, green jasper, blue lapis (lap-is) lazuli (laz-uh-lee), turquoise, and emerald — all beautifully crafted for you and set in the finest gold.
   They were given to you on the day you were created.
   14I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire.
   15“You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you.
   16Your rich commerce led you to violence, and you sinned. So I banished you in disgrace from the mountain of God. I expelled you, O mighty guardian, from your place among the stones of fire.
   17Your heart was filled with pride because of all your beauty. Your wisdom was corrupted by your love of splendor. So I threw you to the ground and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings.
   Isaiah 14:12-15 (NLT) — 12“How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world.
   13 For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north.14 I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’
   15 Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead, down to its lowest depths.
   Y’all get comfortable. Look at the number of passages in your bulletin. This is a long one. Please hang in the with me. It’ll be worth the trip.

   Our message title today is WHO IS SATAN?
   Check out this video clip … “We Were Soldiers” ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfGSCaSmKTM
   Do y’all remember in the movie where Mel Gibson played the part of Lt. Col. Hal Moore? On November 14, 1965 Lt. Col. Moore led the first American helicopter attack in the Vietnam Conflict … a tactic that had never been attempted in the history of the world. He landed 395 American troops at the base of a mountain in the Ia Drang Valley in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Central Command had no idea of the strength of the enemy they were about to face. Shortly after they had landed, they captured a prisoner who informed them that the mountain housed over 4,000 North Vietnamese Army Regulars.
   If you recall, after Lt. Col. Moore arrived at Ft. Benning, GA there were several scenes where he was at his desk … y’all remember that? What was he doing in the late-night hours at his desk? … Studying.
   He was studying the capabilities of the helicopters that they would be using because everyone knew this had never been done before … using helicopters to jump in and out of battle.
   But, to me, the most important thing he was doing was studying the tactics and strategies of the enemy. He wanted to know everything there was to know about the man and his army he was fixin to meet face to face in the jungles and mountains of this place called South Vietnam.
   Lt. Col. Moore is noted as saying "there is always one more thing you can do to increase your odds of success."
   I say all this to remind you that you and I are engaged in a battle, one of cosmic proportions. We know we are facing a real opponent because this world bears the bloody, painful scars of this conflict: wars among nations, genocide, hate, shattered lives, broken homes, suicide, rape, abuse, addictions, family member against family member and immorality of every kind.
   John Milton, in his great works Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained speaks about the great cosmic combat that takes place in the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation (Revelation 12). In describing that chilling chapter of Revelation Milton says that the forces of heaven and hell are the central focus and earth is the battle ground in which the cosmic combat takes place. That is a good description of the spiritual battle that takes place within our world.
   With all the talk about war going on in our own society and around the world, Christians often forget that we are in a war of our own, a spiritual war. This battle is between heaven and hell and the place where the battle is fought is right here on earth.
   The church often loses sight of this truth, the truth of a spiritual struggle, especially the church in America. The sad fact is that Christians in America have become so comfortable in their “Christianity” that the thought of spiritual warfare rarely even crosses their minds. But it’s paramount that we understand as the church and as Christians that we are truly a part of a constant spiritual battle, a cosmic conflict, and the Lord has called His people to fight that battle, to wage war against the forces that oppose Gods righteousness and rule.
   The supreme leader of this rebellion and war against God, God’s angels, God’s church and true Christians is the Devil. Satan is a created being, but he wanted to be worshiped and served like his Creator. It was this attitude that led him to rebel against God and seek to establish his own kingdom. Since he used “You will be like God” to bring about the fall of mankind through Adam … he still uses this gigantic lie to control civilization today.
   The obvious evil in the world has caused societies, both historical and present, to acknowledge the existence of one who births, provokes, and instigates that lie. Although the pictures of the devil in widely diverse civilizations are remarkably similar, they don’t tell us very much about his identity, origin, or activities. To gain specific information concerning his character and purpose we must look into the Bible. Even in the Bible we don’t find answers to every question that comes to mind. Still, the Scriptures reveal all we need to know to take him seriously and to frustrate his efforts to destroy us.
   As you systematically read and study the Word of God as it relates to our enemies it will teach you about our ancient enemy. The Bible gives you insight into how Satan operates, where he came from, and who he is … which provides wisdom and strong equipment for our spiritual warfare. The believer intent on claiming ALL of his victory in the Lord Jesus Christ should familiarize himself with basic biblical information about this enemy.
   I pray this lesson will help you better familiarize yourself with the enemy of your soul by providing you with extensive Bible quotations about Satan.
   1st SATAN'S ORIGIN OR HIS ORIGINAL STATE. - Satan has not always existed. He and all the other angels were created (Psalm. 148:2,5; Colossians 1:16) by God back before time began. In our passage this morning we find a description of Satan before he sinned. Although speaking to the king of Tyre (tire), there are definite indications in the passage that he described a king in terms that could not apply to a mere man. The passage on the Tyrian (tireian) king symbolizes Satan because the prophet was speaking beyond the king to Satan himself and provides us with insight into Satan’s state as originally created by God.
   In verse 12 of Ezekiel 28 we discover that Satan or Lucifer was created perfect in wisdom and beauty. 12“Son of man, sing this funeral song for the king of Tyre (tire). Give him this message from the Sovereign Lord: “You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty.
   Did you notice that the last part of verse 12 states that he was, “Full of wisdom.”
   Throughout all Gods wondrous works no creature could be found to match the marvelous wisdom of Lucifer. He was the wisest of all created beings.
   The third understanding were given in verse 12 is he was also “perfect in beauty”. Lucifer possessed the most dazzling beauty in all the universe.
   The fourth detail about Lucifer found in verse 13 states he dwelled in “Eden, the Garden of God.” His privileged residence was in Gods paradise. This Eden was prior to the Garden of Eden, which was possibly named after the former Eden in which Lucifer had lived.
   Fifth, verse.13 also tells us that every precious stone was his covering. Precious stones are named to exemplify the brilliance, the unsurpassed privileged portion afforded to Lucifer. His position was so high and so lofty it could only be described by priceless jewels.
   In verse 14a we hear God commenting on Lucifer and his exalted position. "You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire.” He was created by God as the anointed cherub who covers.
   God designed the ark of the covenant with two angels … one on each side, spreading their wings over the mercy seat. These angels were called covering cherubs, or cherubim. They represented the angels associated with Gods holiness, covering the place where atonement was made between God and man by the sprinkling of blood on the horns of the mercy seat. The cherubim are the highest order among the angels of God. Again, Lucifer was the “anointed cherub.”
   The covering cherubs were subservient to this magnificent angel, the “anointed cherub” … Lucifer. In other words, he was the highest of the highest, the highest angelic creature in the presence of God’s glory and holiness. He was the chief cherub. He was over all the other angels of God. He was the “mighty angelic guardian” of all of heaven.
   Verse 14 also tells us Lucifer was given a place on Gods holy mountain. Lucifer had even “walked in the midst of the stones of fire.” The terminology, “stones of fire”, probably speaks of the holiness of God. Lucifer was so awesomely created he could dwell in the very presence of the holiness of God. What greater testimony could be given to this created being, his position, and his perfection than Gods commendation.
   This highest angel was blameless from the day of his creation. Verse 15 states He was created a holy and righteous being. “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created. The day came, however, when unrighteousness was found in him.” What unrighteousness was specifically found in him? His spirit of rebellion against God.
   Verse 17 announces that his heart was “filled with pride because of his beauty” revealing that this archangel allowed his perfection to be the cause of his corruption. Pride in his heart was the beginning of his fall. That sin was not an essential part of the being God created, but later rose up from within him because of his pride. Satan had a special place of prominence in his service to God, yet it wasn’t enough.
   I don’t know about you, but I would rather slop hogs in heaven for eternity than reign with Satan in hell for one second. How about you? Are you content with your position before God?
   II. SATAN'S REBELLION AND FALL. - Referring to Satan, Ezekiel 28:15 states, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you.” Ezekiel then added in v. 17, “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground.”
   Verse 18 was Gods response to his sin: "I have brought fire from the midst of you; it has consumed you, and I have turned you to ashes on the earth in the eyes of all who see you.” God cast this angel out of heaven to be eventually destroyed.
   Isaiah 14:12 records this event … “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning ["Lucifer," KJV], son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations!”
   Satan’s sin originated in pride, grew into self-deception, and ended in rebellion. Lucifer sought to exalt himself to the position of Jehovah or YAHWEH. In Isaiah 14:13-14 we read, "You have said in your heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will make myself like the Most High.”
   Pride began in his heart, and that pride produced discontentment. He wasn’t satisfied with being top angel anymore; he wanted to be like God Himself. Satan’s pride so deluded him that he claimed equality with God.
   In his vanity he declared in verse 14, "I will be like God." It was this act of his will in rebellion that caused him to fall and become the devil and Satan.
   When Satan fell, he did not fall alone. His pride led him to spark a rebellion in which he induced a large number of angels to join him. In Revelation 12:4, John said he swept away a third of the stars of heaven. In verse 9, John identified the stars as fallen angels or demons allied with Satan. Although Satan is a tremendously powerful creature and influences many governments and nations, he is not omnipresent like God. His lying, deceitful work is reinforced by one-third of the angelic host.
   How many is one-third? We don’t know. We do know that angels neither procreate nor die (Matthew 22:30). There are just as many angels today as there were in the day of their creation. There’s no diminishing or adding to their ranks. Scripture describes the number of holy angels as being "myriads (mirri’ads) of myriads, and thousands of thousands" (Revelation 5:11). The Greek word for "myriad" means "ten thousand" and that was the largest number the Greek language could express. Perhaps there are too many angels to count.
   Some of the fallen angels are bound in everlasting chains (Jude 6). I believe they were the angels who sinned at the time of the Flood as described in Genesis 6:4 (1-7). Because these "sons of God" cohabited with humanity, producing a mixed race, God drowned their offspring in the Flood and bound the angels with chains. Perhaps God has put more and more demons into that pit throughout redemptive history. In Luke 8:31, the demons at Gadara (ga-dar-a) "were begging Christ not to command them to depart into the abyss." Other demons are bound temporarily. According to Revelation 9:2, some of the demons will be released during the Tribulation.
   III. SATAN'S TITLES AND NAMES. - Satan is not an impersonal evil force. He possesses the traits of personality, intellect (2 Corinthians 11 :3), emotion (Revelation 12: 17), and will (2 Timothy 2:26). Furthermore, personal pronouns are used to describe him and his actions in both the Old and New Testament (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-2; Matthew. 4:1-12).
   We can learn a great deal about who Satan is by looking at the different names, titles, and representations of him throughout Scripture. His many names describe his activity, showing him to be a devious enemy.
   1. Satan comes from the Hebrew word meaning "adversary" or "opposer which is used 52 times in the Bible. (Zechariah 3:1; Matthew 4: 10; Revelation 12:9; 20:2). He is a constant relentless opponent. 1 Peter 5:8 states, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
   2. Revelation 12:10 tells us he is the accuser. "Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down,"
   Satan’s desire is to cause us to condemn ourselves … and how is the easiest way for us to do that? … by the negative (un-Godly) words that we speak.
   He wants to cause a believer to have a vagueness about what he has done wrong and seeks to keep him from knowing what to do about his sin. This is opposite to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of definite sins and shows us that through the shed blood of Christ there is cleansing and forgiveness.
   3. Lucifer means "son of the morning, shining one, or light bearer" (Isaiah 14:12). Though this describes him before his fall, Satan currently "transforms himself into an angel of light" to deceive the world (2 Corinthians. 11: 14), even the very elect (Matthew 24:24).
   4. He is called the dragon. This pictures his fierce nature and power to destroy. Revelation 12:7 says “And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.” (Revelation 12:3,7,9)
   5. The name “Devil” (Matthew 4:1; 13:39; Ephesians 4:27; 1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:9; 20:2), was used 35 times and comes from the Greek word diabolos meaning "slanderer, accuser." Satan likes nothing better than to defame and slander Gods own before others.
   6. He is called a murderer and a liar in John 8:44. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him.” When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Satan wants to murder believers and seeks to deceive us by lies.
   7. According to Revelation 20:10 He is the deceiver. "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur." In any way he can, using anything and anybody, Satan wants to lead us to believe that which is not true.
   8. Satan is the Ruler of this world (John 12:31;14:30;16:11). This title refers to his power over the evil world-system of men and demons. John 12:31 says “Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” Satan operates as a powerful manipulator in the affairs of the world.
   9. He is the Prince of the power of the air, which describes his pervasive spiritual influence. Ephesians 2:2 tells us "You followed the ways of this world and of the ruler [prince] of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." This would indicate that Satan’s realm of movement is in the atmosphere surrounding the earth. Christ ascended through Satan’s very realm to display openly His victory.
   10. He is called the destroyer. The Greek and Hebrew words in Revelation 9:11 mean destroyer. "They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon (a-bay-dun), and in Greek, Apollyon (a-polly-un)." Satan attempts to destroy all that is holy and precious to God.
   11. He is the tempter. Jesus was out in the desert and "The tempter came to him and said, If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread" (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5).
   12. Satan is the Evil one (Matthew 13:19,38; John 17:15; Ephesians 6:16; 1 John 5:18-19) which describes him as the personification of evil. "The weeds are the sons of the evil one" (Matthew 13:38).
   13. He is the god of this age which references his power to blind the minds of the world to the gospel. 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." Satan is such a piece of trash that he has blocked the minds of the unbelievers so that they can not understand the simplicity of the Gospel. That’s why they don’t get it!!!
   14. Anointed cherub (Ezekiel 28:14) indicates that he had one of the highest (if not the highest) ranking of all the angels.
   15. Serpent of Old (Genesis 3:1; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9;20:2) portrays his deceit and craftiness.
   16. Beelzebub, ruler of the demons (Matthew 10:25;12:24,27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15), literally translated means "lord of the flies."
   17. Belial (bell-e’-ual) (2 Corinthians 6: 15) means without profit, worthless or wicked.
   18. Roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) describes him as hungry and on the prowl to devour Christians.
   [Mark Bubeck, The Adversary, Moody Press, 1975, 58-59]
   IV. SATANS TREACHEROUS POWER. - Not even a saved believer can defeat Satan’s power apart from Gods provided victory. "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:11-12).
   He is the absolute sovereign over the realm of demons. "Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been dumb spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons. Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?" (Luke 11:14-18).
   1. He has a throne. "I know where you live-where Satan has his throne" (Revelation 2:13).
   2. He rules a kingdom. "If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?" (Matthew 12:26).
   3. He subtly masquerades as an angel of light. "And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve" (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).
   4. He has meeting places. "I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Revelation 2:9).
   Third, He has power to oppose the mightiest of angels. "But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, The Lord rebuke you! " (Jude 9; see also Daniel 10:5, 12-13).
   Fourth, He maneuvers and holds in bondage the realm of lost man. "We know that we are the children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19).
   We NEED to understand that Satan’s power is limited only by the will of Almighty God. "10You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! 11But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”
   12“All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence." (Job 1:10-12).
   Lucifer, the star of the morning, became so self-focused that he could no longer think beyond elevating his pride and personal desires. He wanted more than being second to the Lord God of the Universe. His God giving him a place and privilege were not enough.
   Here is the fountainhead of sin, the well-spring of evil. Satan was no longer satisfied with his position so he defied the One who placed him there. So, he rebelled against the authority of God. Thus, Lucifer became the devil, the serpent of old. He outwardly rebelled against the authority of God because inwardly he became self-centered.
   How many of us have become SO self-centered and SO focused on OUR stuff that we have forgotten the power and the purpose of the Cross? How many of us have become SO bogged down in our lives, our problems, our health, our finances, etc. … that we fail to realize that we are exactly right where the Devil wants us to be … apart from Jesus. I don’t care what anybody says … if you’re SO bogged down and SO involved in the things of this world … then you’re apart from Jesus. The Bible tells us to “keep our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2) not the things of this world. The Bible tells us to set our minds on the things above, not the things of this world (Colossians 3:2).
   We just learned that the Devil is the king of this world and if we are SO wrapped up in the Devil’s kingdom … then we really aren’t spending a whole lot of time (if any) in God’s Kingdom … are we??
   In closing … think about this … the Devil will use anything and/or anybody to try to get you so wrapped up in his lies and his corruption and his world that you begin to doubt God’s love and His Word. By questioning and doubting God’s Word, you begin to follow the Devil into his rebellion against God. I can prove that by reading to you the biggest lie ever told. That lie is found in Genesis 3:5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”
   The Bible says that we can’t serve two masters … that you are for one and against the other (Matthew 6:24). There is no way that any of us can play baseball and football at the same time on the same field. Life consists of two fields … the field of good (the things above) and the field of evil (the things of this world). You can’t play on them both at the same time. You have to choose which field you’ll play on. My question to you today is which field do you spend most of your time on??

August 5, 2018 Spiritual   Warfare

   Opening passgae - Ephesians 6:11-18 (NLT) — 11Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
   13Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
   18Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
   We started the series “Made for Missions” the first Sunday in June. Over the last several weeks we’ve learned that we are called for missions. We learned that we are all placed on this earth for a specific reason and are called to live out that reason. We learned that God has a flawless plan for each of us and the mission He has set before us is bigger than ourselves. We learned that our message is to tell others the Good News of the Cross. We learned that our mission is for anyone who will listen to the cleansing and saving power of the Gospel. We learned that we are on a mission because God has called each and everyone of us to tell the world around us about His Son. And, lastly, we learned that “I can’t do this by myself” … I need you to go on mission with me.
   Then we learned why we fail while we’re on mission. We fail because we all use the words God has given us to speak in ALL the wrong ways. Instead of speaking positively and speaking life in our lives and situations … we, being born into a world of sin thanks to Adam, find it easier to speak negativity and death in our live and situations. We have become so accustomed to all the negativity in our lives and the lives around us that most of the time it’s hard to see the positive and even harder to speak it. The Bible says that blessings and cursing come out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters … this should no be so (James 3:10).
   Why did we go through all of these messages to get to here today? Because we are at war!!!
   Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior? Have you repented of your sins and made a commitment to walk a new way of life? Have you decided, to the best of your ability, by the grace of God, to be obedient to His Word? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these three questions, then you are in the middle of the greatest battle that’s been taking place right here on earth for the last 2018 years. This battle is a spiritual battle, and you are under attack. You are under attack because when you become a Christian, Satan and his demonic forces, placed you at the top of their hit list. I Peter 5:8 states “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
   Good morning. The title to our lesson today is simple — “Spiritual Warfare.” What I would like to do today is analyze two main aspects of this spiritual war that we are in. First, we need to identify how it is that Satan attacks us, and second, we can learn what we can do to neutralize his attacks.
   In order for us to understand how Satan attacks, we must first understand his character (or lack thereof), as well as his mindset. Several Bible passages give indications of what makes him tick: He’s covetous and wants God’s position. Isaiah 14:13-14 says “For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’”
   John 8:44 tells us that he is a murder, a liar, and incapable of telling the truth, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
   We read in I Corinthians 11:14 that he has the ability to masquerade as a messenger from God, “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” He is also a being that is literally insane. Anyone who thinks that they can supplant God has to be way off their rocker.
   When you analyze these components of Satan’s character, you realize that rules are off limits to him … there are no borders. If he were a boxer, he would hit you below the belt and not think twice about it. He will do anything he can to take you away from a relationship with Jesus Christ.
   Satan has almost unlimited avenues of how he can attack us. All of them are centered in falsehood. Let’s examine a few of them.
   The Lie. -- Genesis 3:1-5 states: 1“Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”
   2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”
   4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
   The serpent in this passage of scripture tells several lies, but the one that is the most devious is in verse 5. Satan tells Adam and Eve that they can be like God. In other words, if they are like Him, or His equal, they have no need for God and that they are the only authority that they need in their lives.
   We need to understand that this attitude has all but saturated our society today. It is known as secular humanism. Secular humanism is defined as “An outlook or philosophy that advocates human rather than religious values.” (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2004, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.)
   A person that holds this philosophy really has no basis of how to live their lives. If we only advocate human values, then the only determining factor of those values, are those which each individual holds. It then becomes an “I’m O.K., you’re O.K., It’s ALL O.K.” mindset.
   But as believers in “The Way,” we can’t live by the seat of our pants … aimlessly wondering through life with no REAL direction and leadership. You see … the Christian faith has defined laws and guidelines to follow. These laws, these commandments help to maintain a decent and civil society. Secular humanism, or “the lie”, only leads to the eventual death and destruction of the society that adheres to its beliefs.
   Music and Entertainment -- Western civilization and much of the rest of the world, have become captivated with entertainment, to the point that the average American spends between 5-6 hours a day watching TV, movies, internet, playing video games and listening to music. Entertainment in itself is not a bad thing, and even if all of our entertainment was wholesome and virtuous, but to immerse ourselves in any form of escapism is not healthy. The problem with our entertainment is that it has become so perverse.
   The following excerpt from Steve Bonta in the magazine The New American sums it up best: “Little wonder that, after decades of having pro-abortion, pro-homosexuality, pro-sexual promiscuity, and anti-religion messages, among others, dinned into them on prime-time TV, in movies, and in popular music, Americans have largely acquiesced [submitted] to, and in many cases openly embraced, conduct and beliefs that were taboo a couple of generations ago” (The New American Vol19, No. 3 Feb 10th, 2003)
   To try and find entertainment that is Godly or uplifting, is quite a challenge. So, when you combine our addiction to entertainment, with its increasing moral depravity, you begin to see what a powerful indoctrination tool that Satan has at his disposal.
   Direct Spiritual Attacks -- Hollywood portrays demonic activity in an unbiblical manner. They are often shown to have limitless power and are on an equal footing with God. However, based on personal experience and what is written in the Bible, I believe there are three main ways which we are directly attacked by the demonic world.
   1) Influenced -- This appears to be the most common attack. It is something that everyone experiences at one time or another. Have you ever had a thought pop into your head and wonder, “where did that come from”? Satan does have the ability to influence our minds, if we have our guards down. There are several examples of this in the Bible. (Acts 5:3, I Chronicles 21:1, John 13:2)
   His influence may actually manifest itself in a more physical form as well. I have talked to several people who have woken up in the middle of the night with an “evil presence” that was on their chest making it hard for them to breathe. I have also personally had the feeling of an evil presence being at an event as soon as we’ve pulled up in the parking lot and could almost “see” the evil.
   2) Demonized -- This idea is almost an intermediary step between being influenced and possessed. It is where people hear voices and begin to do things without knowing why. They still are somewhat in control of their lives, but they tend to be in a constant state of confusion, worry, and doubt. Several Christian psychologists believe that most mental illnesses fall into this category. Two excellent books that deal with this topic are: The Bondage Breaker and Victory over Darkness by Neil T. Anderson.
   3) Possession -- This attack apparently gives its victim very little control over what they do. It is almost like they become a puppet to a master. Several examples in the Bible are found in (Matthew 9:32-33; 12:22; 17:18; Mark 5:1-20; 7:26-30; Luke 4:33-36; Luke 22:3; Acts 16:16-18)
   I wanna touch base on this for a second. I don’t believe a “true” Christian/Believer can be “possessed” by a demon or evil spirit. “Possessed,” in this case, means that the one who is possessed has no control over their thoughts and/or actions and is being controlled by an outside force (Mark 5:1-20).
   I do believe that a “true” Christian/Believer can be “oppressed” by a demon or evil spirit. By oppressed I mean that we can be influenced to do some stuff we know isn’t right. We can be oppressed by some of the bad habits we have that are hurting ourselves or others around us. We can be oppressed by getting involved in things that take us away from church families and our natural families.
   The reason I believe this is because in many places throughout the Bible we’re taught that if we are a true believer that the Holy Spirit indwells us and He has power over ANY evil spirit or demon that Satan could ever dream up. Therefore, the Holy Spirit AND a demon or evil spirit cannot live in the same vessel. It’s like trying to get oil and water to blend together in the same bottle … it ain’t happening!!!
   Overcoming Satan -- Satan can be a formidable foe for us. He is a being on a different plane of existence, and is capable of doing things that we cannot imagine. How then can we defeat him? Here are several things that will help:
   1) Have the correct means to fight him -- As we read earlier in Ephesians 6:11-17 — 11Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
   13Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
   This passage of scripture is almost always quoted when discussing spiritual warfare, but let’s make sure we do not diminish its significance! It is God and his strength alone that will help us to defeat Satan. We are instructed to use aspects of our Christian walk, in the same manner that a soldier would use armaments to protect himself in a war. Just as we wouldn’t expect to walk out and fight a Sherman tank in our pajamas, we cannot expect to fight Satan and his minions without effective prayer, Bible study, fasting and our Christian family. Remember that we would not need this armor if it wasn’t possible for Satan to attack and injure us.
   2) Know the tactics of the enemy -- Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” In other words, we have to live in this world until we die … but we don’t have to be involved in the things of this world. We should understand how our enemy works, but not be partakers in his behavior. We need to remember that Satan is a deceiver, a murderer, he only speaks half-truths and does not follow any rules. His pursuit of us will never end as long as we are still breathing air, so we need to be on guard and understand how and where his attacks come from.
   3) Be careful of your surroundings -- I can recall reading a story of a preacher in the 1800’s. He went to New Orleans to help convert the drunks and the prostitutes. He decided to live on Bourbon St. to be right in the middle of all the action. Within several months, his behavior had become just like those all around him.
   I have seen this in the Club world. Awesome Christian men and women thinking they can attack Satan from within the confines of a Motorcycle Club and start out doing a great job withstanding the evil one. But, it has never failed, they start getting sucked into the plans and schemes of the enemy. They either get completely sucked in or they wind up quitting the club … or both.
   It is important for us to realize that we cannot stay immersed in a sinful environment. If your job, school, or even church is a place that is like that, you may want to consider going elsewhere. As Christians we should want to help those who are lost and living in sin, but we need to be careful that it does not overcome us and drag us into its snares. Since we are constantly under attack by the tempter, we should not put ourselves in a constant state of attack and temptation.
   Much like ancient Israel, we as Christians need to learn to rely upon the strength of God’s hand. Of our own power we can do nothing to stop the onslaught of evil that’s waiting at our door every day.
   Please understand that Satan and his demons are the rulers of THIS earth and they hold sway over much of humanity. If we’re not careful it is easily possible for us to fall under that sway as well. We need to put God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as our first and only line of defense. Together, they will fight these spiritual battles for us. If we encounter an evil spirit, or a person possessed, we can command the evil spirit to leave in the name of Jesus Christ and he has to leave (Mark 5:1-20). If we are having personal encounters or are being influenced, we can pray for God to fight the battle for us (Exodus 14:14).
   This war that we are involved in will not stop until Jesus Christ returns and ends it all. Let us remember that we have nothing to fear if we put God first and make him our defense. It is in him and him alone that we will be victorious in this spiritual fight.
   I’d like to close with a story that has helped get me through this battle.
St. Francis of Assisi -- Francis of Assisi once invited an apprentice to go with him to a nearby village to preach. The young monk quickly agreed, seizing an opportunity to hear his teacher speak. When they arrived in the village, St. Francis began to visit with the people.
   First, he stopped in on the butcher. Next a visit with the cobbler. Then a short walk to the home of a woman who’d recently buried her husband. After that, a stop at the school to chat with the teacher. This continued throughout the morning. After some time, Francis told his disciple it was time to return to the abbey.
   The student didn’t understand. “But we came to preach,” he reminded. “We haven’t preached a sermon.”
   “Haven’t we?” questioned the elder. “People have watched us, listened to us, responded to us. Every word we have spoken, every deed we have done has been a sermon.  We have been preaching all morning.”
   St. Francis is noted saying: “Preach without ceasing … and IF you must, use words.”
   This little story has had such an impact on my life because what I learned from it was this: If “I” were to stay so focused on allowing my life, my words, my actions (and reactions) and my attitudes to preach a wordless sermon throughout my daily routine, the devil and his demons wouldn’t want to mess with me. They would know that I’d have my blinders on and be so focused on the things from above (Colossians 3:2) that I wouldn’t have time to pay any attention to them because they know that as far as I’m concerned … all this petty stuff down here isn’t worth my time and energy to be concerned with. The Bible teaches that they control the world … the Bible also teaches that Jesus took control over them on the Cross. So, since God’s got all this under control … what do I have to be troubled with?? Absolutely Nothing!!!
   James 4:7 plainly states that if we submit to God and if we resist the devil and his demons they will flee from us. How about you? Are you so focused on the things above that the devil and his cronies don’t concern you??

July 29, 2018     That Is Why We Fail (Part 2)

   Our opening passage is found in Numbers 13:25-14:25 (NLT) — The Scouting Report — 25After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”
   30But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”
   31But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak (an’ick). Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”
   The People Rebel -- 14-1Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. 3“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”
   5Then Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground before the whole community of Israel. 6Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh (jef fu neh’), tore their clothing. 7They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! 8And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. 9Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”
   10But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle. 11And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? 12I will disown them and destroy them with a plague. Then I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they are!”
   Moses Intercedes for the People -- 13But Moses objected. “What will the Egyptians think when they hear about it?” he asked the Lord. “They know full well the power you displayed in rescuing your people from Egypt. 14Now if you destroy them, the Egyptians will send a report to the inhabitants of this land, who have already heard that you live among your people. They know, Lord, that you have appeared to your people face to face and that your pillar of cloud hovers over them. They know that you go before them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. 15Now if you slaughter all these people with a single blow, the nations that have heard of your fame will say, 16‘The Lord was not able to bring them into the land he swore to give them, so he killed them in the wilderness.’
   17“Please, Lord, prove that your power is as great as you have claimed. For you said, 18‘The Lord is slow to anger and filled with unfailing love, forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. But he does not excuse the guilty. He lays the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations.’ 19In keeping with your magnificent, unfailing love, please pardon the sins of this people, just as you have forgiven them ever since they left Egypt.”
   20Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested. 21But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, 22not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. 23They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land. 25Now turn around, and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.”
   Do y’all remember what we talked about last week? In a way, we talked about this very thing. Why did the Israelites fail? Why did it take them 40 years to complete an 11 day journey? Many of us have talked about these questions in one on one conversations … haven’t we?
   (Can I be blunt with you this morning?) The reason the Israelites failed was because they wouldn’t shut that blow hole under their noses. They griped and complained about EVERYTHING!!! They complained about not having enough food — so God sent them manna from heaven — and they still complained. They complained about not having enough water — so the Lord gave them water out of a rock in the sand — and that still wasn’t good enough. They got mad at Moses and Aaron … and wanted another leader. They got mad at God and made a golden calf and other graven images.
   They were mad and upset and gripping and complaining about anything and everything … and because of that … they were failing with EVERY step they took … when ALL they had to do was to stop gripping and complaining … be still … have faith in God … and walk IN that faith and trust in their Creator. BUT, like most of us, they didn’t … and that’s why the Lord said in verses 21-23 “21But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, 22not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. 23They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it.”
   WORDS!!!! How powerful they are!!! Spoken words are so powerful that God used His spoken Word to create the universe and all that is in it (Genesis 1-2). The spoken word is so powerful that “a word” will destroy all the armies of the world (Revelation 19:21).
   Words …they give us life … or they give us death. The choice is ours alone on how we choose to use our words.
   Part two of our series this morning focuses on who we speak words to and whom we allow to speak words into us. We need to remember that speaking life and death is not about being a Christian, but it’s about the power of our words. The title of our lesson this morning is “That Is Why You Fail.”
   If you recall from part one of this series, I shared with you that the words we speak with others shares what is on the inside of us. I spoke to the fact that we speak life and death, belief and unbelief when we open our mouths … no matter what type of conversation we may be engaged in.
   I illustrated this with the example from the movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” when Jedi Master Yoda told Luke Skywalker “Do or Do Not, there is no Try!” after Luke stated that he would try to raise his ship from the water. When Luke could not do it and confessed with his mouth what he believed in his heart – that it was impossible – but, Yoda did it. Luke stated that he didn’t believe it and that’s when Yoda said, “That Is Why You Fail.”
   I shared with you that we fail because of what we believe on the inside. We “try” to do things because we are not sure we “can” complete them. I asked each of you to spend last week “not trying” but “doing”. How did that work out for ya? Any testimonies?
   Do you remember the story in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew? A man had brought his son to Jesus’ disciples because he had a demon. The disciples tried to cast the demonic spirit out but were not able to.
   Let’s read what’s written in Matthew 17:17-20 — 17Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” 18Then Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well.
   19Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”
   20“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”
   What I want you to see is that Jesus didn’t mix words with them. They asked why they couldn’t do it and He told them plainly that it was because of their unbelief. Notice that Jesus did not congratulate them or give them an “atta boy” for trying! They didn’t believe in their hearts that they could do it and the demon knew they doubted and therefore he wouldn’t leave.
   I ask you again, let’s stop trying and either do or do not! Remember, our mouths speak the doubt and unbelief that is in our hearts when we say “I will try.” When we say stuff like that we’re showing everyone what is in our hearts … we’re showing everyone around us that there’s a small slimmer of doubt that we won’t be able to do it.
   Y’all know my heart about these following topics, and I am not using them to embarrass or condemn anyone, but, as some examples, when someone says “I’m trying to quit smoking,” “I’m trying to loose weight,” … “I’m trying to quit drinking,” “I’m trying to quit pornography” … “I’m trying to quit smoking pot” … “I’m trying to quit eating too much” (or whatever the case may be) … what are they really saying?
   According to the passages we’ve been studying the last 2 Sunday’s, they’re really saying the same thing as the train in the book “The Little Engine That Could” … “I think I can … I think I can … I think I can … but deep down in my heart I’m not really sure if I can.”
   Several of us were at an event a month or so ago sitting at one of the tables talking about the “I’m trying to quit” subject. I asked the question “Do you want to know what I hear when a Christian says “I’m trying to quit something?” Those of you that were there, do y’all remember? I hear that Christian saying “God’s not big enough to handle my problem.” Yoda said stop “Trying” and “Do.” The book of Philippians says “I can do ALL things through Christ Jesus who gives me the strength.” (Philippians 4:13) You see … I don’t have to try anymore!!! Because of this passage (and others like it) … my Bible tells me that its already been taken care of through Christ Jesus. So, how about let’s ALL learn to develop the attitude of stop trying and do more doing!!
   We ALL need the attitude of “DO” because we’ve got to understand that our words matter. If each of you develop the attitude of saying “YES I Can!!!” with ALL your heart (and mean it!!!) ... then, by the grace of God and with every ounce of energy you have in you make the necessary steps to actually do it … and it will become a reality for you. Jesus said that if we have faith and don’t doubt, we can move mountains (Matthew 21:21)
   Last week I told you that words play three key roles in our lives: how we use them; who we use them with; and the third being who we allow to speak words into us. I previously focused on how we use words and how those words speak death and life into our situations.
   This morning I wanna focus on the last two: who we use these words with and who we allow to speak words into our lives.
   II. With Whom We Share Words -- One of the greatest cautions we should exercise is speaking to others. Why is this so important? I shared with you what James said in James 3:5. He said, “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!”
   Imagine, if you will, the number of “fires” that have been started by the tongue! Now we have to admit that it’s bad enough when we speak negativity to our own situations, but it’s worse when we speak negativity into the situations of others. And, in my learned opinion, it’s even worse when we speak it of others’ situations that we are not involved in – a definition of gossip. How many times have we translated and spoken about someone’s situation without having hardly any of the facts? I’m not proud of it, but I’m guilty of it.
   Please note that the tongue can only start a fire when it’s communicating with someone else? If you were talking to yourself, as I often do, nothing would get passed along to others so nothing is repeated. However, when we begin speaking to others about their situations, then our words take on a life of their own.
   If I stood before you and told you about someone being healed, you would rejoice and then leave the Church and possibly forget about it by Wednesday. However, if I stood before you and confess some of my past sins, some of you would keep it quiet and be glad I am who I am today. Some of you might potentially be so shocked about my past that you’d might feel obligated to get on the phone this afternoon sharing my “testimony” with anyone who’ll listen and asking others to pray for me even though I was speaking of my history, not my present.
   Are you seeing the picture? Once you shared it with others then of course those people would be “obligated” to share what God has done in my life with even more folks until what is being shared is so distorted from the truth people would wonder why anyone would choose to sit under my leadership.
   The tongue has the power to start a very large fire!!! We should use caution when we’re talking to others because when we release something we can no longer control it. We cannot control how, when and with whom that information is shared. The best way to ensure that something is shared is to ask the person to keep it a secret. And we all know a good secret is too good to keep private, isn’t it?? There are some people who can honor this request, but the majority cannot.
   This is what God’s word says about this in Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him. Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil. A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.”
   Did you notice that half of the of the six things listed in theses verses pertain to the tongue? The writer says that a lying tongue, a false witness who utters lies and one who spreads strife among brothers are all an abomination to the Lord. Each involve us communicating gossip and lies to someone else.
   Proverbs 11:13 says “He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.” A talebearer by definition is one who spreads gossip and/or rumors. This verse goes hand in hand with Proverbs 18:8 which says: “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” That term “dainty morsels” means small delicious bites. In other words, for those who “listen” to gossip, it’s like eating delicious food that goes deep into the body. So, although the person who is spreading the gossip and/or the secrets of others cannot be trusted … they will always have an audience because people love to hear the gossip.
   I have been on both ends and I will tell you truthfully, now as I look back, it wasn't much fun – especially when I heard stuff about me. It’s amazing how things change when it involves us personally versus someone else. We often think that we don’t gossip – but I believe that those who listen to it are just as guilty as the person telling it because a person could not be a gossiper without having an audience. Even if you didn’t comment on what you were told, could you truthfully say that you were not affected by the information? Was your perspective of that person changed in any way? Or did you just hear the information and then just went on your way?
   It’s important that we use caution when we are speaking to others because what starts with our tongues goes into the hearts of those who hear and then the words you spoke are released from their tongues. It could be a small matter when we spoke it, but by the time it makes the rounds, it will have become a tremendous fire.
   We must use caution when we speak words to others because our belief and/or our unbelief will speak life or death into their situations. We have to be careful when we hear rumors or give our opinion on rumors because our opinions will still carry the power of life and death depending on who you are talking to.
   Finally we have to always remember that the person we are talking to might repeat what we say. When the word is spoken we have no control over where it goes from there. The final role that words play in our lives is also critical as it pertains to who we allow to speak words to us. We need to be careful who we listen to.
III. Be Care Who You Listen To -- Part of our text this morning illustrates this probably much better than I can explain it. Turn with me to the book of Numbers, chapter thirteen verses 25-33. In this chapter the Children of Israel comes to the land that God had promised them. God tells Moses to send out twelve spies to go and look at the land. The goal was for them to see the land, come back and tell the people how wonderful it was, and then, the people being excited, would rise up and go possess it. They were given orders to survey both the land and the people and bring back a report. We will pick this story up at verse twenty-five when the spies returned.
   25After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”
   30But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”
   31But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak (an’ick). Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”
   Moses sent out twelve spies. When they returned, ten of the spies gave a negative report saying that the people were too great for them to go in and conquer. Caleb immediately jumped in and said that they should go up immediately and possess the land. The people were faced with two different interpretations of the same report. Ten looked at the situation and said they couldn’t do it while the two looked at the same information and said they could. Who would the people listen to?
   As each side described what they saw, the people visualized within their minds what they could or couldn’t do. They either saw themselves like the ten, not being able to take the land or they saw what Caleb and Joshua saw, a land flowing with milk and honey that the Lord was giving them to possess. The people would see based on what they “received” in their ears from the ones they chose to “listen” to. Please understand you can’t listen to everybody!
   Let’s read a few verses from Numbers chapter fourteen, verses 1-4.
   14-1Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. 2Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. 3“Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”
   The people listened to the ten spies’ report. They became so discouraged that they grumbled against Moses and Aaron and questioned why God would bring them this far just to allow them to be slaughtered. The words of those ten spies overrode everything that God had done for them up to this moment. Their words spoke death, the people heard death and within their hearts they believed they would die if they entered the Promised Land at this point.
   Let’s continue with verses 22b-25 — 22bThey have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. 23They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it. 24But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land. 25 Now turn around, and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.”
   Because the people refused to do what God had instructed and chose to believe the report of the ten spies, God declared that those men would not see the Promised Land, everyone from the age of twenty and up who had spoken against God would not be allowed to enter the promised land.
   Can you imagine the number of people that died in the wilderness because they listened to the wrong voice? Because they received the wrong words? Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people failed to enter the Promised Land because they listened to the wrong voice – they received the wrong words into their heart. They believed the wrong words!
   Conclusion -- In this series I have shared with you the power of words and how our words sets things in motion that we are not even aware of. The words we choose to speak shares with others what’s within us. When we speak words into others, those words carry life or death depending upon the situation. We have to be careful that we don’t kill the dreams and/or desires of those around us.
   Finally, we need to be aware of who we allow to speak into us. If you are around someone who is negative and constantly speaking that negativity into your life and situations, find someone else to talk to. If you are the one speaking the negativity and death, stop talking until you can learn how to talk about positive things and begin to speak life into the people and situations around you.
   We fail because we do not believe and we speak that unbelief. We “try” because we don’t want to commit to doing something which goes right back to what we believe. If I don’t believe I am worthy of something, I will “try” to attain it and feel good about myself because I have been trying. It’s not my fault if I don’t succeed … at least I tried. That’s the wrong attitude, folks. The words we speak on a daily basis tells others if we are doing, trying or sitting on our hands.
   If we believe what Yoda told Luke Skywalker that there is no trying, just “do and do not”, then we have a hard choice to make. Regardless of the choices you make, your words will always reveal what is really in your heart.

July 22, 2018     That Is Why We Fail (Part 1)

   Matthew 12:30-37 (NLT) — 30“Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.
   31“So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven — except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.
   33“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. 34You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. 35A 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. 36And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. 37The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
   Did you know that God has given all of us gifts? There is one particular gift that we have that can be can be considered a blessing or a curse … depending on how we use it. All of us have this gift. All of us use this gift …  … we have a great big pile of it. Some of us use it to help people and some of us use it to hurt people. According to a recent study … on average … a man uses this gift about 7,000 times a day … while a woman uses this gift about 20,000 times a day.
   (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4488)
   Do any of you have any idea what this gift is??
   WORDS!!! Yep — a great big pile of them.
   This morning we’re going to be focusing on how our words let others know what is within our hearts because the Bible teaches that we speak what we believe within (Matthew 6:45).
   In our opening text this morning, Jesus said that our words reveal our character and our beliefs. He said in verses 33 & 34 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.”
   He said that we will speak what we believe in our hearts which will in fact show others who we are if they are listening close to us. If you listen to a person long enough they will reveal what is in their hearts … they will reveal to us their beliefs … or they’ll expose their unbelief.
   The title of my message this morning is “That Is Why You Fail.” As you think about this title, I want you to also consider the importance of words. In this short 2-part series we’ll be focusing on three different roles that words play in our lives. The first role is how we use them; the second role focuses on who we use them with; and the third role is who we allow to speak words into us.
   This morning I want you to picture someone telling you “That Is Why You Fail!” If someone told you that … what do you think your response would be to hearing those words? Notice we didn’t use the word “failed” as in past tense … instead we’re using the word “fail” which includes the past, the present and … if nothing changes, the future. If someone told you that, would those words crush you or light a fire up under you to ensure that you do not fail again in the manner in which you had previously? What would your response be?
   The title of this message comes from the words Yoda spoke to the young Jedi Luke Skywalker who had sought him out to be his trainer. If you recall from the movie, “The Empire Strikes Back”, Luke Skywalker separated from his friends so that he could find the Jedi Master Yoda who could complete his training to be a Jedi himself. When Luke landed on Yoda’s planet, he landed in a swamp and his ship sunk into the muddy water. As Yoda began to train Luke, there was one scene when Yoda asked Luke to use the force to raise his ship out of the swamp. Luke makes a statement about being willing to try to raise his ship but Yoda cuts him off and says to him, “Do or do not – there is no try!” Can you imagine what our lives would be like if we operated under the belief that we will “Do” or “Do Not” and we simply stop trying?
   The word “Try” is defined as “to make an effort to complete something.” The key words in that definition are “make an effort”. You don’t have to complete anything, just make the effort. There are many things that have gone uncompleted because people only make the effort – they tried. Stop trying!!! Do or do not!!!
   I want to pause here and make a point. We reward “trying” and I am not saying that it is wrong. When kids “try” we congratulate them. When they do not make good grades and they tells us that they are “trying their best” we comfort them. We have jobs where we “try to meet the objectives” in order to keep our jobs but sometimes the objectives are just too high. “I ‘tried” my best but I just could not do it” is what is often said.
   What would happen if we started operating with the mentality of “Do or do not” … operating with the mindset that trying is no longer an option? I know many of you are probably thinking that our world and all of the creativity came from people who were willing to “try” something new. My response would be the creativity came from people who were willing to “do” something new. Do you see the difference? If we stop “trying” and commit ourselves to “doing” … we will accomplish so much more. Does that make sense??
   Back to Star Wars … After the Jedi Master Yoda tells Luke to “do or do not – there is no try” Luke of course “tries” anyway. He stretches forth his hand, closes his eyes and concentrates on raising the ship. After “trying” the ships sinks further into the muddy water and Luke gets frustrated and gives up. He tells Yoda, “I can’t, it’s too big – we will never get it out now!”
   Yoda began to teach Luke that it was not about the size of the ship but the force operating in and around him. Yoda tells Luke that he needed to “unlearn” what he knew. Exasperated, Luke stands up and says “You want the impossible!” (How many of you know that we serve a God that makes the impossible possible?) Yoda then raises the ship out of the muddy swamp and sets it on land. Luke, being surprised that Yoda did it, tells him “I don’t believe it!” That is when Yoda tells Luke, “That is why you fail!”
   He told Luke that he did not believe within himself and that is why he failed, not just with the situation with his ship, but also in his past … and his future unless he changed.
   Consider the steps that Luke when through and think about how we operate in our daily Christian walk. Luke was told to raise the ship out of the swamp. Luke did not believe internally that he could do it and the unbelief that was in him was spoken aloud when he said “I would try”.
   You see, Luke expected to fail – that is why he never said, “Ok, I WILL do this.” After he tries, the ship sinks deeper – in other words his situation got worse. Once again Luke speaks from within and tells Yoda the ship is too big and now that it has sunk even deeper, it would be impossible to get out now. So, he tried and failed and his situation looks worse.
   Finally, Luke acted on what he believed to be impossible and gave up. Have you ever stood in faith and the situation got worse … and you gave up before you ever saw the end results?
   Now here is the point I want you to understand, before he totally gave up, Luke voiced in words the disbelief he held on the inside. He gave life to those words as he spoke them because that is what he believed.
   My point with this that we often fail because we do not believe and that when unbelief is present within us we give life to it by speaking it. There are times when we need to keep our mouths shut until we are ready and able to speak words of victory … and not defeat.
   My parents used to tell me that my mouth would get me into trouble and most often than not … it did. What they were teaching me was that just because I could think it, just because it was bouncing around between my ears, didn’t mean that it had to come out my mouth. They were also teaching me that not everything that needed to be said … needed to be said by me.
   Each of us has said things that we regret. We have all spoken life to situations and we have spoken death to situations. When we have spoken death to a situation, we sometimes didn’t know that that was what we were doing. Sometimes we were just speaking what we thought or believed – what was in our hearts.
   When we were in school and someone talked about us or called us names we would often say: “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” At the time we really believed that was the case, but having grown into an adult, I know that this statement is not a true statement. The Bible teaches that this statement is not correct. Words can, and will and do hurt us – but they can also speak life into us depending of if we are willing to discipline ourselves to check our thoughts before we open our mouths! So this brings me to the first role that words play in our live – how we use them.
   I. How We Choose To Use Words
   You have heard me speak about the power of words before. The words that come from our mouths are often spoken from our heart. Even though we may be smiling and laughing when we speak them, most of the time there is truth behind the words being spoken, even when they are spoken in a joking manner.
   The Scriptures tell us that our words carry power and we should be very careful how we use them. For example, Proverbs 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” What the writer is saying here is that we reap the seeds that are sown by the words we speak. Once our words are spoken they become a living force on their own. It matters not how many times we say we are sorry, those words will continue to live in the heart of the one that they were spoken to.
   In the book of James, chapter 3 vs 3-10, James says: “3Now if we put the bits into the horses' mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well. 4Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires. 5So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. 6See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”
   James explains that the tongue has the ability to set a lot of “negative” things in motion. What comes out of our mouths has the ability to change the course of our future as well as directly impact the future of others.
   Consider what would have happen if Luke felt doubt that he could raise the ship but waited until he believed and then said, “Ok I will do this!”
   We often speak our doubts and unbelief but as Yoda told Luke, we too need to unlearn what we have learned. We have seen this time and time again how the words we speak impact us and those around us. I cannot tell you the number of stories I have heard and witnessed where parents spoke death into the lives of their children by calling them names and/or berating them in front of others. The kids began to live the lives that their parents forecasted for them with their words. Our words are very powerful.
   As I said earlier, when we speak, we often speak what we believe in our hearts. What we believe and have faith in is what will come forth from our mouths. When we release words, whether we are talking about ourselves, our situations or someone else, the words we speak will carry the power to do good or bad. If we are unsure of the impact of something we’re about to say … we should choose not to say anything about it at all. We need to stop speaking our unbelief and start speaking our faith. If you don’t have any faith, you should stop talking until you get some and then start talking it.
   A pastor shared this story — Yesterday after our men’s meeting I spent the day with Clarissa for our annual father/daughter day. She wanted to go to Top Golf. Clarissa had never swung a golf club but she was doing pretty good. At the start of our third game, she scored with the first eight balls she hit, something that I have never done and I have been golfing for twenty years. I told Clarissa, “You have scored with eight straight shots – I have never done that!” Without even thinking about it, Clarissa turned to me and said, “Daddy don’t tell me that – now you have jinxed me!” I told her that I do not believe in jinx and of course she responded, “Well I do and you jinxed me!” She hit balls nine and ten and did not score. When we got towards the end of the game she had three balls left. I told her that she needed to get eighteen points with her last three balls to reach one hundred. She looked at me and said, “Why did you tell me that?” I reminded her that she could do it and to see herself doing it. She hit the first ball and got 4 points. She hit the second ball and got 6 points. She hit the last ball and got 8 points and finished with a score of 100. I looked at her and told her I knew she could do it. As we were leaving I asked her about this interaction and why she immediately defaulted to “don’t jinx me by telling me where I am” versus a mindset of “tell me what I need so I can get it!”
   Do you see that folks? Stuff like this is a learned response. We have been taught to fail and that only the best win. When I was in school back in the 60’s & 70”s. it was okay to lose — it was part of the game. Now, in some sports, we award all of the kids for trying, even if they lose, because we do not want to damage their self-esteem! Are we teaching them it’s okay to lose?
   We have all been there. Our world is filled with people who believe in their hearts that they cannot do something. Because they believe this, they speak these words not knowing what is recorded in Proverbs 18:21 “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
   They do not realize that they are failing because they are speaking failure into their circumstance. They believe in their hearts that they will fail; they speak out loud what they believe; and then get mad and upset because they fail.
   I want to share with you what else Jesus said in Matthew chapter 12, verses 36-37. He said, “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
   I want you to understand what Jesus is saying here, and I ask that you go back and study it for yourselves to see if I am correct in my interpretation.
   I have been so guilty of just “speaking” words without considering their impact. But consider what Jesus says here. He says, for every idle word, or discourse, that men speak, they shall give an account. This tells us, [1.] That God takes notice of every word we say, even that which we ourselves do not notice.
   Psalm 139:4 says “Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, You know it all.” Even though words are sometimes spoken without regard or design, God takes notice of them.
   [2.] That vain, idle, rude and useless talk is displeasing to God. The kind of talk that does not tend to any good purpose and is not good to any use of edifying as it is the product of a vain and trifling heart. These idle words are the same with that foolish talking and jesting which is forbidden in Ephesians 5:4 which says “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
   Am I telling you that we can never talk and kid with one another and have fun? No that is not what I am telling you. What I am saying is that we should always be mindful of the words we are speaking and who whom we are speaking them too – even when we’re just kidding around. Why? Because even then we are often speaking what we believe in our hearts and those very words carry life and death within them.
   [3.] If we do not get this under control, these idle words will be produced in evidence against us thus proving us to be unprofitable servants. Why? Because we have been entrusted to improve those around us and if we are speaking words that are producing death versus life, there is a price to be paid.
   In verse thirty-seven, Jesus says “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” These are legal terms meaning that our words will testify for or against us on that Great Day. Those who seemed to be religious, but did not bridle their tongue, will then be found lacking with a vain religion. Remember what James said in in James 1:26? He said, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.” I have been very guilty of this – how about you?
   We’ll continue this next week. This week as you go through your daily routine, tell yourself “Do or do not – there is no try!!! Live this week without trying anything. Decided if you are going to do it; then believe it and then go do it!

July 15, 2018     Bring Someone With You

   Opening Scripture — Luke 8:40-56 (NLT) — Jesus Heals in Response to Faith — 40On the other side of the lake the crowds welcomed Jesus, because they had been waiting for him. 41Then a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come home with him. 42His only daughter, who was about twelve years old, was dying.
   As Jesus went with him, he was surrounded by the crowds. 43A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding, and she could find no cure. 44Coming up behind Jesus, she touched the fringe of his robe. Immediately, the bleeding stopped.

   5“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”
   46But Jesus said, “Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out from me.” 47When the woman realized that she could not stay hidden, she began to tremble and fell to her knees in front of him. The whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed. 48“Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
   49While he was still speaking to her, a messenger arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. He told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”
   50But when Jesus heard what had happened, he said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed.”
   51When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s father and mother. 52The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”
   53But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. 54Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” 55And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56Her parents were overwhelmed, but Jesus insisted that they not tell anyone what had happened.
   Video “Who’s Coming With You?”
   Good morning. We are in the last week of an exciting six week series called Made for Mission. Over the past five weeks we’ve talked about how all Christians have been called by God to join in His mission to reach the world. We’ve talked about what we’re supposed to say, who we are supposed to say it to and why we should live on mission to begin with.
   By a show of hands, how many of you know your grandparents first names? How many of you know your great grandparents first names? I’ve got some unfortunate news for every person here. You are more likely only a few decades away from being totally forgotten.
   Welcome to Red Stone Fellowship. Since we’ll all be forgotten soon, you’re dismissed. Not really!!
   You see, here’s the good news. God’s calling on your life is always bigger than your lifetime. While just about all of us can’t go back three generations in our own family trees, that’s not the case with our spiritual family. Based on how the Bible reads I have a suspicion that in Heaven we will be able to study our spiritual family trees forward and backwards. Since God is outside of time I wonder if we’ll be able to see how ultimately we became Christ followers and be able to follow up to see the ripples of our life time in impacting those in the future spiritually. Kind of like ancestors.com but on steroids.
   Let me say that If you are brand new to this whole God/Church/Jesus thing and just checking it all out, I’m so glad you’re here. You need to know that God’s got something bigger for your life and is inviting you to join Him in his activity where He’s already working.
   Today we are going to study a scene in the life of a guy named Peter. He’s one of those open mouth / insert foot kind of guys. He was always getting into trouble for speaking before thinking. If you’ve ever done that before then you’ll be able to relate to him. If you ever make bonehead mistakes, Peter’s your guy.
   Today we are going to read two back to back stories found in the book of Luke.
   Lets’ read Luke 8:40-42a again — 40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him.41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because 42a his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.
   So Jairus meets Jesus and His disciples at the docks. His description as the synagogue leader was a big deal. In that culture think city council member or even mayor of that area. This could be a really big opportunity for this small start up movement led by Jesus. If a synagogue leader were to become a follower he might influence the whole city and even the surrounding region. I’ve heard reports that Justin Beiber has become a Christian. So often the church loves to take advantage of a celebrity’s influence to spread the gospel but I don’t think that is normally how God chooses to work. God loves doing extraordinary things thru very ordinary people.
   So I don’t know what Jesus is thinking but I bet the disciples are not blind to the opportunity at hand which meant they better get to Jairus’ house fast before they miss it. Check out what happens next.
   Luke 8:42b-48 says — 42b As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
   45 “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”
   46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
   47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
   It’s almost comical how this scene starts. Massive crowds are surrounding Jesus pressing in to get closer to him yet he stops mid stride to ask, “Who touched me?” I picture Peter rolling his eyes here, “Ahh Jesus, there are people all around you. Everybody is touching you!”
   It would be like crowd surfing at a rock concert and then stopping to ask who touched you. It makes no sense. What also makes no sense is that Jesus stops on his way to a big ministry opportunity to talk to someone that everyone else ignored.
   There are a lot of things we can probably guess about this woman. She’s poor (in another one of the gospels we read that she had spent all her money trying to find a cure but nothing had worked.) She’s probably all alone. We sure don’t hear of anyone else with her in this scene. She’s also probably been seriously shamed in this city. The religious leaders taught that diseases were a punishment from God and thus they were people you should stay away from. Still with all that baggage she takes a massive risk.
   Based on Old Testament Law the people would believe that this woman’s disease would permanently make her unclean and anything she touched would become unclean as well.
   People know about this woman. She has a reputation. As she pushed her way through the crowd to get to Jesus what did she most likely have to endure? “What are YOU doing here?” “Tell me to go home where I belong!” She was shoved to the side and given dirty looks. Yet in all this, the woman is relentless to get to Jesus. It pays off and her whole life is changed in a moment.
   You have no idea when God wants to use you. Your greatest impact will probably come at a time you’re least expecting it. For the woman … she’s been suffering with this disease for 12 years. She’d prayed for God to remove it from her multiple times a day for over a decade. If you walked in here and you’ve been carrying around a prayer request for what seems like forever, learn the lesson from this woman. Don’t give up. Run to Jesus. There’s always hope and He can do more in a moment than we could ever think of doing in a lifetime.
   Moving on with Luke 8:49 -56 we read 49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”
   50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
   51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
   53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.
   So, they get to Jairus’ place and his daughter is already dead. I can picture some of the disciples slyly shaking their heads. “If we didn’t have that stop along the way and deal with that woman … I bet we would have made it.” But, Jesus grabs a couple of the guys and the girl’s parents and goes up to see the dead girl.
   He says to them, “she’s not dead … she’s just sleeping.” Probably out of pain the parents, his disciples and others close to the family nervously laugh. Jesus ignores the apparent lack of faith, takes the girl by the hand and raises her from the dead. Think about this girl’s life, what a story for her to share. Think about the parents. The Synagogue leader of the area just became a Jesus follower.
   Think about this … how old was this girl? 12 years old. How long did the woman suffer from bleeding? 12 years. How cool is that … to think that God had been waiting for this amazing day for 12 years. How many of your prayer requests has God already picked the day when He is going to answer it and eagerly waiting to see the look on your face when He does?
   I’ve read these two stories before but to be honest I think I missed the most impactful part. While Jesus healing the bleeding woman and raising the preteen from the dead were huge, I don’t think they were the most impacting. Here it is… “When Jesus arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s parents.
   Why Peter? He had just questioned Jesus in public a minute and a half ago. Shouldn’t he by this point have learned to stop talking back to Jesus? Then Jesus brings him along to Jairus’ house and he laughs when Jesus remarks that “the girl is only sleeping.”
   God’s calling on your life is bigger than your lifetime. That’s not true automatically just because you’re a Christian … but if you join God in His mission it will be. So, how do I do that? That’s kind of been the whole point of this series … but I want to end with one more HUGE truth.
   Bring someone with you. As you go live the mission you were made for, don’t live it alone. Bring someone along for the ride. This may be the single greatest leadership lesson we learn from the life of Jesus. You could make a strong case that Jesus is the greatest leader of all time. He never wrote any books. He never held a public office. He never went outside one small area of the world. He was on the public scene only for a little over three years and then died at age 33. Yet here we are … 2,000 years later … and there are over 2 billion people following Him from all corners of the earth in hundreds of different languages. The movement He started is growing faster now worldwide than ever before. That’s pretty good leadership ... isn’t it?
   Bring someone with you. You know how many times it says Jesus took his disciples and they went somewhere? Me neither. I started counting through the Gospels and lost track because just about every time he went somewhere … he intentionally brought people with him. There are examples when he got alone. We know of several times the Bible says that He was alone when He prayed. BUT, the evidence is abundantly clear that with incredible intentionality Jesus brought people with him.
   Listen to the last words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 — “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
   In the Greek the literal translation is “As you go” make disciples. Think about the different applications to this command. One is definitely that as you go through your life intentionally share Jesus with the people you meet and then disciple them in their faith. The other application I’ve never heard someone say but it’s obvious from watching Jesus’ life. Don’t just disciple the people you meet along the way but also bring people along with you and disciple them while you go through your day to day responsibilities.
   Jesus ends with promising that He “will be with us always, to the very end of the age.” If He’s truly in the driver’s seat of your life … then it’s not so much you’re bringing Him with you but instead He’s bringing you with Him. What He did for the disciples 2000 years ago, Jesus still wants to do in our lives today. As He disciples us now He invites us to do the same with others.
   Let me give you some Practical examples.
   Parents, bring your kids with you. Share a way your family intentionally has involved your kids in the ministry to help disciple them. Parents, bring your kids friends with you too. Three words--Saturday night sleepovers. Obviously talk to their parents first before you bring them to church but your family may be the closest to Jesus that your kids friends ever get.
   As you serve in ministry, invite someone to serve with you. Would you like to try being an usher or greeter with me one time. Bring someone with you.
   With friends and family, bring them with you as you try to live out your faith. Invite them to church. Invite them to help with a service project or to coach your kids soccer team together.
   Share some other ways from your life when you’ve intentionally brought someone with you with the goal of helping disciple them.
   I read where a pastor used this example — “At our church we offer free classes for kids in different sports and activities. I recently asked my friend if he would be the head coach for our Basketball team since he had experience in that before. He got involved in our church through the process and this past summer invited a friend of his to help him coach at church. His friend received Christ with his daughter and were both baptized simply because their friend brought them with him to coach kids in basketball.”
   My guess is that none of this is surprising. Still, several studies have shown that the average church goer in North American brings nobody to church with them in a given year. It’s sad to say, but the average Christian brings 0 lost people with them to church. The number was so low that they have to round down to nobody.
   I think the reasons why we normally don’t bring someone with us are the same reasons Jesus would have had with Peter.
   -It’s just easier to just do it on my own. You never know what’s going to come out of loudmouth Peter. -I just don’t think they could handle it. Just a minute before Peter totally had blown it so why do we think he’s going to do better this time.                         
   Really there are just two possible outcomes if you bring someone with.

   1) Your assessment of them might be wrong. You invite someone to come with you on mission and you think they can’t handle it but actually there was way more in them then you thought.

   2) Or, it could be that you’re right, but God is going to use their failure to grow them. Anybody here ever grew through a failure before? That’s actually the primary way we all grow. For example, parents—your job is not to protect your kids from ever failing, your job is to raise them up to trust God.
   So, what happens with Peter? I think he got it! Jesus can raise the dead. Even death is not an insurmountable barrier when it comes to Jesus. What if Jesus didn’t bring him? Then Peter wouldn’t have learned that lesson and this future scene probably wouldn’t have ever happened.
   In Acts 9:36-42 we read — 36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda (lid’ a) was near Joppa; 38 so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
   39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
   40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.
   Peter heals Tabitha in an eerily similar way that Jesus had healed Jairus’s daughter. Many people came to believe in Jesus all throughout Joppa simply because Jesus took Peter with him years earlier. God is a “connecting the dots” kind of God. We have no idea what God wants to do through us and when He wants to do it.
   God’s calling on your life is bigger than your lifetime. There is only one thing that will last. The stuff you are stressing about now won’t. It’ll probably be no big deal in a couple years and your own great grandkids, that wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for you, won’t even know your name. BUT—if you bring someone with you into the Kingdom, that will be celebrated for all eternity.
   Check out this video — Why People Don’t Go to Church
   What is God calling you to? Who is He calling for you to bring with you? Who in your life does not know God? As you seek to pursue after God yourself … who will you invite to pursue Him with you. They may laugh? But don’t worry, you’ll be in good company.
   I want to introduce you to a phrase that is the perfect response to what we’ve been talking about for the past 6 weeks. Will you put your “Yes on the Table?” When it comes to God will your answer be “YES” before you even know what the question is? God, I don’t know where, how, when, who or when … but my answer will be “Yes Lord”.
   I want you to pull out the card that we placed in your bulletins this morning. Every one of us knows someone that we would want sitting in the seat beside us today. Would you take the time to write their name on the back of your card? It doesn’t matter if it’s one name or a hundred. During our closing song today, I want you to bring those cards up front and place them in our yellow prayer bucket. This small act will show God clearly that you’re all in when it comes to live out the mission you were made for.

July 8, 2018 Why Am I On Mission

   Our opening passage is found in John 13:1-17 — Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet — 1Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. 2It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. 4So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
   6When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
   7Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
   8“No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!”
   Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
   9Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
   10Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11For Jesus knew who would betray him. That is what he meant when he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
   12After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.
   It had been almost 3 ½ years since the day he’d dropped everything he’d ever known to step out into a life he knew nothing about. He could still remember Jesus’ whisper loud enough for only him to hear amidst the crowd … “Come and follow me.” Peter knew very little of what he was getting into but something inside him told him this was the most important decision he would ever make in his life.
   Now, several years later he could barely even remember the days when his only goal was catching fish on the Sea of Galilee. He and the other guys Jesus called his disciples had seen the blind see, the dead rise, the waves become calm and demons cast out. Even crazier was that at some point Jesus had him actually doing the miracles. It never got old seeing the look of joy on a man’s face as he walked for the first time after a lifetime of being paralyzed.
   Here they were in their 3rd Passover meal together. Somehow this one felt different. As the guys found their spots around the table Jesus didn’t go directly to his seat. Instead he got down on his knees next to a basin of water and began to wash the other guy’s feet. The others like Peter were speechless. Jesus had spoken about serving others countless times but this was just too much. This was going too far. Peter was the last one to go and by this point Peter couldn’t keep quiet anymore. “No Lord!” he blurted out as he pulled his feet away. Then Jesus looked deeply into Peter’s eyes much like he’d done over three years ago when they first met and said words that once again would forever change his life. Once more Peter slowly extended his feet and watched in disbelief as the Creator of the universe washed the gunk in between his blistered toes.
   Good morning. We’re in week five of our Made for Mission Series. If you’ve been AWOL on us lately here is a quick review to catch you up.
   We started out by saying “We are all called.” A calling on your life is not for the spiritually elite but for everyone who calls themselves a Christian.
   Week two we answered the question, “What’s my mission?” We said our mission is Jesus’ mission so my suggestion is for you to find out what He’s up to in your little corner of the world.
   Week three we asked, “What’s my message?” If I’m made for a mission then what do I say when I’m on it. We learned our message is simple. We’re just supposed to share how God’s goodness has intersected with our lives.
   Finally, last week we talked about “Who’s my mission?” We said it’s simply those around us that God has strategically placed around us where we live work and play. (You can go out to redstoneministries.org and read the last 4 lessons to catch up.)
   When we think about reaching our area it can seem overwhelming if we just think about the church being where we hold services. When we begin to realize that the church isn’t this building, but it’s the people that attend … then all of a sudden we realize that we have opportunities to make an impact all over the place.
   Video “Why Should We Be On Mission?”
   Today we are asking the question, “Why am I on Mission?” Maybe while we’re here together you’re pumped to go live out the mission God has put you on the planet to live out … but in the craziness of life do you find yourself asking questions like…
   -Can’t I just be a normal soccer mom instead of a Mom on a mission?
   -Do I really have to see my school as a mission field? Can’t I just attend like everyone else?
   -My job’s hard enough, do I really have to try to force spiritual conversations with my unsaved co-workers?
   Before we dive into today’s passage let me speak to those of you who are brand new to this whole God/Church/Jesus thing. As you’re trying to figure this whole thing out I think it’s important to understand that Jesus is inviting us into a Chicken Pot Pie relationship not a TV Dinner relationship. You know in a TV dinner the food comes in their own separate compartments. So, you could devour the steak … but completely avoid the broccoli … because some people think the devil created broccoli. In the same way we can easily break our lives into their own distinct compartments. You’ve got one titled family, one titled work, one titled friends and one for spiritual beliefs.
   In this image you could have strong spiritual beliefs that come out on Sundays but they really don’t mix naturally with the other parts of your life. The only problem is that Jesus isn’t interested in your spiritual life, he’s interested in your whole life. With a Chicken Pot Pie all of the food is fixed in together … so there is no picking and choosing. The broccoli, chicken and carrots are all mixed up, in every bite, whether you like it or not.
   The same is true with our walk with God. He wants our relationship with Him to touch every part of our lives and for us to get rid of the compartments.
   I read a catchy slogan “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face.” The same could be said for us and our relationships with God. “If it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your faith.”
   We read in our passage this morning that it was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
   The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so, he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
   The most frequent response people had to Jesus was utter amazement. They simply just did not see it coming.
   Is that ever your response to Jesus? Maybe it was before, but now we’ve been at this Christian thing for a while kind of know the drill. Maybe that’s how the disciples felt after 3 ½ years of following Jesus. Yawn—another blind guy can see. Yawn—another paralyzed guy can walk. BUT!!! This was something new. —YOU’RE going to wash my feet? No way!  
   Do you understand the significance of this? Can you understand why this was such a big deal? In Jesus’ day, people walked everywhere and, as they were walking, they walked in everything. Imagine all the different animals wandering the streets. Washing someone’s feet was a NASTY job … it was usually done by the lowest person on the totem pole of the list of servants. That servant would meet the people of the household at the door with a pitcher of water, a basin and a towel and wash their feet before they entered the house.
   For me it’s easy to turn my mission on and off … but Jesus was always on mission. One obvious difference was that he was God but I think it was more than that. He knew WHY He was on Mission and it was stronger than any of the reasons or excuses that could have gotten him off track. Check out all the excuses Jesus could have easily come up with to not wash their feet.
   -He was having a nice meal with his friends. “This is a party, I don’t need to think about serving others for the next two hours. I get it if I’m on a mission trip or at church but can’t I just enjoy a Friday night with friends.
   -The people at the meal didn’t deserve it. Jesus knew that Peter would deny even knowing him later that night. Judas could betray Jesus in just a few hours and hand him over to be crucified. It’s one thing when the people you’re serving are grateful but that wasn’t an excuse for Jesus to bail out. His servant’s heart was bigger than whether the person was deserving … or not.
   -Jesus was grossly overqualified. Washing someone’s feet was not even part of the role of a servant. He could have easily built a strong case that this was far beneath him. He could have said, “I’ll serve any way You want me to … but just not that.”
   -Seemingly he was making no impact by washing their feet. Another time Jesus spit in the dirt to make mud so he could give sight to a blind guy. This was different, even after Jesus cleaned their feet, an hour later their feet would be caked in filth again from walking through the dirty streets in open toed sandals.  He could have easily said, “What’s the point?”
   -This was a really undesirable task as well. No human should have to clean the nasty gunk between someone else’s toes. It’s not as strong as the other excuses but I bet this was not something He really wanted to do. 
   -Finally, He had a lot bigger stuff on his mind. He knew that he was about to be arrested, beaten and crucified. We read that maybe just an hour later He is sweating blood because of the stress in his life. If there was ever a time to think about his own stuff … this would certainly be one.
   Yet here he is — with every excuse in the book to not go through with this. Here he is again … amazing those closest to him. How does he do this? This may be the most selfless point of his life to this point. How do I stay focused and passionate about the mission even when I don’t feel like it, stressed, or have some serious anger towards the people I’m trying to reach out to?
   I want you to get this today. The Foundation of His Mission flowed from His Identity. Lots of things shape how we see ourselves and how we think other people see us.
   I think a perfect example of this is what we saw in the video of the woman at the well last week. Remember she said “The time is coming, and in fact is already come, when what you are called will not matter. It’s who you are and how you live your life before God that counts.”
   What if your identity was truly found in God? This was definitely true for Jesus and the Father.
   He knew WHO he was.   He was the Son of God. His mission was clear.
   He knew WHOSE he was   He was the Fathers. What was there to fear. 
   He knew what he was HERE FOR.  –The time had come to pay for the sins of mankind.
   He knew WHERE he was going.  – He would leave this world and go to the Father in Heaven. His eyes were looking beyond the cross.
   He knew where the POWER came from.  – Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God
   As followers of Jesus these are all true for us as well. When our identity is wrapped up in God, He is infinitely bigger than the circumstances that surround us. So, Jesus’ identity was secure but that doesn’t answer the question of why that lead him to wash feet. (It just seems weird, right?) My identity is in Christ but that has never inspired me to stop and wash my friend’s feet. 
   Let’s look at John 13: 6-11 — 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
   7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
   8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
   Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
   9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
   10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.
   What a crazy response, “if I don’t do this then you have no part with me.” One of the simplest descriptions of what our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be like is Pour Out … Pour In … Pour Out … Pour In
   We begin by pouring out ourselves to God … we share with him the good, the bad and the ugly. Like any good parent, Jesus wants to hear us talk about our fears, stresses, passions and dreams. Then after we pour out to God, He then pours back into us. This most often happens through His word … but can also be through other Godly people, circumstances in life and through the Holy Spirit in prayer. He fills us up with encouragement, conviction, guidance and wisdom. Then from His overflow we then go pour ourselves out to others.
   You see this in the life of Jesus all over the place. In John 11 Jesus and the disciples get away to pray (poured Out) In John 12 Jesus is anointed by an expensive perfume in preparation for his burial (Poured In) Then here in John 13 Jesus washes his disciple’s feet. (Poured Out) 
   Right after this scene Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane where he pours out his heart to God (pour out) The passage says that God sends an angel to strengthen Him (pour in). Finally, Jesus goes from there to give his life on the cross to forgive the sins of all mankind (the ultimate pour out)
   To the depth that I pour out to God is the depth that God pours into me. To the depth that God pours into me is the depth that I am able to pour into others.
   We’ve all got our junk. We’ll illustrate that with the Pepsi that's in this bottle ... signifying all the nasty stuff in our lives that nobody would ever want to be a part of, much less drink. What God wants us to do is pour that out to him. (Pour the Pepsi into a clear glass) Then He wants to pour himself out into us with perfectly clear water. (pour water from the pitcher into the formerly dirty glass.) Then from this new cup he wants us to pour ourselves out into the broken and hurting around us. (pour that mixture into the other empty glass) Pour in clear water. Pour out into another clear glass. Pour in clear water. Pour out into another clear glass. Pour in clear water. Pour out into another clear glass. Pour in clear water. Do y'all see what's happening? As we are pouring into Jesus and Jesus is pouring into us ... all the junk in our lives is slowly fading away. The Pepsi is getting more and more diluted (lighter and lighter). You see, the more we pour into Jesus ... the more He pours into us ... the more our stuff fades ... and that give us more to pour into others. Does that make sense??
   Now what would happen if you never took the time to pour out to God through prayer and allowed Him to pour in to you through His words and others? All you would have is your dirty cup. When people came to you in need this dirty water is all you have to offer. The reality is you could very well be hurting them more than helping. They don’t need your nasty water … they need Jesus’ perfect healing water.
   For Peter God is doing this very thing. By washing his feet he’s giving the powerful lesson of replacing nasty feet (pour out) with clean ones. (pour in) 
   Peter’s first response was “No way. Not going to happen.” But Jesus comes back strong and says, “If I can’t do this for you Peter then you’ve missed the whole point of the past 3 ½ years.” From the very beginning Jesus’ primary call on Peter’s life had not been ministry … Jesus’ primary call on Peter’s life was intimacy. He wanted a intimate relationship with Peter … just as He does with you and me.
   Understand this … On day one, the very first time Jesus met Peter, He said to him “Follow me.” Not do what I do or get in line — Jesus invited him first and foremost into a relationship. Notice Peter’s job was not to become a fisher of men … but, Peter’s job was to simply follow Jesus and allow him to make Peter into whatever he wanted.”
   We get all this stuff in our lives that makes us forget what our real identity is. But God wants to cleanse us and remind us who we really are. Made for a Mission = Life in Relationship with God. The two can’t ever be separated or we will fade completely away over time. The exciting thing is that out of our identity of being cleansed by God and refilled by His Spirit, He calls us to join him. Listen to the last thing he tells Peter and the other disciples to do.
   Now, let’s look back at John 13: 12-17
   12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
   He tells them to go do the same for others. As I’ve poured into you now you pour into others.
   This story has multiple layers. Not only do we see where Jesus puts his foundation so that he’s able to stay on mission even when everyone else would give up or walk away. We also find, as God pours more of himself into us, He will lead us to a greater level of service and sacrifice.
   Everyone else in our world is about upward mobility. Get a better car, better house, better job, better paycheck. God actually leads us to downward mobility. It’s so foreign to our culture … but it’s His way. He exchanged a throne in heaven for a cross on earth. Before you write off his words as cruel punishment, listen to what Jesus says next.
   Moving ahead to John 13:16-17
   Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
   Notice He doesn’t say serve and sacrifice for others so that God will give you spiritual brownie points. Instead He says, “you’ll be BLESSED if you do them.” Meaning, you’re the fortunate one.
   I think there are two main reasons he says we will be blessed. 1) The more you serve and sacrifice out of an overflowing cup, the more you’re like Christ. And 2) The more you serve and sacrifice the more you’re with Christ.
   I think the deeper you go down the more you get immersed in God’s love. It’s only here that you truly learn that Jesus is enough. If you have Him … you have all that you need.
   As we live on mission it’s huge that our “Why” is secure. It’s simply that our identity is found in Jesus. That we don’t have to seek approval in our work, money, accomplishments, abs, biceps, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, kids or parents. We are fully approved by God. You’re God’s kid!
   From this identity He now calls us to serve others. We’re called to humbly and happily put others needs before our own. Jesus set the standard pretty high. He was God and he washed filthy, dirty feet and told us to follow his example.
   This next week I want you to pour out all your stuff to Jesus and then allow Him to pour himself back into you and then pour that into others.
   Look at Romans 10:15 with me … And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
   As you spend time with God each day and God washes you through His Word each day, He will then send you out with some beautiful feet. Do you have beautiful feet? Do people say you’ve got beautiful feet? They only come from being with Jesus.
   Let me warn you, you might not get it right. Peter and his clean feet falls asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane an hour later when he’s supposed to be praying. A few hours later he denies even knowing Jesus and runs off in guilt. So, what does Jesus do … a few days later Jesus meets him on a beach where it had all began and what do they do. Peter pours his heart out to Jesus. Jesus pours His heart into Peter. Then Peter pours his heart out to 3000 at Pentecost … and the rest is history.
   Don’t give up on a God who has never given up on you. Satan whispers in our ear—you can’t do it. Don’t stretch yourself. You’ll fail if you try.
   God pours in His whispers—I still believe in you. I’m not done with you yet. The best is still to come. You have no idea. Just trust me. One more day. Get back up. I’ll be strong in your weakness. I’ve got this. You’re not alone.
   Did you know the book of Mark comes from the testimony of Peter? You know what’s so cool, a few decades later when it’s written, Peter’s identity is so sure that he includes all his mistakes. Can’t you just picture Peter—“oh and that’s when I screwed up and cut the dude’s ear off, and that’s when I fell asleep, and that’s when I took my eyes off Jesus and started sinking.”
   The Foundation of his Mission flowed from his Identity in Christ and the same must be true for you and I as well. Who knows — our worst moments might serve to help others when they feel like they are failing.

July 1, 2018 Who Is My Mission

   Opening passage — John 4:1-30 (NLT) — Jesus and the Samaritan Woman — “1Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2(though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). 3So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.
   4He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
   9The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
   10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
   11“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
   13Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
   15“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
   16“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
   17“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
   Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband — 18for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
   19“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim (jerizeem), where our ancestors worshiped?”
   21Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
   25The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
   26Then Jesus told her, “I AM the Messiah!”
   27Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” 28The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, 29“Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” 30So the people came streaming from the village to see him.”
   One of the Samaritan villagers tells this story. Can I be honest with ya? When I would see her walking down the street I made it a point to look down. I had judged her and made snickering remarks at her expense on more than one occasion.
   It wasn’t just me, it was all the guys. What did she expect? I didn’t make the choices she made. I didn’t run from one relationship to the next like they were a blowout sale on black Friday. It wasn’t like it was all the time. She mostly kept to herself or her flavor of the month husband or boyfriend. It’s not like when we’d pass she’d say “Hi” to me either.
   That’s why it was crazy this one day when she raced into the center of town yelling for people to come with her. Everybody was asking “What’s gotten into that woman … has she lost her mind?” Where did this sudden urgency come from and this boldness to call out to everyone in her path to follow her? I guess it was out of sheer intrigue I decided to join the crowd and follow this woman we’d spent the past decade intentionally avoiding.
   She brought us out to the well where we got our water each morning but it was who was standing next to it that made her so excited.
   “Okay, okay everybody. This is Jesus. He’s the man I was telling all of you about. He told me everything I ever did and has the words of eternal life. Just listen to him okay.” The woman said as she moved out of the way to give this very ordinary looking man center stage.
   And then he began to speak and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. Someone brought up their paralyzed son and Jesus put his hand on the kid’s leg and he jumped up and started walking. The place was going crazy and my heart was beating out of my chest. That day I gave my life to Jesus and He’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
   I think to myself often, what if she never told us. What if she didn’t invite me to meet Him myself? I don’t look down when I pass anyone on the road anymore.
Checkout this video with me. (Video of the Woman at the well) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sma4o3mCPwA
   Good morning everybody. We are in week four of our Made for Mission series. If you’re here for the first time or missed some of the past three lessons, if you like, please go out to our website (redstoneministries.org) and read each lesson to get caught up on this series.
   But, for right now, let’s do a quick review to get us all on the same page.
   Week 1 we said that “We Are All Called”. If you’re a follower of Jesus then He has put you on the planet for a reason. He’s strategically placed you where you live, work and play to join him in His mission.
   So, week 2 we asked the question “What’s my mission?” In a nutshell, your mission is the same mission Jesus had. Our mission is to grow in relationship with God and to introduce Him to others.
   And week 3 we unpacked how you actually introduce Him. We answered the question, “What’s my Message?” We learned that it’s simply sharing with others how the goodness of God has intersected with your life.”
   If I may … I’d like to interject a thought on last week’s lesson “What Is My Message.” I’ve noticed over the years that lots people go out into the world “Bible Thumping” … blasting Scriptures to people that really don’t want to hear it. So, what happens? To shut the Bible Thumpers up because they ALWAYS say “Yeah, but” and start telling the thumpers what those Scriptures mean to them and then, they want to start arguing with the thumpers over what they really mean. Ever been there??
   Then we got these other people that want to go into the world and bring up all these divisive subjects … subjects that have actually split churches and divided families.
   So, what happens with this?? People start “debating” the Word of God!! God doesn’t need ANY of our help defending Him or His Word. The Bible teaches that God will never change and that His Word will stand forever. (Malachi 3:6 & Isaiah 40:8)
   I’ve heard where people have debated the topic “Once Saved-Always Saved.” Debated over whether hell was eternal or not. Debated over the Trinity. Debated over the different topics concerning the Rapture … and that list goes on and on!!
   People a whole lot smarter than all of us put together have been arguing and debating the things of God for thousands of years and will continue to do so for thousands of more years … because that’s the devil’s plan. It’s the enemy’s way to keep us fussin and arguing and debating over stuff that isn’t really worth fussin and arguing and debating over.
   Can I offer you some advice?? PLEASE don’t do that!!! God HAS NOT called any of us to Bible Thump anybody. He hasn’t called us to debate or argue over what His Word says or means either. He’s called ALL of us to Share the life-saving GOSPEL with a lost and dying world!!! (Mark 16:15)
   And what a better way to do that is to share with people what God HAS done and IS doing in your life and the lives around you. That’s the ONE thing that nobody can argue or debate. So many people want to make this all complicated and “deep” … but I don’t believe Jesus intended for it to be.
   I was just thinking out loud on all of this. I hope it makes sense.
   Today we are answering the question, “Who Is My Mission?” I get it that I’m supposed to share how God’s goodness has intersected with my life … but do I just walk up to random people and start talking? If God has uniquely placed me in some people’s lives to share about Him how do I go about identifying that?
   Let me remind you that if you’re here this morning and just checking out this whole God/Church/Jesus thing, this might seem a little awkward and you’re probably asking yourself … “So, you’re saying that I’m the mission?”
   What we are going to talk about is still very applicable to you because as you investigate Jesus you need to know that today’s topic is a MAJOR theme in His life. In fact, it’s impossible to truly be a follower of Jesus and ignore what we’re talking about today.
   Look at John 2: 24-25 — “24But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.”
   Jesus knew all people and He knew what was inside them. As He started His ministry He gives us two polar opposite examples of the kinds of people that God loves to work in.
   Listen to John 3:1 — 1There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee.
   Jesus has a conversation with a very religious man named Nicodemus. We’re not going to get into that conversation today except to say that the author, John, very deliberately placed it before the scene that was in our opening passage. Jesus has a spiritual conversation with someone you’d expect to have it all figured out (someone who would think like a pastor of a church) but Jesus ends up correcting some basic beliefs that Nicodemus was holding.
   You see, just because someone appears to be a “super Christian,” just because someone seems to think they have all the answers, just because someone thinks they know it all about it all, just because someone has all the “right” scriptures at just the “right” time … doesn’t mean that they’re not just like the rest of us … still struggling with questions about their faith.
   The Bible goes on to tell us that Jesus leaves there and has a conversation with a woman that could not be further on the “religious scale than Nicodemus.” I want you to understand the switch from the religious man to the lady with the colorful life. You see, Jesus is making a very profound point that NOBODY is off limits when it comes to talking about God.
   Let’s look back at John 4:1-6 — 1Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2(though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). 3So he left Judea and returned to Galilee.
   4He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar (si’char), near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.
   Geography helps to understand this passage. We read that he left Judea to go to Galilee. Now most Jews would actually make this trip longer than they would have to by intentionally going around all of Samaria. The Jewish people despised the Samaritans because they saw them as sell outs. They were the people that intermarried with the people of the land so that they were only half-Jewish.
   What’s interesting is that Jesus actually went out of his way to go through Samaria. The scene we are about to study is the only scene we read during this trip … meaning it must be incredible significant. Jesus sits down at the well by himself. We’ll learn later that his disciples have gone into town to grab some food.
   Then John 4:7-14 tells us 7Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
   9The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
   10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
   11“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
   13Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
   As we seek to answer “Who’s my mission?” I think it’s interesting how the different people in this scene apparently saw this woman.
   How the woman saw herself – a Samaritan woman. Because of the shame over her past and the way she was living now … she came to the well at noon, when everyone else would be inside out of the heat of the day.
   How the disciples saw her – wait where are they in this scene? They passed her by on the way to go into town and they never talked to her when they returned.
   How Jesus saw her. 1)She was worth it. Worth going out of his way to meet her. Worth crossing social barriers. 2) She was persistent. You might say, where do you see her persistence? Check out what happens next in John 4:15-18.
   15“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
   16“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
   17“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
   Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband — 18for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”
   I’ve read and studied several sermons and articles focusing on the woman’s sinfulness and shame. I’m sure this is a part of her story and (just like us) she had a lot of things from her past that she was not proud of.
   In the first century, Middle Eastern culture it was a man-centered world. Women were seen as second class citizens and men had all the power. It was completely acceptable for a man to have several premarital sexual relationships and if a husband wanted to divorce his wife all he had to do was give her a certificate and kick her to the curb. So, this isn’t a woman that jumps around from guy to guy—this is probably a woman who has been used and abused over and over by multiple men. She knows what it’s like to feel pain and loss. She’s probably carrying some bitterness and anger along with her shame.
   Yet, here she is. She’s not given up. She’s still going. She’s still day after day going out to the well to get the water. Maybe everyone else missed something that Jesus saw because He knew what was inside her. This becomes obvious later in the story. Check out the best part in John 4:39-42.
   39Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” 40When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, 41long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. 42Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
   The very next verse says that after two days Jesus left for Galilee. So there’s an impromptu spiritual revival among the Samaritans that goes on for two days. How does it happen? The very woman that people had cast aside comes back into a village of people that had rejected her and convinces them to meet her new friend and Savior Jesus.
   I don’t picture her handing out flyers for this event … because of who she was it couldn’t have been easy. She pleaded with people to come meet the man who told her everything she’d ever done. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. How many times do you think she went back into town over those two days to convince them again to come meet Jesus? She’s one special lady and one of the most surprising and dynamic leaders in the whole New Testament.
   Think about this, this was the very woman that the disciples passed by without ever saying a word too. This was also the very same people that the disciples had seen when they walked into the village to buy food. According to Scripture, it seems that it never crossed their minds to share with them. Yet this woman sees people that desperately needed to meet their Savior.
   Listen to this powerful story told by famous author and speaker Tony Campolo.
   “A new recruit went into training at Paris Island, hoping to become a marine. He was one of those young men who seemed to be a bit out of step with the norm, and he easily became the subject of ridicule for those who enjoy picking on off beat people.
   In the particular barracks to which this young marine was assigned, there was an extremely high level of meanness. The other young men did everything they could to make a joke of the new recruit and to humiliate him. One day, someone came up with the bright idea that they could scare the daylights out of this young marine by dropping a disarmed hand grenade onto the floor and pretending it was about to go off. Everyone else knew about this and they were all ready to get a big laugh.
   The hand grenade was thrown into the middle of the floor, and the warning was yelled, “It’s a live grenade, it’s a live grenade! It’s about to explode!”
   They fully expected that the young man would get hysterical and perhaps jump out a window. Instead, the young marine fell on the grenade, hugged it to his stomach, and yelled to the other men in the barracks, “Run for your lives! Run for your lives! You’ll be killed if you don’t!”
   The other marines froze in stillness and shame. They realized that the one they had scorned was the one ready to lay down his life for them.”
   And so it was with Jesus. But we have no idea what’s inside people. There are several passages in the Bible that says ONLY He knows the true intent of our hearts (Luke 16:15).
   So “Who Is My Mission?” I think Jesus was teaching multiple lessons to multiple audiences here. Jesus’ primary focus was making disciples so He used every scenario to teach them a lesson in ministry. 
   This first lesson doesn’t apply necessarily to everybody. While all are called to share their faith, there were certain people that have the gift of an evangelist. My guess is that Jesus desired every one of His disciples to have this gift. This was huge because He would hand the keys to them a few years later after He went back to heaven. They would go on to spread the Gospel but had to learn this lesson.
   Who is my Mission? Everybody!
   If you’ve found that you have a relatively easy time sharing your faith with other people there is a good chance that you have the spiritual gift of evangelism. If you’ve seen God use you to reach a number of people there is a good shot God has given you this gift. Maybe you’ve never shared your faith but God has made you an influencer in other areas of your life and with the right training you could have this gift too.
   Evangelist see opportunities that other people don’t. They’re able to move ordinary conversations into ones that bring up the gospel. Sharing their faith is not a duty they feel guilty about but as a delight they love to do every chance they get.
   I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Well, I’m pretty sure that I don’t have that gift … so am I off the hook?” The lesson we learn from Jesus to the Samaritan woman is….
   “God has strategically placed you right where you’re at to reach just one more.”
   Notice that this woman goes back to the town where she was from. It probably was out of her comfort zone but she felt compelled to share with those she did life with.
   There is a Greek word that’s mentioned throughout the New Testament that helps us answer the question. It’s the word “Oikos.” It was the ancient Greek equivalent of a household, house, or family. An average oikos is usually made up of about 8-15 people.
   In Luke 8, the demon possessed man was told to return to his household (oikos) and tell them of the great things Jesus had done for him.
   In Luke 19, Zacchaeus was told salvation had come to his household (oikos).
   In John 4, the centurion's whole household (oikos) was saved following the healing of his son.
   In Acts 10, Cornelius was a righteous man who feared God with all his household (oikos).
   In Acts 16, the Philippian jailer has his entire household (oikos) was baptized in the middle of the night.
   What does that look like for us? God has intentionally and strategically placed you in your family, friendships, neighborhood and workplace to reach out to those you are already doing life with.
   One easy way to think about it is to think FRANCE. Who are your
Friends
Relatives
Acquaintances
Neighbors
Co-Workers/Classmates
 and keep your Eyes open.
   I’ve included on the back of your bulletin a simple sheet for you to fill out to start figuring out your household (oikos).
   Okay, I get this is something I should do but I don’t know. Can I give you a simple prayer this morning?? Would you just start praying this prayer on a daily basis, “Lord I don’t ask You for much today, but if I could ask … would You give me Your heart for just one more?”
   Could we practice saying this prayer together right now? “Lord I don’t ask you for much today, but would you give me your heart for just one more?”
   Good job, it’s that easy. What if you posted this prayer on your bathroom mirror or on your steering wheel or on the cover of your Bible or somewhere else you look often. If you prayed it daily I think this is the sort of thing God would love to answer.

 June 24,2018     What Is My Message

   Opening passage — Mark 5:1-20 (NLT) — Jesus Heals a Demon-Possessed Man — 1So they arrived at the other side of the lake, in the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus climbed out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the burial caves and could no longer be restrained, even with a chain. 4Whenever he was put into chains and shackles — as he often was — he snapped the chains from his wrists and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Day and night he wandered among the burial caves and in the hills, howling and cutting himself with sharp stones.
   6When Jesus was still some distance away, the man saw him, ran to meet him, and bowed low before him. 7With a shriek, he screamed, “Why are you interfering with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In the name of God, I beg you, don’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had already said to the spirit, “Come out of the man, you evil spirit.”
   9Then Jesus demanded, “What is your name?” And he replied, “My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man.” 10Then the evil spirits begged him again and again not to send them to some distant place.
   11There happened to be a large herd of pigs feeding on the hillside nearby. 12“Send us into those pigs,” the spirits begged. “Let us enter them.”
   13So Jesus gave them permission. The evil spirits came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the entire herd of about 2,000 pigs plunged down the steep hillside into the lake and drowned in the water.
   14The herdsmen fled to the nearby town and the surrounding countryside, spreading the news as they ran. People rushed out to see what had happened. 15A crowd soon gathered around Jesus, and they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons. He was sitting there fully clothed and perfectly sane, and they were all afraid. 16Then those who had seen what happened told the others about the demon-possessed man and the pigs. 17And the crowd began pleading with Jesus to go away and leave them alone.
   18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon possessed begged to go with him. 19But Jesus said, “No, go home to your family, and tell them everything the Lord has done for you and how merciful he has been.” 20So the man started off to visit the Ten Towns of that region and began to proclaim the great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed at what he told them.
   He’d shared his story several hundred times … but it never got old. He loved seeing the look on the listeners face as told of the day that he first heard the voice. It was so real and near that he turned around to see who was whispering in his ear. It took almost a day to realize the voice was coming from inside his own mind. It wasn’t kind either.
   The voice said all kinds of horrible things about himself and would not leave him alone. Then one day the voice took control of his own mouth. Randomly horrible and crazy things would come out of his mouth and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He tried to explain his struggles to those near him but nobody understood. He’d already lost all hope when the voices took over control of his body to the point that people in his village, even his own parents, would chain him up in the cemetery. The message couldn’t be more clear, they just wanted him to die. He tried to scream, “I’m the victim!” … but no words could come out.
   One day as he was walking along the beach alone, there was an unmistakable fear in the voices he’d never heard before. Something about a man named Jesus that was on the boat that he could barely see in the distance. The voices pressed him to run into the hills and caves … but with all his might he stayed put with both feet in the water. He had no idea that the man on the boat was about to change his life forever.
   Jesus heals the demon possessed man video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so7y_9eNmhI
   Good morning. We’re in week three of our series titled, “Made for Mission”. Three weeks ago we kicked it off by saying that “We Are All Called”. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re at in life or what you’ve done, God has an exciting plan for your life.
   Then, in our second lesson we asked, “Ok, if I’m so called then so what now?” We walked through the huge question “What’s My Mission?” We shared that ultimately our mission is Jesus’ mission and, no matter what, His mission must be our 1st priority … because we also learned that IF we put Jesus first in ALL things … then everything else falls into place. BUT, it’s so easy to still get off track with a competing agenda and lose our life focus.
   So, that brings us to today. We’ll be spending time answering the question, “What’s My Message?” What do I actually say while living on mission. If you’re already a Christian then being on mission is at the very heart of following Jesus. If you are just checking out this whole God/Church/Jesus thing then you need to know as you try to figure out do I or don’t I … will I or won’t I become a Christian … that missions is crucial to being a Jesus follower. Because of Adam and Eve, being on a mission for the “Kingdom Cause” is not a natural thing, it’s something that you must be intentional about or you’ll miss what you were made for.
   A pastor shared this story where he had a hard time communicating what he wanted to say. He says … “I have recently been taking Spanish Courses online. I called a high school student I’d met and his mother answered in Spanish and it was obvious she didn’t speak any English. I thought this was my chance to show off all that I had learned but instead I froze and failed miserably. I think at one point I mentioned to her that I like to dance with cats.”
   Do you ever feel like sharing Jesus is like speaking in a different language? You just can’t seem to get the words out and you’re pretty sure you are confusing the other person more than you are helping them? You could talk with someone about motorcycles for hours … and it’s easy … but the moment God’s brought into the conversation … it’s like you’re playing chubby bunny with 10 marshmallows in your mouth.
   If you can relate at all … then today’s passage we are studying should greatly encourage you. We are going to look at the same story from two different perspectives. You can start by turning to Mark 5 and later we’ll transition to Luke 8. Two different perspectives of same story.
   Mark 5:1-2 says — “1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him.”
   That they went across the Sea of Galilee is hugely significant. This was where the non-Jews lived. It traced all the way back to the Old Testament when the Israelites didn’t complete their job of clearing out all of the Promise Land like God had commanded. There were the descendants of the people that they let stay and young Jewish boys didn’t travel to the other side of the lake. Most scholars believe many of the disciples were somewhere around 15-17 years old at this point. Apparently for Jesus, the youth pastor, safety at all costs was not one of his core values.
   As soon as they get out of the boat a demon possessed guy approaches them. The disciples are thinking “this place is worse than we thought? I bet everybody here is like this? Back on the boat.” But Jesus didn’t react that way. Check out what happens next.
   Mark 5:3-5 tells us — “3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”
   Just because someone has rejected God before doesn’t mean they will this time. The average person who receives Christ has already had 17 unique spiritual encounters before. You have no idea where you fit into God’s equation and you have no idea the impact your words are making. God is far more concerned with your obedience than your impact.
   Like all of us … this demon possessed guy apparently had a past … but it didn’t seem to bother Jesus. Notice also that this scene got intense really fast. You never know when you’re going to have an opportunity to share so you better be ready at all times.
   Skip over to Luke 8:28-29 to see what happens next. “28When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”  29For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.”
   Notice the man’s question, “What do you want with me?” If you can, step into this guy’s life for a moment. He fully expects Jesus to say or do something horrible to him. The man expects some sort of torture. Why? Because that’s all he’s ever known. His experiences with people have probably only EVER been bad. The passage says that he was often in chains. He didn’t put himself in them … other people did. They didn’t lock him in his room … they chained him up in the cemetery.
   Try to wrap your mind around that for a moment. How significant is that? He’s chained in a cemetery!!! How more clearly can you communicate outside of killing something that “I wish you were dead! Why won’t you just die already?” Ever more painful is that his family must have allowed all this to happen. This guy has nobody. Disgust, Isolation, Fear, Rejection — OH!! and he has several demons inside of him. A typical legion of this period was about 5,120. Can you imagine … He had over 5,000 demons inside of him!!!!!
   With all of this turmoil going on inside of this man, he asks Jesus “What do you want with me?” Because of the way everyone has treated him, including his family … He’s prepared for the worst. But look how Jesus responds in Luke 8:30 — “30Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.”
   What is your name? Jesus wanted to know his name? Notice that the man is so overpowered by demons that he doesn’t even know his real name. He just calls himself, “Legion”. Can someone’s life seem so hopeless that they forget their identity in God and instead label themselves — ugly, worthless, alone, or evil?
   I read where during the finals of American Ninja Warrior there was just one guy that got through the crazy obstacle course and he happened to work for a Catholic church. They asked him afterwards how did it feel having a bunch of the priests there rooting for him. He responded, “It’s a great reminder of who I am … I am loved.” Wow … his identity was being loved by others and God …that’s why he won and because of his huge python biceps?
   Let’s look at Luke 8:32-33 — “32A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. 33When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.”
   Anything apart from Jesus ultimately leads to death. The man gets to see right in front of him where the voices in his head were leading him the whole time … death. The truth is, Satan hates you and has a horrible plan for your life. John 10:10 says “10The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come to give you life and that you may have it abundantly.” In that culture another name for the water in a lake was the abyss or death.
   So, the man asks the question, “Jesus, what do you want with me?” Jesus replied: 1) I want to know your name. And 2) I want to help you.
   Think about it!! Everyone else wanted to bind him in a grave yard and keep him away from everything and everybody. Everyone else wished he were dead … but Jesus came to free him. He cared a whole lot more about the man … than the mess that had been created. And, as we could imagine, I’m sure this scene was definitely messy.
   There wasn’t just a herd of pigs drowning, it was somebody’s livelihood at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee. You see, to Jesus, this man’s life was a bigger deal than those pigs. Jesus showed that he cares even when it’s messy. Even when it’s not the popular decision or He might get some flak for it.
   Reading in Luke 8:34-35 — “34When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
   Remember that this whole scene is with a naked crazy dude running up and down the beach. We would probably run and call the cops for indecent exposure. I’m not saying if you were in that situation you’re supposed to go hug the dude … but Jesus definitely saw him differently than most of us would have. The man didn’t have any clothes … but now he does. Where do you think he got them? I’m not sure but I’m guessing they were from Jesus or one of his disciples. He cared about this guy’s reputation and how people saw him.
   What do you want with me? I want to know your name. I want to help you. 3) I want a relationship with you.
   All the Bible says is that he was sitting at Jesus’ feet, but I’m pretty sure they were talking. As the man sat at Jesus’ feet what do you think they talked about? What do you imagine the conversation could have been about? I’m just guessing but don’t you think somewhere in the conversation the man asked, “So who are you and how can I be saved?”
   Luke 8:36-37 says “36Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.”
   How crazy is this on a couple of levels? First, the people there were just not ready for something like this. Notice Jesus didn’t try to reason with them or win an argument. He didn’t pull off some miracle and make demons go into them as punishment or have the pigs fly back out of the water back onto land ... He just said, “Okay” and left.
   Here is the even crazier implication. Jesus came all the way to the other side of the lake (where the Jews didn’t go) for this one guy. If you read the passage before this one you find that the disciples almost died in a storm on the way over. Jesus believed that this one demon possessed guy was worth it. Jesus believes YOU are worth it. Jesus believes the person you’ve been working up the nerve to start up a spiritual conversation with is worth it.
   Then we read in Luke 8:38-39 — “32The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “39Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.”
   At first, Jesus’ reaction here seems pretty cold, doesn’t it? Jesus sent the man away, WHY?? What does this man have in that area? He doesn’t own ANYTHING … except a really bad reputation. He walks back into town and everyone knows his past.
   Can’t you see this … A year from now he’s courting a young woman and talking to the dad. “Wait a minute!! Aren’t you that guy that was all over the news that used to run around the cemetery naked? Yeah, you ARE that guy. If you know what’s good for you, you best stay away from MY baby girl!!!”
   He wants to go with Jesus and the Bible says Jesus SENT HIM AWAY. This just doesn’t make any sense, does it?? This guy’s been a Christian for 5 ½ minutes and Jesus sends him away. Doesn’t he need more training? NO … instead Jesus gives him a mission ... “Go home and tell how much God has done for you.” I’d take that to mean go tell your family about what happened here today. Instead he went way above and beyond Jesus’ instructions. He told his story and shared his testimony all over the entire region.
   The area this man was from was called Decapolis because it was made up of 10 cities that were all together. He went all over the place and told people how much Jesus had done for him.
   What’s Our Message? It’s not to get out there and show the world how educated we are in the Scriptures and brag about how well we know the Bible or Biblical things. Our message is to be so simple. Our message is to share how God’s goodness has intersected with our lives. Our message is to share with people what Jesus did to us and through us and how it’s personally impacted our little corner of the world.
   Can you do that? That’s the message you’re supposed to be ready with. 1 Peter 3:15-16 says “15Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. 16But do this with gentleness and respect, …”
   One last thing that I think is incredibly cool about this story.
   As we read a couple passages ago, Jesus tells this guy “Go home. You can’t go with me.” But, check this out … after being told to leave by the crowd, Jesus gets in His boat and leaves, right? But He went back.
   Let’s read Mark 7:31. “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Ten Towns.”
   Do y’all remember the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, chapters 5-7. In Mark 8 (1-10) we read that the feeding of the 4000 happened in that same region.
   When He was here the first time, after casting all those demons into the pigs, the crowd was afraid of Him and tells Him to leave … and the Bible tells us that He did … but He comes back. A little bit later He returned and preaches to 4000 men (or probably 12-15,000 people including women and kids).
   So, what was the difference in the first visit and the second visit? To me there’s no other explanation. I think the difference was the former demon possessed guy.
   Think for a second what that means, the guy probably went and shared his story about Jesus to everyone. He probably shared with the very people who cuffed him in chains and left him to die. The message was just too good to keep to himself, his past relationships just didn’t seem to matter anymore.
   I don’t know how it all went down … but can’t you just picture Jesus preaching to all of these thousands of people … and he notices the man and makes eye contact with him. Maybe after all the crowds have left to go home the man sticks around and Jesus just wraps him up in a big-ole bear hug and says, “Well done, my friend.”
   We need to understand this … You have no idea of the impact God wants to make through you. Jesus took the craziest most insecure guy and used him to start a revival.
   How many times have you given in to the adversary and said “I can’t do this.”  “I’m shy.”  “I can’t talk with people about God.”  “I don’t know any of the right scriptures.”  “This just isn’t my thing.”
   Let me ask you, “Are you known for running around the local cemetery and your neighborhood naked? Has anyone ever chained you up because you are so out of control?” If not, … then you have far less to overcome than this guy did … and he brought about one of the Bible’s best spiritual awakenings ever recorded in history. Stop saying I can’t … stop giving in to defeat before you ever get started. Start living on what we’re taught in God’s Word. Philippians 4:13 says “I can do ALL things [not SOME things, but ALL things] through Christ Jesus Who gives me the strength.”
   At some point the former demon possessed guy probably started to lose his passion. I’m kinda guessing at this because just about everybody looses their passion and focus from time to time. The truth is mission and passion leaks ... mission and passion takes a lot of time and work. He needed to be reminded of what his life was about now ... just like we need to be reminded sometimes, don’t we?
   I’m not sure what the man did to keep focus but I think this closing song will help us understand a little bit better.

   Through the Fire by the Crabb Family https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRn7gpxUSg4

June 17,2018     Be A Dad Worth Following

   Opening passage — Mark 5:21-43 (NLT) — Jesus Heals in Response to Faith — 21Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”
   24Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him. 25A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. 26She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. 28For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” 29Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.
   30Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”
   31His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
   32But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. 33Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. 34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.”
   35While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”
   36But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”
   37Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. 39He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”
   40The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. 41Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koumi,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. 43Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.
   Let’s watch this video where Jesus Raises the Daughter of Jairus   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGJ0TKRTEFI
   Happy Father’s Day again, Dads! -- This morning, we’re going to be looking at an inspirational dad from the Word of God. His name is Jairus. That means "enlightened by God," and I believe we can learn a lot from his life.
   Dad’s we thank God for you! — And we thank you for all of the good you are doing in your family, our church and our community.
   The longer I live, the more I appreciate my daddy. My daddy was compassionate and kind, hard-working, funny, and full of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. There’re times when I’m piddling around here and think I need to walk across the powerline and ask him his thoughts on something. I am so looking forward to seeing him again. But until that day, I want to be a father worth following. And we can be father’s worth following. Jairus shows us how.
   1. First: Seek the Lord.
   This is what Jairus did in vs. 21-23: 21Now when Jesus had crossed over (i.e. back to Galilee), a great multitude gathered to Him; and He was by the sea. 22And behold, one of the rulers of the synagogue came, Jairus by name. And when he saw Him, he fell at His feet 23and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.’’
   Jairus was in a desperate situation in these verses. His only daughter was near the point of death, and Jairus couldn’t make her well. Sometimes our loved ones will be hurting. And there’s nothing we can do to help them on our own.
   Jairus shows us exactly what to do in a situation like that: Seek the Lord! Take your troubles to Jesus! Go to Jesus humbly, boldly, passionately, and expectantly. Go to Jesus.
   Seek the Lord for His help. Call on the Lord! Throw yourself at Jesus’ feet. Throw yourself on the compassionate mercy of God.
   In Psalm 145:17-18, King David said: 17The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. 18The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.
   Then in 1 Chronicles 28:9, speaking as a father to a son, King David said: "As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever."
   David told his son, "If you seek God, He will be found by you." We need to seek the Lord for His help.
   2. But also seek the Lord for worship.
   We read earlier in vs. 22 where Jairus fell at His feet and worshiped him. We all need to worship the Lord. But dads, our worship is especially important for us to be the fathers God wants us to be.
   I urge you to see that Jairus fell down at Jesus’ feet without reservation. And notice that Jairus went himself. He didn’t send his wife to do his bidding. He didn’t send a servant. He went to Jesus himself.
   Our society would be infinitely better off today if dads would seek Jesus without shame, if we all would be the spiritual leaders in our homes that we are called to be. Our nation is in a huge mess and it’s partly because dads are out seeking golf balls on Sunday morning instead of being in church himself seeking God. Instead, they send the wife and kids to church.
   Not only dad’s, but grand dads also, let your children and grandchildren see YOU seeking the Lord in worship by taking them to church, reading the Word of God to them, praying together, living for Jesus. MAY GOD HELP US ALL to be dads who will faithfully seek the Lord!
   Jesus promises that if we seek, we will find. And you can be a father worth following if you will seek the Lord.
   3. But also stand-up for your children. Take a passionate stand for your children. There is no question that Jairus dearly loved his daughter. We see his love in the way he came to Jesus in vs. 22&23: 22When Jairus saw Jesus, he fell at His feet 23and begged Him earnestly, saying, "My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.’’
   Jairus was passionate about his little girl’s well-being. And God wants us to care like that. This is crucial for our children. The liberal media will tell you that having a dad in the home doesn’t matter. Don’t you believe it! We need to realize the tremendous impact that dads have on children. Dad, your children desperately need you!!!
   Listen to some statistics from a 1995 book by David Moore:
-Fatherless daughters are 111% more likely to have children as teenagers.
-Fatherless daughters are 164% more likely to have an out-of-wedlock birth.
-Fatherless daughters have a 92% higher divorce rate than girls raised with Dad at home.
-Fatherless sons are 35% more likely to experience failure in their own marriages.
-Fatherless sons are 300% more likely to wind up in state juvenile institutions.
-And fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of high school.
   These statistics are terrible. And the numbers are also bad for dads who are there in body, … but not in heart and mind. That’s why God wants us to be passionate about the well being of our children. You matter, Dad.
   The National Center for Fathering conducts “Father of the Year” Essay Contests. In 2005, over 100,000 school children submitted short essays on the topic, "What my Father Means to Me." Some of these are funny, and some have a note of sadness, but all of these show how important our Dads are.
   -A first grader wrote, "My dad is the best dad ever. I would kiss a pig for him."
   -A third grader wrote, "The dad in my life isn’t really my dad. He’s my Grandpa. But he’s been like a dad to me since before I was born. I hope that as I get older Grandpa will teach me all the stuff he knows about wood, and first-aid, and everything else he knows about. My Grandpa isn’t my father, but I wouldn’t trade him for all the dads in the world."
   -A fourth grader wrote, "Sometimes as a joke I’ll put my stinky socks in his briefcase, so at work the next day he will think of me! He’s always at the concerts and plays that I’m in, even though he lives about an hour away."
   -A fifth grade girl wrote, "You know what else my dad does? He braids my hair. I’m the only girl I know whose dad braids her hair. I think that’s a perfect dad. He already is the world’s greatest dad to me. I just wanted everyone to know that."
   You matter, Dad. In all kinds of ways we are vitally important to our children, so be passionate about your children’s well being.
   Jairus obviously cared, and one of the best ways he showed it was by inviting Jesus to his home. In vs. 23 Jairus said: "My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live.’’
   Jairus invited Jesus to his home. There’s nothing better you can do for your children than to bring Jesus into your home. As Arlen Payne pleaded, "Oh, that God would give us Dads who would bring Jesus to the house; Men who would stand with Joshua and declare to the world [as he did in chapter 24:15,] ’As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;’ Men who would lead their families in prayer at the table; Dad’s who would invite Jesus into the home by reading His Word."
   Gentlemen!!! We must invite Jesus into our homes. Nothing is more important for our children. Children need to be connected with Jesus! In this case it was for a miraculous physical healing. But in our case it’s for something infinitely more important … it’s for the spiritual healing of our children … and the spiritual healing also for ourselves. We don’t just want our children to just live. As John 10:10 puts it ... We want them to have life … and have it more abundantly. We want our children to live forever! We want our children to have everlasting life in heaven, and they can only get that from Jesus.
   On this Father’s Day let’s remember that the Heavenly Father sent His Son Jesus into the world to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus died on the cross for us and rose again, so that we might be forgiven and live with Him forever. So the most important thing we can do for our children is help them know Jesus Christ in a personal way.
   But Dad, how can you do that if you don’t know the Lord yourself? You see … Jairus had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It was a brand new relationship where he had personally met the Lord. And in this relationship Jairus talked with the Lord, trusted the Lord, and worshiped the Lord.
   This is the kind of relationship God wants to have with all of us: A relationship that saves our souls and changes our lives.
   A man named Lee Strobel was an atheist. He met the Lord, got saved and is now a Christian author and pastor. He gave this great testimony:
   "How can I tell you the difference God has made in my life? My daughter Allison was 5 years old when I became a follower of Jesus. All she had known in those five years was a dad who was profane and angry. I remember I came home one night and kicked a hole in the living room wall just out of anger with life. I am ashamed to think of the times Allison hid in her room to get away from me.
   But five months after I gave my life to Jesus Christ. That little girl went to my wife and said, ’Mommy, I want God to do for me what he’s done for Daddy.’ -- At age five!
   What was she saying? She’d never studied the archeological evidence on the truth of the Bible. All she knew was her dad used to be this way: Hard to live with. But more and more her dad is becoming this way. And if that is what God does to fathers, then sign her up. At age five she gave her life to Jesus! God changed my family. He changed my world. He changed the eternity of my daughter."
   God wants to change us too! So put your trust in Jesus. Bring Jesus into your heart and your home. This is the best thing all of us can do! And Dads, it’s the best way to stand-up for your children.
   You can be a father worth following if you will stand-up for your children.
   4. But also stay close to the Savior.
   Jairus ran into an unexpected hold up in vs. 25. Jesus had agreed to come home with Jairus, but along the way, a very sick woman touched the Lord and was healed. It was a wonderful miracle. She had been seriously ill for 12 years, and no one had been able to help her.
   But the delay had to worry Jairus, and then the situation seemed to turn hopeless. In vs. 34 Jesus told the woman: "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction." But in vs. 35 while Jesus was still speaking, some came from Jairus’ home and said, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?"
   It would have been so easy for Jairus to run away in despair, but he stayed close to the Lord. Jairus stayed and in vs. 36 he heard Jesus speak these strong, encouraging words: "Do not be afraid; only believe."
-When unexpected problems crop up, stay close to the Savior.
-When other people seem blessed and you seem forgotten, stay close to the Savior.
-When your situation seems hopeless, stay close to the Savior.
   We need the same attitude we see in the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk. In Habakkuk 3:17-19, the prophet declared: 17Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, 18yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. 19The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.
   Christians ... my fellow Brothers and Sisters ... Even when things seem worse than ever, stay close to the Savior.
   -And Dad, you can be a father worth following if you stay close to the Savior.
   5.But also smother your fears with faith.
   Of course Jairus was afraid. In vs. 35 he heard those crushing words, "Your daughter is dead." And things didn’t look a bit better when they got to the house. Listen to vs. 38-40: 38When they arrived, Jesus saw that all was in great confusion, with unrestrained weeping and wailing.
   39He went inside and spoke to the people. "Why all this weeping and commotion?" he asked. "The child isn’t dead; she is only asleep!"
   40They laughed at him in bitter derision, but he told them all to leave. . .
   Of course, Jairus was afraid. But back in vs. 36, Jesus had told him: "Do not be afraid; only believe."
   Many of us have been where Jairus was that day. All of us will be there one day. You thought things were bad, but all of a sudden they got worse. The rain shower turned into a tornado. Time has run out for you, and the situation looks absolutely hopeless. What can we do in situations like that? -- Smother your fears with faith. Keep believing in Jesus!
   In vs. 40-42, Jesus came through for Jairus in a miraculous way: 40And they ridiculed (Jesus). But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying.
   41Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, "Talitha, koumi," which is translated, "Little girl, I say to you, arise."
   42Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement.
   Jesus came through in a miraculous way for Jairus. And He will always come through for us as well. No, we won’t always see miraculous healing in this world. But Jesus Christ will always come through for us. So smother your fears with faith! "Do not be afraid; only believe."
   Always trust in the Lord!
-Trust in His Word and His work.
-Trust Him when you get the most disastrous news.
-Trust Him when others are laughing in disbelief.
-Trust Him to do the most amazing things in your life.
-Trust Him even when the miracle doesn’t come through for you.
   Be a dad who believes that all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26). Overcome your fears with faith!
   In an article in Today’s Christian Woman, Martha Hickman told about a time when she went through a series of medical tests. Martha was fearful about the results and went swimming at the local "Y" to pass the time. At the pool she noticed a dad carry his son over to the deep end. Still holding his child, he dove into the deep water.
   A few seconds later they surfaced. The son laughed and brushed water from his eyes as his father guided him safely to the pool’s edge. Right then, Martha realized that she might have to go through some deep water. But God would carry her all the way through.
   Martha Hickman smothered her fears with faith, and so should we. It will help us to be a dad worth following.
   We can all be people worth following. We can all be friends, neighbors and family members worth following, if we will follow the Lord.
-So seek the Lord.
-Stand-up for children.
-Stay close to the Savior.
-And smother your fears with faith.

June 10, 2018     What Is My Mission?

   Our opening passage is found in Luke 9:57-62 – The Cost of Following Jesus – “57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
   59He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
   60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but your duty is to go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
   61Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
   62Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
   One of the disciples said … I’ve been following Jesus for over a year now and I still don’t get Him. I remember when He walked by where I had just been fishing and told me and a few of my buddies to follow Him. No one was more surprised than me when we all just got up, left everything behind and followed Him. I can look back now and totally see that this was the best decision I’ve ever made. Every day is a new adventure. We walk into towns and immediately crowds develop and Jesus starts talking and it leads to miraculous healings and before you know it people are dancing in the streets.
   Like there was this one time when Jesus had been preaching for a long time and a couple of us disciples casually approached Him to mention that the people were probably hungry and they still had a long walk back to their villages. Jesus turns to us and says, “Then give them something to eat.” Long story short we bring this kid up to Jesus who’s mom packed him a lunchable for the trip. Jesus takes it and turns it into enough food to feed the fifteen/twenty thousand people there. You should have seen that place—people were in awe. Anything Jesus would have said at that point the people would have done. He had them literally eating out of the palm of His hand.
   As we got on the move again a bunch of people approach Jesus saying that they want to join our group. Great! ... right? The more the merrier is what I’ve always said. Instead Jesus comes back at them with some pretty harsh responses. He tells one guy that if he comes … he’ll be homeless. He tells another that he needs to be out here proclaiming the Gospel … because when the time comes some of your family will be there to bury your daddy. Then He tells someone else that if they need to go back and say bye to their family … then don’t even bother.
   Talk about strict right? This mission that we are on is not for the faint of heart.
   Good morning everybody. We are in week 2 of our Made for Mission series. We said last week that every person has been called by God for a mission. You are not an accident or a fluke … but instead you’re God’s masterpiece … created for a purpose. With this mission you’ve got some options. Some people completely ignore their mission in life or never seek to find out the answer to what it might be.
   Other’s kind of flirt with their mission. Every once in a while they accidently live out part of their purpose … but only for a short time. Their heart beats fast and they think to themselves, “I really love this.” Then life gets busy and they fall back into the daily grind of everyday life.
   Some people actively pursue the mission God made them for. They find it because God’s not hiding it from them (or anyone else). He’s more excited than we are in seeing us use our gifts and live out the reasons He made us for in the first place. That’s the goal of this six weeks series, that we would literally live our lives ON the mission we were made for. If you missed last week, please go to our website if you wanna catch up. (https://www.redstoneministries.org)
   Our big point for last week was what?? “We Are ALL Called.” Ministry is not for a select few … but for All “Jesus followers”. You see … ministry work is for EVERYONE who calls themselves a Christian!!

   So … if that’s the case then the obvious next question should be, “So, what am I called to do” or “What IS my mission?” That’s what we are going to talk about today. If you have a bible turn to Luke 9.
   We read in Luke 9:51 – “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
   Jesus was a man on a mission. He “resolutely set out” to lay down his life to for the sake of others’ salvation. With great intentionality and courage He knew where he was going and that his life was bigger than Himself. It’s interesting that earlier in the chapter he shared point blank what that meant for anyone that would follow Him.
   Read Luke 9:23 – “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
   Jesus made it clear that the mission of those who would follow Him was the same as His. Followers of “The Way” must lay down their lives on a daily basis for the sake of others being saved. Do you remember that prayer we learned last week? I’ve probably prayed it 100 times … “Help me Lord. Help me get just one more.”
   Watching the clip from the movie Hacksaw Ridge … what was the main thing you got out of it? I asked several people over the last week the same question. Most of their take-aways were so in depth and theological ... and, sorry, some I couldn’t begin to follow.
   Many of you sitting here today (and reading this on the web) have heard me brag numerous times about my extensive education. I am so educated that I never made it out the 9th grade. To be honest … I tried it 3 times. So … most of the time my reasoning on things is very simple … so simple a child can understand it. Most of the time my explanations have to be so simple that Chris can understand them.
   So … My take-away on that clip is very simple. I should be willing to go through ANYTHING that God puts before me for just one more. Because my mission … my calling has nothing to do with me at all. My mission, my calling is all about going that extra mile, climbing as many hills as it takes, swimming gator invested waters, dodging bombs and land mines … for just one more. My calling … my mission is to be THAT example … to represent Christ to the point that everyone around me would want some to dat!!
   Understand this … The mission God has placed on our lives isn’t just a one-time event. This is the mission God has placed on our lives on a daily, moment by moment basis ...from now on … till we breathe our last or Jesus returns to take us home. Our mission is way bigger than ourselves or even the people we serve. It’s part of a worldwide movement that Jesus started over 2,000 years ago.
   I know that we have lots of people here in the room today. For those of you who are brand new to this God/Church/Jesus thing and you’re just checking it out, you might be thinking, “Well … that might be your mission, but that’s surely not mine.” Let me just say, “it’s OK to feel that way … for now.” ... Because today as you’re trying to figure all this God stuff out … just know this … missions is a huge part of it. God’s not just inviting you to come to church on Sundays and to give part of your hard-earned paycheck to him each week. He’s actually inviting you to join Him in His massive mission where He’s already at work all over the world. We are commanded in Mark 16:15 to “Go!!!” It says “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.”
   If you’ve been following Jesus for a while and would consider yourself a Christian … you might be nodding your head thinking, “God’s mission is my mission. Got it. What’s next?” If you’re anything like me … this is pretty easy to nod to … but, the reality of it is it’s much harder to live it out. You may intellectually believe your primary mission is to join God in what He’s up to … but, in reality, some of our lives would say something entirely different … wouldn’t they? Let me warn you that today could get a bit uncomfortable … but just remember I didn’t start it … Jesus did.
   I think one of Satan’s most powerful tools to get people of “The Way” off mission is the weapon of DISTRACTION.
   If you have a cell phone would you pull it out for a moment.
   -The average person checks their cellphone 110 times a day. That works out to 9 times an hour.
   -55% of phone users text while driving; … which is 6 times more dangerous than driving drunk.
   -84% of world wide cell users report not being able to go a single day without their phone in their hand.
   -50% of teens admit to being addicted to their cell phones. It’s something that they can’t live without.
   -Now, here is the ultimate test to see if your cell phone might be a distraction … or even an addiction for you: How many of you checked your phone since I asked you to pull it out? How many of you have now missed part of what I just said? Be honest, raise your hands.
   Can we all agree, we live in a distracted culture? If Satan can’t make you bad … he will make you busy.
   Do you know what “BUSY” means??
Being   Under   Satan’s  Yoke
   You see … IF the devil can keep you busy and get you off the mission that you were made for … he’s winning. And we can’t let him do that.
   In a recent survey put out by Lifeway, 80% of church-goers said they believe they have a personal responsibility in sharing their faith ... BUT … 61% say that they haven’t shared their faith with anyone in the past six months. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because we all have too many big buts.
   Check out this Video “How Big Is Your But?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=srZN4_thzh8
   So, the majority of us know what the mission is and the importance of it … BUT somehow it doesn’t impact the way we live because we have too many “buts’ that get in the way, don’t we??
   From this passage, Jesus identifies and calls out 3 distractions that will pull you away from the mission Jesus has made you for.
   The first distraction we see in this passage is The Mission of Comfort – Let’s look at Luke 9:57-58 – “57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
   A man walks up ready to follow and Jesus just simply says that this mission may lead to homelessness. We don’t hear how the person responds but it’s heavily implied that this was a game stopper for him. He was totally into following Jesus as long as it didn’t take him out of his comfort zone. The only problem is that Jesus doesn’t just pull His followers out of their comfort zones, He takes those comfort zones and obliterates them … blows them sky high.
   Steven Furtick says “Coming into your calling means coming out of your comfort zone.”
   Just think about all the things Jesus had his disciples do. He sent them out for weeks at a time with no cash, no extra clothes … they don’t even have a plan B. Ultimately Jesus would model this “comfortzoneless” life by going through six hours of excruciating pain and torture … dying on the Cross.
   Before many of our family trips we’ll pray before we head out. The most popular prayer is “Lord keep us safe.” Anybody ever done that before? I think that’s probably a good prayer … but what if Jesus is more about making us a “dangerous follower” of Him and less about keeping us safe all the time. Haven’t you found in your own life that the times you grow the most is when you’re uncomfortable … when you’re OUT of your comfort zone and realize just how much you need to trust Jesus through that situation.
   Our world is obsessed with safety and comfort. Check out some popular items that are being sold today.
A hoodie that inflates into a pillow.
An alarm clock makes coffee
   Take a stroll through Walmart and see how many items you can find that simply exist to make your life more comfortable.
   What happens when the Mission of Comfort comes in conflict with the Mission of Jesus? What happens when comfort becomes a bigger deal in your life than Christ? We learn here in Luke 14:28 that Jesus says “It would be better to count the cost before following him.”
   Here’s the second distraction Jesus responds to … The Mission of Commitments
   In Luke 9:59-60 Jesus turns to another person and initiates the conversation. “59He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
   60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but your duty is to go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
   At first this seems like a pretty harsh response from Jesus. Don’t you picture a dad on his death bed and Jesus tells the son to leave him there alone and follow me? Who would say that to someone? Think about this for a moment, if his father had already died, the man would have been occupied with the burial. But evidently he wanted to wait until after his father’s death, which might have been years away.
   You see … here Jesus clearly conveys that there is an urgency to the mission that He’s called us to. It’s not something we pick up from time to time when our schedule finally has some breathing room … but instead our mission should immediately become our first priority.
   There are two words that the man says out of order and they make all the difference. “Lord, first let me…” There wasn’t anything wrong with wanting to take care of His daddy … but the problem is he made taking care of His daddy a priority over following Jesus. Instead he needed to say, “First Lord!” Whatever you are calling me to do Jesus, I’ll do that first … THEN go and take care of my daddy.” This is not just for the sake of being obedient, it’s also for our own blessing.
   In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says the famous words of Matthew 6:33 that we all should know by heart, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteous and ALL THESE THINGS will be given to you as well.” Jesus promises it doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life, He will take care of all the other things we love to stress about … IF we place His Kingdom first in our lives.
   So, are there any things you have told Jesus “yes, “but” first…” I’ll serve … but first let me get through this busy season. I’ll give … but first let me get this promotion. I’ll share my faith … but first let me get more comfortable in my own walk with God. I’ll spend time reading my Bible in the morning … but first let me push the snooze button a few times.
   While many of the commitments you’ve made may be really good and honorable intentions, Jesus still tells us that His mission must come first and above ALL.
   Check out the third distraction in Luke 9:61-62. The Mission of Competition
   61Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
   62Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
   Once again, a seemingly harsh response from Jesus, right? I can’t imagine dropping everything to go on a mission trip with a man I just met without letting the people in my family at least know that I’m gone. That sure seems like it would be incredibly irresponsible. This was a world before cell phones or social media so he can’t text or even post a message from the road.
   Notice once again that this man has some of the same disorganized words. “Lord; “but” first…” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with telling your family where you are going … but in the same sentence he’s informing Jesus that he will follow him, … (but notice this) … he’s also giving Jesus a command. Jesus, you let me go do this or I won’t follow you.
   What if this was simply just a matter of humility? What if he responded, “Jesus, I will follow you! Would it be all right if I went and said goodbye to my family and told them where I was going?” Instead he tries to make a deal with Jesus and places a condition on his willingness to follow Him.
   Are y’all hearing this? Go back and read this passage again and look at the conditions these guys ARE putting on their calling … “Jesus, I’ll follow You, BUT I want to be comfortable. Jesus, I’ll follow You, BUT I’ve made all these commitments to other people. Jesus, I’ll follow you, BUT I’m not sure how I can compete with my wife and kids about this.”
   I’ve heard that the word “BUT” completely impacts and changes whatever was said just before. Think about it …
I’m pregnant…but….
It’s a boy… but…
I love you Babe…but…
I’m all in you guys…but…
I’ll follow You Jesus…but…
   Please understand this today … The mission that God has called us to must NOT be seen as a challenge … BUT as a reward. He wants us to step forward into His calling, step forward into His confidence, step forward into His joy. He doesn’t want us to be looking back in uncertainty and anxiety.
   In Philippians 3:13-14 we read where Paul’s speaking to the church in Philipi and he says, “13No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 64I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
   There are lots of things in our lives that are competing with God’s mission. Making money, appearing successful according to the world’s standards, having everything you want, staying healthy, having your kids turn out perfectly, the hurts and disappointments from others, a loved one passes away, divorce … and the list goes on. Many of these things are great and some are devastating … but do they ever compete with God’s mission of firmly walking with Him no matter the cost?
   Last week we learned that if you’re a follower of Jesus then you are called by Him. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll actually live out your calling. Just like Jesus “resolutely walked towards Jerusalem” even though He knew what lay ahead of Him. Philippians 2:8 tells us that “He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross.” We too must intentionally and decisively and humbly follow Jesus in His mission above all else.
   Jesus is not about creating a following, He’s all about making followers … one heart at a time.
   Simply saying that you will follow Him is not enough. The primary characteristic Jesus is looking for in His followers is what? Like we learned last week from Matthew … HUMILITY.
   The question we ALL need to ask ourselves is this … “Will I lay down my own comforts, other commitments and things that compete for my time, treasure and talents to decisively follow Jesus?” You see … because of our sinful nature that we inherited from Adam and Eve … following Jesus isn’t something that comes naturally … the devil will make sure of that. It’s a CHOICE that we all have to make and the choice is YOURS!!!
   We are going to close today by simply taking some silence to ask the question, “God, do I have any distracting things in my life that I need to die to today so I can better follow You?” If you do I want to encourage you to take the blank piece of paper from your program we placed in your program and write it down.
   Are there any comforts that you have made more important than Christ? If there are, write them down.
   Are there any other commitments that you’ve been saying, “but first,” before you can fully follow Christ’s call on your life? If there are, write them down.
   Are there any competing activities that might be good but have become more important than your calling to know Christ and make him known? If there are, write them down.
   (2 minutes of silence)
   We’re going to sing our closing song and while we’re doing that, I want you to bring you piece of paper up front and place them in the prayer request bucket (the yellow bucket). Nobody will ever know what’s on that paper but you and God.

June 3,2018     We Are ALL Called

   Our opening passage is found in Matthew 9:9-13 – The Calling of Matthew – 9As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So, Matthew got up and followed him.
   10Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.11But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
   12When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
   Good morning, today we are starting a new series titled Made for Mission. I believe the invitation that God is going to give us through this series has the potential to be transforming for our lives.
   Throughout the Bible we read that God has a mission for our lives … but we all have to make decisions on what we want to do about it. We can ignore it. We can flirt with it occasionally and sometimes we can temporarily join God in what he’s made us to be. We can also LIVE ON MISSION … and live our lives in connection with how God made us and how He’s already working. 
   People are seeking a purpose to their lives that’s part of something bigger. This is way bigger than a Christian thing, people will work for a lot less if they really believe in what they are doing. Wealth does not always equal happiness. People also want their life to be about something good.
   Stanford University did a study recently to find out if people truly desired happiness or meaningfulness.  They found there was a total connect but ultimately what people really want is a life of meaning. The Bible teaches us that we were Made for a Mission.
   Over the next 6 weeks we are going to spend some time figuring that out for your life. If you have a Bible or Bible App then turn to Matthew, chapter 9. We’re going to learn about Jesus calling on Matthew’s life and believe it has incredible significance for our lives today.
   Video - The Pharisee and Tax Collector - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39fHwaR2P40
   Not in his worst nightmares could he have ever envisioned that he would end up here. If he could go back in time and make different decisions I think he would do it in a second.
   His parents had turned their backs on him. His friends wanted nothing to do with him. How could he blame them, all he saw was disgust when he looked at himself in the mirror. He knew what was on every person’s mind as they passed him by each day. “Sell Out.” “Contempt.” In fact, in vs. 10, they had made a special classification for guys like him. He wasn’t worthy to be thrown in with all the other “sinners.” Instead, guys like Matthew were one step worse, “Tax Collectors.”
   On one day Matthew was sitting at his post and a crowd of people surrounded a man teaching just a few feet away. Matthew inquired from a few nearby that is was Jesus of Nazareth, a man he had heard about but never seen. Matthew leaned in to try and hear what the popular teacher had to say. A group of men interrupted Jesus mid-sentence and brought a paralyzed man right to his feet. Instead of being annoyed, Jesus immediately looked at the man and simply said “Your sins are forgiven.”
   Matthew was so shocked by the simple words that he instinctively laughed out loud. Too loud. A number of people looked over at him with an irritated glare. Jesus also looked over and Matthew slumped down in his chair. Then Jesus turned back to the man and said, “Just to show you that I can forgive sins, get up and walk.”  At once the man jumped up and the whole crowd stood in amazement. Matthew had seen nothing like this before. Then Matthew looked up and Jesus was walking directly towards his table. If Matthew didn’t know better, the teacher was looking right at him. Matthew glanced over his shoulder to see who else Jesus might be looking at but there was no one there. Jesus stopped at the table, leaned in, and whispered to Matthew just loud enough to hear. “Follow me.”
   Not knowing hardly anything about this Jesus ... Not knowing where he was going ... What he was calling Matthew to or why in the world he’d selected Matthew in the first place ... Matthew found himself immediately standing up and leaving his life of tax collecting behind. Somewhere in the deep part of his soul he knew that this was the most important decisions he would ever make in his life.
   Let’s look at Matthew 9:9 – “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.”
   The fact that Jesus approached Matthew says so much. Tax collectors were seen in that culture as the worst of the worst. Tax collectors were Jews that had sold out their own people in order to become wealthy. People hated them. If we could go back in time and freeze frame this scene and then pick out of the hundreds of people there who would be the last person Jesus would pick to train up and send out to change the world … it would be Matthew. Think about our childhood football … first pick … first round, nobody uses their first pick for a backup punter. But that was Matthew, the backup punter.
   How is this incredibly significant for us? If a low life like Matthew … one of the dregs of society … could be called to be used by God … then that means we are all called to be used by God.
   JD Greer in his book Gaining by Losing says, “There is a widespread myth in the church that “calling into ministry” is a secondary experience that happens to only a few Christians. Their job is to do the ministry and everyone else’s job is to just show up and foot the bill. Few lies cripple the mission more than that one. Each believer is called to leverage his or her life for the spread of the gospel. The question is no longer whether we are called, only where and how.” 
   You are called by God! He has chosen you to be an active part of HIS mission. Since the Bible is clear and there’s no doubt that you’re called, you need to start asking some big questions.
   Those in the business world—why did God make me good at business? Surely not just to fill up your life with all kinds of comforts so you can spend the last twenty years of your life on vacation. He has given you your talents as a means of blessing others and as a platform to spread the mission.
   If you’re a stay-at-home mom, ask yourself: What role do I play in the advance of the mission as I raise my kids? The same question applies if you’re in the military, fire department, teacher or student. God may not have put you in a vocational pastor position but He has put you on the frontlines for mission. The word “vocation” actually comes from the Latin word voca, which means “to call.” What if you started seeing your job as an actual calling from God?
   Illustration: In the morning you could get up and take a shower, get dressed, help the kids get ready for school, go to work, and come home to prepare to do it like everybody else.   (Cue Mission Impossible Theme Song)
   OR you could get up in the morning and act like you were MADE FOR A MISSION. You could wake up seeking God and seeking His plans for your day.
   You wake up expectant of what God has in store for your day. You spend time with God through prayer and reading His word before you do anything else. You listen in for His instructions He has for you that day. You prepare your kids to live on mission too. Then you go to work with your eyes open looking for opportunities to join God in where He’s already at work. 
   Now it would be awesome if God would shoot me a text every morning — “Good morning Dooley. … Hey!! What’s up God? … I need you to talk to that person and encourage this coworker. … OK sir!! Got it!!”
   JD Greer says, “You don’t need a voice when you got a verse.” Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God wants to work through us to share his love with others.”
   Look at Jesus’ invitation to Matthew. He doesn’t say, “get in line” or “do what I do.” He simply says, “Follow Me.” Jesus invites Matthew first and foremost into a relationship with Him. I want you to understand this today … The relationship was not the byproduct of them doing ministry together, the relationship was the assignment. The ministry is what would come from them spending time together. The Christian life is not about doing stuff for God … the Christian life is about being in a relationship with God.
   From Matthew’s point of view, he’s obviously shocked that Jesus even approached him. But it just blows my mind how Matthew just got up and walked away from everything and everyone he knew. WITHOUT QUESTION – he immediately followed Jesus.
   Why did Matthew do that? How could he just drop everything? He had a good paying job, at this point 90% of Israel was living below the poverty level. He seemingly didn’t have to work hard. (He’s just sitting there) He was a part of something bigger … maybe the Roman Empire had a good retirement plan. On top of that — Jesus’ invitation was a bit vague. He just said, “Follow me.” He didn’t say his name. Where they would be going.  What they would be doing? Not even what would be in it for Matthew. Jesus simply said “Follow Me.”
   If you look at the first words of verse 9 it says, “As Jesus went on from there…” That this was written by Matthew himself … those words are hugely significant. If you back up to the beginning of the chapter … Matthew saw something. So, what had he just seen? He’d watched Jesus heal a paralyzed man. Even more importantly he’d just seen Jesus forgive that man of his sins. The questions that must have been racing through Matthew’s mind. I’ll bet one of them was “Could Jesus forgive me of my shame?”
   Jesus’ invitation is from sitting to following. Replay the scene for a moment. Matthew is just sitting there. Then Jesus walks up to Matthew … face to face. What does Jesus call on Matthew’s life require of Matthew? … Movement! … In order for Matthew to answer Jesus’ call … Matthew must get up and move! In order for us to experience change in our lives … we must get up and move.
   He had to get up. He had to make a conscience decision to make a move … he had to take that first step. He couldn’t just stay in his seat and follow. The moment he took a step he was on mission … but a step of faith was required.
   God is calling us to get off the sidelines. Get out there and get in the game of being made for mission. It’ll require you to consciously get up … Even if those old bones are telling you “I’m OK sitting right here.”
   Do you know significance of the number 3,900-4,000? That’s the estimated numbers of weeks you will spend on planet earth. That’s where we are going over the next six weeks. Don’t you think it may be worth taking 6 of those weeks to figure out if you were made for a mission? … If I do that, what might happen? Check out what takes place next. 
   Matthew 9: 10 – While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.
   Matthew asked “Jesus, where are we going?”
   Jesus replied: “To your house. What’s your address again? I’ll put it in my GPS.”
   You see, most people have this fear that if they put their Yes on the table, meaning you are all in, then Jesus might move you to Africa or Antarctica. That could happen ya know? But, so often God says, “let’s just start with where I have you now.” You see, there’re people dying and going to hell just minutes outside your front door. Your mission field is in your homes, your jobs, your communities … or your own back yard.
   The next scene takes place at Matthew’s house. Who provided the meal? Matthew. Had Matthew had friends over to his house before? Of course, he did. But this dinner would be a whole lot different. Before that day, he was Matthew the tax collector, but now he’s Matthew the missionary. His ability to BBQ is now being used for the mission of God. When I go from sitting to following God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I’m going to internally start changing the way I start seeing things in my life.
   God will transform how I use my resources. God has blessed me with stuff that can be used for mission. Matthew used his house and food to be on mission. The same is true for us. You’ll look at your finances differently. You’ll look at your possessions differently.
   God will transform how I see my relationships. I’m sure Matthew had lots of meals together with his tax collector buddies before … but this is the first time they had religious leaders join them. How do you think Matthew introduced these two groups? Maybe, “My sins were forgiven today — you could have that happen for you too.” What do you think the conversations looked like between the two groups? What did Matthew hope would happen? He was faced with the reality that he was probably the best chance his friends would ever have in meeting Jesus and would not waste this opportunity.
   When you join God in a life on mission you begin to realize that none of your friendships or even acquaintances are coincidental. God has placed them in your life for a reason and you desperately want what happened to you to happen to them. At some point all of us had someone tell us about God. NOW … we need to realize that we get to do the same thing for others.
   If you thought of your life as a party, for whom would you be throwing it? Are you investing your time and resources into who can pay you back or are your eyes on a reward not found in this world? That we were made for a mission bigger than the Christian thing. Everyone’s seeking purpose for their life and you’re holding their answer in your hand.
   Matthew 9:11 – “When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
   It’s crazy to realize that the Pharisees are in his home. I bet they’re thinking, “what the heck are we doing in a tax collectors home.” They must be blown away by what they see. Here’s a third way God begins to transform us when we move from sitting to following.
   God will transform how I respond to ridicule.   The Pharisees were the rule keepers. They were also kind of like the cool kids at school. The tax collectors knew that they were the bottom of the totem pole but it still didn’t change fact that they wanted to be in good standing with the popular Pharisees. But … just one afternoon of following Jesus … it all changed. Now they didn’t care about approval of the Pharisees because they were too busy toasting their new friendships with Jesus.
   You were not made to fit in, you were made to stand out. When you’re on mission you’re not living for the approval of man but for God. 
   Galatians 1:10 – “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
   Jesus faced all kinds of ridicule so wouldn’t you expect that if you’re following him, you’d experience the same persecution too. Listen to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:10-11: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”
   For Matthew, maybe some of his tax collector friends had no interest in Jesus and that stung a little. Imagine if one of his friends stayed after their party to share that he wanted to have what Matthew had? How awesome would that be? Check out how the story ends with Matthew 9:12 – “On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”
   What’s Jesus’ mission? He’s a Spiritual Doctor recusing physically and spiritually wounded and sick people. That means He came for you and me. He didn’t come to judge or pile on rules we could never attain … that’s already been tried in the Old Testament … it didn’t work.
   Do you know who wrote book the book of Matthew? This tax collector guy! He was sick and God healed him and saved him. How many millions of people have been saved through his writings? Just like Matthew, you have no idea of the impact on other people’s lives God might want to make through your life. There’s no greater joy in the journey of hanging in there, trying to figure it all out.
   To close I want to show you one of the most impactful clips from a movie I’ve ever seen. This comes from a movie called Hacksaw Ridge that takes place during World War II and is based on actual events of Desmond Doss, a soldier from the 77th Infantry Division from Fort Jackson, SC.
   The main character is a medic who refuses to carry a weapon because of his spiritual beliefs. His battalion is pretty much left for dead up on a ridge. Everyone else retreats except this one medic. He stays behind throughout the night. Check it out.
   Hacksaw Ridge Clip  - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3R24f76Z-0
   You’ve been called by God and made for a mission. What if every one of us had the simple attitude of “Help me Lord. Help me get just one more. Jesus, would You use me to reach just one more?” If we all prayed that simple one-line prayer with all our hearts … so many lives would be impacted for eternity.

May 27, 2018     God ... Why Do You Allow Suffering?

   Our opening passage is found in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (NLT) where it talks about Paul’s Vision and His Thorn in the Flesh. -- 1This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. 2I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know — only God knows.3Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know 4that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.
   5That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. 6If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, 7even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.
   8Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. 9Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
   Our message title this morning is “God. Why Do You Allow Suffering?” How can a just God permit suffering in our lives?
   A woman who was employed as a dental receptionist told this story: I was on duty when an extremely nervous patient came for root canal surgery. He was brought into the examining room and made comfortable in the reclining dental chair. The dentist then injected a numbing agent around the patient’s tooth and left the room for a few minutes while the medication took hold.
   When the dentist returned, the patient was standing next to a tray of dental equipment.
   "What are you doing by the surgical instruments?" asked the surprised dentist.
   Focused on his task, the patient replied, "I’m taking out the ones I don’t like."
   None of us likes suffering. Given the choice, we’d “pick out” the things we didn’t like in this life:
- the hardships
- the suffering
- the pain and loss
- the tragedies
and we’d just get rid of them.
   Unfortunately – just like the man in the dentist’s office – we really don’t get much of a choice. We don’t get to pick and choose. We get what we get. We have to deal with the hand that life gives to us, don’t we??
   But the question for today is not “what suffering would we remove from our lives?”
   But rather: “Why does God allow suffering?”
I. Getting into the reality of the question we need to realize that:
   We live in a fallen world and in that world

- everything decays
- everything grows old
- everything dies
   In Romans 8:18-21 Paul tells us: “18Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. 20Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.”
   We live in a decaying world where disease and death are part of the unavoidable aspects of living.
   Jesus warned us not to get to attached to this world, because it is a world of decay and loss: Matthew 6:19-20 says "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
   Jesus warns us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
   So, Jesus has told us that – in this life – suffering and difficulties will be a reality even for us.
II. But then, along comes our passage in 2 Corinthians 12 this morning that gives an entirely different perspective on suffering.
   Here is Paul - 
– one of the greatest apostles in the early church
– a man who wrote nearly half of the New Testament
– a missionary who worked tirelessly to plant church after church throughout the known world
– a person who would be amongst the first to be named “Christian” … a Christ follower of the 1st Century” … And he’s suffering.
   He’s afflicted.
   He has a thorn in the flesh and he can’t seem to have it removed from his life.
   We don’t know what this hardship was that he had to endure, but it was so serious, that Paul prayed 3 times to have it removed.
   Why did he suffer from this affliction?
   God gave it to him.
   Now, this passage tells me two things about suffering.
   1st There are times when Suffering has a specific purpose
   In Paul’s case … God sent the suffering to keep him from becoming conceited. He had been privileged to receive extraordinary visions and overwhelming power. And these advantages threatened to create in him a self-centered spirituality.
   A woman once told of the time her 4 year old son and she were walking to their car after they’d been to Bible study. She said that her son looked up at her and said, "Mom, I’m not going to sin anymore."
   She said “I got to wondering why he said this, so I asked him.”
   This was his answer: "Jesus said if you don’t sin, you can throw the first stone and I want to throw the first stone."
   You see … a self-centered spirituality carries with it the feeling of “power” over others. It can create a self-righteousness and smug superiority that angers God. And if that were to happen in our lives we’d begin saying to the world:
   “Look at me. I’m spiritual” … when we should be saying … “Don’t look at me because I’m nothing … keep your eyes on Jesus.”
   So, in Paul’s life, the suffering came to help him avoid the danger of self-righteousness.
   Of course, there are many reasons why God might bring suffering into our lives, but one of the most significant purposes for Him to bring hardship and difficulty into your life and mine is the desire to mold and shape our personalities
   In Psalm 66:10, we find that David wrote: “For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver.”
   How do you refine a metal like silver? … You place it in the furnace.
   The intense heat melts the metal, and while it lays in this molten state, the dross – the impurities – float to the top and are skimmed off. The end result of the refining process is a pure and valuable metal. Psalm 66:11-12 explains that this is one of God’s purposes in exposing us to difficulty. Note what this passage says next: “11You captured us in your net and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.
   12Then you put a leader over us. We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance.”
   This is a repeated theme throughout Scripture: God brings suffering into our lives to change us to mold us into the type of people He needs us to be so He can use us to fulfill His purpose and plan in our lives and in the lives of others.
   Peter said this very thing when he wrote in I Peter 1:6-7: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
   One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is the one about Joseph (Genesis 37-50), the favorite son of Jacob’s. He was the golden child. Destined for greatness. God even told him as much in a couple of his dreams.
   But, from the way the story plays out, it would seem Joseph had a problem with pride.
   When his daddy gave him that coat of many colors, his brothers become envious. And I can picture Joseph being like any other sibling who’s received special treatment … he rubs it in.
   Of course, that’s not told in the story.
   But what we are told is that every time God gave him a vision about his future, Joseph couldn’t help but share it with the brothers. Why would he share it with his siblings – who he knew were jealous of him anyway? He’s rubbing it in.
   But God has a destiny for Joseph.
   He will one day be a great man.
   How does God prepare him for his place in history:
   Well, first Joseph was beaten by his brothers, and then sold by them into slavery.
   While in slavery, he attempts to be as Godly a man as can be … and what does he get for his trouble? He’s falsely accused of a crime he never committed and is placed in prison.
   For approximately 15 years, Joseph endures slavery and prison.
   He grows up in suffering miles away from family and home.
   Then God reaches down into the depths of his prison and lifts Joseph up and causes him to become the 2nd most important man in the land of Egypt.
   But it wasn’t till after Joseph had been through the refining fire of suffering that he became ready for the power and prestige that God intended to shower upon him.
   Later, when Joseph had the opportunity to wreak revenge on his brothers … he told them in Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
   A.W. Tozer gives an interesting insight on this. In his book “The Root of the Righteous” he writes: “The hammer is a useful tool, but the nail, if it had feeling and intelligence, could present another side of the story. For the nail knows the hammer only as an opponent, a brutal, merciless enemy who lives to pound it into submission, to beat it down out of sight and clinch it into place. That is the nail’s view of the hammer, and it is accurate except for one thing: The nail forgets that both it and the hammer are servants of the same workman. Let the nail but remember that the hammer is held by the workman and all resentment toward it will disappear. The carpenter decides whose head shall be beaten next and what hammer shall be used in the beating. That is his sovereign right. When the nail has surrendered to the will of the workman and has gotten a little glimpse of his benign plans for its future, it will yield to the hammer without complaint.
   The file is more painful still — for its business is to bite into the soft metal, scraping and eating away the edges till it has shaped the metal to its will. Yet the file has, in truth, no real will in the matter, but serves another master as the metal also does. It is the master and not the file that decides how much shall be eaten away. What shape the metal shall take and how long the painful filing shall continue. Let the metal accept the will of the master and it will not try to dictate when or how it shall be filed.
   As for the furnace, it is the worst of all. Ruthless and savage, it leaps at every combustible thing that enters it and never relaxes its fury till it has reduced it all to shapeless ashes. All that refuses to burn is melted to a mass of helpless matter, without will or purpose of its own.
   When everything is melted that will melt and all is burned that will burn, then and not till then the furnace calms down and rests from its destructive fury.”
   So, 1st – the passage this morning in 2 Corinthians 12 tells me that there are times when suffering comes into our lives for a specific purpose.
   But 2ndly: that passage teaches me that even if it’s not there for a specific reason, suffering can and does always have a purpose.
   You see, I’m not fully convinced that suffering always comes into our lives because God caused it.
   For example, a pastor told this story … “A few years ago, I lost my temper, and I slammed my hand into a wall. Anybody remember what happened? That’s right… I broke my wrist.”
   Now, was it God’s will that he broke his wrist?
   No… the reason he broke his wrist was what? Because he’d been stupid.
   He sinned … he lost his temper and had to wear a cast for a few weeks.
   Some suffering comes into our lives because we sin … because we do stupid stuff.
   But even when that happens, God tells us that suffering can always have a purpose. Whether we believe God has designed the suffering I’m going thru or not… my suffering can always have a purpose.
   And, what’s that purpose?
   Look again at 2 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
   So … what purpose can suffering serve in my life?
   1. It can allow Christ to show how much power He has in my life.
   2. It can allow God to show what He can do — when I can’t do a thing
   In other words — my weakness allows God to do the miraculous in our lives
   A man by the name of Gary Richmond said; "If (miracles) were happening every day, they wouldn’t be called miracles, they’d be called regulars. The fact that your toothache stops hurting isn’t a miracle … or that your appendectomy scar isn’t large. That isn’t a miracle; that’s a very good surgeon.”
   Likewise, if we ourselves do something that’s clever, or intelligent, or mind-boggling because we have the ability to do so … that doesn’t show the world the power of God at all.     That simply shows off OUR talents.
   It’s only when we’re weak that God can display His miraculous power in our lives.
   I want to share a story I read that a pastor had shared … “In the last congregation I served, the members had been very faithful in setting aside money for a new building project. They had $100,000 in their bank account and they wanted to build a new foyer with classrooms and modern bathrooms. They began their building project with the promise that they would not spend anymore money than what they had on hand.
   But in the middle of the project, building codes required an additional expense that was $10,000 more than what they had on hand. In the midst of their frustration, I suggested a “Miracle Sunday” where we would set aside a specific Sunday – three months away – where people would be challenged to bring in additional funds.
   Now I have a particular character flaw. I’m great at getting things started, but I become easily distracted and forget things… like planning a specific sermon for special days like that. In fact, once I had the congregation pumped for that “Miracle Sunday” … I promptly started another project and the special offering slipped my mind.
   But it just so happened, that the project hadn’t slipped God’s mind.
   The Saturday night before that Sunday, I was engaged in finishing a sermon on the power of prayer… but I was having difficulty coming up with a good closing illustration. It was about 10 pm and I was praying for God to help guide me in finding a good way to close the sermon. And then the oddest thing happened. Into my mind came this question: “What is tomorrow?”
   I honestly had to think about it for a couple of minutes, and then I realized it was “Miracle Sunday.”
   Again, a thought came into my mind: “How much do you need?”
   Suddenly, I realized what this implied. If this was actually God’s leading, this could be one of the greatest sermons I would ever preach. But if not, I could end up embarrassing myself terribly.
   I got on the phone to 3 people I could trust to pray for me (who I also picked because they were not the type to have much money) and then I called the church treasurer.
   “Mark”, I said, “I want you to count the offering during the worship service tomorrow, rather than afterwards. I’m going to tell the audience that God is going to supply our need. That we WILL have $10,000 in the offering… then I want you to come out and tell them how much has been given.”
   Now, this wasn’t a large congregation, and not especially wealthy. One of our elders had commented that the best we could expect for this offering was around $5600 or so.
   But on this Sunday, I preached about the power of answered prayer, and I built up to the idea that because they had been faithful in their prayers to God to supply for our need, we would have exactly what was required. Then I called for Mark to come in.
   Mark came in and he looked extremely distressed. I often say he looked like somebody just shot his dog. Slowly he began “We have… $10,999.96.” Almost everyone in the audience erupted in cheers.
   But what God taught us that day was this: They had been faithful in setting aside the $100,000 for the original project… but now that they had a need God intended to show them what He could do.
   It was in our weakness that He showed His strength.”
III. So, listening to this story a question comes to mind … “How then can I lay hold of God’s power in my weakness?”
   Look with me again at the passage on the screen where Paul says “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
   In other words, I need to boast of my weakness. I need to look to God with all my heart for Him to display His power through my suffering.
   For example, earlier in 2 Corinthians 1:3-6, Paul writes — “3All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 5For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. 6Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”
   Notice, Paul is praising God in the midst of suffering because our suffering allows God to teach us how to be ministers. How to comfort others when they suffer.
   One of the greatest passages in Scripture is Romans 8:28 … “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
   Now, that passage doesn’t say all things are from God … nor does it say that all things are good.
   What it does say is that when we love God and are called according to His purpose … and doing the VERY best we can to live according to His Word … He WILL make ALL things (no matter how bleak they may seem) work out for our good.
   A little boy was telling his Grandma how "everything" is going wrong ... school, family problems, severe health problems, etc.
   Meanwhile, Grandma was baking a cake.
   She asked the child if he would like a snack, which of course he did.
   "Here. Have some cooking oil."
   "Yuck," says the boy.
   "How about a couple of raw eggs?"
   "Gross, Grandma."
   "Would you like some flour then? Or maybe baking soda?"
   "Grandma, those are all yucky!”
   To which the Grandma replies: "Yes, all those things taste bad all by themselves. It’s only when they are put together in just the right way, and are placed into the heat of the furnace, that they make a wonderfully delicious cake!”
   Understand that God works in our lives in the very same way in our lives.
   He takes all the “yucky” elements of our lives and eventually blends all those “raw elements” — the ones that taste so bad — into a masterpiece.
   The key thing we need to remember when encountering suffering in our lives is what Paul taught us in Romans 8:18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
   No matter what hardship or tragedy we endure in this life … it’ll be as nothing compared to the wonder that awaits us in glory.
   And all God’s children said … “AMEN!!!

May 20, 2018     The Power of Pentecost

   Our opening text this morning is found in Acts 2:1-24 (NLT) — The Holy Spirit Comes — 1On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
   5At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. 6When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers.
   7They were completely amazed. “How can this be?” they exclaimed. “These people are all from Galilee, 8 and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! 9Here we are — Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, 10Phrygia, Pamphylia Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome 11(both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!” 12They stood there amazed and perplexed. “What can this mean?” they asked each other.
   13But others in the crowd ridiculed them, saying, “They’re just drunk, that’s all!”
Peter Preaches to the Crowd
   14Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this. 15These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that. 16No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:
   17‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.
   18In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants — men and women alike — and they will prophesy.
   19And I will cause wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below — blood and fire and clouds of smoke.
   20The sun will become dark, and the moon will turn blood red before that great and glorious day of the Lord arrives.
   21But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
   22“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. 23But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. 24But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.
   Our lesson today is titled “The Power of Pentecost” because the Holy Spirit birthed the church on Pentecost. He is alive today and the Christian’s challenge is to work out his or her calling in the light of the Resurrection and Pentecost.
   It had been the most intense experience of their lives. A Jewish carpenter and Rabbi had called each of them out from where they were. Five of them were fishermen - one was a tax collector - most were of unknown occupation - some were just standing around talking - one was just sitting under a tree.
   And each of them followed Him, fascinated by His character, amazed by His grace, drawn by his love, encouraged by the miracles He performed again and again in response to human suffering, in response to human need.
   They were captivated by His words. Simple words using familiar things to describe profound truths about humanity and about true spirituality.
   It had been the most intense experience of their lives. 12 men and an unnumbered amount of women followed Him everywhere, still beholding His miracles and His incredibly gracious words.
   And knowing that He was becoming a threat to the authorities, each of them still followed Him, they still kept close to Him, knowing they were becoming associated with One who was breaking down barriers, cutting across cultural norms in order to reach people with His love. They were captivated by His words, but now the authorities were starting to use and twist His words to discredit Him.
   And on Palm Sunday, they followed Him into Jerusalem, feeling pretty queasy about Him being there, but they joyfully served as His entourage as Jesus is celebrated as King.
   It had been the most intense experience of their lives. He told them He would be killed. He told them that He would not leave them alone, however. He promised them a comforter.
   One who would lead them into all truth. Jesus told them in John 16:7-8 “7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment…”
   It was an intense experience … life with Jesus. And then He died. And then He rose again. They saw Him alive again. And then He told them to wait. To wait in the city.
   Acts 1:8 tells us that He said “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
   And now they are in Jerusalem, waiting. On the day of Pentecost, the festival celebrating the harvest. They choose someone to replace Judas, Judas who had betrayed Jesus. And on the day of Pentecost they are together and they are waiting.
   The Holy Spirit Comes Video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gt16nVZ0qSQ
   You get a sense of how monumental that first Pentecost was in the life of the church. It WAS actually the birth of the church. And there’re some valuable things to pick up from our first brothers and sisters in the Lord.
   The first thing is that they were not splintered off in many different directions. They were together. Praying together. Eating together. Worshipping together. And they weren’t busy doing stuff, trying to accomplish things on their own strength.
   They WERE doing what Jesus commanded in Acts 1:4 “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”
   These are two of the hardest things in life to do: to simply be together and to wait. Sometimes it’s hard to BE together because we ALL have our differences. We can offend one another unintentionally and sometimes without knowing it. We can develop differing ideas about what’s going to happen, what’s suppose to happen.
   A lot of the history of the church for the past 2000 years has been just that … people getting distracted and off-mission because they start to focus on things that matter far less than God’s purposes.
   It’s hard to be together and it’s hard to wait. To wait for inspiration, to wait for direction.
   Now direction always comes because God loves to lead His people.
   Isaiah 40:31 says “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
   When we get impatient, when we DON’T wait, we can sometimes perhaps miss the leading of the Spirit, we can miss God’s direction because we’re simply not waiting, not listening, not quieting our spirits so that we can be attuned to God’s voice.
   The good news is these early Christians WERE together, they WERE waiting, they WERE trusting, they WERE anticipating that God would do what God said He would do. He would fulfill His promise.
   And what happened? The Holy Spirit came and uniquely enabled the disciples to testify with one voice for the glory of God.
   This troubled, quirky group of disciples became empowered by God, they were set on fire for God. Specifically, they and all those around them were witness to a unique event as recorded in Scripture:
   Let’s read Acts 2:5-11 starting at verse 5 “Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"
   Pretty cool, hugh? And this miracle of God where people heard the disciples speaking in their own diverse tongues … this really foreshadowed the passion the church has always had to take the gospel into new lands, to learn new tongues and new cultures and to share the message of Christ, the message of God’s grace with all peoples and all nations.
   Now these disciples had walked with Jesus, had talked with Jesus, had been through the crucifixion of Jesus, had been completely depressed and depleted at the death of Jesus.
   Then they had seen Jesus ALIVE again. Their hope had been restored completely. Those, like Thomas, who doubted were completely convinced that Jesus was alive again because they saw Him, they touched Him, they spoke with Him.
   If we just try to put ourselves for a moment into the mindset of the disciples, the incredible emotional roller-coaster they had been on, we may get a little glimpse of what life was like for them.
   But they were waiting, not now for Jesus, but for what their calling was to be in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus told them in Matthew 28:19-20 that they were to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
   That one question: What is your calling in the light of the resurrection of Jesus…that’s a question that all disciples, all followers of Jesus, have asked and sought God for.
   So the Holy Spirit comes this first Pentecost … this birthday of the church … and those who had walked with Jesus found new confidence because of their faith in Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
   Those people that Jesus had gathered from scattered places, those people Jesus had called out of their livelihoods, now proclaim the wonders of God.
   Remember, these were the fellas who had turned on Jesus, every one of them, except perhaps John. The other eleven had tucked tail and run when it became clear that Jesus was going to trial for blasphemy.
   They had cowered, none more so than Peter. How do you think Peter felt every morning when he heard a rooster crow?
   But now, having seen Jesus risen from the dead, having waiting patiently for the Holy Spirit to come, these people were now transformed into the Apostles who would each lay down their lives so that the gospel would be known, so that the good news of Jesus Christ would reach more and more people.
   They were willing to risk everything if it meant that the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ would reach you and me. I give Jesus the praise and I thank God they were willing to do WHAT EVER it took and didn’t give up! Amen?
   We heard some of what Peter said earlier on this first birthday of the church, this Pentecost.
   To get an idea of the transformation Peter went through, let’s listen to some more of what Peter said that day.
   Remember, this is the same Peter who lied … three times … about knowing Jesus. So, what did Jesus do? He loved him … and He restored him, and he was reinstated by Jesus.
   Let’s listen to the words of this transformed man starting at Acts 2:22 "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 36 "Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." 37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" 38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
   So this is Pentecost. This is the day the church was birthed into being by the Holy Spirit. This is how you came to hear the message of the gospel.
   It started with the Holy Spirit filling the people of God and empowering them to go against the grain, against what was popular, against all cultural norms and share the hope of the gospel to this broken needy world.
   And so it does come around, back to you and to me today. This question: What is YOUR calling in the light of the resurrection of Jesus, in the light of the coming of the Holy Spirit both on this original day of Pentecost when the church was born but also in the light of the Holy Spirit at work in your life today?
   If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, if you have received Him as your Lord and Savior, then the Holy Spirit of God lives in you. He lives in us collectively as the body of Christ, And YOU have a calling to fulfill.
   For some, you may have the calling of a missionary on your life. That’s why I’m here. A long time ago God called me to be a missionary … and over time I learned that the mission field I was called to was my own backyard. My mission field was the same world of sin and death that my Salvation had delivered me from.
   But … and this is important … when I first got saved I was willing to go to anywhere the Lord had called me to go. I was entirely willing to leave everything here and live in Africa, Liberia and the Ivory Coast … if it meant I could share Jesus with people.
   The calling to missions is much broader than we commonly think. Some ARE called overseas or to the First Nations peoples in Canada and the US or …. you name it. But here’s the rub … Wherever you are right now, that is where you are called to missions. That’s where you are called to share your life and to live and breathe and share the gospel of Jesus.
   This is so important, and this is tricky. Why is it tricky? There’s always a two-way flow of information and influence no matter who or where we are. We’re always getting input from others. We always have the opportunity to give input to others.
   The call to mission-living is the call to have the truth of the gospel always in front of you, and to realize the trust that God has given us to share faith with others, and the power He has given us through the Holy Spirit.
   And in order to be faithful we must always guard our heart against any influence that might flatten our faith, that might make right and wrong relevant, that might pressure us to think that Jesus is just one option among the gods.
   That was the pressure that the first Christians faced constantly, and we just read Peter’s powerful testimony that to be a follower of Jesus is to lovingly and graciously and passionately live this truth: Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
   There is no doubt in our hearts or minds when we read in John 14:6 where it says that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to God except through Him. That is the simple teaching of the Bible.
   So, what’s your calling from God in the light of the resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit?
   Here’s something cool because it has to do with what you love. Do you really enjoy being around people? Meeting new people? That has something to do with your calling?
   Do you really love to learn? Do you love to teach? That has something to do with your calling?
   Do you grieve over injustice, over the modern slave-trade, over poverty? That has something to do with your calling.
   Do you LOVE music? Are you a gifted musician or someone with a deep and abiding passion to learn an instrument, to write songs? That has something to do with your calling.
   Do you care for seniors? Does it grieve you that there are so many shut-ins, cut off from the church and the world? That has something to do with your calling?
   Do you have a heart for immigrants and refugees? Do you believe that politics is a way to address real issues that affect real people? That has something to do with your calling.
   I could go on and on. But I won’t. [Aren’t you glad?] Church. Friends in Christ. This day in history Jesus’ promise of sending the Holy Spirit was fulfilled.
   This day, the church came alive. This day the Old Testament promise of God to pour out His Spirit on all people was fulfilled.
   Let’s open our hearts and our lives and our minds and our bodies to all that God would have for us. All that God would do through us. Let us agree with God that we are His people, won by the precious sacrifice, the precious blood of Christ.
   Let’s say yes to God who has given us a heavenly calling and an earthly responsibility to love people to Jesus. And all God’s people said: Amen!

May 13, 2018     Mother's Day Flour

   When God Created Mothers ... When the Good Lord was creating mothers, He was into His sixth day of "overtime" when the angel appeared and said. "You're taking a lot of time on this one."
   And God said, "Have you read the specs on this order?" She has to be completely washable, but not plastic. Have 180 moveable parts...all replaceable. Run on black coffee and leftovers. Have a lap that disappears when she stands up. A kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair .... and six pairs of hands."
   The angel shook his head slowly and said. "Six pairs of hands ... no way."
   "It's not the hands that are causing me problems," God remarked, "it's the three pairs of eyes that mothers have to have."
   "That's on the standard model?" asked the angel.
   God nodded. "One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks, 'What are you kids doing in there?' … when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn't … but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when he goofs up and say. 'I understand and I love you' … without so much as uttering a word."
   "God," said the angel touching his sleeve gently, "Get some rest tomorrow...."
   "I can't," said God, "I'm so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she is sick...can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger...and can get a nine year old to stand under a shower."
   The angel circled the model of a mother very slowly. "It's too soft," she sighed.
   "But tough!" said God excitedly. "You can imagine what this mother can do or endure."
   "Can it think?"
   "Not only can it think, but it can reason and compromise," said the Creator.
   Finally, the angel bent over and ran his finger across the cheek. "There's a leak," she pronounced. "I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model."
   "It's not a leak," said the Lord, "It's a tear."
   "What's it for?"
   "It's for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride."
   There is something so special about Mothers isn’t it? I’d like to share a passage of Scripture with you this morning that pretty well defines what a Biblical mother is like.
   Proverbs 31:10-31 (NLT) — A Wife of Noble Character — 10Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is more precious than rubies.
   11Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life.
   12She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.
   13She finds wool and flax and busily spins it.
   14She is like a merchant’s ship, bringing her food from afar.
   15She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day’s work for her servant girls.
   16She goes to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard.
   17She is energetic and strong, a hard worker.
   18She makes sure her dealings are profitable; her lamp burns late into the night.
   19Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber.
   20She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.
   21She has no fear of winter for her household, for everyone has warm clothes.
   22She makes her own bedspreads. She dresses in fine linen and purple gowns.
   23Her husband is well known at the city gates, where he sits with the other civic leaders.
   24She makes belted linen garments and sashes to sell to the merchants.
   25She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
   26When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.
   27She carefully watches everything in her household and suffers nothing from laziness.
   28Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: 29“There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!”
   30Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.
   31Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise.
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   Our opening passage this morning is found in 1 Kings 17:8-24 (NLT) — The Widow at Zarephath — 8Then the Lord said to Elijah, 9“Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.”
   10So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” 11As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.”
   12But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”
   13But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. 14For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”
   15So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. 16There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.
   17Some time later the woman’s son became sick. He grew worse and worse, and finally he died. 18Then she said to Elijah, “O man of God, what have you done to me? Have you come here to point out my sins and kill my son?”
   19But Elijah replied, “Give me your son.” And he took the child’s body from her arms, carried him up the stairs to the room where he was staying, and laid the body on his bed. 20Then Elijah cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, why have you brought tragedy to this widow who has opened her home to me, causing her son to die?”
   21And he stretched himself out over the child three times and cried out to the Lord, “O Lord my God, please let this child’s life return to him.” 22The Lord heard Elijah’s prayer, and the life of the child returned, and he revived! 23Then Elijah brought him down from the upper room and gave him to his mother. “Look!” he said. “Your son is alive!”
   24Then the woman told Elijah, “Now I know for sure that you are a man of God, and that the Lord truly speaks through you.”
   This widow starts off with a tiny sparkle of faith and instead of holding on to what little she has - she let’s go … and the rest is history.
   Today, on Mother’s Day, we are going to look at a woman of faith. This woman in today’s text doesn’t start out as a woman of faith, but after all that she endures … she sure ends up a woman of huge faith … and that’s what we need to start with this morning: Whoever you are, and whatever your faith is like – to end up as a person of great faith, you start out as a person of somewhat less faith. Now that may seem obvious now that I say it … but in many ways we expect our faith to just be there, don’t we? But you know, God will still use you even if you don’t have a great faith as we’ll see in our passage today. The message today is titled "Mother's Day Flour."
   The land is in the middle of a great drought, predicted by Elijah himself. Elijah’s been in isolation in the Kerith Ravine, a small tributary to the river Jordan and in verse 8 the word of the Lord comes to him and directs him to go to Zarephath which was in what is today the state of Lebanon.
   Now the prophet Elijah, he’s been around, he knows life is going to get difficult. Kerith, where he was staying, means separated, and the name depicts perfectly Elijah’s situation – he was alone, and without human contact for an extended period of time. God then sends him to Zarephath, which means, fiery trial, and depicts perfectly what his situation is going to be. So, God calls him out of the frying pan and into the fire. You can imagine Elijah walking to Zarephath thinking, “Holy Smoke, what in the world has God planned for me next?”.
   Notice, God doesn’t give him much to go by. God’s light on the details here. In vs. 9 we read “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”
   So, does the woman have a name? What’ll she be wearing? What’s her address? Does she know I’m coming? Do I meet her in the morning? What if I’m late? Does she have a criminal record?
   Does God do this to you too? Life is moving right along, everything is going great and you’re doing your thing … moving right along … and BAM!!! Out of the blue something hits you and you ask, “God, what is going on here?” and you get nothing … no details … but still, you’re in this situation for the duration.
   We saw this last week with the prophet Jonah. Now with Jonah God doesn’t give many details because Jonah might chicken out and not do as God asks – again! But Elijah, he’s different, he isn’t like Jonah, he’s bold, confident, strong, and faithful. Elijah’s a man who’ll do whatever God asks of him … so why the lack of details?
   Sometimes God’s silent because we’re a lot like Jonah aren’t we? … In a lot of our situations we’ll refuse to walk in faith if we know what’s coming. But sometimes God’s silent because His awesome power is sometimes revealed slowly. Many times, the time spent waiting will intensify the impact of the work of God on our lives. Sometimes the wait will make us more than ready to receive the Word of the Lord.
   Are your ready for this truth?? … If we have the details in advance, then, we wouldn’t be walking in faith, would we?
   So, Elijah must walk in faith alone with minimal details to his Zarephath. He must walk in faith alone into his fiery trial.
   Now at the gate he finds our woman of faith. What I love is that when Elijah arrives at the gate – there’s the widow, front and center. He doesn’t even have to look in the phone book, he doesn’t have to ask around, there she is. You know, we want the details of our circumstances from God upfront don’t we? But, do you see here that God supplies the details AS we walk in faith – as we step out and arrive where God has directed us, and there … are the details, standing right in front of us.
   So here is this woman gathering sticks in vs 10, and Elijah calls to her. What he does is play a trick on her, so to speak. Elijah calls to her and asks for a drink and as she is going to get the water he adds in vs. 11, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” In the ancient middle east hospitality was a very big deal. If someone asks for a drink of water, it’s rude, even an unspeakable act to refuse the person a drink. It would be shameful for this woman to refuse him a drink of water. She may be broke, she may be at the end of her rope, but she still has her dignity and she can perform this act of hospitality. So, she heads for the water jar – but to give away her bread, that’s another thing all together. Yet, she’s trapped by Elijah adding on a second request. You see, his second request is asking for her life commitment. His second request is asking for all she has.
   Who was this woman? Her name’s not even mentioned is it? What we do know is that she’s a single mom who’s trying to make it. The bottom line is that it looks like she isn’t going to make it. She’s trying desperately to take care of her son, but it’s clear that she can’t provide for him.
   Usually a widow, would have family to help take care of her. Many times a brother would marry a widow in the family to make sure she was taken care of. If we practiced that custom today I’ll bet THAT would make you extra careful who you married, wouldn’t it? You BETTER like your sister-in-law or you might be in really big trouble!!
   But this woman apparently doesn’t have anyone. If she dies, no one will notice. As a woman she has low social standing and as a widow she has no social standing. She’s a nobody, a phantom to neighbors as she comes and goes from her house. She’s so much a non person, we never even learn her name. She’s literally, a nonentity.
   At this point the drought has been going on for about 3 1/2 years and she’s at the end of her resources. Of everyone who’s limited in resources, she doesn’t even make it on the charts.
   Hold out your hand, see that, that’s all she had, what fits in the palm of her hand. What, is that … about 1/3 cup? Note that she isn’t saying no to Elijah, she’s just pointing out the physical reality that there isn’t enough for herself, her son and Elijah. She literally has nothing. She’s a nobody … and yet … God will use her for great things.
   2 Corinthians. 12:10 says “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
   Do you see what’s happening here? Do you understand what God is setting up for both the woman and Elijah?
   Let me ask you to consider this: If God operates this way in the lives of those found in the Holy Scriptures, why would you expect God to act any differently in your life? If the weakness of this widow makes her strong, if the weakness of the Apostle Paul made him strong, why is it so hard for us to believe the weakness in our life – is what will make us strong?
   What do you need for God to use you for powerful things? A weakness. Why is that? Because when I am weak, when I cannot do it on my own anymore, this is when, I let God take over.
   But wait!! Does this woman, who is never even named in the passage, have any faith at all? Look at what she says to Elijah, any faith that may have been there is evaporated. What she has is despair, utter hopelessness, she’s lost. Verse 12 she says “I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” If there ever was a phrase that spoke of faith – that wasn’t it … and yet she’s able to have this terrific faith!
   At this point does she even know who God is? She’s a pagan living in another land where they worship false gods. She is not a Hebrew, she is not a believer. Is God going to expect a person to act in faith, when there is no faith?
   Not so fast now … there is a hint, we see that she has a tiny, twinkle of faith. We see this at the beginning of verse 12 when she says, “As surely as the LORD your God lives …”
   She acknowledges that there is a God. There’s a start of faith there, is there not? But look at verse 15, “She went away and did as Elijah had told her.” Hold on. Wait a minute. What happened there? Did you see that leap? The woman just did a whole row of hurdles. She goes from a teeny tiny faith to enormously huge faith, she goes from the person with the least amount of faith in town to the person with the greatest faith in town – in the blink of an eye. “She went away and did as Elijah had told her.” Amazing!!!!
   Elijah asks for the impossible. He asks to be fed first, which will pretty much take all she has. You see that in verse 13. He wants her to make the cake, bring it to him and then go back and make the other cakes. See, she cannot divide what’s left to make sure she and her son gets some. She cannot make the cakes and then change her mind when she sees there is not enough left over. She must give away what she has first.
   Do you know what she is doing? By all logic and sense she’s choosing death for herself and her son. … But God, He defies our logic – we see our faith as holding on, when God sees our faith as letting go. When a friend’s asked you how things are going in a difficult time in your life have you ever responded, “I’m just holding on”? What you mean is that you are holding on to your faith – right? But here … right here … we see just the opposite. We see this desperate woman letting go.
   Now Elijah encourages her – in essence he speaks the Word of God to her, the powerful Word of God. In vs 13&14 he says “Don’t be afraid. “For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’”
   Right there. I think it’s right there where something inside her says, “take the step”. It doesn’t make any sense, it defies all logic, it runs contrary to everything she may have ever done in her life, and she turns to walk to her house … and she right then she realizes that she has something that she didn’t have nano seconds ago – A REAL FAITH!!!.
   I mean, who in this room could do this? Who here could give up all they had, knowing that it would directly lead to their death … and their children’s death. I don’t think there’s one of us who could do it. But …truthfully … I also don’t think she could either. But God blessed her with the faith to take the step, and she responded.
   It’s clear that the Spirit had come upon her giving her the faith she needed to take the first step toward the house – and to continue on that path of faith. See, instead of holding on, instead of holding tight to the last thing she had, she let go … and the moment she did … the Spirit came upon her … giving her the strength and the courage to step out in faith.
   It is one thing to say you believe. It’s totally another thing to take unreserved action on that belief.
   So, why don’t you do it?? Do it today. What’s been holding you back? Some of you here have been thinking about faith for some time. Do I have it? Have I lost it? What does it feel like?
   Some here are hoping the faith will slowly creep up on you. “I hope it doesn’t hurt.”
   Some want to know every minute detail before they take a step. Some here say to themselves, seeing is believing, so they are waiting to see. But, guess what!! This is holding back. It’s standing still … with the illusion of moving forward.
   God doesn’t ask her to do anything way out of her ordinary life does He? God doesn’t ask her to build some great church or be a missionary like Jackie Pullinger and travel to other lands "Chasing the Dragons". He doesn’t ask her to give up her house or testify to crowds of people. He simply asked her for a small piece of bread.
   Granted, it was all she had … but it wasn’t something that was beyond her everyday life … it wasn’t something beyond her reach. Faith isn’t about huge projects, it’s about everyday life. God uses ordinary, everyday, even somewhat boring, been there done that ways to build our faith.
   What we need to realize here is that it’s a spiritual thing that hits her, not a material thing. She had to have truly believed before she takes the action of making the bread, or she wouldn’t have made it.
   She was limited in how God could use her, wasn’t she? She wasn’t much of a person, and she didn’t have much to offer, did she? NO!!! – that’s nonsense. Who takes that Mother’s Day Flour and extends it into a Mother’s Day miracle? Not the woman … but God.
   Remember what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:10? “For when I am weak, THEN I am strong.” Please understand this today …I CANNOT be strong in the Lord… UNTIL I realize just how weak I really am.
   A pastor shared this story — “A few blocks below my college was a restaurant that served only breakfast – and it was a great breakfast, cheap. What made this breakfast unique was that, except for the manager, everything was handled by mentally handicapped folks. They were the cooks, the waiters and waitresses, the busboy, the hostess, the cashier and anything else it takes to run a restaurant. And this placed hummed. It really was some of the best service in town. It was surprising. Why was I surprised that it was such a great place? Because like many people in our society I had written these folks off. I had seen them as people with very limited resources. Not capable. Unable, below average … and I do the same thing with God; I look at what I do not have, how I do not measure up and I believe I am not much for God to work with.”
   How many of us have done this? How many of us have questioned God and His word? How many of us don’t feel that we’re worthy or capable? How many of us have wanted to hang on so tight that our knuckles turn white?
   We need to understand that when the woman lets go … the blessings come raining down. It’s like the loaves and fishes. The flour and the oil don’t run out. The handful, the limited inventory, the one thing that was between her and death – she let it go. The one thing. That tiny bit of faith expands, but there’s more to it, for amazingly, she really doesn’t believe yet. I mean it’s clear that she believes to some degree, but she doesn’t have a convicted belief.
   So, this miracle goes on day after day. The ridiculous amount of flour and oil never run out – and life goes on. The great leap of faith that the woman experienced, that amazing moment … becomes routine. What was once so incredible is now expected. One more cake … one more fire. Her faith, which is real, which believes to some degree, goes flat. After all, it’s just flour and oil.
   Now you know what Elijah has got to be thinking, “This place is called fiery trial, and it’s been nothing but endless eating, what in the world is around the corner?” In Verse 17, Sometime later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. Ahh … there’s the fiery trial. For this single mother, what good is an endless jar of flour, if her son cannot share in the blessing? So of course she is angry, and in vs. 18 she said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”
   This woman had an amazing leap faith and on top of that she’s been living her “Ground Hog Day” over and over … the same event repeating itself on a daily bases, reminding her that her faith is not an illusion, it’s not something she has deluded herself into believing. She has seen a daily miracle, but the death of her son’s just too much.
   In verse 19 we see Elijah step into action. Why does he take the boy out of the arms of his mother and into another room? If you’re a mother you know that Elijah didn’t take the boy without his mother giving him up, without letting go. I see that like that moment where she turns to go make the cakes of bread, that moment where she let go instead of holding on – right here she does it again. Again, she finds herself in weakness and she doesn’t hold on – what does she do? She let’s go.
   Elijah takes him up and lays him on his bed, stretching himself out three times and in vs. 20 Elijah cries out: “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”, “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”, “O LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”
   You know the outcome. God hears his cry, God answers his prayer, the son lives. Talk about a Mother’s Day present. This woman had a leap of faith when the flour and oil wouldn’t run out, but this time it’s WAAAY different, I don’t think calling it a leap of faith does it justice, it is more of a cementing of faith. You know that she had to believe before – but this is unprecedented.
   Verse 24 tells us “Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”
   Before, I suppose, she suspected this was all real, and clearly she had her doubts. Now, with the resurrection of her son at hand, there’s no denying in any part of who she is, that the Word of God is real and active.
   This single mother starts off as a woman who has a tiny sparkle of faith, a faith that’s only enough to see her through one more meal and that’s pretty much all she has. But you know what, that is enough. It’s enough for God to change her world in a split second.
   Do you parents remember teaching your kids how to ride a bicycle. If any of you have done this, you know what I am going to say: you walk next to the bike, then you run next to the bike – the whole time your kid’s hanging onto your arm with a GI Joe kung fu grip. And then comes the moment, that nano second of time when they stop holding on to your arm and they start riding the bike. Learning to ride a bicycle is parallel to our experience in faith. You see, to get there … we have to let to.
   Stop waiting for the details. Stop holding on to what you have. Stop holding on to that thing you have been holding on to. Let go and Let God!!!

May 6, 2018    What Are You Like, God?

   Opening passage - Isaiah 6:1-7 (NLT) 1It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3They were calling out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with his glory!”
   4Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.
   5Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
   6Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal he had taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7He touched my lips with it and said, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.”
   For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been working on a series called “Questions” and in that series, we’re looking at the 5 most popular questions that pastors have been asked. The question we’re dealing with this morning is What are you like, God?
   One of the images that most of us hold of the God from the Old Testament is that of a powerful and intimidating deity who stands in judgment. How can that square with the God of love and compassion we see in the New Testament.
   A pastor told this story … “A couple of years back, an advertising firm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida launched a billboard campaign, sponsored by an anonymous client. The campaign depicted several different “messages from God” and all were signed “God.”
1. Let’s Meet at My House Sunday Before the Game.
2. C’mon Over and Bring the Kids
3. Need a Marriage Counselor? I’m Available.
4. We Need To Talk
5. Loved the Wedding, Invite Me to the Marriage
6. That “Love Thy Neighbor Thing” … I Meant It
7. I Love You… I Love You… I Love You.
8. Will The Road You’re On Get You To My Place
9. Follow Me
10. Tell The Kids I Love Them
11. Need Directions?
12. Big Bang Theory? You’ve Got To Be Kidding!
   He went on to say ... I personally thought these were pretty clever. But sometime after these billboards had made national news, I found myself listening to a radio preacher out of Indianapolis who had problems with these billboards - particularly the ones that sounded threatening and judgmental like the following:
13. My Way Is The Highway
14. Some Things Are Written In Stone
15. You Think It’s Hot Here?
16. Keep Using My Name In Vain and I’ll Make Rush Hour Longer
17. What Part of “Thou Shalt Not…” Didn’t You Understand?
18. Have You Read My #1 Best Seller? There Will Be a Test
   What troubled this “preacher” was that these particular billboards spoke of a God who stood in judgment. He much preferred a God who was always loving and tender … in fact, he seemed to be offended by the notion that God would judge anyone.”
He continued … This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered this attitude. Years ago (when I’d just graduated from Bible college) I began a Bible study in my home. Several men attended, included a man from another church in town – one that was known for its liberal teachings.
   We were studying the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied about a contribution to the church, and immediately upon lying … they died. Although the text didn’t explicitly state that God killed them - that was obviously the implication.
   Well, that really offended this man from this other church. He became agitated and tried to prove God hadn’t done anything to cause their deaths.
   As we were discussing this, he shared what he truly believed about God - or at least what he had been taught:
   1. He said there were 2 Gods in the Bible - the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New – and that they were as different from one another as night is from day and he believed that the God of Old Testament was a God of judgment and anger … but the God of the New Testament was a God of compassion and love…
   2. And he indicated he could never love or honor a God like the one in the Old Testament.”
   Of course, … that’s all pure heresy.”
   Let’s make one thing clear … the Bible is to the point on the fact that the God of the Old Testament IS the God of the New Testament. The only thing that really changed was the relationship that God had with His people. Under the Old Testament, God’s relationship was centered on the Law of Moses. In the New, it was centered on the Grace of Christ.
   But I understand why this would trouble both the man at the Bible study and that preacher on the radio. There’s something about the God of Scripture that can be fairly intimidating.
   For example, Exodus tells of the time when God gave His 10 commandments to His people.
   Before Moses went up to receive the tablets, God thundered down the 10 commandments from the mountain. Exodus 20:18-19 tells us “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and the people said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’”
   Later in Israel’s history, 1 Kings 19:11-13 tells us the prophet Elijah met God on that same mountain: 11“The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
   12After the earthquake came a fire but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
   And now, here in Isaiah 6:5 we find that this great prophet just SEES God and he trembles with fear: "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
   So, when I considered the question for this Sunday - What is God like? - these were the images that came into my mind.
   Now, these images have never really bothered me because I grew up in the church and was exposed to these stories … so for me they are fairly clear cut and expected. But there are people who are troubled by that kind of a God. Why?
   Well, the idea of being in the presence of such a fearsome God is frightening to some because they know that God is holy and they are not.
   That’s what Isaiah reflected in his comment "…I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…”
   Isaiah found himself in presence of a Holy and righteous God and was forced to acknowledge his own uncleanness. When he experienced God’s presence, he humbled himself and acknowledged God’s rights and authority in his life.
   But, the sad fact is that there are those who come face to face with God’s Righteousness and Holiness … and they reject it. They’re offended by being faced with a God who’s bigger than they are.
   Why?
   Because they want to be the “Bull of the Woods”, the “umero uno” … they wanna be the ones in charge of their lives. I’m sure we all know some people who want to be in charge of everything, don’t we??
   But, listen up folks … if God is bigger and more powerful than we are, He’s the ONLY ONE who has the authority to set the rules. It’s HIS place to tell US how things are supposed to be … it’s not our place to tell Him what we want and don’t want to do.
   Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner did a comedy skit years ago called "The 2013 Year Old Man". In the skit, Reiner interviewed Brooks, who was the old man in the skit.
   At one point, Reiner asked the old man, "Did you always believe in the Lord?"
   Brooks replied: "No. We had a guy in our village named Phil and for a time we worshiped him."
   Reiner: “You worshiped a guy named Phil? Why?”
   Brooks: “Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!”
   Reiner: “Did you have prayers?”
   Brooks: “Yes, would you like to hear one?
   Reiner: “Sure.”
   Brooks: “O Phil, please don’t be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.”
   Reiner: “So when did you start worshiping the Lord?”
   Brooks: “Well, one day a big thunderstorm came up, and a lightning bolt hit Phil. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Then we said to one another, ‘There’s somthin’ bigger than Phil!’”
   The question of who is in charge in our lives sometimes comes down to who we recognize as being bigger.
   When the Israelites gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, God deliberately and decisively made it clear that He was in charge. He drove home – in no uncertain terms - that He was bigger than they were.
   We’re told in Exodus 19:10-12 that “…10The LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. 11Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.’”
   I don’t know about you, but that alone would have intimidated me.
   Then, a few verses later, in Exodus 19:16-19 we’re told – “16On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God thundered His reply.”
   Now, God didn’t speak this way when He was addressing Moses … or any of a number of other great Old Testament men or women. But on this occasion, God deliberately orchestrated a sound and light show to establish that He was in charge.
   He was declaring that He had the right to declare what the rules were to be because He was bigger than they were.
   He had the authority to say what was right and what was wrong … and I don’t think anyone there had the courage to dispute His authority … as so many are openly doing today.
   In that mountaintop Experience at Sinai: God was basically saying: “I am God … and you aren’t.”
   But there are people who don’t WANT God to be in charge. As I was working on this sermon, I read about a Bible study a pastor had several years ago. He said “I remember, this was an involved and extended discussion, but at one point in that conversation, a man made a comment that came from way out in left field. At the time, it was so unusual a comment that it threw me off my guard because I couldn’t understand what it had to do with our discussion. But now that I’ve had time to think about it… it suddenly makes sense.
   Speaking to me, this man said “I saw you last week driving over the speed limit”
   OK … I had no doubt that he may actually have seen me doing just that. And there was no excuse for my going over the speed limit. But I couldn’t figure out what that had to do with our discussion.
   Now, however, I realize what was going on.
   This man felt threatened by God’s sovereignty – of God’s right to be in judgment over us.
   You see, He felt the need to establish his own righteousness.
   The only way to do that was to challenge God’s authority, and that didn’t seem quite right. So, he settled for the next best thing: finding some fault in me.”
   Now frankly, finding my faults isn’t that hard to do. Nobody would have to look very hard into my life to see all kinds of short comings and weaknesses … because we all (every one of us) fail somewhere along the line in one way or another.
   None of us deserve to stand in God’s presence. If we had been with Isaiah when He saw the Lord high and lifted up in the Temple we would have literally fell on our knees and covered our heads and prayed that God wouldn’t destroy us.
   Compared to God, we have no righteousness or holiness to talk about.
   I know that is true because one of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 103:8-18. “8The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
   9He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
   10He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
   11For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
   12He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
   13The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
   14For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
   15Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
   16The wind blows, and we are gone — as though we had never been here.
   17But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children 18of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!”
   He remembers that we but dust
   He knows that we’re frail and we’re weak
   One of the stories that impresses me in the Old Testament is in I Kings. In that book, we’re told about one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament: Elijah. Elijah was such a great prophet that to this day, Jewish people divide the Scriptures into the Law – represented by Moses – and the Prophets – represented by Elijah.
   Part of the reason Elijah is so highly regarded is because he courageously confronted one of the most wicked kings and queens in the history of Israel: King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.
   He stood on Mount Carmel and challenged the false prophets of the wicked Jezebel to a contest and he whips ‘em good.
   But as soon as Jezebel hears about Elijah’s victory, she threatens his life … and Elijah literally falls apart. He becomes overcome with fear and he runs away.
   Finally (in exhaustion) stopping under a broom tree humiliated by his fear and overcome with grief and a dislike for himself, Elijah asks God to let him die.
   In that fateful moment, Elijah comes to grips with his own humanity, frailty, weakness, and he can’t handle it.
   So what does God do to help him?
   God sends him to Mt. Sinai where the Israelites had seen that terrifying light show years before. And God does just about the same thing with Elijah He had done with those Israelites… but with a twist:
   We read in 1 Kings 19:11-13 “The LORD said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
   After the earthquake came a fire but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.”
   Did you catch that…
   God treats Elijah to a gale-force wind – but God’s isn’t in the wind.
   Then God shakes the ground with a terrifying earthquake – but God isn’t in the earthquake
   Then God sends a devastating fire – but God isn’t in the fire
   Last of all, Elijah hears a “gentle whisper”
   Do know what I think God was telling Elijah?
   · I have the power to destroy anything on the face of this earth.
   · And there is nothing that can stand against me.
   · Because I am mighty and holy and righteous
   That’s what the wind/ earthquake/ & fire were all about … God’s display of His power and ability to control the forces of nature. But in that gentle whisper, I think God was telling Elijah this:
   o I am very powerful… but
   o I care for you.
   o I know you’re frail
   o I know you’re weak
   o But I love you, and I care for you.
   o And I am big enough and powerful enough to protect you and care for you in your weakness.
   Psalm 103:13-14 says “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
   A little girl listened attentively as her father read the family devotions. She seemed awed by her parents’ talk of God’s limitless power and mercy. "Daddy," she asked, placing her little hands on his knees, "how big is God." Her father thought for a moment and answered, "Honey, He is always just a little bigger than you need."
   My point is this: God IS bigger than we are. He is big enough to stand in judgment of us ... but, also on the flip side, He’s also big enough to protect us and care for us in our frailty and humanity. He’s big enough to love us even when we’re not everything we should or want to be.

April 29, 2018     How Can I Know God's Will for My Life

   Opening passage — Romans 12:1-8 (NLT) — A Living Sacrifice to God — 1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice — the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
   3Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
   6In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So, if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
   What can I do to learn what God wants me to do with my life? Can I miss out on what God desires for my life? Part three of our “Got Questions” series is titled “How Can I know God’s Will for My Life?”
   I once read the true story about a man who was a guest sailing aboard a submarine. Before they set sail, he asked the coxswain (cox san) if there were any special regulations to be observed during exercises. (A coxswain is the person who is in charge of a ship and it’s crew, under an officer, and is also the one who steers the ship.)
   He said “I was puzzled when he replied by asking me how good my mental arithmetic was. He went on to explain the golden rule of submarine service: ‘One of the most important things to remember on board a Submarine is to count how many times we dive, add the number of times we surface and then divide by two. If there is one left over, don’t open the hatch.’”
   Seems simple doesn’t it? But for the crew of a submarine that simple rule can make all the difference.
   I’ve noticed that there often comes a point in an eager Christian’s life when they want to know: “What is God’s Will for my life?”
   The idea that God had purpose for my life made a great impact on my life when I read Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
   That passage told me that God has something He wants me to do. And it tells me that there is something that God wants YOU to do as well.
   Because we’re Christians God has a purpose for us … a destiny for us to fulfill. So how do I know what that purpose is? How will I know what God wants me to do?
   Well, just like the “Golden Rule” on board the submarine, knowing God’s will for our lives isn’t that hard. In fact, it’s really quite simple.
   1st – God has said very basic things about His will for your life
   Ø He wants you to be saved because we read in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever would believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
   You see, there’s something to this simple passage that a lot of people fail to understand. Until we meet that purpose in our lives … nothing else matters. And if you don’t belong to Jesus Christ this morning you need to make that decision. (sooner rather than later)
   Ø Once you belong to Him, He wants you to live a special kind of life. It is GOD’S WILL that you should be SANCTIFIED. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says “3God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. 4Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor — 5not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways.”
   That passage goes on to say that you live that special kind of life by being sexually pure and by treating others with honesty and kindness
   When you and I belong to God, He expects our lives to reflect that special relationship we have with Him.
   Ø In fact, He wants you live your lives as a model for the world to see.
   1 Peter 2:15 tells us “For it is GOD’S WILL that BY DOING GOOD you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men”
   We should live such decent lives that even those who hate Christ won’t have anything to accuse us of.
   Ø And He wants to live grateful lives focused on God’s blessings. We shouldn’t be known as complainers.
   1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
   There’s a lot more that the Bible tells us about God’s will for our lives but those passages explicitly said: THIS IS GOD’S WILL for a Christian’s life.
   Now that’s just generic “Will of God” stuff that will be true for every Christian. BUT what I want to know is what is God’s will for ME in MY LIFE!
   · Who does He want me to marry?
   · Where does He want me to live?
   · What does He want me to do for a living?
   · What kind of ministry can I do that would please Him?
   I read of a story told by a pastor — he said — When I was younger, I had some friends who would try to discover God’s Will for their lives by using (what I called) the “Magic 8 Ball” technique.
   You remember those big black 8 balls they used to sell? They were about 6 inches in diameter – way too big to used on a pool table – and they were filled with a dark filmy liquid. You were supposed to hold the ball in your hands, ask a question, shake the ball vigorously, and then turn it over. On the bottom of the ball was a “window” where an answer would “magically” appear.
   It would answer your question with such replies as “yes”, “no”, or “you’ve got to be kidding!”
   Well, obviously that wasn’t a very spiritual way to determine what God wanted a Christian to do, so what these guys would do was lay their Bible in their laps… ask a question … and then plop their Bible open at random and seek their answer on that page.
   Apparently that was such a common practice at one time, that someone made a joke of it. They told of a guy who wanted to know God’s will for his life and so he opened his Bible at random and came upon Matthew 27:5 “ Judas went away … and hung himself.”
   That didn’t make him very happy, so he closed the Bible, opened it again and it plopped open to Luke 10:37 “…Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”
   Really frustrated now, he tried once more and the Bible fell open to John 13:27 “Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.”
   Let’s be perfectly clear on this: God does not endorse the “Magic 8 Ball” approach to learning His will. That type of practice is not much different from looking for God’s will in a horoscope or palm reading … and we all know God hates those things.
   So why would I want to treat the Bible like a spiritual tea reading?
   God is fairly explicit on how we can know His will for our lives. It’s right here in Romans 12:2 “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
   You see, the key to learning God’s will for your life is to make yourself ready for the time when God wants you to do something.
   How do you make yourself ready?
   You make yourself ready by learning to think like God thinks by:
   · Reading your Bible
   · Going to church
   · Attending Sunday School
   · Going to Bible Studies
   In other words, you soak God’s thinking into your mind.
   That’s exactly how some of the great men and women of the Bible prepared themselves for God’s purpose. An excellent example of this is the story of David (1 Samuel 17).
   We usually think of David as just appearing out of nowhere to confront a giant on the field of battle. But in reality, David had been preparing for that confrontation long before that fateful day. As a boy, David had spent his days out in the fields watching his father’s sheep.
   But he had not been idly spending his time gazing on the flocks in the field and the clouds in the sky. No. He had been spending his time meditating on the law of God "day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
   In fact, David was so involved in this activity that he began to write songs that spoke of the glory of God that he found in Scripture… and David was honored to be brought into the court of King Saul to ease that King’s tortured mind with the Psalms he had written while he was out in the fields.
   You see, when David went out into the field of battle against Goliath, he had long been prepared by his constant exposure to God’s mindset … so much so that he became offended by Goliath’s taunts and we read in 1 Samuel 17:45 that he went out on the field of battle to declare "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
   David had allowed God’s thinking to TRANFORM his own state of mind.
   But there is a kind of thinking that competes with God’s. It’s called the “Pattern of this world”.
   The world constantly tries to conform me to it’s way of thinking. It does this by the books it turns out, the movies and TV shows that many of us could watch, and the video games that we could play.
   Now I don’t mean to say that every TV show we watch or book we read has to be “Christian.”
   But we’ve got to be careful what we allow into our homes and our minds.
   With Chris’ VERY vocal disapproval, MaryLu and I decided several years ago to get rid of cable TV. Does anybody have an idea why we’ve done that? Well, it’s not completely the cable company that was the problem, it’s the programming the cable company allows to be shown through their network. It’s become a grocery story of gossip programs that focuses on sexual innuendos, crude humor and outright cursing. Some programs even take the Lord’s name in vain. We don’t need that in our home, and we began to realize that if we allowed these type of programs to be in our home long enough, not only would it be displeasing to God, but it would begin to conform our thinking to the thinking of those programs. MaryLu and I decided we can’t afford to let that happen. So the cable company will no longer be in our home. FYI – just so you know, we started watching “Antenna TV” and it’s not any better.
   The key to learning God’s will for our PERSONAL lives is soak “God’s kind of thinking” into our minds so that we’ll be READY when He wants to make use of us.
   Now is it possible that I might MISS OUT on God’s will???
   Well, yeah….
   Romans 12:2-3 tells that the ways I can miss out on God’s will is by
   1. “conforming my mind to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2)
   2. and by putting myself 1st – by thinking more highly of myself than I ought to (Romans 12:3)
   By contrast, Paul talks about the kind of thinking that will ALWAYS allow me to be in God’s will. In 2 Corinthians 8:5, he praises the actions of the churches in Macedonia, and he tells us: “…they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves FIRST TO THE LORD and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”
   In other words … the churches in Macedonia were doing the will of God BECAUSE they put God first in the choices they made.
   Let’s go back to the original set of questions I asked earlier …
   · Who does He want me to marry? (do they live to please God?) I want to expand on this one for a minute because here’s where a lot of people get confused. Paul said for us not to be unequally yoked because how can darkness and light commune together? How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? (2 Corinthians 6:14) You see, according to that verse, if we call ourselves Christians, if we call ourselves Christ followers, if we call ourselves saved … we’re not supposed to date an unbeliever, we’re not supposed to date an unsaved person … much less marry one of them. If you’re in the dating world and you’re looking for a “soul mate” pray HARD that the Lord will send you the right one. (story of the dead man’s wife)
   · Where does He want me to live? (can I serve God there?)
   · What does He want me to do for a living? (can I use that job to witness and serve others)
   · What kind of ministry can I do that would please Him? (what can I do right now?)
   The churches in Macedonia were doing God’s Will BECAUSE they put God’s priorities first … and, because of that, God made use of them.
   If you put God 1st in your decision making, God will Always find a way to use you. God will always find a way to reveal His will to you – so you can do it.
   There are a lot of people who are afraid they might miss out on God’s will by being in the wrong place. They tend to look on God’s will as if it were like a bus station. They essentially believe that if they’re not at the right bus station at the right time, God won’t be able to find them. And since He can’t find them He won’t be able to make His will complete in their lives.
   Let’s get something straight here…
   If God wants you or I to do something special…
   Or wants to do something special in our lives…
   There’s NO CHANCE that we’ll ever miss the bus. Hell itself can NEVER prevent us from not being on time to catch the bus God sent for us.
   Do you need proof of that?
   Well, let me tell you the story of a man named Jonah (Jonah 1). Do you remember what God told Jonah to do? God commanded him to preach to the city of Nineveh, to convict it of its guilt and bring it to repentance.
   So, what does Jonah do? He gets on a boat headed for Tarshish which just happened to be on the other side of the known world.
   Jonah didn’t want to preach to Nineveh. It was a wicked city and Jonah just knew that if he went and preached at Nineveh, the people there would probably repent and then God would spare their city. But Jonah didn’t want Nineveh to repent … he didn’t want them spared … he wanted them annihilated.
   Jonah defied the WILL OF GOD.
   He didn’t just miss God’s will … he actively refused to do it.
   But, did he succeed?
   Of course not. In fact, God took him fishing and explained His will to him a little more plainly.
   My point is this: if God really wants you to do something … He can find you anywhere. There isn’t any place you can go to that you could even hide from God if wants you to do something.
   YOU WILL NOT MISS THE BUS!
   The key thing is: always be available for God to use you.
   THEN you’ll always be ready for God to do His will in your life.
   God has a purpose for our lives … a destiny for us to fulfill … a plan for each and every one of us.
   And you know the really neat thing about this is that when God wants you or I to do something, He will always prepare us for that deed. You see, God doesn’t call the equipped … He equips the ones that He calls.
   Romans 12:6 tells us: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”
   In short, God prepares us for our tasks with abilities that may not be things we come by naturally. He equips and prepares us because He knows what we can do if He empowers us to the task.
   I read a story about a man named Gary who didn’t believe he could ever speak in public. He didn’t even like to pray publicly. His pastor told him not to worry … if God wanted him to speak/ teach/ even preach … God would give him the necessary ability and desire to do it.
   One day, he encountered a personal crisis and asked his pastor to pray for him. The pastor refused. He told Gary that he wouldn’t pray “for” him, but he WOULD pray “with” him. It was still a prayer offered in the “privacy” of just the two of them, but it was the beginning of Gary’s growth. After a time, he went on to be a leader in his congregation and led the youth group for a while.
   You see, all Gary needed to was be willing to let God make use of him.
   One person observed: If God wants 7, you can give him 3 and He’ll add the other 4. If you give Him 4, He’ll add 3.
   No matter what you give Him, He is capable of adding or subtracting whatever He needs to, to get done whatever it is that He desires.
   The key here is to make sure we GIVE HIM the best we have and let HIM make use of it.
   My point is this: If God wants to use you, He’ll supply you with the opportunities and the resources to accomplish His goals.
   Lastly, one of the problems with trying to be in God’s will is that God isn’t always on the same timetable as we are.
   There was once a preacher named Phillips Brooks who was noted for his poise and quiet manner. At times, however, even he suffered moments of frustration and irritability. One day a friend saw him pacing the floor like a caged lion. "What’s the trouble, Dr. Brooks?" asked the friend. "The trouble is that I am in a hurry." said Brooks. "but God isn’t."
   I’ve noticed in Scripture, God often took a great deal of time working His will in the lives of people He used.
   · Moses was in the wilderness for 40 years being prepared by God to lead the Israelites
   · The apostles spent 3 years with Jesus being prepared for their ministries
   · Paul spent 3 years in the desert with Christ before he was ready to go to work for God
   Again and again throughout the Bible, God often took a great deal of time preparing His servants for their jobs. Because Of That: Christians have been known to get impatient with God. They may want Him to do something powerful and dramatic in their lives RIGHT NOW!
   There was a pastor just out of Bible College, and he couldn’t find a church that would hire him just then … and he was impatient to get started. For three years, the best he seemed to be able to do was work in fiberglass factory and sell real estate.
   He was sitting in the church choir listening to a particularly boring sermon by the preacher (he really liked the man, but he simply couldn’t get into what he was preaching that day).
   As his mind wandered, he began to consider going to some other church. Any church that was more exciting that then one he was in. He said, “But one of my problems was, I knew that if I went to some of the other churches in town, they would teach things that I didn’t believe.”
   So he just sat there despairing and wondering when God would ever make use of him.
   And then the most amazing thing occurred. Seemingly out of nowhere, a butterfly flitted down from the balcony and landed on his knee. It peacefully sat there for few moments and then flew off into the auditorium, disappearing in the back somewhere. At that moment, it seemed as if God had reached down, patted my knee and said “It’s OK. Just be patient, I’ll work everything out.”
   He went on to say, “Was it a coincidence? I personally doubt it. Because, at that moment I felt at peace and was satisfied to just “wait” on God and His timing.”
   Isaiah 40:31 says: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
   God’s will for us all is to first “Get Saved.” Once this has truly taken place, the Holy Spirit will teach you how to live a holy life that’s pleasing to God. Get into God’s Word and, as King David said, meditate on it morning, noon and night (Psalm 1:2). As you meditate on His Word, He will start revealing His will for you to you. Be patient … God’s timing is not our timing. He will show you things when and where He is ready. Hang in there. Seek Him first and He promised it shall all come to pass (Matthew 6:33).

April 22, 2018     How Do I Receive Freedom From Guilt?

   Our opening passage for this lesson is found in John 8:31-36 (NLT) Jesus and Abraham — 31Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
   33“But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
   34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.35A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.
   How could God ever forgive me? As a Christian, sometimes I really mess things up. How could God just look the other way?

   Continuing the second part of our "Got Questions" series, the title of today's lesson is "How do I receive freedom from guilt?"
   Ours is a great nation because it has been built upon the principles of Scripture. Our very law is gleaned from the pages of the Old Testament, and many of its principles were based upon God’s Word.
   Therefore, it’s not surprising that the opening words of the Declaration of Independence declare that they held “these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”
   Our nation’s fore-fathers found that Scripture spoke about freedom … and so they determined that this new nation would be dedicated to creating that atmosphere. They for saw America to be a place where freedom would be the foundation of everything they sought to do.
   Because of that determination, we in America have been blessed with many freedoms that other nations don’t have. But even with that foundation for our country, there is one freedom that America cannot give it’s citizens. In fact, no government on the face of the earth can supply the freedom that Jesus talked about in John 8.
   Back in the 80’s Ann Landers wrote about her experience as a newspaper “answer lady.” People would write to her with their problems and ask advice on how to deal with their children, their spouses, their bosses, etc.
   In her book, Landers explained that one of the most difficult things that people struggled with is guilt and shame. She writes:
   “I’ve received letters brimming with self-recrimination - letters that prove no punishment is so painful as the self-inflicted kind. Here are a few examples:
   ‘I let my boyfriend go too far. Now, when he sees me, he looks the other way. I’m so ashamed of myself I could just die.’
   ‘I threw a dish towel in my mother-in-law’s face. She was trying to be helpful and I lost my temper. I hate myself.’
   ‘I got caught cheating in a history exam today. All the kids know about it. I feel rotten.’
(“The Ann Landers Encyclopedia A to Z”)
   No matter how many freedoms our nation gives us, it cannot give us the freedom from the shame and guilt imposed upon us by our sins.
   Jesus said: John 8:34 "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
   Or as Proverbs 5:22 tells us “evil deeds… ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.”
   Hazel Felleman wrote a poem about this:
"I wish there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again
Where all our mistakes, and all our heartaches
And all our selfish griefs
Could be cast like a shabby old coat at the door
And never be put on again"
   I. The Bible teaches us that sin has a terrible ability to dominate our lives. To drag us down … to destroy us.
   Titus 3:3 tells us that “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”
   Or as Romans 6:17 puts it: “…you used to be slaves to sin…”
   Notice it says … “you used to be”
   That implies that something has changed. Something is different. But what?
   Jesus said in John 8:36 “… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
   That is the promise of Christ. That’s our birthright as His followers.
   But as real as that promise is … as faithful as Jesus will be in keeping it … it is a reality that many Christians (even those who understand the promise Jesus gave that day) still struggle with guilt and shame.
   They may have believed, repented, confessed Jesus as their Lord and been baptized into Christ … but they’ve done something that has tripped them up. Something they believe God would never forgive them of. Or perhaps they’re struggling with a sin that they just can’t quite handle. They believe that they’ve gone over the edge – and they’ll never make it back into God’s graces.
   Don Francisco once wrote about this in a song. He said that he’d once sinned so badly that: “I was so far down that even up looked wrong.”
   For many Christians there is a nagging question: “How could God ever forgive me? I’ve really messed up as a Christian. How could He ever forgive me? How could He ever forget what I’ve done?”
   II. Now, this type of thinking is based upon a very human concept. There is a word that has become quite popular in our culture lately that describes it. That word is “Karma.” How many of you have ever heard that word? How many of you believe in “Karma”?
   Karma is the belief that you get what you deserve isn’t it?
   If you’ve done good things, then you’ll be rewarded with good things
   But if you’ve done bad things… you’re going to pay big time.
   Every world religion is based upon that fundamental idea.
   Even the Bible teaches something similar to that. Galatians 6:7 says “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”
   In other words: You get what you deserve.
   However, there is one distinct difference between this concept of Karma and what Jesus taught.
   Other world religions teach that you can work off your “bad Karma”. They teach that you really can do enough good to outweigh the bad.
   Karma is the teaching that life is like a balance scale. If you do evil things your life goes out of balance. So, you need to do good things to create a healthy balance. The more bad things you do, the more good things you have to do to balance out the scale.
   Now, there are a couple of problems with this mindset.
   1st – if you end up doing too many “bad” things in your life… you may never be able to balance out the scales. Islam has particular problems with this because they actually place much of their hope in heaven upon how much good they can do. But if you ask most Muslims if they are “sure” they are going to heaven… they’ll reply that they can never be confident of that. They never know if they’ve done enough good things to outweigh the bad.
   Hinduism and Buddhism cling heavily to this concept of Karma, and they have long realized that many people commit way too many bad deeds in their lives to be balanced out by good deeds in a single life time. So they’ve developed the concept of going into “extra innings.” They believe that when someone dies the game goes into overtime. Since one life time could never be enough for most people to make up for their bad Karma, they have to come back for another life … and another life … and another life … it doesn’t matter how many times they come back. They keep coming back until they finally are able to pay off their evil and leave this world.
   That’s not what the Bible teaches. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that “… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes the judgement …”
   The 2nd problem with this idea of Karma is that it never really “removes” any of the sin from a person’s life. Karma teaches that when you’ve put bad deeds on one side of the scale you have to put good ones on the other side.
   Now if I did that with a set of scales … I kept adding all the bad stuff I did to one side of the scale … and also kept adding all the good stuff I did to the other side of the scale … what would eventually happen?
   That’s right, the scales would break. And that is what can happen to people who rely too heavily on balancing the spiritual scales of their lives. Many eventually find that they’ve loaded the scales down so dramatically that they break. There becomes too much weight for the scales of their conscience to handle, and this can literally cripple them mentally.
The famed psychiatrist Karl Menninger, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75% of them could walk out the next day.
   Karma doesn’t work folks. It can’t really solve the pain of our guilt and shame, because it doesn’t deal with the root cause
A man named Bono is the lead singer of a popular rock group U2. He once made this observation: "At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know: what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics - in physical laws - every action is met by an equal or an opposite reaction … And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff."
   Now, I don’t know if Bono is a Christian, or if he claims to be one… but he’s nailed this.
   God will forgive us our sins – not because we deserve it, nor have we done enough good to outweigh our sins.
   God will forgive us for only one reason and one reason only … because He loves us.
   Do you need proof of that? Romans 8:32 tells us: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all— how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
   God has already proven His love for us. He gave us His son to die for our sins even we were His enemies… while we were yet sinners – we didn’t deserve that either!!!
   He loves us so much He was willing to forgive us for all our past sins… don’t you think He would be willing to continue to forgive us because of that same love?
   III. BUT THERE IS A CATCH (there's always a catch). Look again with me at John 8:31-32 - “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”
   Did you notice the catch? "If you HOLD to my teaching … then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
   “HOLD” to his teaching. The Greek word here gives the idea of “remaining”, “abiding”, “tarrying” – “hanging around”
   So, how do I “hang around” the teachings of Jesus? Well, it’s not that hard. God made it very uncomplicated for us. Hanging around the teachings of Jesus is as simple as
· Reading my Bible… especially when I don’t have to.
· Spending time in intimate prayer with God. Not just sending up “drive by” prayers that are focused on needs and requests… but actually spending time with God telling Him about your dreams and your hopes. Sharing with Him what is on your heart.
· Going to church… and while at church…
o Examining my heart at the communion table to see if there is any hidden sins I’ve not confessed to Him over the past week.
o Examining my life as the sermon is preached. I have particular advantage over the rest of you, because I’ve already spent the entire week running this lesson over and over my own life, examining how it applies to me.
   That’s why I keep reminding you of the Bereans. Don’t’ just come to church and listen to our Sunday lessons … when you go home take the time to go out to our website (redstoneministries.org), read over the lessons, study them and allow them to sink into the very core of your being.
   I read where a pastor told this story … “I’ve often talked with people who struggle with the decision to become a Christian. I spoke to a young woman several weeks ago that told me: “I’m afraid that once I’ve been baptized I’ll go back to sinning and then God won’t forgive me because I’ve failed Him.”
   I replied “Oh, honey, I don’t think you understand. All new Christians encounter that potential difficulty.” And then I asked her if she had ever learned to skate.”
   How many of you here have ever skated?
   When you first learned to skate, did you ever fall down? Of course you did.
   Now, if you were to go skating today, do you think you’d fall down as much now as you did at first? Probably not. BUT you’ll still fall down.
   Have you ever watched professional skaters? Did those professionals ever fall down? Of course they did … but they fell down less often than you or I would (they just do it much more graceful than we would).
   Those of us that ride motorcycles … it’s not a matter of “IF” we drop our motorcycles … it’s a matter of “WHEN”. When we first started riding, we dropped them more often that we do now, right?? That’s the same as it is with us when we become Christians.
   When we first give our lives to Christ, we still struggled with sin … we fell down a lot. But the more time we spent with Jesus: being in church, going to Bible study, praying – we “fell down” far less often.
   And if we spend lots of time with Jesus, we’ll hardly fall down at all … but we will anyway!
   The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 1:8: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
   In other words: if we as Christians say we never fall down – we’re not kidding anybody… least of all God.
   So, what do we do when we DO sin???
   Well, John continues in vs 9:( 1 John 1:9) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
   Bette Midler once said “I have my standards. They may be low, but I have them."
   To confess my sins to God is to say to Him: my standards don’t matter. They’re not good enough.
   Confessing my sins means that I ADMIT I have fallen below God’s standards.
   Confessing my sins to God means that I AGREE with God that I shouldn’t have done whatever I’ve done.
   1. It means to refuse to make excuses. My sin wasn’t my spouse’s fault. My sin wasn’t my kids fault. I didn’t do something bad because of my parents… etc. STOP playing the blame game!!!
   2. It means to refuse to allow myself to compare myself with someone else’s sinfulness. To say “Yeah, I did something bad, but I’m not nearly as sinful as my neighbor!”
   3. It means to refuse to try to a good face on this on my sin. “Yeah, I did a bad thing, but I could have done worse.”

   Confessing my sin means I admit I was wrong, and I KNOW I was wrong, AND I know and understand ICAN’T FIX THE PROBLEM by myself. Jesus!!!!! I NEED YOU!!!!! I need You in my life every second of every day.
   Too often, though, instead of confessing our sins, we try to hide them.
   I recently read the story of Fantasia Barrino, a recent winner of the “American Idol” TV show (Guideposts, July06). In that story, she told of a terrible sin she’d committed as a teenager: “One night I was hanging out with one of my cool new friends. We paid a guy to go into a store and get us some liquor. The first sip burned my lips and throat but I swallowed it down and followed it with another quickly to keep from coughing. Pretty soon we were drunk.
   The next day I was terribly sick. ‘I’m sorry God,’ I kept saying. ‘This isn’t me.’
   I curled myself up in bed, trying to make myself invisible. If God couldn’t see me, maybe he wouldn’t be disappointed in me.”
   Now that sounds so silly. To believe we can “hide” from God… but I’ve caught myself doing things just about as silly.
   I remember not so long ago when I was talking with God about something that I wasn’t particularly proud of. And I was being fairly frank with God about what I’d done. But then, a thought came into my mind: “I’ve got to be careful what I say, because those words might be used against me on judgment day.”
   How may of you have ever felt like that? Good, I don’t feel so bad then.
   MY TEMPTATION WAS TO CONCEAL MY GUILT BY NOT PUTTING IT INTO WORDS! But then I realized how foolish that was. It didn’t matter what I said to God about what I’d done or thought … He already knew it ANYWAY. And it wouldn’t make any difference whether I verbalized it or not. If He wanted to use it against me on judgment day …  He’s GOD … who’s gonna stop Him!!
   But Proverbs tells us that God won’t use our confessions against us.
   He doesn’t want to hurt us.
   He doesn’t want to sneak up on us unaware and humiliate us or destroy us.
   Proverbs 28:13 tells us “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
   God wants to give us His mercy … but the only way that mercy will be given is if we own up to our guilt. If we admit to our sin.
   Often people will ask “How many times will God forgive me when we sin?”
   Peter once asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive someone else. And do you remember what Jesus answered? 70 * 7 (Matthew 18:22) … 490 times … for the same thing. Do you realize that by the time we forgave somebody that many times … we’d probably forget what they’d done to offend us the first time?
   But now, think about this: If God holds us to that standard in our lives … don’t you think God would hold Himself to a much higher standard when it came to our sins???
   A pastor shared this story — “Back in Bible College, one of my professors marveled at the teaching of 1 John 1:9 - “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
   He told us that the Greek in that verse spoke of God “continually” forgiving us each time we confessed our sins. He compared it to driving his car down the road in the rain. He asked “what would I do if rain was coming down on my windshield? I’d turn on the windshield wipers. And would the windshield wipers just brush once across the window and then stop? No! They would wipe back and forth as long as I needed them to. That’s what I John 1:9 is saying about the forgiveness of God. It is as continuous as we need to deal with the shame of our sins.”
   One the reasons people don’t confess their sins to God is that they believe that once God “finds out” what they’d done, God wouldn’t forgive them. But, of course … that’s foolish thinking – there isn’t anything God doesn’t see or hear. There’s nothing that God doesn’t already know. You can’t HIDE your sin from God.
   All we lose, by not confessing our sins to Him, is the freedom He can give us from the shackles of shame and guilt that come from those sins.
   Max Lucado tells the story about the boy who was shooting rocks with a slingshot. He could never hit his target. One day when he was in his Grandma’s backyard he spied her pet duck. On impulse he took aim and let it fly. The stone hit, and the duck was dead.
   The boy panicked and hid the bird in the woodpile, only to look up and see his sister watching. After lunch that day, Grandma told Sally to help with the dishes. Sally responded, “Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen today. Didn’t you Johnny?” And she whispered to him, “Remember the duck!”
   So, Johnny did the dishes. What choice did he have? For the next several weeks he was at the sink often. Sometimes for his duty, sometimes for his sin. “Remember the duck,” Sally whispered when he objected.
   After a while tho’ he grew so weary of the chore, he decided that any punishment would be better than washing more dishes, so he confessed to killing duck.
   After telling his side of it, his Grandma said "I know, Johnny," giving him a hug. "I was standing at the window and saw the whole thing. Because I love you, I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave out of you.”
   He thought his confession would destroy him … when in reality the one who loved him was only waiting for him to admit his sin so he could receive freedom from his guilt.
   Here’s a little prayer that might not be a bad idea to learn …
Dear Lord,
So far I've done all right.
I haven't gossipped,
haven't lost my temper,
haven't been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
And I'm really glad about that.
But in a few minutes, God,
I'm going to get out of bed.
And from then on, I'm going to need a lot more help. Amen.

April 15, 2018     Do I Qualify for Heaven?

   Matthew 22:1-14 (NLT) Parable of the Great Feast — 1Jesus also told them other parables. He said, 2“The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. 3When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!
   4“So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ 5But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. 6Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.
   7“The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. 8And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. 9Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ 10So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.
   11“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. 12‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. 13Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

   14“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

   What kind of wedding garments do we need to be wearing in order to be acceptable in the Kingdom of Heaven?
   We’re beginning a series this morning called “Got Questions.” The series is based on the 5 most popular questions that pastors have been asked.
   One of the most prominent questions that’s been asked is something to the effect: “Do I Qualify for Heaven? Or, another way to ask that question (based on the parable we just read) … am I properly dressed to get into heaven?
   A woman and her young daughter were attending the wedding of one their relatives. And this was the first time the little girl had ever seen a wedding ceremony. She was in awe by the pomp and beauty of everything. The music, the formal atmosphere, the decorations, the bride and groom and their attendants in fine gowns and tuxes.
   Sometime during the ceremony, the little girl leaned over to her mother and whispered: “Mommy, mommy.”
   “What dear,” her mother replied.
   "Why is the bride dressed in white?"
   The mother thought about that for moment and struggled to come up with a simple explanation her daughter would understand. Finally, she smiled and said to her daughter: "The bride wears white, because white is the color of happiness, and today is the happiest day of her life”
   The little girl thought about this for a moment, and then she said, "So why’s the groom wearing black?"
   Weddings are usually “dress up affairs”. Not only do the bride and groom generally spend a lot of money on their gown and tux but so do the maids of honor and groomsmen. Traditionally, family and friends generally dress up in their Sunday best to show respect and honor to the newly married couple.
   Now, I’ve been to a lot weddings, and I’ve conducted a fair number of them as well … but I don’t know if I’ve ever been to a wedding where someone’s been kicked out because of how they’ve dressed, or not dressed … especially biker weddings. (Though I’ve been to a couple where some of them shoulda put on a little more … but, that’s another story.)
   Here in Matthew 22, we find that’s exactly what took place. The King gives a banquet and becomes irate by the fact that one of the invited guests wasn’t wearing the appropriate wedding garment. Not only was that man kicked out but he was bound hand and foot and thrown outside, into the darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth
   Now, on the face of it, this reaction by the groom’s dad seems a little unfair. I mean – after all – in the parable Jesus tells us these guests were off the street … probably not very wealthy people. Jesus tells us that the people were literally standing on the street corner when they were invited, and it’s reasonable to believe that the majority of them didn’t have the resources to dress in the best of garments.
   But the dad kicks this man out of the banquet anyway … and he’s not particularly nice about it.
   So then, the first question that comes to my mind is … what in the world happened here???
   According to Barnes New Testament Notes: “Ancient kings and princes were accustomed to make presents of changes of raiment to their friends and favorites. To refuse to receive (this gift) was an expression of highest contempt.”
   Well… now it begins to make a little more sense. The king had supplied ALL of his guests with wedding robes, and this guy just didn’t wear what he was given.
   From the very outset, in Matthew 22:2 Jesus explains what this parable was referring to: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”
   So, this is a description of how people qualify for heaven. And from the way Jesus tells the story, it appears it isn’t all that hard to get into heaven, does it?
   We read on in Matthew 22:10 that the servants of the King “went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
   It didn’t matter whether they were rich or poor … influential or destitute … good or bad
   EVERYBODY was invited…
   Now it’s hard for me to imagine that some would have rejected the King’s offer … I mean, come on now!!! A chance to eat and party with the king??
   And it’s hard for me to believe that anyone would refuse the King’s offer… but they did.
   But it’s really hard to wrap my mind around the fact that this man would be invited to the banquet, accept the offer … and then literally slap his host in the face by refusing to wear the garments the King had graciously supplied!
   Now, it would appear that the clothing he wore to the banquet “looked” much like the wedding garments everyone else was wearing.
   This man seems to be fitting into the banquet scene up until the time when the King enters the room and notices that the robe the man is wearing isn’t the one He had supplied.
   Why wouldn’t this guest wear the King’s raiment? I believe it was because he felt his garment was sufficient. This guest believed his garments were good enough to be acceptable. That they looked sufficiently similar to what everyone else was wearing.
   And the sad fact of ALL of this is that there are people out there (and maybe in here) who believe God will accept them with the garments they wear … even though their idea of what’s acceptable isn’t the same idea that God has.
   Back in the 1500’s - Ivan the IV became the first Czar of Russia. He ruled a large diverse nation but he wasn’t a good ruler. He wasn’t even a very nice man. In fact, he was a very cruel man. He was so cruel they referred to him as "Ivan The Terrible." And he was widely known to be a very immoral and violent man.
   During his reign he married 7 women and abused each and every one of them. His idea of a good time was going up on the walls of the Kremlin and throwing animals over the walls to the pavement beneath so that he could watch them die.
   How many of think that when he died, he probably didn’t make it into heaven?
   When Ivan died in 1584, historians tell us that those who prepared his body for burial were instructed to shave Ivan’s head and to dress him for burial in the robes of a monk.
   Why would Ivan have wanted them to do that?
   He wanted that done, because he apparently hoped that God would only see his garments and think that he was a good and simple monk… and Ivan the Terrible would slip into heaven just under the radar.
   He thought if his garments made him look enough like a Christian, he’d be saved.
   And there are people today who believe that they look enough like a Christian to be saved.
   They wear the garments of being “nice people”.
   They know that God hates sin, and they believe they are not nearly as sinful as other people they know. They don’t think of themselves as being bad people. And if they’ve done any bad in their lives, they believe their good works will outweigh any bad they’ve ever done.
   Symptomatic of this kind of thinking is a survey US News & World Report cited several years ago.
   They gave the people they interviewed a list of possible candidates, and asked who amongst those individuals they thought would qualify for heaven
Mother Teresa - 79%
Oprah Winfrey 66%
Michael Jordan - 65%
Colin Powell - 61%
Bill Clinton 52% (he apparently had a 50/50 chance)
Al Gore and Hillary Clinton 55%
Newt Gingrich 40%
Pat Robertson 47%
Dennis Rodman 28%
O.J. Simpson 19%
   And… of those surveyed … 87% thought they were good enough to get into heaven.
   To me, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Those who received the highest votes were not necessarily known for their religious affiliation. So why did most of these people receive such confidence in their salvation? Because they thought they were nice people? And they thought they did nice things.
   Also, interesting was that the people who received the most votes … were the people who were voting. They placed their chances at getting to heaven even higher than Mother Teresa!!!
   Why? Because most people think of themselves as “nice” decent individuals that God wouldn’t even consider rejecting at heaven’s gates. After all, their garments look so much like what they know He would accept.
   But God says that’s not the way it works. Our God said in Ephesians 2:8-9: “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.”
   Or, as Titus 3:5 tells us God will save us “not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”
   Others believe they’ll get into heaven because of their religious affiliation.
   If you belong to a church … that should get you in – shouldn’t it?
   But Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:21 that isn’t how it works: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
   Once upon a time a man died and went to heaven. As he came near the pearly gates he saw Saint Peter standing at the door and confidently approached him believing he would be able to enter the eternal city with no problem.
   To his amazement, he was told by Peter that there was a point system he would be required to meet in order to qualify for heaven.
   "How many points do I need to get into heaven?" he asked.
   "Thirty thousand," replied Peter.
   "Thirty thousand?!... Well, I was a member of Red Stone Fellowship in Lexington. How much was that worth?"
   "About five points," came the answer.
   "Five points!" the man stammered, "Okay, then what about all the good things I’ve done for my neighbors and family. Surely that is worth quite a bit."
   "According to our records," at this point Peter consulted his clipboard, "that comes to about eight more points."
   Worried now, the man cried, "But that makes only thirteen points of the thirty thousand required. Why, if it weren’t for the grace of God, no one could make it into heaven!"
   "That’s the rest of the thirty thousand," replied Peter.
   My point is this: you and I will never qualify for heaven by what church we belong to or by the good deeds we’ve done or by the clothes we wear. Those aren’t the “garments” God will accept at His banquet
   Now, those ARE things that Christians should be doing …
   We should be attending a good, Bible teaching church
   We should be attending a interactive Bible Study
   We should be hanging out with other Christian people
   And we should be doing good deeds.
  Even the lost and dying world knows that’s what Christians should be known for. But if that’s the clothing we’re relying on to make us acceptable to God, we’ve missed the point. To believe we’ve earned our salvation because of all the merit badges we wear is essentially the same as walking into the banquet in our street clothes.
   The only wedding garment that’s going make any difference is the one that God supplies
   Galatians 3:26-27 tells us about this new garment: “26For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes.”
   What garment will God accept? Only the blood of Jesus. Only His righteousness can cloth us and cover our sinful past.
   And how is one of the ways we “put on Christ?” By baptism. Baptism clothes us with Christ.
   There are people who believe that baptism is a part of salvation. In a sense it is, but I don’t believe you “HAVE TO” be baptized to be saved like some believe. Now don’t get me wrong. I do believe that as followers of the Master, we should follow Christ’s example and be baptized as soon as possible after our salvation. (Acts 8:26-40)
   We talked a couple weeks ago about the people of the Old Testament. The ones that were saved were the ones that were looking forward to the Messiah’s coming. They all died before John the Baptist ever performed the first baptism in the Jordan river. We know Enoch, Isaiah, Moses, Elijah, David and others went to heaven and weren’t baptized. On the Mount of Transfiguration Moses and Elijah appeared in the clouds right before Jesus ascended into heaven. What about the thief on the day Jesus was crucified?
   Now, here’s another one …what about the “sinner’s prayer”, or the “prayer of salvation”.
   You’ll see the “prayer of salvation” listed in the backs of Gideon Bibles
   You’ll find it advertised in salvation tracts that are sold down at the Bible Book store.
   You’ve heard it proclaimed at Billy Graham revivals…and in churches across the nation.
   But there’s one place you’ll NEVER find the “sinner’s prayer”. You’ll never find the prayer for salvation anywhere in Scripture. There is NO WHERE in the Bible where it says you can be saved by a little 3-line prayer whispered amongst a bunch of tears.
   Why?
   Because that’s not how God wanted to do things.
   There are at least 11 examples in the Book of Acts of people being baptized … but there isn’t one reference to a “sinner’s prayer” anywhere in the Bible.
   How then did this prayer appeal get started?
   Well, it began in the late 1700’s with something called the “mourner’s bench.” An altar call would be given, and people who desired to become Christians would come down front to a bench at the front and pray until they “felt” saved. They would be seeking a “strange warming of the heart” as they called it. Unfortunately, many people prayed and prayed and prayed and still never felt this movement of God’s Spirit in their hearts. Some of the people became so inconsolable by this that they committed suicide.
   In 1835 a great evangelist by the name of Charles Finney emerged and changed some of his approach to the mourner’s bench, renaming it the “anxious seat”. In 1868 in his book “Revivals of Religion” he wrote:
   “The church has always felt it necessary to have something of this kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles, baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ were called out to be baptized. It (baptism) held the precise place that the anxious seat does now as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians.” (Russell E. Boatman “The Mourner’s Bench” The Kentucky Evangel, Glasgow KY)
   Now frankly I’m preaching to the choir here. At our church we’ve come to accept the idea that baptism is the outward expression of an inward reality. But as much as baptism is a part of “putting on Christ” we must be careful not to use water baptism as the source of our hope for salvation.
   It isn’t the baptism that saves us… it’s the “putting on of Christ” … and how do we do that? We “put on Christ” by reading and studying His Word. We put on Christ by learning God’s will for our lives and (to the best of our ability) being obedient to the Word that we read. We put on Christ by confessing Jesus IS the Lord of lords and the Kings of kings … and we put on Christ through our faith and trust in what Jesus did on the Cross … and that’s what saves us.
   Peter addresses this in I Peter 3:18-22. “18Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.
   19So he went and preached to the spirits in prison — 20those who disobeyed God long ago when God waited patiently while Noah was building his boat. Only eight people were saved from drowning in that terrible flood. 21And that water is a picture of baptism, which now saves you, not by removing dirt from your body, but as a response to God from a clean conscience. It is effective because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
   22Now Christ has gone to heaven. He is seated in the place of honor next to God, and all the angels and authorities and powers accept his authority.”
   Peter was trying to clarify in people’s minds that there was no magic in the water, nor was it the washing away of dirt that made these people clean. What “cleans” the people is the Blood of Jesus and the “… washing of water by the Word …” (Ephesians 5:26) Baptism was (and still is) a deliberate testimony to the world about their faith in their Savior.
   Baptism lies in the power of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. God wanted us to use water baptism to remind us that – by our taking part in the death / burial / and resurrection of Jesus Christ – we had laid hold of that power of a resurrected Christ.
   You see… no matter what some believe, the Bible teaches that it’s only Jesus that saves us. And when we accept Him as our Lord and Savior … when we make Him our #1 priority in our lives … we put Him ON when we respond by:
Ø Our Faith
Ø Our Repentance
Ø Our Baptism into the resurrection of our Lord
Ø and Our Confession of Jesus as Lord
   My point is this: we should NEVER - EVER try to substitute anything for the wedding garments God has given us.
   Everything that looks like Christianity is actually a reflection of the Jesus we put on when we believe, repent, are baptized and confess.
   A pastor told a story of a man named Ken who was a laborer on the Alaska Pipeline back in the mid 70’s. Ken worked up in the icy cold for a year and came back with $30,000. That was a lot of money back in those days and he blew it all in a month.
   He went back and in six months made another $18,000. He came home again and this time he decided to visit church.
   The first Sunday he walked through the doors and sat in the back seat, the pastor said “I had two thoughts – He looked just like Grizzly Adams - beard and all … and here was a man that would NEVER become a Christian.”
   The pastor said “I preached the message and gave an invitation and the instant the music began Ken came rushing down the aisle. I thought he was going to crush me! Tears came down his face and was baptized into Jesus.
   The next Sunday he came back to the service and I didn’t recognize him. He was dressed in a 3-piece suit and no beard! When I asked what caused him to shave and dress up he said, ‘Jesus changed me on the inside and I want people to know it - so I changed the outside.’”
   Listen up folks!!! If you don’t get anything else … understand this today. It’s doesn’t matter how you’re dressed!!! The ONLY garment God is interested in seeing us dressed in is the garment that’s been stained by the Blood of His Precious Son. It’s the Blood of Jesus Christ that makes us acceptable at the wedding banquet in Heaven. You see, if we’re depending on anything else … we’re just window shopping … it’s all for nothing … we’ve wasted our lives. Because by wearing the clothes that WE think is good enough … in other words, by living our lives the way WE think is acceptable … we’re like the man in the parable Jesus told … what we’re literally doing is slapping our Host in the face by refusing to wear the garments our King has so graciously provided!!!

April 1, 2018     Easter, An Empty Celebration

   Our opening passage for this morning is found in Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT) — 5You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
   6Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
   7Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
   9Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
   (Title Page) Today we’re going to be talking about an “Empty Celebration” because Jesus made 3 ’Empty Promises’ which give more fulfillment than anything else to mankind today. Truly, the greatest symbol of new life is found in an empty tomb!
   I want to share a story I read with you. — Jeremy was not a normal child. He had a terminal illness which affected both his body and his mind. Still, his parents had tried to give him a normal life as possible and had sent him to a religious elementary school. At the age of 12, Jeremy was only in second grade, seemingly unable to learn. He was a frustration to his teacher and to all the children in the class.
   Springtime came, and the children were extremely excited about the coming of Easter and their teacher told them the story of Jesus. Then to emphasize the idea of new life springing forth, she gave each of the children a large plastic egg with this assignment: "I want you to take this home and bring it back tomorrow with something inside that shows new life. Do you understand?"
   All the children responded enthusiastically, "Yes, Miss Miller!" All of them, that is, except for Jeremy. He just listened carefully, his eyes never leaving the teacher’s face. Had he understood what she had said about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Did he understand the assignment? The teacher thought perhaps she should call his parents and explain the project to them … but she got busy and forgot.
   The next morning, 19 children came to school, laughing and talking as they placed their eggs in a large wicker basket on Miss Miller’s desk. After they completed their math lesson, it was time to open the eggs. In the first egg, Miss Miller found a flower. She said, "Oh yes, a flower is certainly a sign of new life. When plants peek through the ground, we know that spring is here." A small girl in the first row waved her arms. "That’s my egg, Miss Miller."
   The next egg contained a plastic butterfly, which looked real. The teacher held it up. She said, "We all know that a caterpillar changes and grows into a beautiful butterfly. Yes, that is new life, too." Little Judy smiled proudly and said, "Miss Miller, that one is mine!"
   In the next egg, the teacher found a rock with moss on it. She explained that moss, too, showed life. Billy spoke up from the back of the classroom. "My daddy helped me!"
   Then the teacher opened the fourth egg ... but this egg was empty! She thought, surely this one must be Jeremy’s and obviously he didn’t understand her instructions. If only she hadn’t forgotten to call his parents. Because she didn’t want to embarrass him, she quietly set the egg aside and reached for another. Suddenly Jeremy spoke up. "Miss Miller, aren’t you going to talk about my egg?" A bit flustered, the teacher said, "But Jeremy -- your egg is empty!" He looked into her eyes and said softly, "Yes mam, it is, but Jesus’ tomb was empty, too!"
   Last week we talked about Palm Sunday and we saw where Palm Sunday started the Holiest week of the year. As many of you already know, this was a very active week … there was a whole lot going on.
   Starting in chapter 21 and ending in chapter 28 … the story goes something like this — On Palm Sunday, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, it was party time in the Holy City. All of Jerusalem had turned out for the coming of their Deliverer … their deliver from the Romans … their deliverer from their own selfish desires.
   The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred.
   Shortly after arriving in town, Jesus went into the Temple and turned over the tables and ran all the money changers out of His Father’s house. He healed the blind, the lame and the afflicted.
   The Bible says that next morning Jesus was hungry and went to pick some fruit from a fig tree and there were only leaves. He cursed the tree that it would never bear fruit again and it withered up and died.
   He told stories and parables about two sons and evil farmers. He told stories of the Great Feast and the Ten Bridesmaids and the three servants. He talked to the Pharisees about taxes for Caesar and talked to the Sadducees about the Resurrection. He explained to the Pharisees what the Greatest Commandment was and informed them there was a second equally important. And He criticizes the religious leaders and grieves over the heart condition of the people in Jerusalem.
   He tries to teach them about the things that will take place in the last days and tells them “Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left.” And He talked about the final judgement and gave them the Great Commission.
  His authority was challenged by the leading priest and Pharisees. The authorities wanted to arrest Him, but they were afraid of what the crowds might do because they thought Jesus was a prophet.
   Then about Wednesday Jesus told His disciples “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Judas sells out for 30 pieces of silver and Jesus sits down with his hand full of buddies to have their last meal together. When they had finished eating they go to the garden to pray … and Jesus is betrayed and arrested and Peter lied about knowing Jesus.
   Friday morning He’s taken in secret to be tried before Pilate and then before the people. Pilate washed his hands of the situation … but all the people who were praising Him just four days ago were now screaming “Crucify Him!!!” “Free Barabbas and crucify Jesus!!!”
   How quickly and easily the people turned on Jesus. They wanted a Messiah that would help them … deliver them NOW!! … and He came to do just that … but they were just too blind to see it.
   It’s Friday and Jesus was paraded through the streets of Jerusalem for the people throw stuff at him, call Him names and mock His very being. At noon, Jesus was nailed to the Cross and darkness fell over the entire land for the next three hours … then, at three o’clock, there was a tremendous earthquake and He called out with a loud voice “It is Finished!!!”
   You see, it’s only Friday … but they didn’t know … Sunday’s coming!!!
   Video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cikenKl92Og
   Matthew 28 (1-7) tells us “Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb.
   2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.
   Matthew 28:5-7 says "But the angel answered and said to the women, ’Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead."
   Romans 8:11 tells us "But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you."
   Several years ago an article was published that revealed the secrets of hidden “surprises” in computer software and video games. Programmers inserted these surprises to give the programs an added appeal. Some of the examples were funny like the hidden message “I’m being held prisoner in a software factory.” Others were meant to entertain … like a hidden computer pinball game in the Microsoft Word 97 program and hidden virtual picture of the mountain peaks and blue skies in Microsoft Excel 97.
   Do you know what these little hidden software surprises were called? They were called Easter eggs because it’s great to open one and find the surprise.
   Imagination is a Wonderful thing ... because through our imagination we get things like …
A FAIRY that pays money for Teeth...
A FAT Man that delivers gifts...
A RABBIT that lays Eggs...
   But, when you get down to the brass tacks … they’re all empty celebrations. You don’t need a bunny or some eggs to excite the imagination about Easter. Easter stands alone on its own without any help! During the holiest week of the year our empty celebration is found in an empty tomb!
   Here’s 3 Empty Promises We Can Celebrate this Easter:
   1. An Empty Life … vs 7 Jesus showed that THE WAY TO BE FULL IS TO BE EMPTY. “Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” Real ‘fulfillment’ comes when we’re empty of our own desires and make Jesus our heart’s desire!
   Jesus’ last words before His death were “IT IS FINISHED!!!”
   What does this Mean? It means fulfillment! It means that everything that needed to be done was DONE! It means that Jesus literally emptied Himself of everything he had to offer to you and me. He emptied Himself of everything that we might live life to the fullest! He Poured it all out – that it might be found within us!
   When you watch Him live – you know that his life was consumed for humanity – that’s you & me – and that He emptied Himself of all other cares. He stepped into humanity at its worst – offering His very best! He EMPTIED Himself of all life … to FILL ours with His.
   Something to ponder … If you’re not experiencing God’s presence in your life, it may be that you’re not “empty” enough! Think about it!!
   You see … we serve a God that specializes in filling emptiness! The Bible says that everything that was made was made out of nothing (John 1:1-5 / Hebrews 11:3). In creation He flung the universe into an expanse of emptiness. He created the stars out of nothing and then He turned right around and hung something He created out of nothing on something that wasn’t there. He turned nothing into something, then hung something on nothing! With all the miracles that were done right before their very eyes … the people still didn’t believe. The truly sad thing is that even with all the miracles we see every day… there’re people out there that still don’t believe in Jesus or the resurrection.
   Mark 6 (Mark 6:30-44) talks about the feeding of the 5,000. Actually, Mark 6 talks about 5,000 empty stomachs. Vs 34-35 says “34Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. 35Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.”
   So, the disciples offered up four plans to get rid of the problem:
   1. Disciples said in vs 36, let’s just get rid of the problem…tell them to go away
   Jesus said, that’s not it, they’ll faint on the way home…they’re running on empty.
   2. Phillip said in vs 37, let’s raise the money. He did some figuring and found it would take 200 days’ wages to buy enough bread. It’s hard for some to realize that money’s not the solution to every problem … it can’t buy everything! It can buy a house, but not a home; a bed, but not a good night’s sleep; medicine, but not good health; it can even buy a beautiful church building just like ours, but money can’t buy the power of God that’s in it!!!!
   3. Vs 38 says that Andrew found little boy with a small lunch, and said, it’s not much, but it’s a start!
   4. Then vs 39 shows us that Jesus had the true solution as he took the little boy’s lunch and demonstrated that little is much when God is in it!
   In all four of the gospels, Jesus gave thanks prior to even breaking the bread … showing the multitudes that only God can fill their emptiness!
   We serve a Lord that specializes in filling emptiness!
   In (John 2), at a wedding feast, an event that the whole city came out for in those days, Jesus filled some empty water pots. There was a festive mood until the unthinkable happened … the host ran out of wine and the people began to scurry about, whispering about the problem, until the whole crowd knew and the host was embarrassed!
   The Lord let them scramble for a while before bringing the solution. He allowed them to feel their emptiness and their inadequacy. He waited until they ran out of options, and then He took the empty water pots, filled them with water, and then worked the miracle … turning creek water into the best wine ever made in the history of the world.
   The joy that the world has to offer is just temporary. Like the wine at the wedding feast … it always runs out, and the result is always a void left that’s left behind … a lonely emptiness. But the joy of the Lord is forever new every morning and forever satisfying … and it’s never, never ending!
   You see, the world offers you its best at first … until you get hooked, and then it’s all downhill from there. The best day you’ll ever spend in sin will be the 1st day.
   Hebrews 11:24-26 talks about the pleasures of sin “for a season:” “24It was by faith that Moses, when he grew up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.
   Proverbs 14:13 Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.
   Proverbs 20:17 Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
   But Jesus gives a miraculous joy that never ends. He gives us His best from the very get-go, and somehow, miraculously, over time, He makes the joy grow and get even better!
   Truly, every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before. The longer I serve Him the sweeter He grows!
   Jesus took water pots that were used in those days for external washing, and made them useful for something internal, something deeper and more satisfying. He created something fulfilling … and He used emptiness to do it! We serve a Lord that specializes in filling emptiness!
   Are you running on empty? If you’re not experiencing intimacy with Christ on a daily basis … it may be that, though you feel empty … you’re not empty enough! Make room for Jesus by taking some irons out of the fire and making Him a priority!
   • We need to be emptied of all the sin and junk in our live that gets us NO where in the world to come.
   God can’t fill a vessel that has no room to pour Himself into. It’s an impossibility if we harbor sin in our lives. Now, Christians aren’t sinless, but we SHOULD yield ourselves to the leadership of the Holy Spirit so we sin LESS! It’s all about desire. True repentance is not perfection. True repentance is not about “getting it all right.” True repentance is turning from sin and doing our best to head toward God.
   • We need to be emptied of self.
   Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll never find intimacy with Christ until we stop bowing down to the shrine of ourselves! The Bible say not to think too highly of yourself because we ain’t all that (Romans 12:3). There’s nothing on the face of this earth that’s gonna give one I-oda to help you get into heaven. Not your family, your friends your church … not even the patch on your back. It’s all about your relationship with Jesus Christ.
   • We need to be emptied of substitutes.
   Be careful, often we try to substitute service for surrender … work for worship. Martha becomes Mary when she drops her “to do list” and falls at the feet of Jesus! (Luke 10:38-42)
   Serving is good and right, but don’t let yourself get so busy doing things for Christ that you neglect spending time with Christ!
   Accept no other substitutes for the filling of the Spirit. Don’t fill yourself up with drugs … food … movies … music … relationships. In a Christians life … there is NOTHING more important than your relationship with Jesus Christ!
   Did you know that, if you get right down to it, this altar is a toxic waste dump? People come up here and empty the sin, their self, all their substitutes, all their false gods. Every time someone comes up here and empties themselves out on this altar … all their garbage is dumped right here.
   This Easter, we have the promise of an empty life. Jesus is our example, and we should follow in those footsteps. Also, we have …
   2. An Empty Cross
   Some people don’t appreciate the crucifix hanging on a mirror or a hospital wall. They say Jesus isn’t there anymore … and He’s not. The cross is empty … and yet it is full of God’s promises!
   THE EMPTY Cross Tells me that I Can BE Forgiven of ALL my SIN ... The Cross was a Cruel place of Death where Jesus was Beaten ... Broken ... Bruised. HE TOOK it all on himself – that we might not have to!
   In vs 7 Jesus showed that THE WAY TO GO UP IS DOWN. “When I couldn’t go where He was, He came to me”. He came down to my level when I couldn’t get up to His!
   The Empty Cross – tells me that I can be free from my past. The Empty Cross – tells me that I can have a Great life in & through Christ Jesus.
   The Cross is the place where He died – but today, it’s empty … yet it’s still so full. Empty of Jesus’ body … but full of God’s promises. Full of faith and hope – for you and me.
   The promise of the empty cross is that NOW you and I can stand before a holy God … totally forgiven … wiped clean. Because it was on that Cross that Jesus stood face to face with EVERYTHING that I’ve ever done (and will do) to break the Father’s heart. He paid it ALL … my sin debt was covered on the Cross. So, the next time Satan comes knocking on your door, make sure you open it. Open that door wide … and show him the receipt that’s stamped “PAID IN FULL”!!!
   3. And lastly for today we have an Empty Tomb.
   In vss 8-9 Jesus showed that THE WAY TO LIVE IS TO DIE. “When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, …”
   Without the Empty Tomb –
   There is No SAVIOR
   No Salvation ... No Hope...
   Nothing is Sure...
   Tomb, you shall hold Him no longer,
   Death is strong, but life is stronger
   Stronger than the dark is the light;
   Stronger than the wrong is the right;
   Faith and hope triumphantly say;
   Christ will rise on Easter Day.
   While the patient earth lies waiting;
   Till the morning shall be breaking
   Shuddering beneath the burden dread
   Of her Master, cold and dead,
   Hark! she hears the angels say;
   Christ will rise on Easter Day.
   And when sunrise smites the mountains
   Pouring light from heavenly fountains
   Then the earth blooms out to greet;
   Once again the blessed feet;
   And her countless voices say;
   Christ has risen on Easter Day.
   In fact, the empty tomb is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise to every one of us that on that Great Getting’ Up Morning, we too will be raised to eternal life with our Father and Savior. To those who know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, those who put 110% of their trust in Him, death has lost its sting – death is something no longer to be feared (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). What fear is there when we have the promise that one day we will live forever with Him in Heaven?
   The world gives us promises full of emptiness: God gives us emptiness full of promise!
   Silly rabbit … eggs aren’t for kids, it’s an empty tomb … full of promises for all who would choose to answer the call and be God’s children!

March 25 2018     Palm Sunday

   Our opening passage this morning is in Matthew 21:1-11 where we read that Jesus Comes to Jerusalem as King - 1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage (beth fage) on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
    4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: