Transforming Lives

Red Stone Ministries

One Heart at a Time

Red Stone Fellowship meets on Sundays at 10:00 am.
236 Hollis Rd. Lexington, SC 29073      (803) 351-2503
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And then Jesus told them, "Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone." Mark 16:15


September 1,2019 Jesus, The Author of Faith   (Part 9 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

August 25,2019 It Was By Faith Samuel    (Part 8 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

August 18,2019 It Was By Faith Jepthah    (Part 7 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

   Opening passage - Judges 11:1-39 — (NLT) — Jephthah Becomes Israel’s Judge — 1Now Jephthah of Gilead was a great warrior. He was the son of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. 2Gilead’s wife also had several sons, and when these half-brothers grew up, they chased Jephthah off the land. “You will not get any of our father’s inheritance,” they said, “for you are the son of a prostitute.” 3So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Soon he had a band of worthless rebels following him.
   4At about this time, the Ammonites began their war against Israel. 5When the Ammonites attacked the elders of Gilead sent for Jephthah in the land of Tob. 6The elders said, “Come and be our commander! Help us fight the Ammonites!”
   7But Jephthah said to them, “Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you’re in trouble?”
   8“Because we need you,” the elders replied. “If you lead us in battle against the Ammonites, we will make you ruler over all the people of Gilead.”
   9Jephthah said to the elders, “Let me get this straight. If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler over all the people?”
   10“The Lord is our witness,” the elders replied. “We promise to do whatever you say.”
   11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their ruler and commander of the army. At Mizpah, in the presence of the Lord, Jephthah repeated what he had said to the elders.
   12Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of Ammon, asking, “Why have you come out to fight against my land?”
   13The king of Ammon answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they stole my land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River and all the way to the Jordan. Now then, give back the land peaceably.”
   14Jephthah sent this message back to the Ammonite king:
   15“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not steal any land from Moab or Ammon. 16When the people of Israel arrived at Kadesh on their journey from Egypt after crossing the Red Sea, 17they sent messengers to the king of Edom asking for permission to pass through his land. But their request was denied. Then they asked the king of Moab for similar permission, but he wouldn’t let them pass through either. So the people of Israel stayed in Kadesh.
   18“Finally, they went around Edom and Moab through the wilderness. They traveled along Moab’s eastern border and camped on the other side of the Arnon River. But they never once crossed the Arnon River into Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.
   19“Then Israel sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, who ruled from Heshbon, asking for permission to cross through his land to get to their destination. 20But King Sihon didn’t trust Israel to pass through his land. Instead, he mobilized his army at Jahaz and attacked them. 21But the Lord, the God of Israel, gave his people victory over King Sihon. So Israel took control of all the land of the Amorites, who lived in that region, 22from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River, and from the eastern wilderness to the Jordan.
   23“So you see, it was the Lord, the God of Israel, who took away the land from the Amorites and gave it to Israel. Why, then, should we give it back to you? 24You keep whatever your god Chemosh gives you, and we will keep whatever the Lord our God gives us. 25Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he try to make a case against Israel for disputed land? Did he go to war against them?
   26“Israel has been living here for 300 years, inhabiting Heshbon and its surrounding settlements, all the way to Aroer and its settlements, and in all the towns along the Arnon River. Why have you made no effort to recover it before now? 27Therefore, I have not sinned against you. Rather, you have wronged me by attacking me. Let the Lord, who is judge, decide today which of us is right—Israel or Ammon.”
   28But the king of Ammon paid no attention to Jephthah’s message.
Jephthah’s Vow
   29At that time the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, including Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he led an army against the Ammonites. 30And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, 31I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
   32So Jephthah led his army against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave him victory. 33He crushed the Ammonites, devastating about twenty towns from Aroer to an area near Minnith and as far away as Abel-keramim. In this way Israel defeated the Ammonites.
   34When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters. 35When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “Oh, my daughter!” he cried out. “You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.”
   36And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the Lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the Lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. 37But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.”
   38“You may go,” Jephthah said. And he sent her away for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children.39When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin.
   Hebrews 11:32 NCV — Do I need to give more examples? I do not have time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.
Children’s church is dismissed
   James Braddock was down on his luck. A once successful amateur, turned-professional boxer, a broken hand and the stock market crash of 1926 left Braddock destitute—struggling just to keep food on the table for his young family.
   Then, all of a sudden, Braddock’s luck began to change.
   Thanks to a last minute cancellation by another boxer, Braddock got a second chance. Out of shape and past his prime, Braddock was pitted against the number two contender in the world by promoters who saw Braddock as nothing more than a punching bag. Then, in one of the greatest upsets in boxing history, Braddock stunned both experts and fans with a third-round knockout of his formidable opponent. Fighting with permanent injuries to his hands, Braddock continued to win and before long he came to represent the hopes and aspirations of the American public coping with the Great Depression.
   On June 13, 1935, in Long Island City, New York, Braddock, as a 10 to 1 underdog, won the heavyweight championship of the world from the seemingly invincible Max Baer. His fairytale-like rise from a poor local fighter to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world earned James J. Braddock the nickname “Cinderella Man.”
   Both life and literature are overflowing with these “Cinderella Stories,” timeless tales about downtrodden, discarded outcasts who eventually go from rags to riches. Whether it’s Abraham Lincoln going from a log cabin to the White House or Michael Jordan who was cut from his high-school basketball team and went on to win six NBA Championships. The story of the triumphant underdog is one that will always be in style. It’s always more fun to root for the little guy, isn’t it? We just like to see losers become winners.
   The story of Jephthah is that kind of a story. Once again set against the backdrop of the Israel’s oppression by foreign enemies, the first episode in Jephthah’s historical narrative highlights his…
   Childhood - Jephthah had it pretty rough. The Bible says right off the bat in Judges 11:1, “Now Jephthah was a great warrior from the land of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute.” Jephthah was what we call an unplanned pregnancy … a surprise. Jephthah’s father, Gilead, was a fairly prominent member of society—in fact, the town was actually named after him because he and his family were its pioneers and chief residents. So, you can imagine the scandal that must have broken out as result of this little incident.
   On the bright side, at least Gilead did the right thing — he acknowledged the boy and raised him in his own house as his own son. Gilead may have been an adulterer, but at least he was a responsible and caring father.
   The other members of Gilead’s household, however, weren’t quite as open and accepting. Understandably, Jephthah almost certainly reminded Gilead’s wife of his adulterous affair and Jephthah certainly didn’t win the approval of his half brothers and sisters either. Actually, the Bible says in vss 2-3, “Gilead had several other sons by his legitimate wife, and when these half brothers grew up, they chased Jephthah out of the country. ‘You son of a whore!’ they said. ‘You’ll not get any of our father’s estate.’ So Jephthah fled from his father’s home and lived in the land of Tob.”
   Now, honestly, Jephthah wasn’t to blame for his birth. He had no say over who his mother was. But because of the sins of his father, Jephthah became an outsider, rejected by the very people who should have given him unconditional love and acceptance. Unfortunately, there are far too many people in this world who know how Jephthah must have felt. One thing we all need to understand is that Jephthah, though unanticipated by his parents, was not an accident — and neither are you!
   Rick Warren has well said, “While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children.”
   Your birth was no mistake or mishap, and your life is no fluke of nature. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. He was not at all surprised by your birth. In fact, he was looking forward to it … he expected it.
   Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God. He thought of you first. It is not fate, nor chance, nor luck, nor coincidence that you are breathing at this moment. You are alive today only by the grace of God because he wanted to create you!
   God never makes mistakes and he never does anything accidentally. The Bible says in  Psalm 139:15-16, “You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”
   While evolutionist may try to convince you that you are the descendants of apes and the result of random chance in the universe … faith assures that God created each and every one of us in his image and he did so for a reason.
   Judges 11:4 tells us “Regardless of the circumstances of your birth or who your parents are, God had a plan in creating you.”
   Like Jephthah, you are who you are for a reason. You’re a part of God’s intricate plan. But God’s plan for Jephthah’s life would not come to completion until many years later when “the people of Ammon made war against Israel” (vs. 29)
   The second chapter in the chronicles of Jephthah’s life centers on his…
   Command - Though living apart from the rest of society, Jephthah developed quite a reputation as a “mighty man of valor” or a “great warrior.” Soon, the Bible says in vs. 3 (Judges 11), “he had quite a band of malcontents as his followers, living off the land as bandits.” Apparently, Jephthah’s reputation and his bravery as a warrior attracted other rejects and lowlifes. The New Living Translations calls them “worthless rebels” who followed him into the desert. Jephthah led his band of misfits on raids of enemy territory, taking what they needed and living almost like outlaws in the old west. As his following grew and word spread of their daring adventures, Jephthah caught the attention of the elders of his old hometown. The Bible says in vs. 5-6 (Judges 11) “When the Ammonites attacked, the elders of Gilead sent for Jephthah in the land of Tob. The elders said, ‘Come and be our commander! Help us fight the Ammonites!’”
   Jephthah was understandably hesitant and as we can see in vs. 7 (Judges 11), he was perhaps a bit sarcastic in his reply. “Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you’re in trouble?”
   And in vs. 8 they bribed him by saying “Because we need you,” the elders replied. “If you lead us in battle against the Ammonites, we will make you ruler over all the people of Gilead.”
   So after getting their word that he will be given total discretion, Jephthah accepts their offer and is appointed Gilead’s new commander-in-chief. It’s Jephthah’s leadership style, though, that really sets him apart from any of Israel’s previous commanding officers. Upon taking control of Israel’s army, in vs.12 (Judges 11:12 NCV) Jephthah sends a letter to the king of the Ammonites saying, “What have you got against Israel? Why have you come to attack our land?”
   Although the correspondence probably caught him off guard, in vs 13 ( Judges 11:13 NLT) the Ammonite king replied, “When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they stole my land from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River and all the way to the Jordan. Now then, give back the land peaceably.”
   Jephthah then crafted a well thought out comeback to the king’s demands. His answer contained three primary responses.
   First, he says that when Israel first came to the borders of the Ammonite king, they requested permission to cross his land. The king at the time, however, refused their request and mounted his troops for battle. In other words, the Ammonites were the ones who started the fight that resulted in the loss of their land, not the Israelites. Furthermore, Jephthah says in vs. 24 (Judges 11 NLT) that God gave Israel the victory and the land. “You keep whatever your god Chemosh gives you, and we will keep whatever the LORD our God gives us.” Finally, Jephthah points out that the Israelites have inhabited the land now for over three hundred years, yet none of the previous Ammonite kings have made any claim on the land until now.
   Unfortunately, Jephthah’s arguments fell on deaf ears, but the point is — Jephthah wasn’t looking to pick a fight. He was very diplomatic and peaceful in his approach. He would have much rather settled their differences without war if at all possible. Although Jephthah was a mighty warrior, he was peacemaker at heart.
   I believe there are two kinds of people: thermostat people and thermometer people. A thermometer simply reflects the climate of the room. If the room is cold, it’s cold. If the room is hot, it’s hot. But a thermostat can change the climate of the room. By adjusting its setting, a thermostat can change a cold room into one that is warm, or a hot room into one that is cool. A peacemaker, like Jephthah, is a thermostat person. A peacemaker can change the whole climate of a room when he or she walks in.
   Have you ever seen that happen? Have you ever been in a room where everybody is negative, complaining and argumentative? Then a peacemaking person walks in and says something that makes people think, “Gee, I never thought of it like that.” The whole climate changes.
   God desires peacemakers in his church, in the workplace and in the world. Jesus said in Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Then, in Romans 12:18 the apostle Paul encourages us “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
   Regrettably, in Jephthah’s case, it didn’t depend solely on him and it wasn’t possible. So, he and his soldiers suited up and prepared for war.
   The final story line in Jephthah’s saga spotlights his…
   Character - The Bible says “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah” as he marched his troops though the dry dusty land of Gilead and Manasseh toward the Ammonite border. But before sounding the charge, Jephthah made a solemn promise to God. In vs. 30-31 (Judges 11) he prayed, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”
   Remember, Jephthah wasn’t commissioned by God to lead this army; he was commissioned by the elders of Gilead. Jephthah obviously had faith in God, but he needed to know that God was in this with him — which, of course, he was. God heard Jephthah’s prayer and promise and he gave Jephthah a devastating victory over the Ammonites.
   Now, after the battle was won and Jephthah had returned home, he remembered his promise to the Lord and his heart sank into his stomach when who should come bouncing out to greet him but his own daughter. The Bible says in vs. 34 (Judges 11) “When Jephthah returned home his daughter—his only child—ran out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy.”
   When he saw her … you know his heart broke, yet his daughter, with a sweet and tender tone, vs. 36-37 tells us how she encouraged him, “Father, you must do whatever you promised the Lord, for he has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me go up into the hills and roam with my girlfriends for two months, weeping because I’ll never marry.” Jephthah did as she requested and then he kept his vow to God.
   This little incident has stirred more than a little controversy. Scholars have argued for centuries about whether or not Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter. Some believe that he did. Others don’t. I’m one of the latter. Let me explain why.
   First, Jephthah has already proven himself to be an intelligent, educated man, well versed in Hebrew history and God’s law. So he undoubtedly knew that in Leviticus 18 God had already declared human sacrifices an abomination detestable in his sight (Leviticus 18:21). Secondly, Jephthah surely knew that the Lord would only accept sacrifices upon the altar of the tabernacle (that was the only place where a sacrifice to God could be made). He also knew that only a priest could perform such a sacrifice, and that no Levitical priest would have ever allowed a human sacrifice to desecrate God’s altar. Third, you’ll notice that Jephthah’s daughter requests time to mourn the fact that she will never marry, not the fact that she was about to die. In fact, the Bible is quick to point out in vs. 39 “Jephthah did to her what he had promised. Jephthah’s daughter never had a husband.”
   Now, the little Hebrew word translated in vs. 31 (Judges 11) is also very important. That particular word can also be translated “or”, making this a two-fold promise — “whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me … shall be the Lord’s, or I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” You see, Jephthah didn’t make a foolish or thoughtless promise. He knew full well that a person, probably a slave, was likely to greet him. That’s why he said “whatever comes out of my house,” not out of my barn.
   Had an animal greeted him, he would have offered it as a burnt offering; alternatively, if a person greeted him he would have given that person to God—that is, he would have dedicated them to a life of temple service and celibacy, which was a common practice in ancient Israel (Samuel’s mother, as we’ll see in a couple chapters, makes a similar promise).
   You see, Jephthah’s only daughter would never marry, never know the joys of motherhood and never bear a child to carry on their family name. What’s important here is that even though it broke his heart, Jephthah was a man of his word. He said in vs. 35 “I made a promise to the Lord, and I cannot break it!”
   God always expects his people to be men and women of their word. Jesus said in Matthew 5:37 “Say just a simple ‘Yes, I will’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Your word is enough.” I certainly don’t recommend making open ended promises to anyone … especially to God! But it’s important that we always keep the promises we make. If you say, “I’ll be there,” then be there. If you say, “I’ll do it,” then do it. If you make a promise to someone and you don’t keep the promise you made … the bottom line is that you lied to that person … and God doesn’t like liars. Galatians 5:19-21 says that “19When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
   You see, God wants men and women of character … and nothing demonstrates our character more than our ability to keep our word to someone … especially to God.
   How many of us have made promises to God? “God, if you’ll do this … I’ll do that.” I think at times, in one way or another, we’ve all made those kind of promises to God, haven’t we?
   Here’s a good one … “God, if You come into my life and help me … I promise I’ll do better.” The question is, how many of us have kept that promise?
   Jephthah's Cinderella-like journey from zero to hero was only possible through faith.
   Understand this today … Faith means realizing that God made each and every one of us special … and unique … and that he has a specific plan for each one of our lives. It means learning to live in peace with other people as much as we possibly can. And it means being willing to pick up our cross when God calls on us to do so … and make those big sacrifices … along with all the little sacrifices … no matter what it costs!!!
   In reality, each one of us has our own “Cinderella” story. We were all once apart from God … poor, pitiful and pathetic. But then … by his grace … through faith … God reached out and transformed each one of us into heirs of an eternal kingdom — from filthy rags to eternal riches.

August 11,2019 It Was By Faith Samson    (Part 6 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

   Opening passage – Judges 16:1-22 (NIV) – Samson and Delilah – 1One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. 2The people of Gaza were told, “Samson is here!” So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, “At dawn we’ll kill him.”
   3But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.
   4Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. 5The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.”
   6So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”
   7Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
   8Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not been dried, and she tied him with them. 9With men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the bowstrings as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.
   10Then Delilah said to Samson, “You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.”
  11He said, “If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
   12So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.
   13Delilah then said to Samson, “All this time you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.”
   He replied, “If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.” So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric 14and tightened it with the pin.
   Again she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.
   15Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” 16With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.
   17So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”
   18When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, “Come back once more; he has told me everything.” So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. 19After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.
   20Then she cried out, “Samson! The Philistines have come to capture you!” When he woke up, he thought, “I will do as before and shake myself free.” But he didn’t realize the Lord had left him.
   21So the Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes. They took him to Gaza, where he was bound with bronze chains and forced to grind grain in the prison.
   22But before long, his hair began to grow back.
   Hebrews 11:32 NCV “How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon, Barak [ba′-rock], Samson, Jephthah [jeff′-thah], David, Samuel, and all the prophets.”
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   We are on our sixth lesson of our The Heroes of Faith Series. This lesson examines Samson as a hero of faith. It explores his terrifying rampage, torrid romance, torturous retribution, and timely repentance.
   In the 2008 block buster Will Smith plays an unlikely superhero named John Hancock. Far from your average, ordinary, everyday superhero, Hancock is a misunderstood despiteful person who causes more collateral damage than the criminals he’s trying to stop. Unlike other fictional superheroes such as Superman, Batman, Spider-man or Captain America who instinctively understand that with great power comes great responsibility, Hancock is a reckless, irresponsible, intoxicated jerk who disappoints and fails the citizens he is supposed to be protecting.
   In other words … he’s a lot like Samson. Samson was the original superhero. Blessed with ridiculous super-human strength, Samson was chosen by God as one of his divinely appointed judges and commissioned him to save his people from the oppression of the Philistines. Like Hancock, however, Samson’s weakness seemed to overshadow his strengths. Samson was a childish, womanizing brute and why God chose him is somewhat of a mystery … but he did. And somehow, someway Samson managed to get his name listed among the greatest heroes of all time.
   Samson’s story is set during the period of the judges and we read in Judges 13:1 where, once again, “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.” Israel certainly didn’t merit the Lord’s mercy, but God granted it anyway. He appointed a new leader and judge over Israel whose life was full of contradictions and character flaws. In fact, when we’re first introduced to Samson, he is in the midst of a…
   Terrifying Rampage
Samson’s super-strength is first manifested as he and his parents were walking through the vineyards of a neighboring town known as Timnah. The Bible says in Judges 14:5-6 “Suddenly, a young lion came roaring toward Samson! The Spirit of the LORD entered Samson with great power, and he tore the lion apart with his bare hands. For him it was as easy as tearing apart a young goat.”
   I have a feeling that this Animal Channel encounter came as a surprise to even Samson himself because he kept it from his parents, who apparently ran for dear life when they first caught a glimpse of their feline friend and failed to witness the massacre that followed. However, this experience also gave Samson his first taste of power—and that power went straight to his head.
   When they finally reached Timnah, it turns out that Samson was actually there to meet and marry a girl—a Philistine girl to be precise. While showboating in front of her friends at the reception, Samson said to them in vs. 12-13 (Judges 14), “Let me tell you a riddle. If you solve my riddle during these seven days of the celebration, I will give you thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing. But if you can’t solve it, then you must give me thirty fine linen robes and thirty sets of festive clothing.”
   Well, Samson tells them the riddle and several days go by. As the Philistines grow more and more puzzled by his riddle, they decide to threaten his blushing bride and convince her to tell them the answer. She coaxes it out of her trusting husband and reports back to the Philistines. So, before sunset on the last day of the feast, they find Samson and give him the answer to his little brainteaser. Immediately Samson knew that his wife had betrayed him, so he storms out of the celebration fuming with rage. And vs. 19 tells us that “He went to the city of Ashkelon, killed thirty men, took their clothing, and gave it to the young men who had told him the answer to his riddle. But he was furious about it and abandoned his wife and went back home to live with his father and mother.”
   Several months later, not realizing that the wife he abandoned had decided to instead marry the best man from their wedding, Samson traveled back to Timnah to talk to his ex-wife. When her father told Samson that she was married to his friend, Judges 15:4-5 says that he again set out to wreak havoc on the Philistines. “So Samson went out and caught three hundred foxes. He took two foxes at a time, tied their tails together, and then tied a torch to the tails of each pair of foxes. After he lit the torches, he let the foxes loose in the grain fields of the Philistines so that he burned up their standing grain, the piles of grain, their vineyards, and   olive trees.” In retaliation the Philistines killed his ex-wife and her father and we read in vss 7-8 (Judges 15) where Samson vowed, “Since you’ve acted like this, I won’t stop until I get my revenge! So he attacked the Philistines with great fury and killed many of them.”
   Far from heroic, Samson was more like a vicious, violent villain—motivated solely by his own childish, selfish ambitions. But keep in mind that God had been working through Samson all along, even if Samson himself didn’t realize it. Because of Samson, the Philistines were forced to live in fear unable to oppress or harass the children of Israel. Despite his glaring failure as a human being, God was still able to work around Samson’s infinite imperfections and bring peace to the people of Israel for twenty years. If there is any lesson in here for us … it’s that God will ultimately accomplish his will whether we cooperate or not.
   Now, fast-forward those twenty years and we find Samson in the midst of a…
Torrid Romance
   Judges 16:4 tells us “Sometime later Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the valley of Sorek.” The story of Samson and Delilah has inspired the imaginations of numerous artists, writers and composers over the centuries and was even made into major movie staring Elizabeth Hurly.

   Although the Bible never comes right out and says it, most scholars agree that Delilah was probably a temple prostitute … after all, she wouldn’t have been the first prostitute Samson visited (16:1). For that matter the Bible never identifies her as a Philistine either, but based on her dealings with them, as we will see, she undoubtedly was. Samson’s love (or at least his lust) for Delilah kept him coming back to the Philistine city of Sorek to spend the night with her. Samson’s presence, however, never went unnoticed and his frequent visits to Delilah’s house were no exception.
   Soon, five Philistine kings—the heads of the entire Philistine nation—went personally to talk with Delilah and demanded that she discover the secret of Samson’s strength. In other words, they wanted to know where he got his Kryptonite from, how they could subdue him and rob him of his great strength. Each one of the Philistine rulers offered to pay Delilah eleven hundred pieces of silver if she would entice him to tell her his secret … that’s more than two hundred times what Judas was paid to betray Jesus, by the way.
   She, of course, agreed. The next time Samson came to visit, we see in vs. 6 (Judges 16) where she begged him to tell her his secret. “Please tell me, Samson, why you are so strong,” she pleaded. “I don’t think anyone could ever capture you!”
   Samson tells her if he were tied up with seven new bowstrings that have not yet been dried, he would become as weak as anyone else (Judges 16:7).
   Later that night, after Samson had fallen asleep, she tied him up just as he had said and then called out, “Samson! The Philistines are here!” But without a moments hesitation Samson snapped the seven cords like they were little more than tissue paper. He lied to her to keep her happy, not realizing that she would actually try it. Yet, now knowing that Delilah was trying to discover his secret, he continued seeing her.
   Have you ever had a relationship like that? You know someone is bad for you, but you keep seeing them anyway. Samson must have thought that his willpower was stronger than her seductive powers. He was invulnerable and he thought that made him invincible. But he was wrong.
   Two more times Delilah begged for his secret and two more times he lied. Then, finally, on the fourth attempt, vs. 15 (Judges 16) tells us Delilah played the best card she had. “How can you say you love me when you don’t confide in me?” she whined.
   The Bible says she nagged him every day until he couldn’t stand it any longer. He may have been the one with super-strength, but Delilah was very familiar with the power of persuasion and Samson finally caved in. In vs. 17 (Judges 16) he told her “My hair has never been cut, for I was dedicated to God as a Nazirite from birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as anyone else.”
   Let me explain this a little. When Samson was born his parents made a promise to God—they dedicated their son to him—and as a sign of that promise, Samson would never cut his hair. It’s not that his hair was actually the source of his strength, but that his long hair represented his vow to God—that he was set apart. For all his failings, his greatest weakness seems to have been women. He always picked the wrong ones. Had he just stopped coming to visit Delilah he would have kept his hair and his strength, but he kept going back. For all his physical might, he lacked the moral strength to do the right thing. And he would pay dearly for it.
   After revealing his secret, Samson would experience a…
Torturous Retribution
   That night, as Samson slept, Delilah held him in her lap while the Philistines quietly shaved his head. This time when Delilah shouted, Samson sprang to his feet ready to fight, but without his legendary strength. Vs. 20 (Judges 16) says, “He didn’t realize the LORD had left him.”
   Now, the Philistines didn’t want to kill Samson; rather, they wanted to capture him, humiliate him, make a spectacle and symbol out of him. Without his mighty strength, the Philistines easily subdued him, tied him up and gouged out his eyes. They bound him with bronze chains and put him to work grinding grain in the prison, only allowing him out when they needed some evening entertainment.
   It’s almost as if Paul had Samson specifically in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 … “All these things happened to them as examples—as object lessons to us—to warn us against doing the same things; they were written down so that we could read about them and learn from them in these last days as the world nears its end. If you think you are strong, you should be careful not to fall.”
   The tragic tale of Samson’s life is a sad reminder of the price of sin. Samson was an arrogant, immoral, and irresponsible leader. His life was in many ways a total waste. He was the leader of the people of Israel for twenty years, yet he accomplished far more in his death than he had with his entire life. If he had only sought God while he lived, how differently things would have turned out.
   But, locked away in a Philistine prison, Samson sorrowfully grinds the grain of his enemies. Round and round he pushes the heavy wheel that grinds the wheat. It’s a mindless job and he’s blind now, so there is nothing for him to see. Alone in his dirty cell, however, Samson has lots of time to think—to reflect on his life and his relationship with God. But even in the darkness of his prison cell, a ray of hope breaks through. The Bible says in vs. 22 (Judges 16) “But before long, his hair began to grow back.” Again, His power was not in his hair but in what his hair symbolized—his dedication to God. If Samson renewed that dedication, then perhaps God might restore his power.
   With that glimmer of hope, Samson finally experiences a…
Timely Repentance
   What amazing grace Samson discovered in that prison. He didn’t deserve a second chance … he’d already had dozens of chances. But, in spite of his continual sin and failure, the Spirit of God was with Samson in that prison … not to empower him as before … but to lead him to repentance and a heart of faith.
   One day the Philistine tyrants declared a great festival to celebrate the capture of Samson. The people made sacrifices to their god, Dagon, and gave him credit for Samson’s incarceration. Not realizing the change that was taking place within Samson nor noticing that his hair was growing back, they called for Samson to be brought out for their entertainment. The Philistine temple was filled to capacity, brimming with more than three thousand pagan men and women who all shouted and jeered when Samson came out on stage. Under the roar of the crowd, vs. 28 (Judges 16) tells us that Samson whispered a simple prayer of faith. “Sovereign LORD, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time.”
   With that said, Samson asked one of his fellow servants to position him between the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Cloaked in darkness, yet able to feel the grainy sandstone pillars with the palms of his hands, he braced himself between them and then, as if still a part of his prayer, in vs. 30 (Judges 16) Samson sighed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” God not only heard his prayer … but granted his request.
   As Samson pressed with all his might against the supporting pillars, the whole place began to crack and pop until finally the whole roof collapsed, crushing everyone inside and utterly destroying Israel’s enemy.
   As far as I can tell, this was Samson’s first and only act of faith ... but that was enough. In the eleventh hour, Samson made the decision that it is better to die for God, than to live for himself. It was just one prayer and one act of faith after a lifetime of gluttony, gambling and gross immorality … but that’s all it took.
   Like Samson, by the end of the movie, Hancock, was able to turn his life around and become the hero he needed to be. The lesson we learn from these misguided muscle-bound men, is that it’s never too late to make the right decision. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all made some bad choices in life. Have you ever wished there was some way you could make up for all those bad decisions? That you could make just one good choice that fixes a lifetime of failure and faithlessness? The good news that Samson reminds us of is this … you can … it’s not too late!!!
   One decision, one prayer, one act of faith in Jesus Christ can override every sinful, sorry, or self-centered decision you’ve ever made. You don’t have to have super-strength to be a hero; you just have to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power!

August 4, 2019     It Was By Faith Sarah     (Part 5 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

   Opening passage - Genesis 21:1-7 (NLT) The Birth of Isaac - 1The Lord kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. 2She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age. This happened at just the time God had said it would. 3And Abraham named their son Isaac. 4Eight days after Isaac was born, Abraham circumcised him as God had commanded. 5Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.
   6And Sarah declared, “God has brought me laughter. All who hear about this will laugh with me. 7Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse a baby? Yet I have given Abraham a son in his old age!”
   Hebrews 11:17 NCV — It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise.
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   The story of Sarah’s faith is, in many ways, a love story. Sarah’s faith in God was invariably entwined with her love for her husband, Abraham. Her name was originally Sarai [sore-eye′ (Greek)], meaning princess.
   Together, Abraham and Sarah became the father and mother of the Jewish race. As such, Sarah remains one of the most important female figures in world history.
   In Genesis 12 (10-20) the Bible also tells us that Sarah was a woman of remarkable beauty. She was so stunning, in fact, that she drew the attention and affections of both pharaohs and peasants alike. Hebrew folk lore ranks her right up there next to Eve, who was regarded as the most attractive and perfect woman who ever lived.
   Isaiah 28:1 (KJV) says that “beauty is a fading flower.” Yet, for Sarah, just the opposite seemed to be true. She was apparently “aged to perfection,” as they say, because she only grew more radiant with each passing year. Even at the age of ninety, Abraham was afraid that kings and princes would fall in love with her bewildering beauty—and he was right on at least two occasions! But more important than her unsurpassed place in history or her unparalleled beauty, was her personal faith in God.
   Sarah is one of only two women mentioned in Hebrews 11 as examples of faith. However, Sarah probably never expected to be counted among the “Heroes of Hebrews.” Her journey of faith was a long, unpredictable roller coaster of highs and lows … sometimes there seemed to be more lows than highs.
   So, to put Sarah’s story of faith in the proper context, we have to go back to the beginning. Sarah’s faith-journey begins with an...
1. Extended Pilgrimage
   Abraham (who was then known as Abram) and Sarah were living together with Abraham’s family in the city of Ur, in Babylonia. And after Abraham’s brother died, Sarah and Abraham helped raise their nephew, Lot, and lived with Abraham’s father, Terah. But one fateful day, in Genesis 12:1 (NCV) God spoke to Abraham. He said, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you.”
   Neither Abraham nor Sarah knew where God was calling them to go, but they both knew where he was calling them from!
   After the flood, Noah, his sons and their wives repopulated the Middle East. But within a few short generations they had become a godless society once again. Actually, they became a polytheistic society — that is, they became a culture that believed in many gods.
   Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham and Japeth, all had enough children to form their own nation. They disregarded God’s command to spread out over all the earth and, instead, built a giant superstructure — known as the Tower of Babel — as a symbol of their unity and independence. God, of course, destroyed the tower and scattered the people, confusing their language and forcing them to spread out from there over the whole world.
   The city of Ur, by the time of Abraham and Sarah, was dedicated to Nannar, the mood god. Its inhabitants were idol worshipers who had forgotten the one true God — the God of Noah. The Lord called Abraham and Sarah out of that land to be pilgrims in search of something better — in search of God himself. And so, they packed up their belongings, left their relatives and their father’s house, and headed out into the great unknown.
   It took a lot of faith to do what they did. I think even more so for Sarah than for Abraham. Think about it. The Bible says that God appeared and spoke to Abraham, not to Sarah! All Sarah had known her entire life was heathenism and idolatry. She’d never heard of this God of Noah.
   Ladies … what would you do if your husband came home one day after fifty-some odd years of marriage and when you asked him how his day was, he said, “Well, honey, God appeared to me today and said we need to pack up all our stuff and hit the road!”
   You might respond with, “What!? Where are we going!?”
   “I don’t know,” your husband shrugs. “I guess God will just tell us to stop when we get there.”
   It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?? And it probably sounded just that crazy to Sarah, too. But she loved her husband very much and she was willing to trust him on this. She really didn’t know God, but she was willing to step right out there with her husband … on a faith that she knew nothing about.
   Faith is like that, you know—stepping into the unknown. Not one of us has ever seen God. We’ve never seen Jesus face to face. Never met an apostle. Never held an original manuscript from the Bible. Never touched the Holy Spirit. I don’t think there is a pastor that ever lived that has taught on a topic that hasn’t been taught several thousand times in the last 2019 years. Yet, God has called each one of us to a better life … an eternal life in heaven with Him ... and through faith … we believe that.
   We never quite know, when we first answered that call, where we’d end up. But it’s the journey that matters … getting to know the God who spoke the universe into existence, experiencing his grace and love in unimaginable ways, and knowing that someday … some glad morning when this life is over … we will no longer be pilgrims.
   Hebrews 11:16 (NCV) says we will make our home in “a better country … a heavenly country.” Along that pilgrimage, nevertheless, Sarah’s faith began to blossom when God gave her an...
2. Eternal Promise
   Before sending them off to Lord-knows-where … God made Abraham a promise in Genesis 12:2-3 NCV. He said, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you. I will make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you, and I will place a curse on those who harm you. And all the people on earth will be blessed through you.” This promise is actually an everlasting covenant that extends throughout all of Scripture and to every span of time.
   And this promise eventually found its fulfillment in the nation of Israel. Abraham and Sarah would become the parents of the Hebrew people, and those people would inherit the “Promised Land” … the land of Canaan … which is better known today as Palestine.
   Although it took several generations and even a period of time as slaves in Egypt, God kept his promise. Abraham and Sarah’s descendants multiplied, were led by Moses and Joshua into the Promised Land, and eventually became a mighty nation.
   But the national fulfillment of this promise was only the beginning. Ultimately God’s promise would not be fulfilled until the arrival of Jesus Christ. It is only through Jesus that “all the people of the earth” can be blessed. Paul explains the spiritual importance in Galatians 3:6-8 (NCV) of this promise to all believers, saying:
   The Scriptures say the same thing about Abraham: “Abraham believed God, and God accepted Abraham’s faith, and that faith made him right with God.”
   So you should know that the true children of Abraham are those who have faith. The Scriptures, telling what would happen in the future, said that God would make the non-Jewish people right through their faith. This Good News was told to Abraham beforehand, as the Scripture says: “All nations will be blessed through you” (Genesis 18:18).
   You see, through faith in Jesus we are all a part of the same spiritual family as Abraham and Sarah—we’ve been grafted into God’s “family tree,” as it were. “In other words,” Paul goes on to say in Romans 9:8 (NIV) “it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” So, it doesn’t matter whether you were born Jew, Gentile, Asian, European or American—we are all children of Abraham and Sarah through faith in Jesus Christ. God never discriminates based on race or region. Rather, the family of God is made up of people “from every nation, tribe, people, and language of the earth” (Revelation 7:9 NCV). God doesn’t have two distinct plans for Jews and Christians; rather, we are all born again into God’s family through our faith in Jesus. Obviously, this promise was of eternal importance.
   But what was probably foremost on Sarah’s mind, was the immediate fulfillment of God’s promise. If God was going to make Abraham into a “great nation,” that meant that Sarah was going to have a baby! God clarified that part of the promise in Genesis 17:15-16 (NLT) when he said, “Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah. And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants.”
   You’ve got to understand, Sarah was about sixty-five years old now and up until this point she had never been able to have children. The promise of a little baby gave Sarah such hope and joy. Abraham no doubt noticed a certain sparkle in her eye that wasn’t there before. This promise fanned the flame of faith within Sarah’s heart, but it wouldn’t be long before Sarah’s faith experienced some growing pains through an...
3. Enduring Patience
   Twenty-five years would pass between the time God first promised Sarah a son and the time she finally got pregnant. In the meantime, Sarah faced some serious struggles. She seemed to doubt whether or not God would keep his promise (for obvious reasons), so she took matters into her own hands.
   After twelve years of failed pregnancy tests, Sarah said to Abraham in Genesis 16:2 (MSG) “Look, the LORD has not allowed me to have children, so have sexual relations with my slave girl. If she has a child, maybe I can have my own family through her.” And Abraham did just what Sarah suggested.
   The slave girl’s name was Hagar. She and Abraham did have a son, but things didn’t go quite the way Sarah thought they would. She ended up being hateful and resentful of Hagar and her son Ishmael. She eventually demanded that Abraham send them both away—kicking them out of the house and onto the street. Though I’m sure Sarah saw things going differently in her mind, this lack of faith and patience on her part has led to thousands of years of fighting and feuding between the descendant of Ishmael (Arabs (Muslims)) and the descendant of Isaac (Israelis).
   Now, it may be hard for us to imagine recruiting a servant to sleep with your spouse, but that just demonstrates how badly Sarah wanted to be a mother! We can all identify with her there, can’t we? It might not be motherhood, but we’ve all wanted something at some point in life that we just couldn’t wait for—marriage, children, sex, a bigger house, a new car, a better job, whatever it may be. We may pray about it, but many times God’s answer is—Wait! There are all sorts of excuses not to wait though, aren’t there? After all, “God can’t steer a parked car, can he?” We even invent Bible verses to make us feel better about doing things our own way: “God helps those who help themselves” (1 Opinions 1:23) ... and we know that ain't right ... because the Bible teaches God helps those who "can't" help themselves.
   Some of the worst mistakes of my life were made because I was just too impatient to wait for a “green light” from God. What about you? Can you identify? Sarah wasn’t a bad person and what she wanted was good, but she hadn’t yet developed the kind of faith that was willing to wait for God’s timing. Whenever you’re facing a big decision (or even a little one), don’t rush things—pray about it, trust God, and don’t move until you’re certain that this God’s will!
   Finally, after thirteen more years without a baby carriage, Sarah realized faith’s...
4. Endless Power
   The Bible says in Genesis 21:1-2 (NLT) “The LORD kept his word and did for Sarah exactly what he had promised. She became pregnant, and she gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age.” I can only imagine the joy and excitement Sarah felt as she held Isaac in her arms for the first time. Tears of delight mingled with loving laughter. Sarah praised God, saying, “God has brought me laughter! All who hear about this shall rejoice with me” (Genesis 21:6 TLB). You can almost see the weight being lifted from Sarah’s heart—all those years of anger and bitterness melting away as she gazes at the tiny little hand wrapped around her forefinger. Finally, she can laugh again. Finally, she can celebrate new life. Finally, she understands the love and goodness of God.
   Faith is powerful. “Faith sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, touches the intangible, and accomplishes the impossible.” But faith is only as good as the one in whom it is placed. Faith is only powerful if it’s vested in an all-powerful God.
   Paul reminds us that “With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20 NCV), and “I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NCV).
   Jesus said plainly, “All things are possible for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23 NCV), and “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 NKJV). In other words, if something is God’s will for your life and you pursue it with a heart of faith, then nothing in heaven or hell can prevent it!
   • Human wisdom says, I’m not able—God says, I am able (2 Cor.9:8)
   • We think, It’s not worth it—God says, It will be worth it (Rom.8:28)
   • You fear, I can’t manage—God says, I will supply all your needs (Phil.4:19)
   • We say, I can’t go on—God says, My grace is sufficient (2 Cor.12:9)
   • We feel, I’m all alone—God says, I will never leave you (Heb.13:5)
   • We believe, It’s impossible—God says, All things are possible (Luke 18:27)
   You see … Sarah’s life and faith radiate this truth. Despite all her mistakes and misgivings, God still accomplished the impossible through her. He kept his promise to Sarah, and we can rest assured that he will always keep his promises to us as well.

Invitation: One of those promises is that he will accept everyone who comes to him in faith and he will make them one of his own children. If you want to do that this morning...

July 28, 2019     It Was By Faith Noah     (Part 4 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

   Opening passage — Hebrews 11:1-3;7 (NLT) Great Examples of Faith — “1Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.
   3By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
   7It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.”
   It was by faith that Noah heard God’s warnings about things he could not yet see. He obeyed God and built a large boat to save his family. By his faith, Noah showed that the world was wrong, and he became one of those who are made right with God through faith.
   It’s without a doubt one of the most beloved stories of the Bible. Children play with their little plastic animals and toy ark, as their Sunday School teacher tells them how the animals marched two by two into the pitch-covered vessel. Then the rains came. We picture Noah and his family huddled in the tiny cramped space of the ark, surrounded by elephants, walruses, and a couple of giraffes whose long necks jut out through the windows of the rickety boat.
   But the story of Noah and the ark is more than just a children’s story. It’s a true story about God’s rage and righteousness, about salvation and damnation, and—perhaps most of all—it’s a story of one man’s faith in God. The Bible says in Genesis 6:5-8 “5The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. 6So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. 7And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” 8But Noah found favor with the Lord.”
   The Message translation says in vs. 8, “Noah was different. God liked what he saw in Noah.” So, in a world of corruption and chaos, what made Noah so different? Why did he find favor in God’s eyes? The answer is this … his faith.
   By taking another look at a familiar story, let’s try to discover how Noah’s faith unveils itself through his life and love for God. The first thing we see is that Noah...
   1. Believed ... he believed God. I don’t mean that Noah merely believed in God, which of course he did. But Noah’s faith went beyond intellectual assent; he really believed that God meant what he said … that he could and would destroy the entire world with a catastrophic global flood. And he believed God in spite of the influence of the world around him.
   Try to put yourself in Noah’s shoes. He lived in a world that by God’s estimation in Genesis 6:5 was “consistently and totally evil” The Message translation says in vs. 11-12 “As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core.”
   Now, at first blush we might think that this was a description of modern America … but trust me … Noah had it worst. Sure, we have our share of corrupt politicians, entertainers and supposed role models who allow their fame and popularity to corrupt their morals and integrity. But thank God that the Good News of Jesus has spread throughout this entire planet. Though we’re still surrounded by violence, crime, and corruption, there are also millions, if not billions, of followers of Jesus scattered throughout the world acting as salt and light, preserving this world in the name of Jesus.
   BUT …in Noah’s day, he and his family alone had any sort of relationship with God. Imagine if you and your family were the only people in church today. I don’t mean the only people in your church, but the only people in any church anywhere in the world!
   It wasn’t easy for Noah to go against the grain; to make the decision to believe God when everyone else in the whole world had turned their backs on him. And to make matters worse, it’s likely that the majority of Noah’s neighbors thought he was completely off his rocker.
   Earlier, in Genesis 2 (5-7), the Bible says, “The Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land…and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground.” It’s difficult to discern whether the lack of rain was a temporary or permanent situation, but a lot of credible scholars believe that rain had not fallen on the earth from the time of creation up until the time of the flood, rather underground springs provided an uninterrupted cycle of water for plants and crops.
   Building a massive boat so far from any large bodies of water is one thing, but preparing for a flood when no one on earth had even heard of rain before, that looks just plain crazy. Noah’s neighbors probably thought he was a little silly for talking to an invisible God all these years (maybe they thought Noah had an imaginary friend), but building an ark and predicting a flood most likely made them question his sanity.
   It took a great deal of faith and courage for Noah to follow God when everyone else in the world was going the opposite direction. Mike Delcavo knows all about that. In a NCAA Cross-Country Championship held in Riverside, California, 123 of the 128 runners missed a turn. One competitor, Mike Delcavo, turned the right way, staying on the 10,000-meter course, and began waving for fellow runners to follow him, but he was only able to convince four other runners to go with him. When asked what his competitors thought of his mid-race decision not to follow the crowd, Delcavo responded, “They thought it was funny that I went the right way!”
   It takes courage to go the right way, when everyone else is going the wrong way. It takes faith to keep going despite the laughter and jeers of the crowd, instead of just following them. But being right rarely means being popular and faith requires us to believe and trust in God … often in spite of popular opinion. As William Pen once said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it.”
   The second way that Noah unveiled his faith is … Noah
   2. Built ...just what God told him to build. The Bible says in Genesis 6:22 NCV, “Noah did everything that God commanded him.” And God was fairly specific with his commands. We read in Genesis 6:14-16 NLT where God told Noah, “Build a large boat from cypress wood and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.”
   Today, we’re so familiar with this story that sometimes we may miss the magnitude of this project. Shaped like a barge, Noah’s ark was taller than a four-story building and as long and wide as 1 ½ foot-ball fields. Although China and a few other cultures may have built ships of equal size as early as the 1400s, no other boat constructed exceeded the size of Noah’s ark until the late 1800's.
   Now, countless critics of the Bible have tried to dismiss the story of Noah’s ark and the flood as simply a small local flood that may have devastated a confined area of civilization. That sort of historical revisionism, however, is in direct opposition to God’s Word which clearly says that God intended to “destroy every living thing … all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky,” and that the water “continued to rise until it was more than twenty feet above the mountains” (Genesis 6:7 NLT, 7:20 NCV).
   The world-wide nature of the Genesis flood is also attested to by more than 270 flood legends and historic records belonging to ancient cultures from all over the world. These ancient records or legends, containing slightly varied versions of the Biblical flood story, come from cultures as far away as ancient China, Hawaii, the Toltec Indians of Mexico, and the ancient Babylonian empire. So, there should be no doubt that this was, in fact, a global flood.
   Others have claimed that a boat, even as big as Noah’s ark, could never have carried two (and sometimes seven) of every kind of animal on the earth for over a year. Let me just point out two quick facts.
   First, the amount of space in Noah’s ark was 1,396,000 cubic feet. That’s equivalent to 533 railroad box cars. Next time you get stopped at a railroad crossing, try counting the stock cars as they pass by and see how long it takes to get to five hundred.
   Secondly, I don’t believe the Bible uses the word “kind” in quite the same way as the modern scientific community does. For instance, Noah didn’t have to bring every single breed of dog with him on the ark; he only had to bring two dogs. He didn’t have to bring a black bear, brown bear, grizzly bear and polar bear; he just had to bring two bears. All of the variations within each kind that we see today are the result of cross-breeding and micro-evolution. So, Noah surely had plenty of room aboard his massive boat for all the animals, his own family, and supplies to last them throughout the year.
   The dimensions that God provided for Noah are also important. There were almost certainly very rough waters and great tidal waves while Noah and his family were in the ark. God’s design provided stability in these unstable conditions. In a test conducted several years ago in Korea, the design of Noah’s ark consistently performed among the best possible designs, which is why so many barges and boats still use these basic dimensions. If Noah had ignored God’s instruction and built the ark to different specifications, they would have likely wound up on the bottom of the ocean.
   The main point is this … because Noah had faith, he obeyed God in every detail. The author of Hebrews emphasizes the fact that “Noah obeyed ... and Noah built.”
   Roger Staubach, who led the Dallas Cowboys to victory in the 1971 Superbowl, once admitted that his position as a quarterback who didn’t call his own signals was a source of trial for him. His coach, Coach Landry, sent in every single play from the sideline. He told Roger when to pass, when to run and only in emergency situations could he change the play (and he had better be right if he did!). Even though Roger considered coach Landry to have a “genius mind” when it came to football strategy, pride said that he should be able to run his own team. Roger later said, “I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory.”
   Noah, likewise, may have been tempted to call his own plays. He probably struggled, as we all do, with doing things his own way and making his own decisions. But real faith means being willing to trust and obey—to do things God’s way no matter what. We may not understand exactly why God wants us to be baptized or give a tithe from our income—but if God said it, so let’s do it. We may not always feel like loving our neighbor or being kindhearted to one another—but if God said it, so we obey. Obedience is just a part of having faith. And when we learn to believe and build … when we learn to believe and obey as Noah did, then we, like Noah, will be ...
   3. Blessed ... by God. When it was all over—the rain stopped, the waters had receded and the ark ran aground—the Bible says in Genesis 9:1 NCV, “Then God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Have many children; grow in number and fill the earth,’” Following this blessing, God placed his rainbow in the sky as a sign of his new covenant with humanity.
   The primary substance of Noah’s blessing was that he would be blessed with many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren … enough to repopulate the entire earth. Although many young parents today see their children as a curse, the Bible always depicts children as a blessing from the Lord … a sign of his divine favor. It breaks my heart to think about all the babies throughout the world who have been made to taste death before they were even allowed to draw a breath. In America alone, there are nearly two million abortions every single year. Yet, a young Jewish or Hebrew couple acquainted with God would never have even considered aborting a baby. To them, children were a sign of God’s love and blessing on their lives.
   In any case, Noah’s experience after the flood brings to the surface a Biblical principle … that is, belief coupled with obedience leads to blessing.
   Now, I’m not saying that if you have enough faith, or if you speak and think words of faith, that you’ll receive everything you ever wanted in life. That’s not the way it works. There is, however, a movement spreading through many Christian circles which teaches exactly that … by speaking words of faith you can have or achieve anything you want.
   In the 1980 book, We Let Our Son Die, Larry Parker and his wife relate the tragic story of how they were influenced by one of America’s many “word of faith” teachers to withhold insulin from their diabetic son. The Parker’s continually spoke words of positive “faith” over their son, Wesley, believing that God would heal him. Unsurprisingly, however, Wesley slipped into a diabetic coma and eventually died. Determined not to lose faith, the Parker’s even held a resurrection service rather than a funeral service for their son and refused to acknowledge his death for several months. They were eventually tried and convicted of both manslaughter and child abuse.
   Confession does not lead to possession. And faith, no matter how strong it is, does not guarantee our prosperity or healing. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will!” Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln had it completely backwards, as do many “word of faith” teachers today. Genuine faith recognizes that God alone is Sovereign and although he certainly can bless us in the ways that we want, that doesn’t necessarily mean he will. In other words, genuine faith is faith in God not faith in faith. As we’ll later see, many of the men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11 were penniless, persecuted, prisoners who experienced painful deaths. Their lives were not characterized by prosperity, yet they were shining examples of faith.
   So, what does it mean then that belief and obedience leads to God’s blessing? It means simply that when we put our faith in him, God will always work things out in the end. In fact, that’s a promise! The Bible says in Romans 8:28 NLT “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” God may not always bless us in the way that we want, but he promises to work everything out for our own good.
   The greatest blessing of all is, of course, our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The events related to Noah’s ark and the flood are a beautiful picture of how God provided salvation in the face of certain destruction. The Bible even says in 1 Peter 3:20-21 MSG “You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience.”
   It’s not that we, or Noah and his family, were actually saved by the water, but that the water separates those who are saved from those who aren’t. God promised to never again destroy the world with a global flood, so he won’t be commanding anymore arks to be built. Instead, he sent his Son to be our Savior. As I already mentioned in last week’s lesson, while God will never again destroy the world with a flood of water, he is planning on destroying it with a flood of fire, but those who are in Jesus Christ will be saved — he is our Ark. And through him, we stand to inherit the blessing of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.

July 21,2019     It Was By Faith Enoch     (Part 3 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

   Opening passage - Genesis 5:18-24 (NLT) — 18When Jared was 162 years old, he became the father of Enoch. 19After the birth of Enoch, Jared lived another 800 years, and he had other sons and daughters. 20Jared lived 962 years, and then he died.
   21When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah.22After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters.23Enoch lived 365 years, 24walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.
   Hebrews 11:5-6 (NLT) — 5It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying … “he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. 6And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying. Hebrews 11:5 says “he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God.
   In the early chapters of Genesis, especially chapter five, the Holy Spirit chronicles a record of genealogies — a family tree from Adam down to Noah. For many of these people, all we know of them is that they lived, had children, and died.
   Men like Kenan, Methuselah, and Lamech may not seem important in the unfolding drama of human history, but these people are actually living links in the long lineage that reaches from the creation of Adam all the way to the birth of Jesus Christ. God’s promise to send the Savoir depended upon the faith of many ordinary people who—to us—are just unfamiliar, often unpronounceable names in a withered old family tree.
   One of those unfamiliar names that we come across is that of a man called Enoch. He is mentioned less than a handful of times throughout the entire Bible, and yet he was blessed with one of the most incredible distinctions ever given to man — he never faced a physical death. Here in vs. 5 we’re told that Enoch was “pleasing to God;” so pleasing that God actually spared him the experience of death and personally carried him into heaven. How amazing is that!? Can you imagine that … to be “personally” escorted into eternity by the Lord God Almighty Himself?
   We’re also told that it was because of his faith that God took him into heaven prematurely. So, let’s go back to Genesis and try to put the brief mention of his life in context.
   When Jared was 162 years old, he had a son named Enoch. After Enoch was born, Jared lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. So, Jared lived a total of 962 years, and then he died. When Enoch was 65 years old, he had a son named Methuselah. After Methuselah was born, Enoch walked with God 300 years more and had other sons and daughters. So, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked with God; one day Enoch could not be found, because God took him. (Genesis 5:18-24NCV).
   Although we know very little about him, Enoch’s faith is revealed to us in a variety of ways in this brief account of his life.
   First, Enoch’s faith is demonstrated through his...
   1. Attitude
   Have you ever noticed how the simple phrase, “Enoch walked with God,” is repeated twice in Genesis?
   Once upon a time, as the high-school prom was approaching, one young man asked his daddy if he could borrow his dad’s 1963 Corvette—for him and his date. His dad said, “I’ll tell you what, if you can improve one letter grade in each of your classes and if you’ll get your hair cut, I’ll let you take the car.” Well, a few weeks went by and the boy managed to pull up all of his grades. He went back to his daddy and showed him his progress, then asked if he could have the keys. The dad said, “I’m sorry son, but you didn’t get your hair cut.” Annoyed, the boy grumbled, “Come on Dad, even Jesus had long hair!” The dad smiled as he said, “Yep, and Jesus walked everywhere he went too.”
   Even though Enoch lived in a day and age long before automobiles and airplanes—even before chariots or the horse and buggy—I don’t think that was the kind of walking the Holy Spirit had in mind here. The term walk, as it’s used in the Bible, is synonymous with a person’s way of life. In other words, how you walk is how you live your life. Enoch lived his life in a way that was pleasing to God.
   It’s interesting that the phrasing of this verse could imply that it wasn’t until the birth of Enoch’s son Methuselah that he began walking with God. Having a baby changes things, doesn’t it? Do you remember your life before children? You could do pretty much whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, wherever you wanted. You could focus on your career or your education. Something about having children teaches us to look outside ourselves. Suddenly, it’s not all about me anymore! We begin to live our lives for other people—especially our children. That’s what Enoch did. He began to live his life in a way that made God smile. So, what did he do? How did he walk that made him so special?
   Well, I think we find a clue in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. He writes in Ephesians 4:1-3, “I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Essentially, Paul is saying that if we want to lead a life worthy of someone whose been chosen by God, then we need to have an attitude of humility and gentleness, of patience, acceptance and love.
   Humility is an attitude of the heart that recognizes our own faults and failing. It’s realizing that I’m not perfect, I don’t have it all together and I don’t have all the answers. It’s acknowledging that other people—friends, family, even telemarketers with thick foreign accents—are just as important as I am and have equally valid thoughts and feelings. Gentleness is the action associated with that kind of attitude. When we have a humble heart we won’t be verbally or physically abusive, rather we’ll treat people with gentleness, kindness and respect.
   Once again, patience is an attitude which we demonstrate as we “bear with one another in love” (Colossians 3:13 & Ephesians 4.2) Sometimes it’s easy to be irritated or frustrated with other people — it seems especially the people we care about the most—but God has called us to forgive one another (no matter what) and to accept each other just as God has accepted us.
   The prophet Micah put it this way when he wrote in ch 6 vs 8: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” And that’s just what Enoch did. He walked in humility, in gentleness, in love and mercy. And he walked with God.
   Furthermore, in addition to his attitude, Enoch’s faith is also revealed through his...
   2. Association
   While Enoch’s walk—that is, his attitude—was important, even more significant was Enoch’s association. The second half of that simple little sentence should be emphasized: “Enoch walked with God.” Genesis 5:24 in the Living Bible translation says he spent his life “in fellowship with God…and in constant touch with God.”. The focus of Enoch’s faith was his deep and abiding relationship with God.
   It’s always been amazing to me that God could have chosen to define his relationship with us in any terms he determined, yet he chose to describe himself, first and foremost, as our Father—and that word is indicative of the kind of relationship that God wants with you and me. Now, depending on the kind of relationship you have with your natural or biological father, that may sound more or less attractive.
   A pastor shares this story … “Personally, I have a less-than-ideal relationship with my father. We live in different parts of the country, we e-mail occasionally, but I haven’t actually seen him in years. I don’t have an intimate, abiding relationship with him. But I do with my son. Granted he’s only a toddler, but I love him and his sister more than words can convey. I can’t help but smile when he smiles. The sound of his laughter is infectious. Everyday when I come home, Ashley (my wife) tells me some funny or sweet story of something he said or did and it breaks my heart just little that I missed it. When he grows up and starts his own life, I still want to be a part of it. I want him to keep “in constant touch.” I want him to come to me for advice or just to talk.”
   That’s the kind of relationship that God wants with you and me. Max Lucado, who blesses me with his writing time and again, says, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart…Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.”
   Concerning our relationship with God, the Bible says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now, in Romans 8 (vs 15NLT) we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’” The word Abba, in that sentence, is the Aramaic equivalent of the word Daddy.
   When we receive the Holy Spirit, God brings us into his own family and allows us to call him, not just our Father, but our Daddy. I don’t know what it’s like in your house, but in the Dooley household the word daddy is a treasured word. It’s a word of love and respect. I’m not looking forward to the day when my kids are too old to call me daddy. It’s a word that conveys intimacy and unconditional love.
   When was the last time you thought of God as your Daddy in heaven? Do you live your life in continual fellowship with him? Do you keep in constant touch with him? Maybe it’s time you gave him a call. Open your heart; receive his love, his mercy, his grace. And don’t be afraid to call him Daddy!
   Finally, beyond his attitude and association with God, Enoch’s faith is revealed via his...
   3. Ascension
   Can you imagine how difficult it must have been to walk with God during those years prior to the Flood, when gross immorality and godlessness was wall to wall, it was everywhere you turned and only a small remnant of people were faithful to God? And Enoch was living in the shadow of God’s judgment. Did he know of the impending flood? Absolutely. In fact, the Bible says in Jude 1:15 that Enoch tried to warn his generation, saying, “Look, the Lord is coming…to judge every person. He is coming to punish all who are against God for all the evil they have done against him.”
   Does that mean that God took Enoch into heaven in order to spare him from the judgment to come? Well, that’s definitely possible. Either way, one thing the Bible makes abundantly clear in Hebrews 11:5 is that “It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying.”
   Enoch’s ascension, or rapture if you would, is a picture … a foreshadowing … of the rapture of the church before God’s final judgment at the end of time. You see, Christians today aren’t all that different from Enoch. Our world today is saturated in depravity, dishonesty and decadence and we too are living in the shadow of God’s coming judgment.
   We’re going to be talking about Noah and the flood next week. Did y’all know the Bible tells us there’s another flood coming … that there will be a second flood? Peter tells us that God will someday flood the earth once again … not with water but with fire … and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 Paul describes the rapture of God’s people prior to that flood: “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.”
   In the song we just sang by Jim Hill says …
What a day that will be
When my Jesus I shall see
When I look upon His face
the One who saved me by His grace
   Despite the particular brand of pleasantry made popular by Tim Lahey’s Left Behind novels, the actual Second Coming will not be a secret coming followed by seven years of tribulation on earth. When Jesus comes again to rapture his followers, it will be with a loud trumpet call, the voice of God will thunder all across the skies, and the Lord himself will be standing there in the eastern sky to meet His children in the air. The dead that were faithful to Him will rise first and then all of those who are still alive and have put their faith and trust in Jesus will be gathered together with Him in the clouds.
   Paul’s word-picture here calls to mind the practices of ancient cities …especially Rome. When the Roman forces returned from battle, the General and his men would come riding on white horses as a sign to the people of Rome that they were victorious. So, when those inside the city saw the white horses, all the people would run out into the fields to greet the victorious soldiers. Then they would all come back to the city together in one long victory parade.
   The Bible also tells us that after we have been “caught up” in the clouds with Jesus, God will cleanse the earth with fire … as Peter writes 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare,” Once the earth has been wiped clean of every living thing, we will all return with Jesus to the new heaven and the new earth “a world filled with God’s righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). But, just as with the flood, it will only be those who have faith in God who are taken and allowed to inhabit the new world. Revelation 21:8 tells us the rest will be “left behind” to experience the “the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
   In the meantime, we can all find an example to follow in Enoch. He had faith in God … walked with God … and he was taken up to be with God. Enoch’s life and faith demonstrate that it is possible to be faithful to God, even in the midst of a godless, good-for-nothing society.
   In the words of Warren Wiersbe, “No matter how dark the day or how bad the news, we have the promise of our Lord’s return to encourage us and motivate us to be godly. One day sin will be judged and God’s people will be rewarded for their faithfulness, so we have every reason to be encouraged as we walk with God.”
   Invitation: Are you struggling in your walk with God this morning? Is your relationship with him not what it should be? Or are you just not sure whether you’ll be among those “caught up” in the clouds … or left behind on earth to deal with the fire and brimstone? We’re here to help...

July 14, 2019     It Was By Faith Abel     (Part 2 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

   Opening passage – Genesis 4:1-5 (NLT) – Cain and Abel – 1Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” 2Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.
   When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. 3When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
   Hebrews 11:4 (NLT) – 4It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
   We’re continuing our series this morning on “Heroes of Faith.” Last week’s lesson asked the question “What Is Faith?” the dictionary describes faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something … strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” For me, the main take away from last Sunday’s lesson was found in Hebrews 11:6 – “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” … because those that come to God must first of all believe that there is indeed a God and then since we believe that He actually does exist … then we I guess we believe that He rewards those that diligently seek Him. We also learned last week in Romans 12:3 that we have been dealt “THE” measure of faith. We have the same faith that Jesus had when He walked on this earth … we just gotta learn how to use it.
   My prayer throughout this series is that we can learn exactly what faith is and learn how to apply it to our everyday lives.
   There was a poster of Homer Simpson choking his son Bart, while shouting, “As far as anyone knows we’re a nice normal family.” Family dysfunction seems to be pretty much the standard these days. I mean, who knows what normal is anyway? But our dysfunctional families aren’t anything new. In fact, the first family in creation was about as dysfunctional as you can get.
   It was by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. God said he was pleased with the gifts Abel offered and called Abel a good man because of his faith. Abel died, but through his faith he is still speaking.
   Adam and Eve had been banished from the Garden of Eden because they managed to break the only rule God gave them. Denied access to the life of luxury and ease they once enjoyed, they were now forced to work the land and carve out a life for themselves by the sweat of their own brows. And it wasn’t long after their eviction from Paradise that they decided to start a family. The Bible tells us that Eve “became pregnant and gave birth to Cain... After that, Eve gave birth to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel took care of flocks, and Cain became a farmer” (Genesis 4:1-2).
   Following God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply,” Adam and Eve, of course, had many other children. In fact, over their nine-hundred-plus years of marriage, they probably had enough children to forge a small army. Yet, these are the only two children of whom any details are given. Actually, until the birth of Seth, these are the only two of Adam and Eve’s children mentioned at all.
   Now, life must have been very difficult for this first family—building a home in the wilderness away from the safety and protection of the garden; it’s almost reminiscent of those early American families that moved out west in their stage coaches and wagon trains. And it was during this embryonic stage of humanity that faith makes its first appearance. Here’s the tale as told by God himself:
   The Bible tells us that when it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
   In Genesis 4:6-12 we read – 6“Why are you so angry?” the LORD asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
   8One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
   9Afterward the LORD asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?”
   “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
   10But the LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
   Despite the failures of his father and the apparent bitterness of his brother, Abel was able to become a man of great faith and enjoyed an authentic connection with God. Abel’s faith affected his life in astonishing ways—both good and bad. But first, Abel’s faith in God led him to...
   1. Reverence
   Hebrews 11:4 says, “It was by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.” People have argued over why God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Perhaps it was because God had specifically asked for animal sacrifices—which he received from Abel but was only offered a fruit and vegetable platter from Cain. It may have been that Abel brought “the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock,” while Cain may have only brought the leftovers. While both of these are possible, neither of them seems very probable. I don’t think either answer quite touches on the real issue.
   I think reading Hebrews 11:4, the Message translation got it right which says, “By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference.” You see … the difference was faith. Cain may have been going through the right motions, but not with the right motive.
   Warren Wiersbe puts it this way: “Cain wasn’t rejected because of his offering, but his offering was rejected because of Cain: his heart wasn’t right with God.” Understand this today church … God isn’t interested in routines and rituals, He wants relationships! Abel’s faith in God developed into a genuine love and reverence for God which, in turn, translated into an acceptable sacrifice of heartfelt worship.
   Cain and Abel had apparently learned the importance and practice of worship from their parents, Adam and Eve. Yet, as far as Cain was concerned, it was just lip service. As Jesus once said in Matthew 15:8, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” Genuine, true worship is matter of the heart.
   In John 4:23-24 Jesus later defined worship in these terms: “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
   According to Jesus, true worship can be recognized by two characteristics—spirit and truth. I’ve sometimes heard this explained as worshiping with the right attitude (spirit) and with the right actions, or according to the “biblical pattern” (truth). But that isn’t quite what Jesus had in mind. The term spirit refers to the human spirit—the invisible, intangible part of our being that relates to God as he really is, since God himself is a spiritual being. And the only way that we can do that is through the power and ability of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus described as “a fresh, bubbling spring” that gives “eternal life” (John 4:14). And to worship in truth, means truthfully or authentically.
   Cain’s worship of God was rejected because it wasn’t in faith or authenticity. Abel, on the other hand, offered worship that came from the heart and was, therefore, accepted by God.
   Today, our worship doesn’t involve altars and animal sacrifices, but true faith still leads to a heart of reverence and worship toward God. We have to understand that worship is more than just sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, singing a few songs and saying a prayer — true worship is a lifestyle.
   The apostle Paul said in Romans 12:1, “And 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.”
   In contrast to the dead animal sacrifice that Abel offered, God wants us to put ourselves … not some kind of substitute, up on that altar ... to give our whole lives … to give Him EVERYTHING to him as a sacrifice and an offering. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing as long as we are praising and magnifying Him as we do it.
   Do you know what it means to magnify something? A pastor shared this story … “When I was a kid, my dad bought my mom a colossal crimson-colored telescope for her birthday one year. I remember taking it out on the back porch; my dad 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 cavernous craters and majestic mountains.”
   The same thing happens when we magnify and worship, God. He becomes bigger in our lives as we stand in awe of his indescribable beauty, his inexpressible splendor and incomprehensible wonder. When we learn to experience and magnify God in that way, then we’ll know the blessings of bona fide worship.
   In addition to reverence Abel’s faith also led him to...
   2. Righteousness
   We read in Genesis 4:4 “The LORD accepted Abel and his gift.” The writer of Hebrews says in Chapter 11, vs.4, “Through his faith he won God’s approval as a righteous man, because God himself approved of his gifts.”
   What does it mean to be righteous? Well, look up the word righteous in any thesaurus and you’ll find words like virtuous, honest, moral, upright, good, honorable and even blameless. Now, if we believe that Abel actually was all of those things, we might mistake him for someone who could walk on water. While I’m sure Abel was a very moral, honest, God-loving person, it’s important to pay close attention to the (ESV) wording of this verse: “he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”
   You see, it’s not that Abel was righteous by virtue of his own goodness or morality, but it was because God commended, or God declared him as righteous. Because of his faith in God, the Lord pronounced him righteous. True Biblical faith will always lead to righteousness. But righteousness shouldn’t be thought of as a way of life, rather it’s a state of being, a status or condition. In other words, being righteous means being right with God — being accepted by God.
   Romans 1:17 says, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” The New Century translation phrases it this way: “The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself—that it begins and ends with faith.”
   What’s another name for “Good News?” The “New Testament!!” How does someone know what the “Good News” is if they don’t know what the “New Testament” says? Now don’t get me wrong … there is nothing wrong with teaching and learning the things in the Old Testament … but we, as Christians, live by, and should be examples of what is taught and learned in the New Testament.
   First of all, righteousness is an aspect of God’s nature and God extends his righteousness to us, making us right with him, by virtue of our faith. But faith in what?
   It begins with faith in the fact that Jesus took our sins upon himself, suffering the punishment we rightfully deserved and, in exchange, making us righteous before God. But it continues as our faith—or trust—in God deepens into a richer, more mature faith. When it comes to our relationship and right standing with God, in other words, the bottom line is always faith—from beginning to end.
   Many of us have a hard time believing that. We think there should be more to it than that. Many of us see our acceptance by God as performance based, so we do our best to earn God’s approval. I used to think like that. I thought: If I read my Bible … if I teach this class … if I pay my tithe … if I go to the right church … if I believe the right things about the right doctrines … then God will accept me. All of those may be good things, but they don’t mean anything if we think that our righteousness somehow impresses God. It doesn’t. And more often than not, that kind of attitude just leads to legalism and self-righteousness. You see, God doesn’t care what WE do to try to be accepted. The only thing God cares about is what’s already been done on the cross and how we personally relate to that.
   The Bible assures us that we are not as righteous as we think we are. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.”
   Let me stop here for a minute …  By a show of hands, how many of you don’t know what the Biblical definition of “filthy rags” means? (we had 51 people in attendance and over 75% raised their hand). The politest way I can describe “filthy rags” in today’s terms would be “maxi-pads.” I mean, what do you do with them? You ladies buy them … use them … and throw them away, right? That’s the same as our righteous works. When we do “good deeds” in private (in secret) for His honor and glory … God rewards us for our true, genuine heart motives. But, when we “display” our righteous deeds … when we do our good deeds for man to see … when we do our good deeds so that WE can get an atta-boy and a pat on our back … our good and righteous deeds are nothing more than a used maxi-pad. Nasty and useless to be thrown away.
   The fact of the matter is … the only way to righteousness is through faith in a righteous God and only then does right-living make any difference. Sadly, however, Abel’s faith also led to...
   3. Resentment
   Cain had apparently grown jealous and bitter toward his younger brother Abel. And so, in Genesis 4:8 the Bible says, “While they were out in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” There has been a lot of speculation as to why Cain would have enough animosity toward his brother that he’d be willing to murder him. Some people suggest that Cain was somewhat of a disappointment to his mother (that’s probably an understatement). I mean, God did tell her that she would bear a son who would lift the curse from humanity and crush the head of Satan. She may have thought that Cain was that child … he obviously wasn’t.
   Despite whatever his relationship with his mother may have been, his relationship with his brother, Abel, was apparently one of jealousy and resentment. He hated the fact that Abel was accepted by God, yet he wasn’t. I’m sure that this wasn’t just a one-time occurrence either. Week after week, they probably brought their offerings to God. Abel brought his out of love and reverence, while Cain brought his perhaps out of duty and routine. Cain’s heart was not right with God … he lacked saving faith … and so he grew bitter and angry with his brother who was genuinely seeking God. His bitterness turned to rage and his rage led to murder.
   I’d love to say that society has evolved and learned how to resolve our differences without bloodshed, but the reality is …things haven’t changed much over the millennia. During the infancy of the church, apostate Jews aligned themselves with Romans officials in an attempt to completely wipe out the Jesus movement. Under the authority of emperors like Nero and Domitian, Christians were hunted, killed by the sword, thrown to the lions, crucified, and even burned alive to give light to Roman revelries. Unfortunately, modern martyrdom is no less frequent. It’s estimated that more people have been murdered for their faith in Christ in the past fifty years than in the first three hundred years of church history.
   In 1999, an angry mob of Muslim extremists attacked a Bible camp at the Station Field Complex of Pattimura University in Indonesia. They terrorized the group of children and teenagers and dragged a fifteen-year-old boy, Roy Pontoh, before the mob. “Renounce your Jesus, or we’ll kill you,” they shouted.
   Terrified and trembling, Roy answered, “I am a soldier of Christ!” At that, one of the Islamic assailants swung a sword across Roy’s stomach, tearing into the Bible in Roy’s hands and ripping it to shreds. The next swing ended his life. The last word to fall from his lips was Jesus.
   As C.S. Lewis once said, “You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”
   Is your faith … is living out your faith, with a lost a dying world as a witness, a matter of life and death to you?? It is to them … why isn’t it to you? You say I believe in this or that … so my question to you this morning is “Why aren’t you living out what you believe?”
   Not all forms of persecution against people of faith end in death. In 2004, a pastor for a Pentecostal church in Kalam, Sweden was sentenced to one month in prison for a sermon he preached, citing Bible verses that condemn homosexuality. He was tried and convicted based on a new hate-crimes law that makes it illegal to say anything negative about homosexuality. Canada and Australia have already passed similar laws, and the United States may not be far behind.
   Even in America, resentment for those who love God has begun to slowly reveal itself. Just recently, a high school student was suspended for closing the morning announcements with the words, “God bless,” on a student-run daily news program broadcast on the closed-circuit television system at Dupo High School in Illinois. These, and other cases like them, are becoming more and more common across the United States, as faith in God is held in higher and higher contempt.
   But I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, who said in Revelation 2:10, “But be faithful, even if you have to die, and I will give you the crown of life.”. Abel is enjoying his reward even as you read these words and we too can look forward to a similar reward in heaven, if we continue to hold onto the faith God has given us. Even here on Earth Abel’s faith has ultimately led to his…
   5. Remembrance
   In Hebrews 11:4 the Bible reminds us that, “Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.” We don’t know whether or not Abel had any children, but he unarguably left a legacy. Today, millions of people have been affected by the faith of the first man to become a martyr for God. Children sitting in Sunday School classrooms all across the country are both inspired and terrified by the story of Cain and Abel. And he will be remembered for as long as the Bible is read.
   A pastor shared this: One of the projects I started recently is a personal study Bible for my children. I bought a wide-margined NIV Bible and, verse by verse, I’ve started filling it with my own notes and commentary. I intend to hand that Bible down to my kids so that, even after I’m gone, when they have questions and concerns about God’s Word, they can open that Bible up and just maybe find the answers they need—in their father’s own handwriting.
   What kind of legacy will you leave? How will you be remembered after you’re gone? Faith is meant to be passed down; it’s meant to be shared! My mother wasn’t a preacher’s wife, or a missionary, or an evangelist of any sort. But she shared her faith with me as I was growing up—and, because of that, every person I ever lead to Jesus or influence in anyway will be because of her legacy of faith.
   Back in the 70’s & 80’s when I first got into the Motorcycle Club world, someone took me under their wings and helped me and instructed me into the dos and don’ts of the club life. They taught me proper protocol. They taught me the who’s who and the ins and outs so I could survive in the club world.
   I wonder what it would be like if each of you took someone under your wing and taught them how to read the Bible, how to pray, taught them the purpose of tithings and the rewards for doing so, taught them the importance of going to church and being in fellowship with other true Christians. In a matter of weeks that would be 102 people in the Word, going to church, etc.
   Then, teach those people to teach others. And in 6 months there would be 204 people in the Word, going to church, etc. Then, teach those people to teach others. And in another 6 months there would be 408 people in the Word, going to church, etc. MAN!!!! What a legacy???? If we could do that it would leave a perpetual legacy … a legacy that would never end!!
   What will your legacy be? To who have you bequeathed your faith? Will you be remembered as someone who just slipped back into the crowd and disappeared or as someone who had enough faith to get into the wheelbarrow? Your faith is a gift from God … what you do with it is up to you!

July 7, 2019     What is Faith     (Part 1 of 9 Heroes of Faith Series)

   Opening passage - Hebrews 11:1-10 (NLT) – Great Examples of Faith – 1Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. 2Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.
   3By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.
   4It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.
   5It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying — “he disappeared, because God took him.” For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. 6And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
   7It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.
   8It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. 9And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith — for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
   Summary: This is the first sermon in a series from Hebrews 11 called The Heroes of Faith. The lesson today is one that deals with what faith is and what to expect from the series.
   You’ve probably heard it a hundred times. It’s one of the oldest preacher stories around. But it still provides a powerful illustration of the personal nature of faith.
   One day long ago, a world-renowned tightrope walker came to Niagara Falls and stretched his rope across the thunderous currents from the United States to Canada. Right before the eyes of the breathless crowds, he walked, ran, even tiptoed across the chasm. He did the same blindfold. Then, still blindfolded, he pushed a wheelbarrow across the falls.
   The crowd went wild when the aerialist shouted, “Who believes I can push a man in this wheelbarrow across these falls?”
   One rather enthusiastic gentleman in the front of the crowd waved his hand in the air, shouting, “I do! I believe!”
   “Then,” said the tightrope walker, “climb on in!” Needless to say, the once eager spectator dropped his hand and slinked back into the crowd. His intellectual assent didn’t quite translate into personal faith.
   Faith. What is faith really? Ask five different people and you’ll probably get five different answers. Critics claim that faith is simply believing in something you know in your heart isn’t true. Skeptics suggest that faith means believing in something despite the lack of any real evidence.
   The dictionary defines faith as “belief and trust in and loyalty to God; belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion; or firm belief in something for which there is no proof.” Quite honestly, none of these provide an absolutely adequate answer as to what faith really is.
   Still, in Hebrews 11:6a, the Bible says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” So, for that reason — because faith is so very essential to a personal relationship with God — it’s vital for us to have a good handle on the full meaning of Biblical faith. So, let me invite you to explore this all-important concept with me.
   1. First, the Bible tells us in vs. 6b that faith means believing in God. The writer of Hebrews says, “Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him.” Let me assure you, … faith in the existence of God is not blind faith! It’s not belief in something for which there is no proof. All throughout the world, and even the universe, we see the fingerprints of God …the evidence of his omniscient mind at work. Take for instance the planet on which we live.
   There is no other planet in the universe that is anything like the planet earth. Our planet is privileged; it’s designed specifically to support human life. For example, the earth revolves around the sun at a distance of 93 million miles. If it were as close as Venus or Mercury, then it would be several hundred degrees too hot to sustain life. Mars, our closest neighbor, has an atmosphere that is too thin, with no liquid water, and an average temperature of 40 degrees below zero. The other five planets are hundreds of degrees below zero. If the earth deviated from its course around the sun by even a fraction of an inch the development of life on earth would progress from simply improbable to statistically impossible.
   The rest of the universe is no less a witness to God’s existence. Take gravity for instance. Gravity is just one of many attractive forces in the cosmos and, in a universe governed purely by random chance, it would be reasonable to assume that the pull of gravity could have been more or less powerful than it actually is. “Imagine a ruler, or one of those old-fashioned linear radio dials, that goes all the way across the universe,” says physicist and author Robin Collins. “The entire dial represents the range of force strengths in nature, with gravity being the weakest force and the strong nuclear force that binds protons and neutron together...being the strongest, a whopping ten thousand billion billion-billion-billion times stronger than gravity.” To move that dial just one inch would increase the pull of gravity a billion-fold —causing complete solar systems and galaxies to collapse in on themselves. To increase the force of gravity just a thousand-fold would cause life on any planet to be completely impossible. Yet, gravity, like many other physical laws governing our universe, is precisely set so as to produce life—to make life possible. That kind of “fine-tuning” is not accidental. A universe so specifically suited for life, implies a heavenly hand at work! Such intelligent design necessitates an intelligent Designer.
   Sir Isaac Newton was a very famous mathematician and scientist who strongly believed in God. The story is told that he had an atheist friend who did not believe in God, so Sir Isaac devised a plan to try to convince his friend that God did exist and had created the Universe. One day, he went to a carpentry shop and asked the owner to make a model of our solar system. This model was to be made to scale, intricately painted, and designed to resemble, as closely as possible, the actual solar system.
   After several weeks, Isaac picked up the model, paid for it, and placed it in the center of a table in his house. Sometime later, his atheist friend came over for a visit. When the friend arrived at Dr. Newton’s house, the model of the solar system caught his eye, and he asked Sir Isaac if he could inspect the model more closely. As the atheist inspected that model, he was in awe of the fine craftsmanship and beauty of the pieces. After a while, the atheistic friend asked Isaac who had crafted this wonderful model. Sir Isaac promptly replied that no one had made the model; it just appeared on his table by accident. Confused, the friend repeated the question, and yet Newton stubbornly clung to his answer that the model had just appeared out of thin air. Finally, the friend became upset, and Isaac explained the purpose of his answer. If he could not convince his friend that this crude replica of the solar system had just happened by accident, how could the friend believe that the real solar system, with all it’s complexity and design, could have appeared just by time and chance.
   At a news conference following his 1998 shuttle flight, astronaut John Glenn said, “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”
   You see, as John Glenn realized, God’s fingerprints are everywhere … even within your body. When it comes right down to it, the most incredible creation in the universe is you … with your fantastic senses and strengths, your ingenious nervous system, and mental capabilities so great that you may never use them to the fullest. Your body is a structural masterpiece more amazing than anything in science fiction. The very idea that even one single cell from your body could form by random chance apart from divine influence would be equivalent to a tornado ripping through an airplane junk yard and manufacturing a Boeing 747 — it’s just ridiculous.
   Now, the Hebrew writer was right when he said in vs. 3 “By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command.” And with the confirmation of cosmology, physics, and microbiology available to us today, God has transformed what might have been a giant leap of faith into a very small step.
   2. Furthermore, faith means not only believing in God, but believing God. Again, in vs. 1 the Bible says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” In other words, faith means trusting God … trusting that he means what he says, that he keeps his promises, and that he is in control of every situation. This aspect of faith is a bit more difficult because we can’t see God … we can’t touch him or hear his voice in an audible way. But if you stop and think about it, we actually have faith in a lot of things that we can’t see or even understand.
   Just think about the amount of faith it takes to ride your motorcycle … be it Harley, Honda, Kawasaki … or any other motorcycle for that matter. When you’re riding down the road at fifty-five miles an hour and you come to a busy intersection, you have faith that applying the brake lever and the brake pedal will actually bring your seven – eight hundred pound motorcycle to a safe stop, right?? When you get on your motorcycle to go for a ride, you have faith that when you press that starter button the motor will start. Of course, you’ve learned by experience that under normal circumstances (at least, if you have a reliable motorcycle) you can trust it to start and stop when you want it to. Since we’re talking about this … how many of you are sitting there wondering if your ride will start or not? Never crossed your mind, did it?
   But our faith in God is not altogether any different because, you see, it’s by experience we learn that our faith in God is well placed.
   We live in a world of broken promises. We all make commitments and don’t follow through. Over half of all marriages today end in divorce. Young couples experience broken hearts and broken engagements. Our children are growing up in extended families.
   We make plans and promises that we never even intended to keep. Yet, the Bible records over eight thousand promises from God to his people; and he has kept every single one of them, and he will continue to do so. God will never call us up at the last minute to cancel on any of his promises … not one. He’ll never change his mind or find someone else to do it. God is faithful and deserving of our trust.
   One Sunday afternoon, Mark Twain and his friend William Howells stepped out of church just as a heavy downpour began. Not wanting to get rained on, they waited under the cover of the church’s porch. Howells remarked, “I wonder if it will stop?” And Mark Twain retorted, “Well, it always has before!” And he was right. Why? Because, long ago God made a promise and every time we see a rainbow in the sky it reminds us that God will always keep his promises.
   It’s easy, I think, once the sky has cleared and we see those prismatic colors appear in the blue above our heads to know that God is here and that he is still in control. The hard part is trusting in God in midst of life’s thunderstorms … when you can’t see the clear skies ahead.
   Have you heard about the Chinese bamboo tree? The Chinese plant the seed; they water and fertilize it, but the first year nothing happens. The second year they water and fertilize it, and still nothing happens. The third and fourth years they water and fertilize it, and nothing happens. Then the fifth year they water and fertilize it, and sometime during the course of the fifth year, in a period of approximately six weeks, the Chinese bamboo trees grow roughly ninety feet tall.
   The question is … did it grow ninety feet in six weeks or did it grow ninety feet in five years? I think the answer is that, in an indirect way, it grew ninety feet in five years, because if they had not applied the water and fertilizer each year there would have been no growth at all.
   You see, we all have these “Chinese bamboo tree” experiences. There are times in our lives when God’s plan is a mystery to us … when we’re in the valley and we can’t see what’s on the other side of the mountain. But it’s at those times that we’ve got to trust in God — we’ve got to have faith.
   The point is this … we may not know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.
   3. Finally, faith means acting on that which we believe. The hand-flailing fellow in the front of the crowd may have intellectually accepted that the tightrope-walker could push a man in a wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls, but he didn’t believe it enough to act on it. Genuine faith requires us to take action. While the Bible is clear that we are saved by faith and not by works, it is equally clear that real faith works!
   Listen to what James, the brother of Jesus, wrote about faith in the 2nd chapter, vss.14-17: “14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
   17So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”
   There’s a vast difference, in other words, between a said faith and a saving faith. Simply thinking or speaking words of faith isn’t enough. Genuine faith must always manifest itself through action.
   Remember the woman in Mark 5 who was suffering from chronic bleeding? The Bible says that she believed that if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ clothes, then she would be healed — and she was right. The moment she touched him, she was instantly healed from her condition. Jesus then told her in vs. 34, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”
   The word translated healed here is the same Greek word often translated saved. You see, it was her faith that saved her, but it took an act of faith — the act of actually touching the hem of Jesus’ coat — to ignite God’s healing power within her.
   We see the same thing in the Old Testament. Think back to the story of Naaman. Naaman was the commander of the armies of Aram and was a mighty warrior, but he suffered from leprosy. So, Naaman sought out the prophet Elisha who told him in 2 Kings 5:10 “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”
   At first, Naaman was disappointed. He expected Elisha to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of God, or something more elaborate. But, after some prompting from his servant, Naaman was determined to trust and obey. He did just as Elisha instructed, plunging beneath the rust colored river that was the life-blood of Jerusalem. Once. Twice. Three times. No change. Four times. Five times. Six. Still, no change. Not until the seventh time did any change take place. But the moment Naaman rose up from the water the seventh time, with a splash the disease was gone — not a trace of it left.
   So, were there some sort of magical properties in the water? Of course, not. There was nothing special about the Jordan River. Rather, Naaman was cured because he trusted in the words of God’s prophet. But it wasn’t until his faith expressed itself through action that he was rewarded by God.
   You see, the only thing that can defeat the faith God has given you … is you. Nothing in heaven, hell or on this earth can defeat or alter your faith … but you. The Bible says in Romans 12:3 “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith.” We have been given “THE” measure of faith … the same faith that Jesus had while he walked on the earth. But until you engage your faith, your faith is useless. Until you exercise your faith, your faith is dead. Until you put your faith into action, your faith is just potential. Again, it isn’t that we are saved by works, but that we are saved for works!
   The Bible says in Ephesians 2:8-10 that “8God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” In other words, faith works!”
   Because faith plays such a vital role in our relationships with God, it’s important that we each exercise and engage our faith to develop a deeper, stronger, more active faith in the God we love. Warren Wiersbe has aptly said, “The best way to grow in faith is to walk with the faithful.” So, for the next several weeks, we will explore — as the does the author of Hebrews — the life and works of some of the most inspiring men and women of faith. And perhaps, through their influence and example, we can each find the faith we need to climb into the wheelbarrow.
   When a prison guard from Philippi asked the apostle Paul, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul replied, “Believe (have faith) in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your whole family.” And that prison guard put his faith into action by being baptized that very night. (Acts 16:25-40)
   The answer to that question hasn’t changed. If you want to put your faith in Jesus Christ today, let us help...

June 30, 2019     God's Outrageous Grace - Conclusion

   Opening Passage — Genesis 20 — (NLT) — Abraham Deceives Abimelech — 1Abraham moved south to the Negev and lived for a while between Kadesh and Shur, and then he moved on to Gerar. While living there as a foreigner, 2Abraham introduced his wife, Sarah, by saying, “She is my sister.” So King Abimelech of Gerar sent for Sarah and had her brought to him at his palace.
   3But that night God came to Abimelech in a dream and told him, “You are a dead man, for that woman you have taken is already married!”
   4But Abimelech had not slept with her yet, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? 5Didn’t Abraham tell me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘Yes, he is my brother.’ I acted in complete innocence! My hands are clean.”
   6In the dream God responded, “Yes, I know you are innocent. That’s why I kept you from sinning against me, and why I did not let you touch her. 7Now return the woman to her husband, and he will pray for you, for he is a prophet. Then you will live. But if you don’t return her to him, you can be sure that you and all your people will die.”
   8Abimelech got up early the next morning and quickly called all his servants together. When he told them what had happened, his men were terrified. 9Then Abimelech called for Abraham. “What have you done to us?” he demanded. “What crime have I committed that deserves treatment like this, making me and my kingdom guilty of this great sin? No one should ever do what you have done! 10Whatever possessed you to do such a thing?”
   11Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’ 12And she really is my sister, for we both have the same father, but different mothers. And I married her. 13When God called me to leave my father’s home and to travel from place to place, I told her, ‘Do me a favor. Wherever we go, tell the people that I am your brother.’”
   14Then Abimelech took some of his sheep and goats, cattle, and male and female servants, and he presented them to Abraham. He also returned his wife, Sarah, to him. 15Then Abimelech said, “Look over my land and choose any place where you would like to live.” 16And he said to Sarah, “Look, I am giving your ‘brother’ 1,000 pieces of silver in the presence of all these witnesses. This is to compensate you for any wrong I may have done to you. This will settle any claim against me, and your reputation is cleared.”
   17Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his female servants, so they could have children. 18For the Lord had caused all the women to be infertile because of what happened with Abraham’s wife, Sarah.
   Children’s church is dismissed
   Summary: God shows outrageous grace to sinners who continually mess up. His blessings are so undeserved.
   At first glance Chapter 20 of Genesis seems about as useful as a snowmobile in the jungle. It’s pretty much an instant replay of what happened in Egypt in chapter 12. But this relatively short chapter is put here for a reason. Abraham and Sarah are going to have to deal with this repetitive sin before they can have the promised son, Isaac.
   I think it’s safe to say that until you and I are willing to really deal with sin in our lives, there will be little blessing for us, especially corporately as the church.
   Vernon McGee puts it this way, “How many Christians will not seriously judge sin in their lives, and as a result, there is little blessing or very few, if any, answered prayers in their lives? If those who are in leadership in our churches would confess their sins and deal with the sins in their lives, I frankly believe we could have revival. I don’t believe there will be any blessing for anyone or any church until sin is dealt with.”
   Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:28-32 says, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
   In 2 Corinthians13:5 he says that he rejoices that his harsh letter caused them godly grief because it led to repentance, and that he did it because he loves them so much. Again, he says “examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith, test yourselves. Or do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you – unless of course you fail to meet the test.”
   It never says in the Bible that it’s impossible to stop sinning. It’s us who say, “He forgives our sin, that’s why Jesus went to the cross, so I don’t really have to work that hard at being sin free”. Any of us ever had thoughts like that?
   You see, no matter how hard we try, it’s very difficult to stop sinning … in fact … WE can’t stop sinning!!! It’s in our nature to sin … we were born into sin. You don’t believe me? Put 2 two year olds on a pallet on the floor and give them one toy … and ya know it’s all your fault … you just started WWIII!!!
   But, as born-again Christian adults we have been given a new nature and the power of the Holy Spirit, the full Spirit of God … if we have truly been born again. And if we take that seriously we do have the power to be slaves of the Spirit … rather than slaves of the flesh.
   It’s not an issue of being able to stop sinning or not … it’s an issue of desire … it’s an issue as to whether we choose to follow the Spirit or we choose to follow the flesh.
   It’s very possible that those kind of blessings are being withheld from the church and from the lives of many believers because we’ll not seriously deal with our sin. We don’t have this godly grief about our sin.
   So, the 20th chapter of Genesis is really important in terms of Abraham and Sarah dealing with their sin and finally receiving their promise in the next chapter. Sin is deadly serious to God even though he has forgiven it if we have placed our lives in the hands of his son.
   So why don’t we begin by looking at:
   A. The Deception by Abraham in vs 1-2. We read that Abraham is on the move again. Not sure why. Maybe the memories of what happened in the valley were too difficult. Maybe he thought more problems were coming, I don’t know. But he journeys toward the land of the Philistines, and much like when he went to Egypt, this was a potentially dangerous land that did not know God. Of course that may be the very reason he’s going there without knowing it himself.
   And lo and behold it’s pretty much an instant replay of what happened in Egypt. Abe and Sarah have been doing this for about twenty years now and I guess though he confessed this sin after the Egypt episode, he has not really judged it and dealt with it. Admitting a sin is not the same as agreeing with God that it is indeed sin and repenting from it. True broken repentance begins with an attitude of hating our sin and loathing ourselves for having sinned, as God states in Ezekiel a couple of times.
   Otherwise we’re no different from unbelievers without the Holy Spirit, who have a natural conscience and admit their mistakes when they get caught. But don’t really repent.
   So instead of learning from his mistake in Egypt, he walks by fear instead of faith again, and this time it’s even worse because Sarah also lies. Fear of man and faith in God cannot dwell together in the same heart at the same time. Proverbs 29:25 tell us that “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”
   It’s interesting that both times heading to a pagan country, Abraham expects these unbelieving people to be wicked simply because they are unbelievers, but in both cases the Kings show more morality and integrity than Abraham. Morality is universal and there’s no doubt that there are many unbelievers that are better people than many believers. But we know that just being a good person doesn’t save anyone.
   Satan is the king of fear and lies. God is love, love casts out Satan and all fear. Jesus said among other things, that He is truth, there is no fear or untruth in God. So when we’re in fear, or we’re lying, we are not in Christ, the Holy Spirit is not leading … Satan is.
   Once again in response to Abraham’s lie we see in v3:
   B. The Revelation of God
   To Abimelech. Hey king, you’re a dead man (he really is, but not because of Sarah, but because he doesn’t believe in God). God scares Abimelech in a dream. God has to intervene once again for Abraham in a crisis to protect the promise, and of course the king wakes up and rightly objects to God’s indictment. Here’s:
   C. The Objection by Abimelech in vs 4-5
   “Wait a minute”, he says, “I haven’t done anything wrong here.” And interestingly he calls God “Lord”, and asks, “Lord you wouldn’t kill an innocent people would you?” He pleads his innocence. Does this mean he now believes?
   Then in vs 6-7 we see:
   D. The Protection Of God
   God acknowledges Abimelech’s plea but isn’t it interesting that God takes credit for keeping him from sinning with Sarah. The implication of course, is that it was not his own righteousness that kept the king from sleeping with Sarah, but God’s intervention. But again, even though Abimelech is a pagan, he demonstrates more righteousness than Abraham in this situation.
   So God tells him in another dream to return Sarah to Abe and for some reason throws in there that Abraham is a prophet, and it is through Abraham that the intercession, and removal of the death sentence will come. Of course through Jesus this is ultimately true.
   We see protection on two levels here. One is that God is protecting the king from sleeping with Sarah and possibly jeopardizing the promise of Isaac. But also by calling Abraham a prophet, and making him responsible for saving Abimelech, the king doesn’t kill Abraham for lying and bringing this upon his people.
   Believers, even the greatest of them do sin. Noah, Moses, David, Peter, Barnabus. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.” The Bible really tries to help us see ourselves in these people, and know that in spite of our failures, God is always in charge and just asks us to keep coming back to him.
   Now let’s see:
   II. The Response to this Failure
   Here we see that God doesn’t respond directly to Abraham but speaks through the king. But before that in vs 8 we hear about:
   A. The Tremulous Fear of Abimelech’s Servants
   The king and his people are terrified. God told Abimelech they would all die if he didn’t give Sarah back. These people are not even guilty of anything except not believing in God. I don’t know if this episode changes that, but I’m guessing it did.
   This let’s us see something many of us have experienced, that your sin doesn’t happen in a vacuum, even if you think it’s private, it affects those around you.
   Then Abimelech brings Abraham in vs 9-10 and we hear:
   B. His Frustration
   Abimelech is basically asking “why would you do this? I’m a fellow human being who has done nothing to you. You have judged me for who you think I am without even knowing me, shame on you.” What a great witness from Abraham again hey?
   How do you think it felt for Abraham to be chastised for his sin by this pagan unbeliever who is acting much more righteously than Abraham? How would it feel for you to have an unbeliever confront you for your sin? It’s one thing to hear it from another Christian or your pastor, but what about from people who you are supposed to be holier than.
   The more I think about this passage, the more disturbing it is. This is a good reflection of how Christians today and through history, treat those outside the church. Judge first, get to know them later … if at all. They couldn’t possibly be as good as we are, we need to protect ourselves from “those people” even though we’re only going by our preconceived judgment of who they are.
   That’s the “holier than thou” attitude that offends others and keeps unbelievers out of our churches. Why should we fear these people that God wants us to love? Do we have that little faith in God, that if we follow His will, he will abandon us? What’s the worse thing they can do, cause us to sin, kill us? Jesus said don’t fear those who can kill the body, fear him who can destroy both body and soul.
   Now let’s look at:
   C. The Motivation of Abraham
   First of all, vs 11 tells us he was intimidated.
   1) Intimidation … Abraham replied, “I thought, ‘This is a godless place. They will want my wife and will kill me to get her.’ Again he feared unknown people before giving them a chance or having any evidence to support his fear.
   Then he moves to:
   2) Rationalization in vs12
   “Well besides she really is my sister, the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife.” Can you hear the scrambling as he’s making up excuses as he is confronted?
   Half truths or technical truths meant to deceive are the most dangerous of lies because they contain enough truth to make them believable and therefore more deceptive.
   F.B Meyer rightly said, “A lie consists in the motive just as much as in the actual words.”
   Christians do lie and they do sin, and this doesn’t necessarily affect their position in salvation or annul their faith, but it sure can make our witness more harmful than helpful in bringing people to the Lord.
   So Abraham is going to be OK eternally, but its Abimelech and his people who are under the sentence of death even though they have acted well.
   And you know what? Abraham may be responsible for this death just as Scripture says we will be held responsible for the death of those around us … if our witness causes them to flee from Christ instead of to Christ.
   This is actually a good passage to use if an unbeliever calls Christians hypocrites. Of course we sin, but we need to consider our spiritual position. We are all sinners, but they are dead in their sin, rejected before God and under divine condemnation. We get punished perhaps, but we are accepted before God. They don’t have to be perfect to be accepted, just believe and have faith. Why would you not?
   The other dangerous thing we witness is:
   3) Habituation in vs 13.
   If you look closely there’s a pattern of behavior here with Abraham and Sarah that has become the way they do things. Have you ever noticed how easily bad things become habits, and how difficult it is to make a habit out the things that are good for us?
   Satan makes it so his agenda easily becomes a habit, but we have to work really hard to make God’s agenda a habit, and of course nobody wants to work harder than they already are. Lying is an especially easy habit to develop.
   When we were kids many of us learned to be a very competent liars. But eventually we would get caught, because it was really hard to keep all your lies straight in our memory and remember who we told what ... doing our best to make sure we don’t slip up and get found out. It’s much harder work to lie continuously than it is to tell the truth, even if their are consequences from the truth. They’re usually over with quickly, but the consequences of lies, and losing people’s trust can last a lifetime.
   You will never overcome a bad habit or addiction permanently without extreme desire, effort, and supernatural assistance. It won’t happen, not permanently.
   What did this lie cost Abraham? To begin with it cost him his character. He started asking what is safe rather than what is right, and just like it’s impossible to make salt salty again after it’s lost its taste, it’s hard to rebuild character and gain trust after you have lost it.
   As I already said, it cost him his testimony. God now has to take matters in His own hands, because His representative did a poor job at representing the Kingdom. It cost him his ministry as a blessing to all nations. No babies were born because of him and he leaves with a bunch of their stuff. You see, after going through all of this, Abraham ended up being a taker … rather than a giver of blessing … like he was called to do.
   And he almost lost Sarah, which would have also meant losing Isaac. Warren Weirsbe says, based on Deuteronomy 6:16 and Matthew 4:7, that whenever we do something out of God’s will that forces God to intervene miraculously. Understand this … When God’s asked us to do something and He has to step in because we went out of bounds, we are tempting God, and that is a sin.
   Now that’s not the same as testing our faith through obedience, where God has to make something happen if we follow His will, but it’s when we do something on our own agenda that requires him to fix it. That’s presumption.
   Then as we’ll see a few chapters ahead, that this sin is repeated by his son Isaac years later, and that may be the saddest consequence of all.
   Finally we have:
   III. The Reward in Spite of the Failure
   Sinning believers can be forgiven and restored. (Vs 14-16) aren’t on the board, but they tell us about the …
   A. The Compensation given to Abraham.
   Same as in Egypt, Abraham lies, brings a terrible witness and is rewarded with riches. But I think we need to look at it this way. These things are not being given to Abraham for his sake, but are given to God through Abraham.
   God was indeed seen by Abimelech and Abraham was defended by God. God called him a prophet and gave him great power to save the king and his people. This stuff is being given to God, through Abraham not because of his sinful behavior… but because of the glorious intervention by God through Him.
   God does not reject his children when they sin anymore than a parent rejects their child for disobedience. Abraham was justified by faith and had a righteous standing before God that can’t be changed. But if we are justified it also leads, at least eventually, to a humble confession and a forsaking of our trespasses, because faith without works shows that our faith is dead. But our justification is not altered by the extent of our sanctification, or our practice.
   Does that make sense? Once truly saved by a real faith, we’re always saved, but our faith is useless, and we are useless to God unless it’s shown in our works. We might as well go get our little room in heaven at the far end of the river of life right now, if we are not going to act out our faith in this life. Are ya saved today?? Then if you’re truly saved … some of us need to start living like we’re saved, don’t we??
   Though it’s not written, I think we see the proof of Abraham’s confession and God’s forgiveness in (vv 17-18) where it talks about:
   B. The Intercession of Abraham
   According to (Psalm 66 (18) our prayers will not be answered or even listened to unless we confess our sin in our heart. Abimelech who had done nothing wrong, had to go to Abraham and ask him to pray for the salvation of his people. Can you imagine the conviction Abraham must have felt, and how earnestly he must have prayed knowing that he could have been responsible for the destruction of an entire innocent nation because of his little half truth?
   How grateful he must have felt to be given this grace and power to save the King and his people, in spite of what he had done. Because being for the most part a righteous person, how could he have lived with the guilt otherwise?
   Terrible, self-centered sin marks Abraham and his family, yet his call as a prophet and blessing to all nations is not rescinded. And that my friends, is the nature of God’s outrageous grace. It continues though it has never been deserved.
   You and I have sinned throughout our lives and will continue to do so … hopefully as we grow and mature in Christ we will do these things less and less often, but God made a simple, eternal promise to us. Confess your sins (in other words agree with God that it is sin), believe in me, and do your best to live as I desire you to live, and I will never leave you, and you will never die. Not bad huh?
   But as Paul says in Romans 6:15-16, Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning (… living life any ole way WE want to?) Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.
   You see, if we have truly believed in Him, we have died to sin and should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies any longer. Do not obey it now that the Holy Spirit lives in us, let Him reign. Continually choose to present our bodies to Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit, for sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under the law, but under grace.
   Have you died to self, and given your body (which includes your mind by the way) as a living sacrifice to Jesus, and are you willing to show this outrageous grace that lives in you, to others?
   Practice God’s outrageous grace with the people around you … especially your children. Every one of us has made the same mistakes more than once … we don’t always learn the first time, do we?? Be patient and encouraging rather than judging and angry. You know, it’s really easy for us to sit there and accuse, judge and condemn someone for their “habitual sins” and criticize how they might be handling them. But what about “YOUR “habitual sins??” Other words, what about the list you’re supposed to be working on. How much effort ARE you putting in to getting them worked out of your life?? You see, one thing I’ve learned over the years … when I point my finger at someone … there are three fingers pointing right back at me … every time. How about you?? Any fingers pointing back at you?
   God’s Grace … God’s Amazing Grace … that saved a wretch like me. If we can ever learn how to give grace abundantly and unconditionally … AHHHH! The blessings God will pour out on our lives. I can only imagine … Help me, Lord, to live in the abundance of Your grace and help me learn how to give the grace You have given me to others.

June 23, 2019     God's Grace - Spreading Grace, Peace and Truth Part 4 of 4

   ​Opening passage — John 1:1-18 — (NLT) — Christ, the Eternal Word — 1In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.
   2He existed in the beginning with God. 3God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
   4The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
   6God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
   10He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13They are reborn — not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
   14So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.
   15John testified about him when he shouted t o the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”
   16From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.
   Children’s church is dismissed.      Spreading Grace Peace and Truth (Video)
   The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
   Grace and Truth … that’s kind of a hard pill to swallow these days, isn’t it. The world is full of people arguing over the truth. People argue about “truth” on social media. In politics, our nation is divided over what is “true.” The President screams that it’s all “Fake News.” And sadly, international terrorists are willing to kill by the multitudes in order to promote their “truths.”
   But the opening of John’s gospel reminds us of what’s special about Jesus. He came from the Father … “full of grace and truth.” In Jesus Christ, grace and truth are joined. His life and His message show the beauty and the power of grace and truth walking hand-in-hand. From Jesus, we can learn something about how to walk and speak in the world today, through grace and truth.
   This morning, in the fourth week of our series on God’s grace, we should learn from Jesus about the power of a message spoken in grace, peace, and truth. Some people emphasize grace. Others emphasize truth. But Jesus showed us that apart from grace, we can’t really speak the truth, and apart from the truth, we aren’t really speaking words of grace either. The peace of God comes when grace and truth are joined together … they are inseparable. And in Jesus, we see our perfect example.
   John’s gospel continues in vs 16 (John 1:16) with words of grace. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” The NIV substitutes “one blessing after another” for “grace upon grace.”
   I believe John was searching for a way to communicate that God’s grace is multilayered. If we were to walk with him 50 years, we’ll discover again and again the God who beckons us (in C.S. Lewis’ happy phrase) to come “farther up and farther in.” But take note: if we are determined to think of grace as merely a ticket to heaven, there is no farther up and farther in, either in this life or the next. Why come to the shores of God’s grace only to dip our toes in the ocean?
   One sure indicator of a religiously-closed mind is the firm conviction that we have this “Jesus thing” figured out. The religiously-closed mind is only interested in exporting its brand of spirituality. We need to discover that it’s impossible to drink in God’s grace if we do nothing but tell others how to live.
   James 4:6 reminds us, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
   More grace. Greater grace. All the more grace. I believe James was speaking from experience, not theory. I think he discovered the multi-layered grace of God as he learned to humble himself again and again. When we humble ourselves, we position ourselves for greater grace. And when we humble ourselves, we create an atmosphere of peace that allows us to speak the truth, filled with grace.
   Have you ever noticed that the apostle Paul opened each one of his letters with the very same greeting? Thirteen times he says, “Grace and peace to you.” Each one of Paul’s letters opens with these words. Thirteen times! Whether Paul was writing to the people of a church, to his “true son in the faith,” like Titus, or even when he was writing to discuss the difference between slavery and brotherhood, his blessing was always “grace and peace.”
   The apostle Paul opened every letter with the words “grace and peace.” Some people might think these words are a formality, but these words — even if they were formalities — were breathed out by the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament epistles, even the greetings are part of the inspired scripture!
   Why would this man of God greet everyone in this manner? What is so important about grace and peace that Paul feels the need to speak the words immediately?
   Perhaps we could start here: Paul greeted everyone with “grace and peace” because he understood our ongoing need for both of them in our lives. He was writing to believers, yet he wished for them more grace and more peace.
   I believe Paul gave each congregation grace and peace because they were his to give. In Luke 10:5 Jesus had instructed the original twelve, “Whatever house you enter, let your first words be, ‘peace to this house.’” Jesus had in mind something more than words. He observed that a greeting of peace could rest upon the people in that house or return to the one that gave the greeting. This peace Jesus instructed the disciples to give was something real, something tangible, no less tangible than handing someone a loaf of bread. Decades later, Paul, a follower of Jesus, wrote to the churches of God scattered across the Roman world, and his first words are “grace and peace.”
   Paul possessed grace and peace. Apparently, he had a surplus … he could give it away! In many cases Paul was the founder of the church to which he wrote. He wrote to encourage what was good in these churches and to offer correction for whatever needed help.
   How many of us look at correction from the preacher as a chastisement or discipline? The question we really need to be asking ourselves is how often do we look upon correction as teaching the sources of the peace and grace of God?
   For those of you who have given it any thought at all, God’s grace and peace should be prized above almost anything else in our lives. Many of Paul’s churches faced persecution from the outside, and some experienced disagreements on the inside. No matter what the situation, the bottom line was that ALL of them needed grace and peace. They were so important that Paul presented these gifts up front, just as a guest would before entering a house.
   Paul wanted his friends to experience God’s grace and peace, and when necessary he brought powerful words of reproof … he brought needed words of encouragement.
   From our perspective, centuries later, we understand that each letter was the Word of God, then and now. Those people who first heard the words of Paul read aloud in the congregation had a choice: They could listen beyond the mere words of the letter, and in doing so receive the grace and peace offered them. Or, like the householder in Luke 10, they could refuse to receive the grace of God and the peace of God as it appeared to them.
    How often does God’s grace or peace appear to us in some form we may not recognize? We should ask ourselves: Do we receive the words of our church leaders and our loved ones as God’s grace in our lives? Do we ever consider that the instruction we receive from those in authority has the potential to bring God’s peace?
   Paul’s words were not only about receiving his greetings … they were examples of what we have to give. Have we received some measure of grace? Of peace? Jesus had straightforward instructions to his followers in Matthew 10:8, “freely you have received, therefore freely you give.” If we have received any grace from God, then we have grace to give. Don’t worry, you won’t run out! Paul’s famous words from Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” were not words he claimed exclusively for himself. He was speaking them over those who were listening to his letter. Many believers have quoted this verse on their own behalf in order to fight off guilt and condemnation. But, have we ever quoted them on behalf of others?
   If God has given us peace in any area of our lives, we can give that peace to someone as well. One disciple may have learned the secret of contentment with respect to financial matters. Another may have learned how to place everyday fears at the feet of Jesus. Do we ever consider that the peace we’ve received in our walk with God might be the very thing we can teach others? He blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others.
   Our everyday lives are no different than the times in which Paul wrote his letters. Words of grace and peace are not mere formalities, they are ours to give. We have something to give. We can give grace and peace. And the world desperately needs them both.
   Grace is abundant and free. It’s the deal of a lifetime — no, it’s the deal of eternity! When we understand God’s grace for what it is, we All are gonna want in. Who could be opposed to grace?
   And yet there are obstacles to grace. Even more startling, we ourselves are sometimes the biggest opponents to grace. In order to bring grace and peace, we should examine ourselves in two areas.
   Our conflicts with grace are like storm fronts in our hearts. I’ve had a few such storms in my own heart. Here are two examples of obstacles to grace. I wonder if either of these applies to you today.
   Bitterness … Hebrews 12:15 tells us to “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Bitterness is an obstacle to grace. The wounded heart draws inward and avoids even grace itself. I want to be left alone … alone to hurt and woller in my pain.
   But we need to understand that this aloneness is an illusion. This passage from Hebrews warns us that, apart from the grace of God, our bitterness and unsettled scores seep into those around us. My bitterness can defile others. We need grace to endure suffering, even in the everyday slights of life.
   In our pain, when we refuse grace, we defile many. All the while, we think we are suffering in silence and solitude, unaware that when one member of the body suffers, the whole body is in pain.
   Scarcity (skair-si-tee) “Scarcity” is a terrible word, except that I can think of no other. This second opponent of grace is my fear that grace is a zero-sum game, that somehow grace comes prepackaged in fixed amounts. My mind has yet to inform my heart that (Psalm 136) reminds us that “his mercy endures forever,” and comes in limitless supply. I am the frightened sparrow who thinks his own small breaths will consume all the air in the sky. I think whatever grace I find, I must keep for myself. Who knows where I’ll find more? Yet, if the Father takes the time to clothe the flowers of the field and feed the birds of the air, how much more will he provide the life-giving freedom of grace? (Matthew 6:26-34) Here is the supply of heaven: when I share the grace I’ve received, I discover the Source of all grace, who gives the Spirit without limit.
   Part of the good news is that there is more grace; more grace for today and more grace for tomorrow. Grace for more than forgiveness. God wants to provide grace in the everyday; grace for growth and grace to sustain. Grace and peace represent more than our need. They are the need of everyone we meet. Do we wish grace and peace on others? Better yet … do we have it to give?
   Finally … Community of Grace. We should understand that there is a place to cultivate grace, peace, and truth. Grace grows in community, but not just any community.
   This is a difficult message for many people these days because by community I mean church. The same Father God who adopted us into his family intends that we should live together as family. This is a difficult message because in modern times, the church of Jesus is largely out of joint. We have created a Christendom where we can choose churches the way most people choose restaurants, according to our individual tastes. By most estimates, there are more than 25,000 Christian denominations worldwide. Not individual churches, denominations. How can we grow in grace when we’re free to wander from one family to another? How can we grow in grace when the House of God is so separated and divided?
   It’s an old story. Ask nearly any Christian and you’ll hear stories of church drama, church fights, and church splits. But it doesn’t have to be like this. Listen carefully to the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:8–11: “8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
   It’s easy to miss the word grace in this passage, but you’ll find it right in the middle, which is where grace always belongs. Our words and actions are the practical expressions of God’s grace. God wants to show his grace through the love, hospitality, encouragement, and service in the community of faith. We extend grace to others precisely because we’ve received grace from God. Among our families at home — and among the family of God — we are called to be the caretakers of grace. Too often, we have become merely consumers of grace, and it has led to a church for every taste and preference the consumers can imagine.
   Not only does grace grow in the community we call church, it grows in the most unlikely places of the church, among our shortcomings, our hypocrisies, and our failings. If everyone in the church had his or her act together, what need would there be to extend grace? Look closely at the passage above. The apostle Peter calls us to use our gifts in service toward one another. We steward the grace we have received by the way we speak and act toward others in the church.
   I’m willing to bet that you’ve never thought about grace as a stewardship? If not, here’s a wonderful exercise: try reading the parable of the talents (it’s in Matthew 25:14-30 and also Luke 19:11-29) as a teaching about grace. The master leaves something of great worth with his servants (substituting grace for gold), and when he returns, he looks to see whether we have used his gift wisely.
   Best of all is our reward. In Matthew’s version of the parable, the master not only praises the good stewards, he extends an invitation, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” says the master. “Come and share your master’s happiness!” When we distribute the grace of God, we will receive his praise, and something more, an invitation to enter into his joy. Through grace, joy increases for everyone.
   1 Peter 4:8-11 tells us 8Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.
   10God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? (Here’s the best part.) Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

June 16,2019     Freedom On God's Terms

   Opening passage — Exodus 3:1-10 (NLT) — Moses and the Burning Bush — 1One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush. Moses stared in amazement. Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up. 3“This is amazing,” Moses said to himself. “Why isn’t that bush burning up? I must go see it.”
   4When the Lord saw Moses coming to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”   “Here I am!” Moses replied.
   5“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. 6I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.
   7Then the Lord told him, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey — the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites (pur eye’ zites), Hivites (hiv ee’ ts), and Jebusites (jeb u’ sits)  now live. 9Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them. 10Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”
   Children’s Church is dismissed
   When Moses met God at the burning bush, he learned that Israel's freedom was to come on God's terms ... not his, nor anyone else’s. What were those terms and what do those terms tell us about our Freedom in Christ?
   In March 2013 - in Texarkana, Texas - a woman and her son were cleaning up their yard when they came across a black snake.
   Now, I don’t know if the snake was poisonous or not … but I do know it frightened them. In their panic they doused the snake with gasoline and then they set it on fire.
   Unfortunately, the snake didn't just lie there. It slithered off under a bush, and THAT caught fire.
   The bush was close to their house … and THAT caught fire.
   They managed to call 9-1-1 and said “We were trying to kill a snake with fire! ... It done caught the house!”
   Firefighters rushed to the scene, but not only was the house destroyed, their neighbor's house was damaged too.
   And I’m not sure they ever did find that snake.    
  (Uncle John’s Perpetually Pleasing Bathroom Reader, p. 246)
   In that story, a snake set a bush on fire and it changed the life of an entire family. In our Scripture today, GOD set a bush on fire… and it changed the life of a nation and the entire world.
   But there is something significant about THIS bush … and THIS fire. This bush and this fire had been planned by God.
   It wasn't an accident … it wasn't a coincidence. This bush was chosen by God. And this fire was created by God.
   Ya know?? One of the things that really annoys me about cable channels like the History channel or the Discovery channel is that, when they present a “documentary” about Biblical events, their experts always seem to try to pass off the miracles of God as if they were mere coincidences. As if those miraculous things told in Scripture could somehow be explained away as being the results of well-timed natural disasters.
   That’s what the priests of Pharaoh tried to do during the 10 plagues … and they pulled it off. They convinced Pharaoh it was just mere coincidence … for a little while. But eventually there were just too many coincidences for their liking, and they finally had to confess to Pharaoh in Exodus 8:19: “This is the finger of God.”
   As I was studying this passage, a couple questions came to my mind.
   Why would God do it this way?
   Why would He bother to do this burning bush thing with Moses?
   Then a couple of thoughts came to me
   1st – I think Moses was bored and apathetic, and God intended to wake him up. Moses had once been a promising leader in Egypt. He’d been part of the household of Pharaoh, a man of prominence and importance.
   But now, he’s just a nobody. He’s in a dead end job taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep, and he’s been in this dead end, boring grind for the past 40 years.
   But suddenly … something catches his attention. A bush is on fire, but it’s not like any fire he’s ever seen before.
   How many of you have ever been around big bonfire? They are so neat. Aside from the flames that leap into the sky, you can hear the fire crackling and popping and sizzling, and you can see the leaves wither and disappear.
   But NOT with this fire.
   This is a bonfire in a bush where there’s no snapping and sizzling and popping … and the leaves are still green. And it’s so unusual that Moses says in vs. 3 (Exodus 3:3): “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
   Now, at first, it sounds like this bush is just a curiosity. There’s not much else to do out there in the desert except watch a bunch of sheep grazing on some grass … and this oddity is a diversion for him.
   But then, curiosity gets the best of him and as Moses gets close to the bush … it becomes a holy place as GOD declares in vs. 5 (Exodus 3:5): "Do not come near; put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
   Now!!! I don’t know about you … but THAT would get MY attention.
  Then God told Moses in vs 9 & 10 (Exodus 3:9-10) “the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."
   The burning bush was there to get Moses’ attention, but it had an even more important purpose. God was sending Moses to free His people, and this encounter at the burning bush was meant to impress on Moses the fact that when God freed Israel … it would be on HIS terms.
   It wasn't going to be done Moses’ way.
   And it wasn't going to be done Pharaoh’s way.
   And it wasn't going to be done the way the Israelites wanted it done.
   Israel’s Freedom was going to be on God’s terms … and nobody else’s.
   And the first of those terms was this: God was freeing Israel because He WANTED to … not because He HAD to.
   Exodus 3:7-8 tells us “Then the LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey...’”
   God saw Israel’s afflictions.
   He heard their cries.
   He knew their sufferings.
   And NOW He had come down to free them and NOW Egypt would despise the day they had messed with God’s people.
   In that declaration God was stating he was freeing Israel because He CHOSE to do so.
   He did it because He wanted to.

   He didn't HAVE to do it … but He did … because He is a compassionate God.
   A pastor shared this story … Years ago I had a couple of foreign exchange students come live with my family. There was Martin from Denmark and Fernando from Spain. They were good, clean cut kids and it looked like they’d be fun to have with us. But right off the bat I explained:
   “I’m a preacher, and if you stay here you need to go to church with me.”
   We talked a little bit more and then they went up to their rooms to unpack and get settled in. After a while they came back downstairs and explained that they’d talked about it and had decided they didn't want to go to church. And they WEREN'T going to go to church.
   And they were right.
   I couldn't force them to go church.
   If they refused to go to church with me I couldn't make them.
   It’s not like I could drag them into the building with me.
   I sadly shook my head and said, “Well, boys we’ll have to contact your organization and get you another place to live, because you cannot stay here and not go to church with me.”
   Now, fortunately, they changed their minds and decided they COULD go to church.”
   You see … what the pastor was saying to them was this: “I CHOOSE to let you stay here … but I don’t HAVE to let you stay here.”
   In the same way God didn't HAVE to free Israel from their slavery … He chose to.
   And the same is true for us today: God chooses to free from our sins. John 3:16 declares “God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
   God didn't HAVE to forgive us our sins, but He WANTED to.
   And that’s a good thing. Because if God didn't want to forgive us – every one of you would be going to hell … And so would I.
   Now, this is one of the hardest things for the people of this world to wrap their minds around. The majority of people in this world believe they can get into heaven if they can just do enough GOOD things to outweigh the BAD things in their lives.
   You hear it a lot at funerals: “He was such a good man, I just know he’s in heaven.”
   Now, why did they think the dearly departed was going to heaven? Because the man had been “good enough?” They thought this man had done enough good in his life to buy a place in the heavenly choir?
   Essentially many folks believe that if people can do enough good in their lives, God HAS to let them into heaven. Many believe, in fact, He couldn't keep them out if He wanted to. Many believe that their self-righteousness has EARNED them a place in heaven.
   Now, the Bible says that’s a pipe dream. That ain't going to happen, folks!!! God doesn't HAVE to let you in … He chooses to. As Titus 3:5 says “God saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…” God saved us because He WANTED TO … not because He HAD to.
   2ndly, God told Moses that He was freeing Israel because He had made a promise.
   That’s what was behind this statement by God in vs 6 (Exodus 3:6) “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." God had made promises to these men. God had made a promise to Abraham, and He made the same promise to Isaac and to Jacob. That’s why God was freeing Israel from their bondage … He’d made a promise. God is a God of promises ... and when God makes a promise … you can depend upon it.
   Numbers 23:19 says “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”
   Of course not.
   And the same thing is true about His promise of salvation to us. Our salvation depends upon His faithful promises
   Let me repeat that – our salvation is based on HIS PROMISES.
   Our salvation is NOT based upon how we feel.
   Let me repeat that: Our salvation is not based on whether we FEEL saved or not.
   Martin Luther wrote a poem that went like this:
   “Feelings come and feelings go and feelings are deceiving;
   My strength is in the Word of God, naught else is worth believing.”
   Our salvation is based upon God’s promises and God has made us a specific set of promises in Scripture. He tells us that if we BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and we REPENT of our sins and choose to live for Him, and are willing to CONFESS that He will be the Master of our lives, and are willing to allow ourselves to be buried in the waters of BAPTISM are rise up to live a new life, and LIVE for Him from that day forward … Then we will be saved.
   It's that simple. That’s the promise.
   Our freedom from our sins depends entirely upon HIS PROMISES. Not upon our feelings.
   I heard a story about a pastor that went to a Revival at another church that’s not a part of his denomination. He wanted to see how they ran their revivals. And he said for a while it was an enjoyable experience - there was lots of good singing, and praying and good feeling going around…
   But then the Revivalist got up to preach.    And that’s when he began to feel uncomfortable.    Then he began to feel irritated.    And then he said he just got downright angry.   Because this Revivalist was lying to the people.
   He was preaching that if you didn't FEEL saved… you weren't saved.   He was like “Johnny one-note” – he just kept hitting that idea over and over again – "if you don’t feel saved, you aren't saved" he kept preaching. And he said the more he heard that, the more furious he became.” This man was lying to these people… and he was doing it on purpose.
   Do you see that man was manipulating his crowd … and he knew it!
   Now … why was he doing that? Because he knew that - down deep inside the tenderest of Christians – there’s this feeling of not deserving God’s love.
   Have you sinned? Do you feel deserving of God’s love? How many have felt that way? And do you know why you don’t feel deserving? Because you aren't! None of us are!! And because that is true … many kind, loving Christians can feel insecure at times, and not be sure that God really loves them. This preacher should have been comforting these people rather than beating up on them. But that wouldn't have served his purpose.
   The story goes on to say that when they gave the invitation about a 1/3 of the congregation came forward in tears. And he saw that revivalist smile. He was counting heads. At the next church he went to he’d brag that God had allowed him to save 1/3 of a congregation, and he would have gloried in that untruth.
   You know, if he came back to that same church the next year… he’d probably save those same people all over again. And he’d brag about how he did so to anyone who would listen. And if he went back year after year after year to that church… he’d save the same people over and over and over again.
   This man didn't preach of God of promises. He preached a God of insecurity and fear. And that’s what happens when you don’t depend upon God’s promises. You fall prey to liars like that man.
   2 Corinthians 1:20 tells us that “no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ…” Your salvation is not to be found in your feelings. Your salvation is to be found in Christ, Who is the fulfillment of the promises of God.
   Lastly – God freed Israel for one purpose and one purpose only … to make them Holy because He is Holy.
   God said to Moses in vs 5 (Exodus 3:5): "Do not come near; put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground."
   In short God was saying to Moses: “Don’t mess with me. Don’t take me casually. Don’t take me for granted. TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES because you’re standing on Holy Ground."
   Have you ever been to one of those houses where the carpet is all white?
   When I was building houses … I built several of them. When I would go back to do a service call … you know what they asked me to do? TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES.
   Why? Because the carpet was white … but my shoes were dirty. And the dirt from my shoes would soil the carpet.
   Our God is a Holy God. In 1 Peter 1:16 God declared: "Be holy, because I am holy." I want you to understand something … this is NOT a request … this IS A command!!!!! "Be holy, because I am holy."
   But now, wait a minute … How could I possibly be Holy like God is holy? I mean I mess up ... I sin ... I fall short … every day!!!
   How many of you have sinned and messed up just a little bit in your life? How many of you have messed up A LOT?? We ALL have … we all fail … don’t we? So how could we possibly be HOLY???
   Well, here’s the deal … “Being Holy” is a very simple Bible term. Holiness means to be “set apart”. That’s it.
   Kenny and DeeDee are over there kinda by themselves at the electronics table … “set apart” from the rest of us. That makes them “holy” because holy means “set apart.”
   We’ve gone to churches that have praise teams and when they’re on stage … they’re “set apart” from the rest of the church. They are “holy” compared to us because they are “set apart” from us.
   Does that make sense?
  Now, we can’t be GOD. He is totally pure and sinless… but we aren't. He is so pure and sinless that He is “set apart” from this world. He is HOLY and when God saved us, he made us holy. He made us holy, because He “set us apart” from the rest of this world. We have been “set apart” to have a different destiny than others because the blood of Christ has covered our sins and has given us the promise of heaven.
   That’s what God did for us when we were saved. He made us holy. And now, what God is asking of us, is to make ourselves holy. He is asking us decide to “set ourselves apart” from this world. He is asking us to be holy like He is holy … by setting ourselves apart from the sinful behavior and actions of this world.
   The holiness God is calling us to have a conviction to set higher standards for ourselves. And we CAN set our standards high. Because we know what those standards are. 
I mean, even the world knows what those standards are.
   In fact, the reason we know the world knows what we should know - when it comes to knowing those standards - is that they know when we're not acting like we know those standards ourselves. And when we don't act like we know what those standards are, they have a word to describe us.
   Do you know what that word is?
   That’s right – hypocrites! You see, the definition of a hypocrite is someone who preaches one thing and lives another. A hypocrite is a person who claims to be a “Christian” and lives like they have NO idea what the word means or Who it stands for. Even the world knows what God's standards are and not everybody wants to set their standards too high, do they??
   George Orwell once observed: “On the whole, human beings want to be good, but not too good, and not quite all the time.”
   That may be true of "most humans", but God says: "you're not like most humans … you're MY children!!!” And because we're His children, He calls us to be holy as He is holy. He calls us to be set apart from this world, like He is set apart from it. One way to make sure we reach for those standards is to make sure we stop making excuses for doing or saying or thinking all the wrong things.
   People make excuses like: “Well, I’m only human.”     Really? I thought you were made in the image of God. Or, how many of us have heard this one “Excuse my French.” Now, I don’t know any French … but I’m pretty sure that the phrase they used wasn't it! Sounded a lot like English to me!! Or, “I’m a man … you gotta expect me to look.” No, you don’t have to look. Job was a man like us and he said that he made a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a woman to lust after her. Gentlemen … God expects us NOT to look.
   Holiness means refusing to accept excuses. It means that we stop trying to justify our bad behavior, our bad words and our bad thoughts. Holiness means to set myself apart for God… and aim for His kind of purity in my life.
Now, the beauty of this is: we don’t have to do this on our own. The Bible says that when we become Christians, God puts something INSIDE us. What is it that God put inside us when we become Christians? ... His Spirit.
   And what kind of Spirit is this? It’s the HOLY Spirit. God puts His Holy Spirit in side us to help us become HOLY.
   Hebrews 12:29 tells us “… our "God is a consuming fire." God has placed His consuming fire inside of us … to burn away the filth and evil that would distract us from our holiness. And His spirit inside us is like the fire inside that burning bush. Like that fire – which did no harm to the bush but it lit that bush up like a bonfire - God’s Spirit is inside us and He will light us up with God’s light so that we shine with His radiance in a dark world … and He will not harm us. Like the fire that didn’t burn up that bush, God’s Spirit will not harm you. If we let that Holy Spirit do its work inside of us it will consume that which causes us not to be holy in His presence, but it won’t hurt us. And when His Spirit has done His work in our lives, then the world around us will see His light and will become jealous of the difference God’s HOLY Spirit has brought about in our lives.

June 9, 2019     God's Grace - Humility Brings Grace Part 3 of 4

   Opening passage — 1 Peter 5:1-11 (NLT) — Advice for Elders and Young Men — 51And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: 2Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
   5In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
   6So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
   8Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.
   10In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation.11All power to him forever! Amen.
   Humility Brings Grace Video
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   This week we will explore the surprising connection between God’s grace and humility, along with the great enemy of God’s grace, human pride. I hope you are ready to examine a lot of scripture today.
   In his earliest years, Fred attended a Christian school. He distinctly remembered the second grade because the “character theme” one month was humility. At the end of that month, in an assembly before the entire school, he was named the winner of the “Humility Award,” but then they took it away from him because he actually accepted the award!
   OK, perhaps the story isn’t true, but it does illustrate the conflicting ideas Christians entertain regarding what it means to be humble. Where do we get our ideas about humility? If God gives grace to the humble, how can I eagerly pursue His best for me without falling into mere self-interest?
   Both Peter and James quoted the Old Testament verse of Proverbs 3:34, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” They latched on to this teaching from Proverbs 3 because they figured it must be important. First, it tells us that God gives grace. Fair enough?
   I mean … isn’t that what God’s supposed to do? But this verse tells us that God gives grace to certain kinds of people — humble people. Notice that it also tells us that God can withhold grace from another kind of people — the proud. Keep in mind that Peter and James were writing to believers.
   Three times in Proverbs. 3:34, James 4:6, and 1 Peter 5:5 the scripture reminds us, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The Bible tells us three times! This means there is a link between humility and grace. When the Father sees his children willing to take the low place in the family, He pours out a special portion of grace to strengthen us in service to one another. Humility draws the blessing and favor of God. The same one who stripped to the waist and washed the feet of His disciples will rejoice when we learn to prefer one another.
   On four separate occasions, in Matthew 18:4, Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11, and Luke 18:14, Jesus employs this phrase, “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” These passages are not simply repetition caused by the gospels retelling the same story with each passage being unique. Four times Jesus lays out the challenge, humble yourself, and, by grace, God will exalt you. But how?
   Matthew 18 (1–4) says to lay aside dreams of greatness and embrace dreams of dependency. This is the highway of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said that, among men, there was none greater than John the Baptist, yet the person who was “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven was greater than John. Living in the kingdom requires God’s intervention every day. We cannot “make the kingdom happen,” we can only proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is breaking in, and then depend on him to invade the ordinary with his presence and power.
   Matthew 23 (1–12) tells us to lay aside the thrill of recognition and find the joy of serving. If we are honest, we will recognize ourselves in the people Jesus describes; those who strive for recognition by the way they dress, or where they park, or by the titles they hold. It is thrilling to be noticed, to be selected from among the crowd for recognition. Meanwhile, the servants come and go in the midst of all the clamor, quietly attending to the master’s business. But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals that the Father is the one who “sees in secret.”
   Luke 14 (7–14) instructs us to lay aside the thirst for honor from others and seek to honor others instead. In fact, Jesus tells us to honor those who cannot repay us. True, there is a time of reckoning and a place to receive repayment, but it is not here and now; it is later. Can we delay gratification, or does our thirst drive us to be satisfied now?
   Luke 18 (9–14) says to lay aside self-assessment and depend on God’s mercy. Jesus draws a picture of two men at prayer. The first man begins his prayer with “thank you,” but quickly tallies up the score of the game he has been playing. He has been keeping score all along and reminds God that he is the winner. The other man starts with God’s mercy instead of self-assessment. Scorekeeping (and judgment) belong to God. Let’s be careful. If we have a measuring stick, we will eventually be asked to stand next to it!
   Here’s an Old Testament Example of God’s Grace …
   Are there any limits to human wickedness? Imagine a man who practices witchcraft and séances, fortunetelling, and communicating with the dead. Picture him engaged in human sacrifice by burning his own children on altars of fire. Give him nationwide authority and influence, so that he not only practices these things, but he encourages and trains others to do the same. Now, if there is room left in your imagination, envision this man finding a way to win God’s affection.
   Buried deep in the Chronicles of Israel is the story of a despicable king, guilty of such things. Yet he captured the Father’s grace and mercy by humbling himself before God. His name is Manasseh; you can read about him in 2 Chronicles 33. In the space of one chapter, King Manasseh was transformed from a man who provoked God to anger, to one who caught God’s attention because of his humble heart.
   There’s a lesson here for every student of Jesus. It’s not that Manasseh simply experienced God’s mercy; he provoked it.
   You see … the Father loves humility. It turns His head. Jesus tried again and again to share this secret pathway to God’s heart: “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus demonstrated humility as He lived in the low places of Israel’s society. He portrayed children as examples of humble trust in the Father’s care. He opposed self-sufficiency.
   Humility is an expression of truth and integrity. People naturally hunger for humility in their spiritual and political leaders.
   All over the world, people enter search phrases like, “how to be humble like Jesus,” and “how do we humble ourselves before God?” Their hearts are hungry to find the peace offered by humility. There is beauty in the humble way.
   Humility is the sail that captures the grace and mercy of God. His ear is tuned to hear the weakest words of a humbled heart. In King Manasseh’s story, we find hope for everyone who has wondered if they could possibly grab God’s attention. Here are four sure lessons in (2 Chron. 33) from Manasseh for those whose hearts are inclined:
   Vs. 10 tells us “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they ignored all his warnings.” Even in the midst of all of his gross iniquity, God is still speaking to Manasseh and his people. Even after a long list of rebellious acts against God, the text reveals that God was still reaching out to Manasseh. If you’ve been told that God hides from your sin, you’ve been misled. Our sin is one of the very reasons God continues to reach out to us. He loves us and refuses to give up on us. But it’s not just that his love reaches down; a humble heart reaches up.
   Vs 11 says “So the Lord sent the commanders of the Assyrian armies, and they took Manasseh prisoner. They put a ring through his nose, bound him in bronze chains, and led him away to Babylon.” God knows how to humble us: There’s a massive difference between being humbled by the Almighty and humbling yourself before Him. God may arrange circumstances that bring us low in the eyes of others, but only we can lower ourselves before God. He can extend severe mercy, but we remain in control of our own thoughts and hearts.
   Vs 13 explains that “… when he prayed, the Lord listened to him and was moved by his request. So the Lord brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh finally realized that the Lord alone is God!” Our hearts can move God’s heart: This is an astounding revelation! God is not impressed by human power, wealth, or wisdom, but he is impressed by the humility of the human heart. When a man or woman chooses repentance, the Father tells all of heaven to be quiet. Our prayers never have more power than when we take our proper place before Him.
   Vs 25 says “But the people of the land killed all those who had conspired against King Amon, and they made his son Josiah the next king.” Our humble example can influence the generations to come: Manasseh had a grandson named Josiah, who, as a child, sparked a nationwide revival. I like to imagine that Josiah heard firsthand from his grandfather the horrors of rebellion and the grace of humility. Our life lessons can become the seed that springs up thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold in the lives of those who follow.
   These are more than interesting Old Testament stories. They are postures of the heart. They are examples of what humility can do in our lives.
   Jesus embodied the life of humility before the Father. It worked out pretty well for Him. He demonstrated that the humble path leads to glory, a glory unimagined by the wisdom of men.
   Even more than Manasseh, Jesus modeled the way of humility. Consider Paul’s magnificent description of the humble way:
   In your relationships with one another, we need to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
   And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
   Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6–11)
   What is whispered in the Old Testament is shouted in the New Testament: humility is the doorway to God’s kingdom. Humility spared Manasseh’s life. It was the way of life for Jesus. It is, no less, the way for us.
   Many believers are surprised to learn that there is something we can all do to bring the grace of God into our lives: we can humble ourselves. But the opposite is true. Our pride can block the grace of God. This means that among the enemies of grace, human pride hides deepest in our souls. Because God’s grace meets us in our weakness, we think grace will expose us as frauds, when all the while grace flows ever stronger toward the humble in heart.
   It’s so easy to step across the border from truth and enter into arrogance, to label those who cannot see the truth as fools. Before we know it, we ourselves have crossed into enemy territory, even while we congratulate ourselves on being right all along. Grace understands that merely knowing the truth is not enough. Along with our knowledge, we need to be a grace-filled people. The problem with knowing it all is the tendency to judgment. Even a smarty like the apostle Paul recognized, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Sometimes, the most insightful people appear uncaring and cold, like an oncologist who diagnoses the cancer, but misses the human being standing right in front of him. Insight is never enough. The line between insight and judgment is drawn by grace.
   Pride has a thousand faces, but always the same dreary aim, to make more of ourselves and less of God.
   Grace exposes our desire to sit on the throne of our own vainglorious, private kingdom. Pride is the leaven of the Pharisees. Pride is an enemy of grace. You can’t give grace to people you look down upon; you can only give them pity.
   Pride itself has read the Bible, so pride’s solution is false humility. False humility is our attempt to fool God … even though in the end, we are only fooling ourselves. We utter modest things about ourselves that we do not believe. The problem with false humility is that it’s false. False humility is the self-abasement we want others to reject, thus affirming our talent and skill.
   C.S. Lewis helps us guard against false humility, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself: it is not thinking of yourself at all.”
   Pride is always a masquerade. We enter the hall wearing a mask. We receive the praise of men, knowing all along that we look nothing like the costume we wear. Pride leads to the kind hypocrisy in which we keenly discern the flaws of others because we are haunted by our own. It makes us seem bigger than we are, and deflates those around us. Because we detest the lies we tell ourselves and we try to expose the same lies in others. We hide the very flaws that God is willing to love.
   The church fathers warned us … possessions lead to pride. In modern times, we pretend to joke, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” The ancients reminded us that knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. In modern times, we actually believe “knowledge is power.” Brothers and Sisters it’s not!!! Power leads to pride. Pride leads us to pray, “I thank you that I am not like other men.”
   Pride cannot see beyond itself. Pride whispers that if we must accept grace, then we should have it all. Pride is a miser that hoards the grace of God. Pride hoards the grace of God, as if our sin were so great that we could consume heaven’s full supply of grace, when in fact our sins are common to all mankind. Pride causes us to see grace as a zero-sum game, as if God’s kindness to others means less grace for us. But grace is not of this world. It’s not scarce. Grace is the stuff of the age to come.
   Pride harms us deeply … grace heals us utterly. Is it any wonder that “God resists the proud?”
   We should be the kind of people who humble ourselves. On the other hand, if we do not humble ourselves, we may just find out that God is opposing us. (I’m not sure what that looks like, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not a good thing.)
   Today, I invite you to take inventory of your heart. A humble heart paves the way for greater grace; a prideful heart does the exact opposite. Which one best describes your heart?

June 2, 2019    God's Grace - Paralyzed By Grace Part 2 of 4

   Our first passage today is Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) — 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. 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.”
   Our second is Hebrews 10:1-3 (NLT) — 1The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. 2If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
   3But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year.
   Welcome to the second week in our four-week series on God’s Grace. Last week, we discovered that God’s grace means so much more than forgiveness; grace can teach us a new way to live.
   There is a great challenge facing followers of Jesus today. We have a limited view of God’s grace. The grace of God … a reality greater than the human intellect can grasp and more accessible than the air we breathe … has been captured and domesticated for weekly use. The grace of God … capable of reaching across every culture, every gender, and every generation … has been reduced to simply mean forgiveness for everyone.
   We have turned it to our uses, instead of His.
   Many people say, “God loves me just the way I am.” We are comfortable with that statement, aren’t we?? But you know what? We are less comfortable with, “God loves me so much He won’t let me stay just the way I am.”
   Last week, we learned from Titus 2 (11–14) that first His grace saves … then it teaches.
   Most of us are OK with receiving forgiveness. But then, we want to skip school when it comes time to learn how to deny ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live sensible and upright lives. Christians can be forgiven if they are confused at this point.
   Week after week, they’re told of the complete work of Jesus on the cross. They’re told that there is nothing they can do to earn God’s approval or salvation. Yet they’re also encouraged to live holy lives and keep the commandments; to walk in a manner that pleases God.
   Richard Foster, a man who has spent his adult life encouraging Christians to grow in the grace of God, points out that the message of grace is something more than merely a means for gaining forgiveness.
   Foster says that, in most pulpits, there is a disconnect between the good news of Jesus’ sacrifice and our calling to become the light of the world. Hearing the same message, week after week, along with the same remedy, they remain in the same place.
   Foster writes, “Having been saved by grace, these people have been paralyzed by it.”
   If we remain camped at the notion that God’s grace is merely another way to describe forgiveness, we will never discover that there is grace for everyday living, relationships, and ministry to others. In the New Testament alone, there are connections between grace and truth, grace and power, grace and spiritual gifts, grace and thanksgiving, grace and generosity, grace and provision, grace and suffering, grace and destiny … and this list goes on and on!
   The Bible teaches that there is grace upon grace upon God’s grace ... indefinitely.
   If our view of grace is limited to receiving forgiveness, Jesus cannot be our model for how to receive grace, live in grace, and depend upon grace. Who taught Peter, John, Paul and countless other believers how to live the kind of grace-filled life we see in Acts and the history of the church? How does grace apply to everyday life in a manner that we are conscious of the supply and know how to use it?
   To those of us who have been in church for some time, grace means that Christians have gotten a great deal. In church circles, grace has variously been defined as “not getting what we deserve,” or “God’s unmerited favor,” or the acronym “God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense.”
   All of these ideas about grace are true, but they tell only part of the truth. These partial truths can actually harm our spiritual formation.
   Many of us say “I’m just a sinner saved by grace. There’s nothing good inside of me. I’ll always be a sinner, because that’s what I always do.” Some people have sung the same song for 40 years. When they agreed with the sin diagnosis, they apparently thought it described a permanent condition.
   Dallas Willard warns us against the idea “that the low level of spiritual living among professing Christians is to be regarded as ‘only natural,’ only what is to be expected.” He suggests that the notion that our destiny is constant failure and that Christ’s ministry is nothing but unending forgiveness. Many believers have experienced the new birth and are convinced their cosmic state is forever a babe.
   We have over-talked about what sin takes away and we have under-talked about the Spirit God has put in us. Dr. Willard is concerned with more than the cure. True, our life with God must start with the cure, but the possibilities of new life in Christ are, quite literally, endless.
   I have a friend who ends every prayer with, “Forgive us for the many ways we’ve failed you. In Your name we pray, Amen.” It doesn’t matter if he’s blessing the food before a meal or asking for wisdom in an important decision. The closing of his default praise is like a customized signature at the end of every email.
   I’m sure he’s sincere every time he prays it, but I wonder if Jesus ever gets tired of hearing it. No friendship on earth could survive if one partner constantly affirmed, “I’m no good” and keeps wollerin in his or her stuff. What kind of relationship requires a constant, constant, rehashing of our inadequacy? I’d like to suggest an answer: an Old Testament relationship.
   The book of Hebrews discusses the practice of forgiveness before Jesus came:
   Hebrews 10:1–3 tell us that “1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins.”
   Note the final phrase: the people of Old Testament experienced an “annual reminder of their sins.” My friend reminds himself of his sin every time he prays.
   You see … the unspoken message in the closing of his prayer is that he was powerless against sin before he came to Jesus, and he is, apparently, powerless against it after he received Him because he keeps reminding himself (and God) of all his transgressions. You see, by wollerin in our stuff … all we’re doing is reminding ourselves (and God) that we have fallen short … that we ARE falling short every day … and that we will continue to do so … because we can’t seem to muster up the gumption to rise above our stuff. Ezra 10:4 tells us to “Rise up; this matter is in your hands. We will support you, so take courage and do it.”
   Dallas Willard refers to this as “miserable sinner theology.” Simply put, if we are told often enough that we are miserable sinners who are unable to overcome our shortcomings in God’s eyes, sooner or later we will begin to see ourselves in that light, even though we have turned to Christ! For such people, “following” Jesus does not include the possibility of being formed into his likeness.
   It’s not just a problem with our understanding of grace, it’s also a problem with our understanding of Jesus: His message, His sacrifice, His kingdom, and His mission for us. To see the work of Jesus as nothing but an endless offering for sin is to consign Him to the Old Testament priesthood. Surely His is a greater priesthood … capable of altering us at the very core. I’m grateful that He paid the price for my sin … eternally grateful. But we should also be grateful for His resurrection empowerment, which is capable of changing us from the inside out. Perhaps we can usher Jesus out of the Old Testament Temple, once and for all, and receive him, not only as the source of forgiveness, but also the master teacher of life. This is the full work of grace.
   Make no mistake, sin is cancer, and it will kill us in this life and for the next. It’s serious business, so the Father has provided a serious remedy. It’s called the new birth. Paul calls it the new creation. Peter calls us newborn babes. We must determine whether these phrases are merely religious metaphors or if they depict a spiritual reality. The image of spiritual birth also contains the hope of spiritual growth. Are we forever trapped within the cancer of sin? No! Grace not only wipes away sin, grace teaches us how to avoid sin.
   There’s a cure, not just a treatment. Our challenge is how we see Jesus, and for many of us, He is only a band-aid. When we limit the work of Jesus to nothing but forgiveness, we lose sight of the possibilities of experiencing a new kind of life with Him here and now. That would be a shame, because the cure really does work, not only in the next life, but right here in this one as well.
   Let me share with you a modern parable: Once there were two high school students who each received scholarships to Harvard University. Full rides, every possible expense paid. Both were bright kids, and both felt intimidated by the reputation of such a great college. They each thought, “I don’t deserve to be here.” One student studied day and night.
   She gave it all she had. The other student began to enjoy the thrill of college life: parties, the big city nearby, and the freedom of being on his own for the first time in his life. By midterm, the first student was still working hard, earning B’s and C’s in her classes.
   The other was failing every class and placed on academic probation. By Christmas, the first student had earned a 3.0 GPA, but the second had flunked out of Harvard. Which of these two students laid hold of the opportunity given to them?
   Of course the answer is the first student, humble and hardworking. The second student was the object of gossip. “How could he throw away an opportunity like that?” people asked.
   Imagine for a moment that the grace of God is like a full ride to Harvard: beyond expectation, every expense paid, a life-changing opportunity. Anyone watching these two students would conclude that the student who flunked out had thrown away a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The scholarship to Harvard was a gift of grace, but the truth was that the work was just beginning.
   God’s grace is something like this parable. He does for us what we could not possibly do for ourselves. What is beyond our reach is joyfully paid in full by Jesus Christ, but His work and ours is just beginning. Why would we squander the possibilities of new birth in Christ? Like the student who received a full ride to Harvard, we need to receive the grace of God for what it is, a calling to a new kind of life … right now.
   Some people might object to the close association between the word, “grace” and the word, “work.” You might ask, “God’s grace comes with no strings attached, doesn’t it?” And we should be clear about this: no amount of effort on our part could ever win His pardon. This is true enough … it’s just not the whole story.
   The whole story goes beyond the fact that God picked up the tab we couldn’t pay. Our new birth into the Christian life is an invitation into the kingdom of God … even as it breaks into the Earth.
   This is demonstrated for us in the life of the apostle Paul. In the earliest days of his conversion to Christ, he knew immediately that Jesus had laid hold of him for a purpose. Paul was filled with gratitude for God’s grace and forgiveness, and he was eager to get on with God’s work. He began to call himself “God’s fellow worker” (1 Corinthians 3:9). In his calling as an apostle, he considered the church in Corinth to be God’s field, and he considered himself privileged to join the workforce.
   Paul was well aware that he had no moral standing to plant, preach, or pastor God’s new church in Corinth … after all … he had persecuted and killed Christians for years! Thank goodness he was also aware that his “qualifications” were not the issue. He said in 1 Corinthians 15:10 “But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace.”
   Can you see what a strange combination of words Paul puts together here? He uses the term “worked harder” and the word “grace” all in one sentence!
   What was true for Paul is also true for us. When we are born into God’s family, we are also born into the “family business.” God’s grace doesn’t just wipe away our sin; God’s grace calls us to join in the work of the kingdom!
   Dallas Willard had a saying that we should all take to heart, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” This wonderful distinction reminds us of the proper response to God’s saving work. The apostle Paul understood this side of grace as well. The famous apostle is the same one who described his task as one of “great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Corinthians 6:4–10) … all in order to share what he himself had been given. Paul had no trouble seeing the connection between grace and effort.
   Richard Foster helps us understand the ongoing work of grace. “Grace saves us from life without God–even more it empowers us for life with God.” The grace we receive at the new birth is only the introduction. As students of Jesus, we need grace for growth as well. Grace opens up the startling possibility that we don’t have to yo-yo between sin and forgiveness, sin and forgiveness. Instead, grace shows us the destiny we have in Christ.
   What is this deeper side of grace? The deeper side of grace is the discovery that our new birth should be followed by growth into the image of Jesus. The deeper side of grace is that when we begin to join in the “family business”, we should also begin to take on the “family likeness”.
   Here’s another way to think of it: co-laboring with Christ is the very activity that begins to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. As we joyfully work side-by-side with Jesus, we begin to become conformed to his image. Romans 8:29 tells us that “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” You see … this is our destiny, not only will we live with him forever, he wants us to be changed into his likeness!
   I would like to ask you a favor. If you will, find the book by Max Lucado, “Just Like Jesus”. On the cover are the words — “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be Just Like Jesus.” Someone turned me on to that book right after I get saved at 44 years old. I haven’t read a book since high school. Truthfully … in high school … I read the cliff notes – not the book. When I started reading this book … I couldn’t put it down. I sat there and read the entire book in a weekend. Pick it up and read it. It will be well worth your time.
   Matthew 11:28–30 points to an important revelation: Jesus invites anyone who would follow him to come under His instruction and learn His way of life: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
   Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” This image was common enough in His day. A yoke is a large collar, which places the strength of an ox or horse at the disposal of someone else.
   Grace calls us to God’s work. We are called to put on the yoke of grace by placing our strength at His disposal. He will not conquer us … we must bow before Him as a matter of choice. The path to becoming more like Jesus starts with His invitation … “Come to me.” After he speaks, we can choose to accept that invitation by only one method … to humble ourselves … to get rid of that stinkin thinkin and to get rid of our prideful attitudes.
   There’s more to grace than just knowing … grace is also about being … being involved in something far greater than self. James 1:27 teaches us that “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
   You see … my Christian walk has nothing to do with me … it’s all about doing for others. It’s all about denying myself “moment by moment” and picking up my cross so God will show me the opportunities and give me the abilities to serve and help others.
   So many of us get so bogged down in our stuff that we can’t see the light anymore. Do you know how to get outta that rut … get involved!! Get involved in the lives of the people around you. Pray for God to show you the opportunities to serve and help others. So many people come to church expecting the church to help them. But it should be the other way around. You should be coming to church with the attitude “What can I do to help?” … not only the church … but also the people in the church. Quit sitting on your hands and get involved!!!
   John Kennedy made the statement “It’s not what your country can do for you, but it’s what you can do for your country.” It’s not about what the Kingdom can do for you, but it’s all about what you can do for the Kingdom!!!!! What are you doing for the Kingdom?? Are you waiting for a hand out or are you looking and praying for a way to give a hand up?
   Understand this … If God wants to give me the grace to be more like Jesus … and if it takes a little effort on my part … then, by all means, count me in!!! You see, the bottom line here today is about how we take the yoke that God has given us. It’s how we position ourselves to learn from Him and how we can extend grace to others by being a blessing to the ones around us.
   How about you?? Where is your position?? Are you sitting here today, smelling all that good food in the kitchen wondering what we’re gonna have for lunch after church? Or are you sitting here today soaking up these lessons, are you going out to our website reading and studying these lessons, so you can begin to think more like the Master … so you can start living more like the Savior??

​May 26, 2019 God's Grace - More Than Forgiveness Part 1 of 4

   Our text today is Titus 2:11–14 (NLT) — 11For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
   Children’s Church is Dismissed
   God’s Grace – More Than Forgiveness Video
   The last three weeks we’ve been talking about forgiveness. Oh no!!! Not another lesson on forgiveness?? Like I said last week … I’m gonna keep teaching it until y’all start living it, right??
   Over the past few weeks I hope we’ve learned how and why we are instructed … we are commanded (if you will) to forgive others … unconditionally … no matter what. And then … once you’ve truly forgiven that wrong … don’t bring it back up again.
   Today we set out on a four-week journey that (if we let it) has the potential to change our lives. Together, we’ll examine the Scriptures and listen to the Holy Spirit as we consider the topic of God’s grace.
   Have you ever taken the time to think deeply about grace? Have you ever taken the time to study God’s Word about grace? This is a journey for all of us to take together. It doesn’t matter if you’re one of the seasoned saints who thinks you got it all together, a new believer who doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on with your new life or if you’re one of those who are exploring whether the Good News of Jesus is really true … or not.
   The topic of God’s grace is so vast, it’s certainly much more than we can cover in four weeks. But I hope that we can begin the journey together and that each of us will spend the rest of our lives on the wonderful journey of learning and entering into God’s grace in greater and greater measure.
   Today, we’ll discover that God’s grace is more than forgiveness; He sends His grace to teach us a new way to live.
   Let me start out this morning by telling you a story you might not expect to hear in church. For some of you it may be difficult to hear. It’s a story about an abusive husband and his wife. The husband was a rage-aholic, given to fits of anger and, those moments sometimes overflowed into violence. Like the time he slammed his wife up against the kitchen cabinets. Or the time he slapped her across the face and then, in horror and shame, ran off to find a quiet place to tremble and cry.
   The wife, a Christian, forgave her husband each time he came home in that condition. He quite accurately said to her, “I don’t know what comes over me.”
   The wife loved her husband deeply, and saw the many good sides of this flawed man, but she lived in fear that the next rage-riot might bring a harm that wouldn’t heal.
   She stayed with her husband because, each time, he sincerely begged for forgiveness. She knew her duty as a Christian was to forgive and extend grace.
   The only thing she knew of God’s grace was forgiveness. She had been told all her life that she was powerless over sin and that God’s grace came to forgive and restore her relationship with her Father. She was enough of a Christian to understand that, if God had forgiven her, she should extend the same grace to others … especially her husband.
   She knew a small piece of God’s grace, but only enough to put her in danger.
   You see, It’s God’s grace that forgives and restores. Sweet forgiveness. Sweet, yes, but in the story you just heard, forgiveness alone was filled with torment … unless there was something more. If we look at the wife in this story, we want to scream, “Get out! It’s not safe!” Any sane Christian understands the woman has no duty to remain at home living in an abusive relationship and risk injury or death because of some notion of grace … expressed as constant forgiveness.
   If we look at the husband in this story, we see a man trapped in his thoughts, his emotions, and his behaviors that’ll harm everyone he loves and ruin his own life, as well. A sympathetic view of the husband understands that he, too, is a tormented soul in desperate need of help … help beyond merely wiping his sinful slate clean. The most gracious thing his Christian wife could do would be to move out and demand that he get the help he needs to overcome his deep anger and pain.
   And what of Jesus? If this woman is a Christian … then Jesus is the third member of the marriage, right? We could no more imagine Jesus leaving this husband alone in his condition (a captive to anger and fits of rage) than we could imagine Jesus telling a homeless man, “Go your way, be warm and filled,” without giving him food and clothing (James 2:16).
   Beyond the characters in this simple story lies a larger question … what about us? Would a grace-filled God leave us in the condition He finds us? Would He spend His days reminding us of our shortcomings … demanding, again and again … prayers of repentance and sorrow? Would the loving Creator wave His hand and say, “You are forgiven, now—go and sin no more” (John 8:11), without lifting even one finger to empower us to be able to combat that sin? Would He do that?
   The story I’ve told you is extreme and disturbing, but it’s a true story. It’s a story that’s been repeated over and over in many Christian homes throughout this country. Sometimes an extreme example is necessary to grab our hearts and free our minds. Does God’s grace mean only forgiveness, or is there something more to His antidote for our sin? Would God leave us alone in our rage, our addictions, or our isolation? A cold and comfortless God He would be, if that were so.
   You see, the problem is not with God the Father or with His grace. The problem is our understanding of grace … our problem is our lack of understanding and our inability to see God’s ongoing work in our lives. Jesus will not leave us to ourselves any more than He would leave a beggar in the street. Anyone who would suggest that misrepresents the true God of grace.
   Grace forgives, but it also guides. Let’s set aside the question of heaven or hell after we die. What about heaven or hell while we live? His grace is available to lead and guide us right now! With every breath we take, the fabric of everyday life is alive with the grace of God. If we wait until we’ve sinned to call upon the grace of God, we’ve squandered the greater part of grace.
   Grace restores, but it also guards. It also instructs us to deny ungodly ways and teaches us the how-to of life: how to live sensible, upright, and godly lives in this dark, perverted generation.
   The Scripture teaches we are saved by grace. The good news is we can experience salvation here and now, as well as there and then. The kingdom of God glides on wings of grace. The kingdom brings righteousness, peace, and joy (Romans 14:17), and best of all, the gracious Holy Spirit wants to leads us into righteousness, peace, and joy in our everyday lives. I want you to understand this …the kingdom is never attained … it is received. How will we receive the grace of the kingdom today?
   The more I read the New Testament, the more all-encompassing grace becomes. The Bible presents a grace that continues to reach into our lives day after day in more ways than we ever imagine or expect.
   In our text today (Titus 2:11–14) Titus introduces us to grace in ways that are both familiar, and also unfamiliar. The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was writing to Titus, a young pastor. Titus had traveled with Paul, and Titus had been trained by Paul. What’s more, Paul had great affection for this young disciple, calling him “my true child in the faith” (Titus 1:4). Here in vs 11–14 is what Paul taught Titus about the scope of God’s grace:
   11For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. 14He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds. (Titus 2:11–14)
   In this passage, the word “grace” appears right next to phrases like “self-controlled” and “upright and godly lives.” What kind of grace is this? If grace means only “forgiveness,” why does the Scripture also talk about learning a new way to live?
   Most believers are very familiar with “the grace that brings salvation,” but not many have ever heard of a grace that “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” Most believers are familiar with a saving grace capable of securing heaven after we die, but have never considered the possibility that God’s grace can nurture us in this present age.
   Let’s look at the four key points of this passage:
   1. Grace brings salvation. This is the part of God’s grace most Christians know. And it’s wonderful. It’s foundational to our faith. Ephesians 2:8 tells us; “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” This is the starting point of our life in Christ, but it’s just the start. The good news gets even better!
   2. Grace teaches us to say no. God doesn’t want us forever trapped in a cycle of sin and forgiveness ... sin and forgiveness … sin and forgiveness. So, grace keeps on working for us, teaching us how to resist temptation and ungodliness. That’s right, we can call on the grace of God BEFORE we fall into sin!
   3. Grace teaches us how to live. There’s more to the Christian life than saying no to sin. God’s grace is available to replace our sinful habits and patterns with self-control, so we can live upright and godly lives. This is not the result of trusting in our works, but rather allowing grace to teach us.
   4. Grace fills us with hope. Do you see the connection in these verses? Life in Christ is not meant to be a desperate fight against sin, nor even a narrow focus on godly living. In vs 13 we see that it’s God grace that fills us with hope — hope for this life, and the next.
   Would grace allow sin to rule over us all the days of our lives? Why would grace leave us naked and bleeding on the side of the road? God’s grace is after more than wiping the slate clean week after week. The grace of God wants to teach us a new way to live.
   If grace is the teacher, that means we are the students, and all of life is the classroom. If we possess the humility to become learners, God’s grace not only transports us to heaven when we die, but it also brings heaven close to us while we live. This is part of the good news; grace not only forgives our sin, grace teaches us how to live a life that is no longer captive to sin!
   Too many believers are stuck in an unhealthy pattern. We choose sin, which is bad enough. Worse still, after we get through that sin … a voice in our head tries to drag us down deeper still.
   It’s the voice of the Adversary. He whispers enticement before our sin and shouts condemnation after. His is a voice skilled in subtle influence, followed by paralyzing guilt. It’s a voice filled with accusation. John 8:44 says “He is a liar and the Father of Lies; lies are his native tongue.”
   It’s true that sin brings death, but God’s grace wipes away the penalty of death and the stain of sin. Even better, grace does more. It raises us to life and teaches us a new way to live.
   This is the glory of God. He speaks to us even in our sin. Our Heavenly Father turns our sin into the stuff of restoration. As a matter of fact … His message is restoration, and what’s more, he takes our defeat and turns it into the very fabric of instruction. God wants us to learn from our past sins, and “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
   Have you ever learned from your sin? If you have … that’s grace. God’s not only ready to forgive; He is eager to teach. If we’re open to God’s voice, even our sin becomes grace in His hands. He will show us the path and correct our steps, not by insisting on obedience, but by revealing our hearts to us. Not by counting ours sins against us, but by teaching us a new way to live.
   For example, if I fall into anger, Jesus wants to reveal its source, and heal the weakness that led me to sin. If I choose greed, Jesus wants to reveal my insecurity, and heal the weakness that led me to sin. If I choose lust, Jesus wants to reveal my desire, and heal the weakness that led me to sin. If I choose judgment, Jesus wants to reveal my pride, and heal the weakness that led me to that sin also. Do you get the idea?? God wants to heal the weaknesses that lead us to sin.
   What he asks, he empowers. Jesus says, “Go, and sin no more.” He also makes this command possible because He takes us to the source of the sin and gives us the hope and the power to overcome it. This is a kind of resurrection, a resurrection from a life of sin to a life of righteousness. Resurrection isn’t just for Jesus; it’s also for us. It’s not just for the end of days; it’s also so we can walk in newness of life today. Sin puts us in the tomb; Jesus rolls away the stone, as often as we need Him to.
   Our application of these verses can be very personal when we can pray, listen, and learn because in our daily prayers, we should include prayers like this: “Spirit of God, please open my eyes and heart to recognize your grace-works in my life.”
   It’s also a part of God’s grace to answer prayers like this. Jesus assured us in Matthew 7 (7-11) that if we ask Him for bread, He will not give us a stone.
   We can be confident that God will answer prayers like this one. After our time of prayer, it is our opportunity to learn. Make a few notes of what came to your mind. What did you discover about God as you prayed and listened? What did you discover about yourself? You can be sure that God will lead you toward a larger understanding of grace.
   In the coming week, what might happen if you tried this exercise once a day, each day? This exercise is not about merely gaining Biblical knowledge … as important as that may be …it’s about opening our eyes, ears, and lives to the deeper grace God has in store. God’s grace wants to teach us a new way to live! True, we will still stumble and fall along the way, but there is always grace for forgiveness. Better still, the Bible teaches in Lamentations 3:22-23 that there’s even more grace available to us for each new day and every new situation. It says “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies are new each morning.”
   How about you?? Are your mercies new each morning??

May 19, 2019 Total Forgiveness Part 3 of 3

​   Opening Text: Luke 6:27-36 — Love for Enemies — 27“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
   32“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
   35“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   There was once a Pastor who arrived at his new Church and this was his first Sunday in the pulpit. He delivered a powerful sermon that really hit home with the congregation. On the way out of church, many of the people thanked the Pastor for that sermon. The next Sunday, he preached ANOTHER powerful sermon. But a few people noticed that it was the exact same one from the week before! It seemed a little strange … but nobody mentioned it. They just filed out and thanked the pastor again.
   Well, this went on for several weeks!! The same sermon, over and over. Finally, one of the Elders got up the gumption, stood up and said “Pastor, please forgive me for interrupting, but, you know you’ve preached the same sermon for the past month, don’t you? How many more times are planning on preaching it!?!?”
   And the pastor responded, “I’ll quit preaching it … when you folks start living it!!”
   After 2 sermons in a row about Forgiveness, some of you may be asking how many more times am l going to talk about this forgiveness stuff!?!? I’m tempted to say, “I’ll quit preaching it … when you folks start living it!!” Instead, I’ll tell you that there’s so much that we could learn about Forgiveness that we could talk another month or two on this same topic … and never cover it all.

   But I won’t do that. I think that this will be my last lesson on it ... at least for a while because most of us need to be reminded a lot of times of a lot of things, don’t we?? Hopefully the seeds of what we’ve been learning will continue to sprout and grow in your hearts and minds and people will start seeing the evidence of it as you start living it out in your lives.
   If by chance there are still questions about Forgiveness after finishing up this lesson, I’m asking that you either write them down or ask me personally. That way, down the road, I can address those specific concerns. And trust me, if you have the question in your mind, somebody else probably does too!!
   So, let’s get down to business. Last week I left you with several questions to consider. Two of those were: “How can I Forgive someone who is dead or that I’ve lost track of??” And ... “Am I supposed to Forgive someone who isn’t even sorry for their sin against me??”
   Actually, these two questions are directly related. Because you see, Totally Forgiving someone is NOT contingent on whether or not they seek to receive that Forgiveness. It’s something we’re supposed to do in our hearts ... REGARDLESS of the other person’s attitude. Listen closely ... even if they’re not sorry for what they’ve done, you can ... and you SHOULD … Totally Forgive them … unconditionally!! I know that sounds crazy and radical, but friends, this is how the Bible teaches us to forgive ... and it’s how God Forgives us!!
   I bet you’re a little skeptical right about now. Well, let me prove it to you from God’s own Holy Word. If you will, please turn your Bibles to Luke 15 (11-24). Just to refresh your memory, this is the parable of the Prodigal Son.
   Let’s look at vs 17-18 where it says when that boy came to his senses and realized that the hired servants in his father’s house had it better than he did, he decided to go home to his Father and say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”
   But look at what happens in vs. 20!! Even before the boy can get those apologetic words out of his mouth ... the father saw him coming from a long distance. Filled with love and compassions runs up to him and embraces him and kisses him! I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s a strong indication that dear ole Dad had ALREADY forgiven his wayward son before he could even say “I’m sorry.” Do ya see what’s happening here?? The boy’s daddy was standing on the porch “LOOKING” for his son to return home … just as our Father in heaven is standing at the Pearly Gates waiting on His Prodigal Children to realize their wayward ways and return home.
   You see … in that story … God is dear ole Dad, and the wayward son is us, right? But … the son in the parable was SORRY for the hurt and pain he had caused. What about the people who are NOT sorry or repentant??
   Well, let’s look at a short, but very familiar Bible passage. It’s found in Luke 23:34. Many of you know this verse by heart. Jesus was dying on the Cross, and he looked down at the people who were mocking Him and who had crucified Him and who had rejected Him and who was gambling over His clothes ... and He said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
   For all we know, many of those people went to their graves without ever acknowledging their sins and without ever ASKING for Forgiveness. And yet Jesus prayed for their Forgiveness!! Follow me very closely here. When Jesus died on the Cross, He died for the sins of the WHOLE world. He died even for the sins of unrepentant sinners!! He died for the MOST committed atheist that hates the very air that He breathes. The problem is, they have refused and rejected His forgiveness. But their lack of repentance didn’t stop Jesus from asking His Father to Forgive them anyway!!
   Still not convinced?? Then look at our Gospel Reading for today from Luke 6: 27-28. Read these verses out loud with me: {Jesus said} "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
   Who is it that Jesus says we’re supposed to do all these nice things to?? Repentant friends or apologetic family?? No!!! OUR ENEMIES!! Can we safely assume that an “enemy” is someone who is NOT sorry for hurting us ... and is NOT about to ask for forgiveness?? You better believe it!! Yet Jesus instructs us to treat them in ways that sure sound to me like Total Forgiveness. It doesn’t matter if that person remains an enemy and refuses to seek Forgiveness. That’s got nothing to do with the miracle of forgiveness in YOUR heart. Our only job is to forgive, and leave that other person’s attitude in God’s hands.
   Does that sound impossible... to Forgive an unrepentant ENEMY?? You bet ‘cha!!! BUT … that’s what God did!! Listen to what Paul says in Romans 5:10, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” In other words, Jesus died on the Cross for us while we were still God’s ENEMIES ... and before any of us had ever confessed our sins to God and asked for Forgiveness. And that’s how He wants us to Forgive one another ... even our Unrepentant Enemies.
   I know what you’re thinking. “God is perfect and holy!! I’m a sinner. I could never Forgive the way God does!!” AND … you’re right. On our own … it’ll NEVER happen. Under our own power we could NEVER follow God’s example of Total Forgiveness. “I just want to ring the dude’s neck!!” AND that attitude is why one of the best memory verses that we could ever tattoo on our hearts and minds is Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” God’s Holy Spirit is the ONLY ONE that can create that kind of a Forgiving heart within us ... if we’ll just let Him!!
   Maybe you’re thinking that this doesn’t sound very fair. I mean, if you Forgive someone for hurting you or doing you wrong ... and they’re never forced to recognize their sin ... then they’re gonna get away with it, Scott-free, right?? Wrong!!
   Do you believe that God is fair and just?? I do!! And I know that He will make things right ... I don’t have to. But if you honestly feel you just HAVE to get some revenge ... then my advice is ... Go Ahead!! Yes, you heard me right, Go Ahead!! Get revenge the way Paul said in Romans 12:20 that "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Yeah Boy!! That’ll show ‘em, won’t it??
   If you want to do something really nasty to pay somebody back … be nice to them!! Or as Jesus said, pray for them and ask God to bless them!! I know it sounds nuts, but it works. You see … I know beyond a shadow of any doubt that it’ll work … it HAS to … it CAN’T fail ... because it comes from God!
   That doesn’t mean that you set yourself up to be your enemy’s doormat or punching bag. No way!! But we can still be kind and forgiving without turning ourselves in victims. Don’t stoop to their level. As Paul says in vs. 21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
   Right about now, some of you are thinking, “I know God wants me to Totally Forgive others and let go of their sins against me. But if I’m the victim ... why should I have to keep giving and giving and giving?? What’s in it for me??”
   You guys are too polite to say that out loud, aren’t you?? … because it sounds selfish, doesn’t it?? Well, don’t be embarrassed. It’s a legitimate question ... and guess what?? There IS something fantastic in this for you. God has an awesome, overwhelming Peace for your mind and for your soul if you’ll practice Total Forgiveness. In other words, YOU will benefit from Totally Forgiving others!!
   If you think about it, it makes sense. If you refuse to Totally Forgive and let go of a hurt that was committed against you ... who suffers?? YOU DO!!
   PLEASE understand this .. People who hold onto those kinds of feelings only hurt themselves. For starters, the 6th chapter of Matthew (vss 14-15) says if we aren’t willing to totally forgive someone … God won’t forgive us. That person who did the damage to you isn’t going to be hurt by you withholding forgiveness. And quite frankly, some of them will go skipping through life, happy-go-lucky... while YOU have a sour knot in your stomach every time you think of them. Why get an ulcer or high blood pressure?? Just let it go!! And turn it over to God!!
   I know ... that sounds whole lot easier said than done (been there – done that). But trust me, you can do it with God’s help! Let me share with you a story about how this unbelievable miracle took place in a pastor’s heart ... and I’m confident that God will make it work for you too.
   A pastor shared this story … “In the last year... and even in just the last WEEK... I’ve had to practice Total Forgiveness. And as I said to you before, it’s not easy. It’s very, very difficult. You know why?? Because even after I’ve said, “Lord, I want to Forgive that person,” my mind keeps replaying what happened. And those hurt feelings and resentment come back with a passion. Then I start dreaming up scenes where I meet that person ... and I dream of all the things I might say to them ... and all the things they might say to me. And before long, my stomach is in a knot again ... and I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about it!! I DO NOT enjoy that!!
   But you know what works to get those thoughts out of my mind?? The words of Jesus in verse 27-28 of our text. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
   When my mind starts thinking of that person and what they did to hurt me, I stop and ask God ... to bless them!! It’s the last thing in my heart that I want to do, but it’s what Christ has told me I should do … it’s what Christ has done for me. I repeat to God that I want to Totally Forgive them and let go of that memory. Then I ask Him to truly bless them. And you know what?? Eventually that video in my mind stops replaying all those scenes that had me so worked up. That’s because you can’t stay upset with someone whom you’re asking God to bless!!
   I guarantee that if you’ll try it, it will work for you too. How can I guarantee it?? Because it comes directly from God’s Word ... and His Word is ALWAYS reliable.
   Now here comes the selfish part. When you ask God to truly bless that person … guess who also gets a blessing?? You do!! Because in place of that bitterness ... and that sour stomach ... and that high blood pressure ... you’ll receive a Peace and like you’ve never felt before. There will be a peace and calm in your heart that truly “surpasses all understanding.” I challenge you to try it. Actually … I double dog dare you to try it with all your heart!! Give it a try … give it 110% … you’ve got nothing to lose ... but look at the good things you’ll gain from it.
   Let me say though, here come the tough part … this is NOT a one-shot deal. You’ll have to do it over and over and over again … for the same ole things with the same ole people who continually hurt you and upset you.
   I’ll be honest ... it will be hard at first. And you may have to turn off those memories by asking God to bless that person every single day for the rest of your life. The deeper the hurt, the more difficult this process may be. Especially when it’s someone you were close to. But once you taste that inner Peace from God, it gets easier and easier to practice Total Forgiveness, because you know the Great Blessing that YOU’RE going to get out of it.
   We’ve got one last question we need to answer: Does Total Forgiveness mean the same thing as Total Reconciliation?? From a human standpoint, the answer is a hands down NO!! “Are you crazy?? You think I should reconcile with that dude??” Look at what he’s done to me!!!!!”
   From God’s standpoint, the answer is simply “Yes”. As sinful human beings ... with His help … our goal in life is to strive to be more and more like our Savior, Jesus. But in this life, it’s gonna be a huge struggle. There’re going to be situations where a person has hurt you that you are never going to be Totally Reconciled with them.
   Let’s use two examples of opposite extremes. Say a guy murdered someone you loved ... and wasn’t even sorry for it. With God’s help, you CAN learn to Totally Forgive him. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to invite him over for dinner.
   On the other hand, if someone close to you causes a deep hurt, even though you Totally Forgive them ... your relationship will probably never be the same. That’s just a sad fact of life in a sinful world.
   Can God rebuild a damaged relationship?? Of course He can. Yes ... and I believe that sometimes, He even makes it stronger after the work of Forgiveness and Reconciliation have begun.
   Especially within the Christian Church this is SO important. Look again at Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:19. He says, “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”
   You see, when people see that we have TOTALLY Forgiven one another … when we start living it out in our lives, and people see it … forgiveness is a very powerful evangelism tool. And when we’re able to be Reconciled with the same people who we were at odds with ... when our lives become justified together … it’s a living testimony to the world of the work God has done in our lives through Jesus Christ. By Totally Forgiving and striving for Reconciliation and Justification (Just As If Nothing Ever Happened) ... we’re preaching the Gospel of Jesus to the world!! By our actions, they are seeing a reflection of what God is offering to them. The best part is that in the process ... WE benefit from that miracle taking place in our hearts ... the other person benefits... and God smiles down with great pleasure as He sees His children imitating the Love and Total Forgiveness that He has showered upon us. May God give us all the humility and the courage to Totally Forgive the way that He has Totally Forgiven us. Amen.

May 12, 2019 Total Forgiveness Part 2 of 3

   Opening passage — Genesis 45:1-15 (NLT) — Joseph Reveals His Identity — 1Joseph could stand it no longer. There were many people in the room, and he said to his attendants, “Out, all of you!” So he was alone with his brothers when he told them who he was. 2Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace.
   3“I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. 4“Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. 5But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. 6This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.
   9“Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately! 10You can live in the region of Goshen, where you can be near me with all your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and everything you own. 11I will take care of you there, for there are still five years of famine ahead of us. Otherwise you, your household, and all your animals will starve.’”
   12Then Joseph added, “Look! You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that I really am Joseph! 13Go tell my father of my honored position here in Egypt. Describe for him everything you have seen, and then bring my father here quickly.” 14Weeping with joy, he embraced Benjamin, and Benjamin did the same. 15Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them, and after that they began talking freely with him.
   Summary: In the second part of this series on Forgiveness, we see in the Scriptures the example of how God works the miracle of Forgiveness in people’s hearts.
   This week, we’re going to continue our examination of that all important doctrine of Forgiveness. But before we get into all that, let me clear something up. After the last lesson, someone said to me, “You know, so-and-so REALLY needed to hear that lesson.” And I believe you’re right. But listen to me closely. SO DO YOU!! Don’t just think that it’s the OTHER person who needs to learn how to Forgive. YOU NEED TO HEAR IT TOO!! WE ALL DO!! I know ... you’re thinking to yourself, “Naaaa!! I’m okay with it. I can forgive and forget and I don’t hold any grudges.” Really??
   You see … I don’t doubt for a minute that you’re being honest. But I don’t believe that you’re practicing TOTAL Forgiveness ... the way that God wants us to Forgive one another. You may not be upset with the person who hurt you. You may not be actively seeking to get back at them. You may have dropped the issue in your mind and stopped thinking about it … and that person. But that’s not the same as truly and TOTALLY Forgiving them.
   How can I be so sure that you’re not practicing TOTAL Forgiveness?? It’s simple. You’re a sinful human being just like me and every other person who has ever lived on the face of this earth. And because of that, it’s guaranteed that you’re going to make mistakes and struggle with TOTALLY Forgiving someone. It’s a hard process. In fact, it’s probably the most difficult thing you’ll ever have to do. In a sense, it’s like climbing Mt. Everest. It may be very difficult, but it will be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done in your life.
   I think that the author of that book, R.T. Kendall, I told you about last week, hit the nail right on the head. He said that you may not think you’ve ever seen or experienced a miracle in your life. But once God leads you to Totally Forgive someone, you will see a real-life miracle. No... you won’t see Jesus changing water into wine ... or healing someone from a dreaded disease ... or raising someone from the dead. But, through Him, you’ll see a change in the attitude of your heart ... through Him you’ll see the dreaded disease of bitterness removed from your mind ... and He will resurrect in you the Peace that He wants you to have.
   A miracle is when something supernatural happens. And Totally Forgiving someone is supernatural. In other words, it goes against the laws of human nature that are at work in our sinful hearts. It’s not natural for us sinners to Forgive. Our sinful nature would rather seek revenge. Our sinful nature would rather hold onto the desire to pay back the person who hurt us... even if that payback doesn’t come from us. Our sinful nature hopes for the day when we’ll be able to see the offending person suffering and say, “Sucker... you got what you deserved. What goes around comes around!”
   THAT is not Total Forgiveness. The good news is that God can teach us how to do it His way. And by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can experience this miracle in our own lives.
   So where can we go to learn how God wants us to Forgive?? As always, our only reliable source is God’s Word. And trust me, it’s full of examples of how God wants us to Totally Forgive others. He sets out for us a model or a pattern for us to follow as we seek to Forgive in a way that’s pleasing to Him. Maybe the best thing to do is to start with a negative example.
   Hopefully you all remember the story of Jacob and Esau. The Reader’s Digest version is that Jacob pulled a nasty trick on his brother Esau and stole his birthright. When Esau learned what had happened, he was angry. He was so angry that Genesis 27:41 says: Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, "The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” In other words, he was going to bide his time and when their father was dead, he was planning on paying Jacob back by killing him. He nursed a grudge against his brother and he wanted harm to come to him. Thankfully, I can tell you that God changed Esau’s heart. Because years later when these two brothers met again, Esau had finally forgiven Jacob. But I just wonder how many years Esau didn’t suffer as he held onto his bitterness and his plans for revenge.
   Next, let’s look at a positive example. It’s found in our Old Testament reading from Genesis 45. Here again, I’ll just give you the Reader’s Digest version of the facts leading up to our text. Joseph was one of 12 sons of a famous man named _____??? Ironically, their father was good old Jacob ... the guy that his brother wanted to kill. Now watch how history repeats itself here.
   Joseph was Daddy’s favorite. On top of that, Joseph tells his brothers about a dream where they all bow down to him. So, one day they catch Joseph out in the field and decide to kill him. But instead of killing him, they sell him as a slave to some traders who were passing by.
   Let’s face it, guys. No matter what this kid had said, selling him into slavery was a pretty mean thing to do to him. If anybody had a right to be angry and hold a grudge … Joseph did.
   Eventually, he ends up in Egypt and after years and years as a slave, God blesses him and Joseph becomes the second most powerful man in the country.
   Well, there was a famine back home in the land of Canaan and Jacob’s boys go to Egypt to buy grain. And guess who they have to deal with?? Yep ... the brother they had mistreated. But so much time had passed that they didn’t recognize Joseph anymore. BUT … he recognized them!! What an opportunity for revenge!! He could pay them back 100 times over for the awful thing they had done to him. He could make them beg for mercy and forgiveness. But that’s not what he did.
   Evidently, over the years, God had worked the miracle of Total Forgiveness in Joseph’s heart. So, in our text for today, he reveals his identity to his brothers. But if you look in your Bibles at verse 3 … it says his brothers were stunned (some translations use the word terrified). Why do you suppose they were terrified?? Because they knew how our sinful nature operates. They expected Joseph to want revenge. But he did the exact opposite ... because he had already Totally Forgiven them a long time ago.
   Those brothers simply found it hard to believe that he could or would Totally Forgive them. In fact, later on when their father dies, they figure Joseph will finally pay them back. So, they made up a lie telling Joseph that their father had left instructions to not hurt them once he was dead and gone. And it says in chapter 50 verse 17 “When their message came to him, Joseph wept.”
   Poor Joseph. God had worked the miracle of Total Forgiveness in his heart ... and now his brothers were too scared to receive it. He cried because he wished them absolutely no harm ... but they were beating themselves up anyway. Verse 21 says that Joseph “reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” Isn’t that amazing!?!? Here we have Joseph, the VICTIM ... having to work overtime to convince his brothers that it’s OK … he had indeed Totally Forgiven them.
   Let’s turn back to our text in chapter 45. Since Joseph has Totally Forgiven his brothers, he wants them to know that they’re off the hook. But there’s something very important I want you to notice. Joseph doesn’t deny what they had done. He doesn’t pretend that the awful sin against him didn’t happen. But he repeats it only as a piece of Forgiven history.
   This is where I think so many of us balk at the idea of Total Forgiveness. We think that if we Totally Forgive someone then we have to pretend like the past never happened. That’s not true. As I said last week, you can never really totally forget things like this. But when you’ve totally let it go, and given it over to God, it can become a piece of Forgiven History in your life.
   If you’re not sure if Joseph had Totally Forgiven his brothers, then just look in vs. 9 at what he told them to say to their father … “Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately!”
   He very easily could have made them go home and tell dear old Dad the awful story of what they had done. Think how sweet that revenge sounds. Not only would they have to confess their sin ... but they’d have to do it to Dad, whom they had lied to all those years.
   But Joseph doesn’t even mention it in his instructions to them. And after that, he refuses to bring it up again. The only time he talks about it is when the BROTHERS bring it up. As far as Joseph was concerned, the issue was Forgiven ... so, in Joseph’s heart and mind, it was dead and buried. You see, in no way shape or form did Joseph want to see his brothers suffer for a sin that was already Forgiven!! THAT is telltale sign of Total Forgiveness.
   I just wonder if WE are prepared to Forgive in the same way. I know our tendency is to lash out. When someone has hurt us, we want to tell others about it. We may not try to get revenge in any other way. But we want anyone and everyone who will listen ... to know just how rotten that person is who hurt us. In essence we’re hoping to pay them back by hurting their reputation. THAT’s a telltale sign that we haven’t Totally Forgiven. You might be thinking, “Well, that’s too bad. I can’t bring myself to Forgive at that level.” Need I remind you of what Jesus said in Matthew 18:35?? He said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
   My question to you this morning is this, “Is that how you want God to Forgive you??”
   No … I didn’t think so!! God doesn’t go around telling other people about our short comings. And He doesn’t want us to do that either. He wants us to, in our hearts and minds, to TOTALLY Forgive others … and then drop it.
   Before we go any further, I feel we should answer a concern that this might raise. What if the person who hurt you is a “repeat offender”?? For instance, what if they have a hot temper or an offensive habit of insulting people?? What if they have a personality that could really hurt or damage someone who is weaker than you?? Don’t you have a responsibility to warn others about that person??
   The answer is NO. But it’s a qualified NO. I sincerely do believe there is a time and a place for confronting someone about their sin against you. In Matthew 18:(15-18), Jesus gives us clear instruction for confronting a sin. But in that process, it’s supposed to stay as confidential and private as possible. Even if that person remains unrepentant, Jesus never says that it’s open season on telling the whole world about how awful this person is.
   Yes, the last verse tells us to “take it to the Church.” But then the whole Church has the Christian responsibility to keep their lips zipped about it. And if you ever end up having to tell a sin to the whole church ... it had better not be as an act of revenge. You’ll have to search your own soul on your motives.
   As I said, the answer there was a qualified NO. If your mind or your conscience is plagued by what someone has done to hurt you, you do have the option of telling someone. First and foremost, I would hope that you’d start with me, your Pastor. Why?? Is it because I like to hear those kind of juicy stories?? Absolutely not!! But the advantage of coming to me is that I have sworn before God that I WILL NOT share that information with ANYONE. If you need help in going to that person and confronting the sin, I will help with that too. I will lead you in prayer and I will counsel you with God’s Word to Forgive that person.
   Let me make something perfectly clear though. If someone has committed a crime in the process of hurting you, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tell the proper authorities about it. For instance, if a man rapes a woman or abuses his wife or children, it should be reported. The rest of society needs to be protected from that person. By reporting it and testifying in court doesn’t mean that you haven’t Totally Forgiven them. But let’s face it ... the greatest majority of sins that people commit against us are not illegal. That doesn’t mean that they hurt any less. It just means that we have no business putting on the front page of The State Newspaper or the 6 o’clock News.
   One more thing while we’re on the subject. When God brings about that miracle in your heart, and you DO Totally Forgive someone... you don’t go rushing over to them and say, “I just want you to know that I have Totally Forgiven you.” I know, I know... that sounds like a GOOD thing to do. But in many of our situations where we need to Forgive ... the other person doesn’t have the slightest clue that they’ve offended you! You may think they OUGHT to ... but, in most cases, they don’t. Just try to imagine how many times YOU have hurt others without even knowing it!! In fact, quite often the other person that you want to declare Forgiveness to, might be thinking that you offended them!! The truth is ... you BOTH need to Totally Forgive EACH OTHER!!
   Even if it was one-sided and that person KNOWS what they’ve done ... you, going to them, and saying “I Forgive you” may very well make them feel like you’re rubbing their nose in it. Do you remember what Joseph did?? He modeled for us God’s Total Forgiveness. He Forgave his brothers long before they ever came to him ... but it wasn’t the first thing out of his mouth when he saw them. The brothers brought it up to him!!
   Don’t get me wrong!! If a person is truly sorry for sinning against you ... and they come and ask you to Forgive them ... it is GOOD AND RIGHT to say, “I Forgive you.” But even if they don’t ask, you can SHOW them by your actions that you have Totally Forgiven them. And your actions might be the very thing that brings them to ask you to say those words. Then, it is your pleasant responsibility to say to them, “I have Forgiven you ... just like God has Forgiven me.”
   What is it we say around here?? Total Forgiveness is called Justification … which means … Just As If Nothing Ever Happened!!! The question is … “If you have Totally Forgiven someone ... do you treat them any different than you did before the offense?
   Next week we’re going to look at some more of those hard questions that I know are going through your mind. Questions like: “How can I Forgive someone who is dead or that I’ve lost track of?? Am I supposed to forgive someone who isn’t even sorry for their sin against me?? Does Total Forgiveness mean the same thing as Total reconciliation?? And lots more. In preparation for that, I’d like to once again encourage you to go to the website and read over again these lessons that we’ve heard last week and today on Forgiveness. Ask God to teach you about Total Forgiveness from His Word. Then thank Him for the Total Forgiveness He has given to you through Jesus Christ, and ask Him to work that miracle in your heart towards others. May God our loving Father bless you with His peace that comes from receiving and sharing Total Forgiveness. Amen.


May 5, 2019     Total Forgiveness Part 1 of 3

   Opening passage — Ephesians 4:17-5:14 (NLT) — Living as Children of Light — 17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
   20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
   25So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil.
   28If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
   30And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
   31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
   Living in the Light
   51Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
   3Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.
   6Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. 7Don’t participate in the things these people do. 8For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! 9For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
   10Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,
   “Awake, O sleeper,
       rise up from the dead,
       and Christ will give you light.”
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   What is Easter all about??? We all know that Easter is about death, burial and being raised again to life. But it’s more to it than that, isn’t is. It’s also about forgiveness and allowing yourself to be changed.
   I felt by closing out the Easter season last week that we’d turn our attention to one of the truth’s of the cross that most people seem to forget. We’re going to take the next few weeks to focus on a very, very important and essential doctrine of the Christian Church ... forgiveness. In fact, if you take away what the Bible teaches about forgiveness ... what was the purpose of taking the last four weeks to study about the life changing power of Resurrection Sunday and the events that lead up to that day? Is there really any reason for us to keep gathering as Christians like the Bible instructs us to in Hebrews 10 (25) I mean, that IS what we mainly come to this place to hear isn’t it ... God’s Word’s of forgiveness and salvation, right? Take that a step further. If you take away the doctrine of forgiveness is there any reason whatsoever to keep believing in Jesus Christ?? If you take away the doctrine of forgiveness that would render the cross powerless, wouldn’t it?
   If you don’t want or need forgiveness ... then you don’t want or need a Savior who died to save you by forgive your sins. And if you don’t need a Savior, then you don’t need Jesus Christ ... do ya?
   But God HAS shown us our desperate need for a Savior. The Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to see our hopeless, sinful condition and it’s damning consequences. And He has led us to believe in Jesus who died so that all our sins and offenses could be forgiven. That is beautiful and freeing news to people who have recognized that they were slaves to sin. The words from God that “You are Forgiven” lift a crushing burden from our minds and our souls. It reconciles us with our Heavenly Father and unites us with Him. Now we can live in peace with Him, knowing that we are not enemies of His anymore (Romans 5:10-11; Colossians 1:21). And we have the peace of knowing that His wrath and punishment have been taken away from us.
   That’s why I say that the doctrine of forgiveness is so important and essential to us Christians. But Forgiveness is not just vertical between us and God. He makes it very clear in the Bible that His forgiveness must also extend horizontally ... between us humanoids. I submit to you that THIS aspect of the doctrine of forgiveness is probably THE MOST neglected and misunderstood doctrines in the Christian Church.
   This became clear to me when I read what a pastor wrote about a book called “Total Forgiveness” by R.T. Kendall. "You may not think that this is a subject that a Pastor struggles with, but I can tell you I was!! And R.T. Kendall is also a Pastor who struggled with the same thing. Thankfully he pointed out the treasures of what God says about forgiveness in the Bible ... and I can honestly tell you it has helped me and changed me. And I want the same thing for you. Because if you will listen to what God says about forgiveness, it will lift a burden from you and give you a peace that you’ve been missing out on."
   Look at what Paul says in our passage this morning. He starts off in vs 30 by saying, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God...” How do we “grieve” the Holy Spirit? Paul explains this in vs 31 by giving us a list of things we are to get rid of in our lives: “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”
   Think about it for just a minute. Read that list again … “bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” ALL of those behaviors are the result of not forgiving someone. And it grieves God to see us living this way. It grieves Him just like it grieves an earthly father when his children refuse to forgive and live in peace with each other. So, in vs. 32, Paul encourages us to get rid of that sinful behavior by being “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Forgiveness will wipe out the mean and hateful attitudes in our lives.
   I’ve got news for you. Forgiveness of each other IS NOT OPTIONAL for Christians!! It’s a COMMAND from God. Turn to Matthew 6 (12) and see what Jesus says there. He just gave His Disciples the Lord’s Prayer. In vs 12, Jesus says we are to pray to God: “Forgive us our transgressions, as we also have forgiven our transgressors.” Then in vss 14 & 15, notice which of the petitions He chose to elaborate on. Jesus says, “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.”
   Whoa!!! Did you think about that the last time you said the Lord’s Prayer?? Or how about when you asked God to forgive you at the beginning of this service?? If you are refusing to forgive somebody, then you are basically asking God to treat you the same way you’re treating them!! Is that what you want?? Limited or partial forgiveness from God?? I sure don’t!! And I don’t think you do either. We want Total Forgiveness from Him... so we need to forgive others in the same way.
   Jesus put this doctrine of forgiveness into perspective when He told the “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25 (14-30). Peter had specifically asked Jesus about how we are to forgive one another. And Christ explains that we ought to be willing to forgive others ... repeatedly ... out of gratitude for the HUGE debt of sin that WE have been forgiven of.
   That 1st servant in the story had been forgiven a debt that was so large that he could never have repaid it. But his Master graciously forgave the WHOLE THING!! Sadly, that servant was not willing to treat his fellow servant the same way. His fellow servant owed him a tiny debt, and he refused to forgive it. When the Master found out, He was furious. And rightly so. Jesus ended that parable with a warning in vs 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
   The application to us should be obvious. We also had a debt of sin to God that was so large that we could never have paid it. We deserved to be punished endlessly for it. But when we ask God to Forgive that Huge debt, He does!! He TOTALLY forgives our DEBT of sin. So out of gratitude we ought to be willing to TOTALLY Forgive others for the tiny debt of sin they might have committed against us. If we refuse to ... then like that servant, we’ll face the Master’s anger. In essence, He says, “How DARE you!?! I forgave you millions of times for millions of sins. So how DARE you refuse to forgive others for the small debt of sin they might owe you!?!”
   This ought to humble us as Christians. It makes me ashamed to think of the sins that I have repeated over and over again. For the life of me, I can’t even begin to comprehend how God can be so patient and kind to me. But I have confidence that every time I ask Him with a true, repentant heart to forgive me ... He does!! Without hesitation!! He forgives me Totally out of His Divine Grace. So how can I even THINK of not Forgiving someone the way God has Forgiven me??
   Now granted... none of us are perfect and holy like God. So, we will always struggle with forgiving others the way He has forgiven us. But even though we’re imperfect at it, we should never stop striving to forgive like God forgives us ... completely unconditional. And I’m convinced that if we open up our hearts and let Him work in them, He can give us the ability to begin forgiving others His way. What is HIS way?? Well, the Bible gives us plenty of clear instruction on that.
   First of all, Godly forgiveness is not necessarily forgetting. The old saying goes, “Forgive and Forget.” But I don’t know if that’s possible for us sinful humans. Can we ever really totally forget when someone has hurt us ... especially when they’ve hurt us deeply?? I don’t believe it’s possible. But it IS possible to choose not to remember that hurt or nurse resentments from it. That’s what God does when He Totally forgives us. Just because we can’t or don’t forget what happened, doesn’t mean we have to keep bringing it up.
   What does Psalm 103:12 tell us?? It says: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” God knows our many sins against Him. But He willfully chooses to put them out of reach. And He promises that once those sins are forgiven, He will never bring them up again.
   Is it possible for us to do the same?? I believe that by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, we CAN choose to no longer remember an offense that has been forgiven. I can tell you from my own life that this has to be a conscious effort where you turn to God in prayer whenever you feel those thoughts of resentment building up inside you. Ask God to take them away from your mind.
   Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that this is what true, Godly Love does. He says “it keeps no record of wrongs.” Why would someone keep a record of wrongs?? Why do we store up this ammunition? Do we do this because we think we might just need to bring out the big guns someday?? We want to keep this list in our minds to use as a weapon, if necessary, against those that hurt us.
   I’ve heard people with this attitude say, “I can Forgive... but I can never Forget.” Like I said, we might never be able to truly forget. But what this person is really saying is, “I Don’t WANT to Forget... and I’m not going to even try to put it out my mind.”
   Friends, that’s not how God forgives us. And that’s definitely NOT how He wants us to forgive each other. He wants us to forgive the person and wipe their record clean, so-to-speak.
   Maybe a real life illustration would help. A pastor shared this story. “A while ago, Gayleen wrote me a note, asking me to forgive her for something. Actually, it was something minor. I did forgive her... right away. But I hung onto that note. Don’t ask me why, but I did. Maybe it was that sinful nature in me, thinking, “I may just need to bring this up again and use it in the future.” When I saw that note sitting on my dresser a few days later, that passage from 1 Corinthians 13 came back to mind. I literally had in my hands a “record” of something my wife had done wrong. And I was VERY uncomfortable with that. I began to wonder what it would look like if God had kept a letter of apology for every time I had sinned against Him. There ain’t enough paper on the face of the earth to write all those sins down. So, I made a Spirit-led choice. I took that note out to the trash barrel and burned it. I didn’t want to keep that “record of wrongs.” As I burned it, I prayed that God would burn the record of it in my mind also. Which I believe He did.”
   God wants us to forgive each other the same way ... and it doesn’t matter if it was a minor offense, or if somebody maliciously has hurt you and hurt you bad.
   I’d like to dig further into this next week with you. Trust me, I KNOW there are lots of questions and concerns that are rolling through some of your minds right now about forgiveness. I promise you, I’ll do my best to get to them. In preparation, I’d encourage you to read over our Scripture Lessons for today, and asks yourself, “What is God teaching me here about how HE forgives... and about how He wants ME to forgive?” I’d also encourage you to read the Passages that I listed in the Bulletin for you.
   Before we close though, I’d like you to notice something from our passage this morning where Paul says in vs 32 we are to forgive each other “just as in Christ God forgave you.” God’s Loving forgiveness is to be our model for Forgiving others. In fact, Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 5:1 that we are to be “imitators of God” in this respect. Like I said before, none of us are perfect like God is. But ever since He poured out His Holy Spirit upon us, He has been working to shape us and mold us to be more and more like our Perfect Savior, Jesus. He gives us the power to WANT to forgive others ... to TOTALLY and COMPLETELY forgive them. And He can give us the power to put the memory of those sins out of reach in our minds ... so that we can live at peace with one another and with our Loving and forgiving Father in Heaven. Amen.

April 28, 2019     The Evidence Of Salvation

Easter Series Part 4 of 4

   2 Corinthians 5:11-21 (NLT) — 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.
   At the start of this series we looked at three men who were faced with the decision of what to do with Jesus. The first man was Felix. He met Paul and had the experience of hearing him testify. Felix was moved by what he heard but was unwilling to change his ways. His love of sin kept him from repenting and receiving salvation trough Jesus Christ. Felix even went so far as to send Paul away and that he would call for him at a more convenient time. In 2 Corinthians 6:2 God said “I have heard you in a time accepted and in the day of salvation have I helped you: behold, now is the accepted time: behold, today is the day of salvation.” Isaiah 55:6 says “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while he is near.”
   Our second man is Festus. He also had the opportunity to hear Paul testify to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that He was raised from the dead. It was Festus’ fear of men that kept him from receiving salvation through Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 says “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name given under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” Jesus is the only way.
   Our third man is King Agrippa. It was his attitude toward time that sent him to hell. King Agrippa tells Paul you almost persuaded me. There is a song that says “almost persuaded Christ to receive, almost persuaded now to believe, seems now some soul to say. go spirit go thy way, some more convenient day on thee I’ll call.
   Five hindrances that we see today are..
   1.Pride-  IS ALL ABOUT ME. Pride is a characteristic of Satan. Pride will keep you from getting saved. The bible calls pride wicked.
   2. Pleasure- a lot of people love the pleasures this world has to offer and are unwilling to give them up to follow Jesus. Pleasure is short lived. It will not satisfy that deep longing in your soul. Pleasure will seal your fate.
   3. People- Some people are afraid of what others will say. They are afraid they might lose friends or family members.
   4. Past- Some people let their past hinder them from being saved. It may be past sins and past failure. Some people feel like God could never forgive them or even that they are too far gone.
   The price has been paid. Jesus paid it all. All you have to do is accept him as your savior and repent of the stuff you have in your lives that are displeasing to God.
   The most important decision that any of us has ever made, or will ever make in our lifetime, is to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, and to receive salvation. Some of us accepted and received at the drop of a hat … when God put it in my heart to come home there was NO hesitation … while others have gone a lifetime and never accepted or received God’s gift of salvation. The heart breaking reality of this is there are people out there (and possibly in here) who have hardened their hearts against God so strongly that they will never accept or receive anything from God.
   God never wanted to have to send His Son to die for us, but He knew it was the only way. The Bible tells us in John 3:16-17 “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.
   For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.”
   Jesus Himself said in John 3:3 “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
   God’s plan of salvation is very simple, but the Bible tells us in Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter in at the straight gate, for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and there will be many which go in there: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and there will be few that find it.”
   I wonder, is there a sadder message in the whole Bible than this one? Jesus has told us that “there will be few that find it.” I suspect that 80 or 90% of all the people in the world today are lost and without Jesus.
   A pastor told this story … “I had the privilege of helping raise 5 natural children, 4 girls and one boy, and 2 foster children, a girl and a boy.
   Attending church was never an option for my children. It was mandatory, and through the years, one by one, they all came to know and accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
   The more that they learned, the more questions they asked, and often times they would ask point blank “Daddy, do you think Mr. Jones has ever been saved? What about Mrs. Williams daddy? What about Mr. Morrison next door daddy?”
   I would ask them what prompted their questions and here is what they would say. “Well daddy, Mr. Jones claims to be a Christian but he never attends church. Mrs. Williams says she believes in God but sure does seem to have a pretty bad drinking problem! Mr. Morrison is a Deacon in the church down the street but he sure does curse a lot and my friend says that he is having an affair with her mother! Daddy, are they going to get to Heaven despite the way they act?
   Out of the mouths of babes come some of life’s toughest questions. Now I couldn’t answer those questions then and I can’t answer them now, nor can you. You and I do not truly know if a person is saved or not, but sometimes we can get a pretty good idea. However, you and I see only the outward appearance of the person while God sees the inward appearance, so only God knows for sure.”
   (pause)
   What we do know is that the Bible teaches us very clearly that after a person has received salvation through Jesus Christ that a change should take place in their lives. There should be visible evidence of their salvation!
   As the Apostle Paul told us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, He is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold, all things become new.”
   This morning, let’s examine for a few minutes some examples from God’s Word of the changes that took place in some people after they experienced salvation. We want to look at what they were, what they became, how their lives were changed forever, and how God used them in service to Him.
   I believe, but more importantly the Bible teaches, that there should be some physical evidence of salvation. A murderer should lose his desire to kill. A thief should lose his desire to steal. A drunkard should lose his desire to drink, and a person who has been living in sin should desire to give up their sinful ways. Old things should pass away and all things should become new!
   The Apostle Paul, prior to his conversion, had been known as Saul. He had a personal experience and a mighty change took place in him. In I Timothy 1:15 Paul referred to himself as the “chief of sinners.”
   Saul had been a vile, despicable and repulsive human being. His one and only desire in life prior to being saved had been to wipe out and slaughter all Christians. It didn’t matter to him whether they were men, women, adults or children. He wanted them all to be bound with ropes and chains, and taken as prisoners to Jerusalem. Why you ask? Simple answer, because they had chosen to believe Jesus’ message of salvation.
   Then one day while on the road to Damascus, Saul’s life was changed forever. A bright light shone on him from Heaven, perhaps much like the light that had shone one day on a manger in Bethlehem.
   A thunderous voice boomed from Heaven above. It was the voice of Jesus Christ. Acts 9:4 tells us that the Lord said to Saul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
   Saul was visibly shaken by these words he heard. The Bible tells us that his knees trembled and his body shook. The light from above blinded his eyes. He fell to his knees and replied to the Lord “What do you want from me?”
   The Lord commanded him to arise and go to the city, and there he would be told what to do. Without sight, Saul was taken by the hand and led to Damascus. Once there he neither ate nor drank for 3 days. After the three days had passed, a man named Annanias visited Saul.
   I need to mention here that Annanias did not like Saul at all. He had no use for him! He knew of Saul’s history of persecuting Christians and he absolutely did not want to help him in any way at all.
   However, God had instructed Annanias what to do and Annanias obeyed God.
   Annanias placed his hands upon Saul’s eyes and his sight was restored to him. Then and there, at the lowest point in Saul’s life, having been helpless and blind, Saul accepted salvation through Jesus Christ and the Lord called him Paul.
   Soon after that Paul was baptized. Baptism doesn’t save anyone, only Jesus does that, but baptism is an outward sign of an inward change in one’s life. Through his baptism Paul was telling everyone that he had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.
   He became a new creature in Christ. Old things were passed away, and behold, all things became new. Paul then went on to become, perhaps, the greatest of all the apostles.
   Paul spent the remainder of his life proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Paul was not always well received. Many still feared him from the person he used to be, but he courageously spread God’s word without compromise.
   Paul had first surrendered his life to the Lord. Secondly, he talked to people about Christ. Thirdly, he became an ambassador for Christ. There was daily evidence in the life of Paul that old things were passed away and that all things had become new.
   Let’s look at another example found in the 19th chapter of the Book of Luke 19 (1-9). Here we find one of my favorite Bible stories. We read of a man named Zaccheus.
   Zaccheus was a tax collector. He was a very wealthy man, but also a very despised man. He had cheated many people and demanded that they pay more taxes than they rightfully should have had to pay. No one liked Zaccheus. As a matter of fact, he was probably the most unpopular man in the crowd that day that Jesus was passing through Jericho.
   I’m sure that Zaccheus had heard the stories about Jesus and the many miracles that He had performed. He was curious and he wanted to get a glimpse of this man called Jesus.
   Now the Bible tells us that Zaccheus was a very short man. There was a very large crowd that day, all having come to see Jesus. Zaccheus couldn’t see so he got an idea. He climbed up a sycamore tree and there sat on a limb where he could clearly see Jesus as He passed through.
   As Jesus walked by, he looked up in that sycamore tree and he saw Zaccheus sitting there. Jesus not only saw the outward appearance of Zaccheus, but he also saw the inward appearance and He knew the desires of his heart. Jesus said to him, “Zaccheus, make haste and come down for today I must abide at your house.” Hurry Zaccheus, get down from that tree. Today I’m coming to your home.
   The Bible tells us that he did make haste. He hurried down from that tree and joyfully received Jesus into his home. More importantly, that day he also received Jesus into his heart as Lord and Savior.
   Zaccheus had accepted Jesus Christ and had become a new man. His heart was changed so much that the very first thing he wanted to do was to give half of all that he owned to the poor. Secondly, knowing that he had taken away from some persons falsely, he wanted to restore to them four fold. If he had taxed them $10 too much he wanted to give them $40 back, four times as much! Simply for him to give back the same amount he had falsely taken was not enough.
   Zaccheus was a changed man. He no longer wanted to cheat people or to steal from them. He no longer had a high regard for his possessions of his great wealth. His “stuff” had became unimportant to him. Zaccheus had joyfully accepted Jesus into his heart and he immediately repented of his unrighteous life. Old things were passed away, behold, all things became new.
   How different this story is from that of the rich young ruler, found in Matthew 19:16-22 … The Rich Man — 16Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
   17“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question, if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
   18“Which ones?” the man asked.
   And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
   20“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
   21Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
   22But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
   What just happened here? This man didn’t want to get rid of all his “stuff.” There was no way that this rich young ruler was going to give up his many earthly possessions. He was disappointed in what Jesus told him. His possessions and wealth were the most important things in life to him. He refused to give them up … and in the process turned his back on Jesus and his salvation.
   You see — Jesus DEMANDS that we keep the Main Thing the Main Thing … that He's to be the number one thing, the utmost important thing in our lives. He is to be more important to us than any possession or any person we have in our life.
   Once Zaccheus had accepted Jesus into his life … he no longer had the desire or need to be wealthy in material things for he was now rich in spiritual things. The rich young ruler did not accept Jesus and all things in his life remained the same.
   The Bible tells us in John, chapter 4, about the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus was a Jew and the Jewish people would have no dealings with the Samaritans. Therefore, it was expected of Jesus that he have no dealings with them either ... but you know Jeus.
   It happened one day when Jesus was weary and tired from His long trip from Judea, that He came upon a woman who was drawing from a well. Jesus asked her for a drink of water from that well.
   The woman was stunned to even be spoken to by a Jew and she asked Him why he would even speak to a Samaritan. The Lord explained to her that if she knew the gift of God’s salvation, and if she would ask him for a drink, that he would give her living water and that she would never thirst again.
   He went on to explain to her that water from the well that she was drawing from would only temporarily cure the thirst.
   Then Jesus started telling her things about herself, things that he should not have known. He told her that she had had 5 husbands, and now was living with a 6th man that was not her husband.
   The woman marveled at the things that he revealed to her. Jesus had revealed Himself to her and she believed him to be the Christ, the Messiah, that she heard had come.
   That day the Samaritan woman accepted salvation through the Lord. This five times married woman, living in adultery with yet a 6th man, became a changed woman. She left her water pot and hurried back to her home and witnessed to all that would listen.
   The Bible teaches that many were saved because of this woman. This lowly Samaritan woman’s life was changed forever. She went about testifying and witnessing for Jesus. Old things were passed away and behold, all things became new. Her feet now walked in the Lord’s service, she witnessed for Christ, and she had a testimony that led people to Christ.
   (pause)
   The final story that I want to share with you this morning is my favorite of them all. Found in the Book of Acts, Chapter 16, beginning with verse 25, this is yet another story of what happens when a person truly receives salvation through Jesus Christ.
   Paul and Silas had been in the city of Philippi. There they had cast out the demons in a woman that was a soothsayer, a fortuneteller. The demon-possessed woman had earned a great deal of money for her masters by her fortune telling.
   When the demons were cast out, she no longer was able to continue her fortune telling. Enraged, her masters caught Paul and Silas and brought them before the magistrates, accusing them of causing much trouble in that city by what they taught and what they did.
   The multitudes rose up against them. The magistrates tore off their clothes and ordered that Paul and Silas be beaten and cast into prison.
   Paul and Silas, having been beaten and whipped, were cast into prison and placed in the custody of the jailor. The jailor knew, according to the law of that day, that he must not allow them to escape. If they escaped it could, and probably would, cost him his own life.
   He placed them in the innermost part of that prison. He had them bound in chains and their feet shackled. No way were these two going to escape.
   The jailor then went to his own quarters, his room, where he would get some sleep. Surely he was feeling secure that the prisoners would not escape.
   The Bible tells us that at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God. Can you just imagine what YOU would be doing and thinking? I doubt many of us would be rejoicing and singing at midnight while bound and shackled, having been beaten and whipped, and now in prison.
   Look at how many of us waller in our own stuff. We waller in it so bad that we usually wind up putting ourselves in our own prison, shackled and chained … locked and bound … the keys thrown away. But not Paul and Silas.
   Suddenly at the midnight hour the foundations of the prison were shaken. All the doors to all the cells flew open and every prisoner’s bonds and shackles fell to the ground.
   The jailor awakened and saw all the prison doors opened. He was sure that all the prisoners had escaped and he drew out his sword and was going to take his own life.
   But Paul in a loud voice cried out “Don’t harm yourself … for we are all here.” The jailor in disbelief came running and fell down before Paul and Silas. He had realized that the God of Paul and Silas must be real, and he asked them – “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas answered “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your house.
   The jailor accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation that night and he became a new man. No longer did he want to beat and to whip prisoners. He tended to their whip marks, washed them, and was baptized.
   He then took them to his house and he fed them. His entire family heard the story and accepted Christ that day. They all became new believers in the Lord. Old things were passed away and behold, all things became new.
   Please understand this today, if you are truly a born again Christian, having accepted salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ, there should be evidence of that in your life today.
   Here’s a question … How do others see you throughout the week? Have they noticed any changes in your life that have taken place? Have old things passed away? Have all things become new?
   We’ve talked several times during this Easter Series about making a list of the things you do in your life … the good the bad and the ugly. I asked you to pray over your list and ask God the reveal to you what sin remains in your life … and go down that list a check off the things that displease God and ask for His help you to be able to start getting those things worked out and off your list. How many of you made your list and are working on the things that displease God?
   As we sing our closing song, let’s all of us examine our hearts and our lives. If you’ve slipped back into some of your old ways of living, don’t hesitate; renew your covenant with the Lord today. If you’ve never accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life, I plead with you to do that today. Tomorrow may never come.
   If you feel the calling of the Holy Spirit to come to this alter, by all means … step out and come … don’t hesitate. Please come as we sing our closing song.

April 21, 2019     Today, You Will Be With Me In Paradise (Easter Sunday)

   Opening passage — Luke 23:32-43 (NLT) — 32Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
   34Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.
   35The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”
   39One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
   40But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
   43And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
   Children’s Church is dismissed.
   Everyone enjoys a good scandal. It makes for great headlines, website views, and magazine sales. The famous last words of Jesus that we’ll focus on this morning are the most scandalous last words in history. His 11 words, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” to a dying criminal confront all religions, they confront all spirituality, they confront all belief systems and religious views about who gets to go to heaven and who doesn’t, and what makes you right with God and what doesn’t. Just 11 words (with all the rest of the Bible to back it up). But that’s not all…
   His last 11 words to a dying criminal brings scandalous hope to the very worst of us who have lived our lives on that highway to hell, and have pasts, or knowingly committed sin, and made mistakes that some of our family and friends will never forgive us for, and that we sometimes cannot find it within us to even forgive ourselves for. Perhaps the guilt you carry sucks the air out of your life. There’s a scandalous hope, a spectacular hope, for you here today.
   How is it a scandalous hope? Because in those 11 words, Jesus reveals the only way a person can get to heaven, and how the worst person can get there apart from “religion.” Stay with me, OK?
   Three men were on crosses. Sinless Jesus was on the center cross. This revealed to the world that He was considered THE WORST of the three! The other men were called “criminals,” which translated simply means “doers of evil things.” We don’t know the details of exactly what these men did to deserve the cruel punishment of crucifixion. Speculation has it that they were thieves to the degree that their thievery possibly involved murder and rape. Scholars also hold that they were mainly rebels, against the Roman government, who supported themselves through thievery.
   But we find they were also rebellious against God. Luke, the Historian, tells us in vs. 39 that one of the criminals “railed” or “hurled abuse” (lit. “Blasphemed”) at Jesus: “Are you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But we learn in Matthew 27:44 that BOTH thieves were guilty of railing and hurling abuse at Jesus … “Even the criminals who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.”
   In addition, we rebel with our thinking, behaving, believing, speaking, and relationships. We want His gifts, but we don’t want Him. We don’t’ care for Him, except when the lights go out in our lives, and then we blame Him.
   John Piper once said, “Thousands of airplanes fly across the globe and we don’t give God a thought. But when one crashes, all humanity cries, “GOD!!! WHERE WERE YOU IN ALL OF THIS!?”
   So, again, BOTH criminals were railing against God at one time. The drumbeat refrain against Jesus in Luke 23:27: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” But then… something changed in one of the criminals….
   Luke 23:40 says “But the other rebuked him saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
   What happened? … repentance and confession. Note how his words connect their crimes (and sin) to God: “Do you not fear God…”. In the midst of his sin and rebellion, he came to his senses and confessed that he was in fact a sinner against God’s holiness, truth, and love.
   How do we discover repentance? Well, His words are exactly what you rarely here from American lips: “You and I are getting what we deserve. You and I are to blame. You and I are guilty.” We are just like Adam in Genesis 3 (12-13) … we are quick to blame someone else … including God ... because when God asked: “Adam, what have you done?” Adam’s reply was “this is the woman you gave me.”
   In the middle of his sin, rebellion, and the consequences of it, the thief repented and stopped his blaming… he confessed he was getting what he deserved, he owned his own guilt, and that was when this man encountered the grace of God.
   Who might I be talking to today, as we sit here this morning. Are you in the middle of your sin? Are you holding onto your secrets, rebellion, guilt, or even consequences of your actions … and love and forgiveness and new life are lavishly offered to you?
   How so? By owning your rebellion. Stopping your blame. Own up to your sin. Own your guilt. You see, when you have emptied yourself to the place of humility and abandonment of self and rights before the holy God … you are now free to cast yourself completely and purely upon the grace of God.
   How do you cast yourself completely and purely upon God’s grace for sin and rebellion and the consequences of it all, even while in the middle of it? You cry out for Jesus as your only hope and Savior.
   The thief asked Jesus in Luke 23:42: “Jesus, will You remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
   Wow!!! In a world full of liars and speculators about God and heaven, and after a lifetime of lying and being lied to, hurting and being hurt, the criminal tore himself free from the beliefs and opinions of others (the other criminal) and shook loose from the popular belief of the population (mob), and took that step of faith. And note His words of faith: “Jesus, will you remember me WHEN…” Not “IF”.
   But here’s the scandal. This criminal doesn’t cry out to Allah, or Buddha or Mahammad …. He doesn’t try to save himself with positive thinking about his cross experience. No self-help class would deliver him from that moment of being nailed to wood. In fact, the lesson is this: Just as this criminal cannot physically save himself from that cross, he cannot spiritually save himself from sin.
   That’s the lesson. Trying to go about it your own way, your own views or beliefs, to make yourself spiritually right with God apart from Jesus, will give you the same result as it would for that criminal to physically get himself off that cross — “it ain’t gonna happen.” That’s one of those Mission Impossible!!! Things.
   Each and every one of us deserve to be nailed to that cross … and some of us are. So, if you’re someone that is nailed to that cross, how do you get down? We’ve already talked about how impossible it is for you to get yourself down. How?
   You need a Savior. And not just any Savior. There is only ONE Savior who can save you from your sin and rebellion against the Holy God and make you right with God. And that’s why this criminal’s first word in receiving grace, forgiveness and eternal hope was … “Jesus”.
   Romans 10:9-10,13 says: “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. … For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
   Again, as I said, the consequences of his sin, his suffering, and pain, awakened his faith in Jesus. It was that painful place that gave him faith like a child, humility and complete abandonment of self. Those events, as painful as they may be, are the ones that knock the religion out of us, that knock the spirituality out of us and the intellectual pride out of us. Those events bring us to our knees in child-like faith, humility, and complete abandonment of our rights and self. Those events cause us to collapse into the waiting and loving arms of God. Friends, that’s a gift. If you are not a true Christian, and FINALLY find yourself in such a place, then embrace that gift. Eternal hope is before you in this moment. Will you cry out the name of “Jesus”?
   Some might say, “Well, if I was that criminal, knowing I was going to die, and my life was over ... I’d be doing the same thing!” Are you sure? How do you know you wouldn’t be like the other criminal? Don’t fool yourself to think “when YOU’RE ready you’ll get your life right with God.” You have NO idea when your appointment to die and face God will be fulfilled. In the same vein, at your last moments (if you get any last moments) how do you know that you won’t be so overwhelmed with rage, or pain, or bitterness, or anger, or hardness of heart, that you rail against Him just like they did … instead of bowing before Him? That is a question that NONE of us could possibly answer. You truly cannot know. Any of us could be out riding one beautiful afternoon and not make it back home. Death come come so quickly to any of us … and when it does … the elevators travel in ONLY two directions. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:27 “It is appointed unto man one to die and then the judgement.” How many of us know when that appointed time is … how many of us know how many breaths or heartbeats we have left?? Not ONE of us!! My advice to you is to stop playing games with your soul! When that time comes … are you ready to do business with Jesus??
   And now, we, with the criminal, turn our eyes upon this Jesus guy and His scandalous, yet glorious, response in vs. 42: “Truly, I say to you, today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
   And Jesus’ response to the criminal’s child-like end of his rope, his humble plea was: “TRULY.” “TRULY” is a once and for all declaration straight from the dying lips of the King of kings. Other words Jesus was saying “Beyond any doubt! BANK ON THIS! Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
   Jesus just said, “Pin your hope on Me and Me alone. I will not fail you. I’ve got you. I’ll see you through all this and we’ll get together real soon.” God’s forgiveness is enough to release you from your regrets, mistakes, past, even when others and yourself won’t.
   Listen!! Can you hear Jesus saying to you, “Pin your hopes on Me. Forgiven!” Forgiven after I’ve been miserable a while? Punished myself enough?
   “NO,” says Jesus. “Forgiven, TODAY! Right Now!! Humble yourself before Him!! Confess it. Repent with a true heart and it’ll ALL go away … right now.”
   This saving faith came from the worst of us—a rapist, a murderer, a thief … a sinner. Don’t ever think you or someone you love is too far gone. The criminal was forgiven and promised life forever with the Father because of his child-like faith in Jesus in his last moments. Please don’t miss the LAVISH forgiveness of God when you turn to the Only One who can grant it … Jesus.
   You see … the criminal simply wanted to be remembered at some future time. In fact, this actually points to the staggering humility of the criminal in this moment. He’s saying, “Jesus, I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve heaven. I don’t deserve eternal joy. My sin and rebellion should make you turn your face from me. But Jesus, some time in the future, will you think of me?” It’s like Jesus stopped him dead in his tracks … turned and looked into his eyes … and said, “TODAY ... you will be with ME!!”
   Again, the scandal… Jesus alone is enough to save you. Faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is sufficient … more than enough, to make you right with the Holy God.
   For example, the criminal had no good works to offer as a reason to be right with God. He had never been baptized, he had never taken communion, no priest gave him last rites. Never read the Bible. Never been to church. None of that makes you right with God. Look at this sentence. “Jesus AND _______ makes you right with God.” What would you put I that blank space?
   Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
   If you put ANYTHING in that blank space … it’s no longer grace. The blood of Jesus is sufficient to cover your sin. He suffered for you. You don’t have to add any of your suffering and regret to it to be forgiven and freed from guilt. HE’S ENOUGH!!! His blood is sufficient. This is the scandal of grace!
   How many of y’all believe in purgatory?? It isn’t true. There’s no such place. Purgatory says we must pay something, somehow, for our sins. Nonsense!!!!! How could you possibly pay anything?? Duuuh!!! You’re DEAD!!! Even if you could pay your debt … you could never pay enough! Only Jesus. Jesus AND NOTHING else, Only Jesus!!!
   And there is still more to the scandal: Jesus said, “Today, YOU will be with me in paradise.” He didn’t’ say, “YOU … AND YOU… AND YOU, will be with me in paradise.” Universalism says that all people are saved in the end. All people go to heaven.
   Well, that’s not what Jesus said. The only one who went to heaven that day was the one who cried out His Name in repentance and confession, in faith for forgiveness of his sin and rebellion.
   Jesus told him, “Truly... Today you will be with me in Paradise.” When Jesus says “Truly” … we all better perk up and pay attention.
   As one commentator noted, a Jewish day ended before the first star could be seen in the sky. So Jesus said, “Before the sun goes down today, you will be with me in splendor and glory and eternal joy … you’ll be with Me in paradise.”
   That morning he woke up a criminal in prison waiting on his death by crucifixion. That night he walked the streets of gold as a forgiven saint in glory … talking with his Father and rejoicing with His Savior.
   Scandalous? You bet ‘cha!!! Because Jesus gave His best to a dirty, low life criminal.
   This shows us that “soul-sleep”—the belief that when a person dies his soul “sleeps” until the final resurrection of all believers—is nonsense. The Apostle Paul even plainly said in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that to be “absent from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord.”
   But what is this Paradise? In Scripture, “Paradise” is always used as another name for heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4; Revelation 2:7). The word points back to the garden of Eden—Peace, joy, beauty, rest, and, best of all, the presence of and intimacy with the first-Lover God.
   The Bible’s emphasis regarding heaven is our being in the presence of eternal delight and joy—Jesus Himself—for all eternity; and not necessarily the experiences of heaven and the loved ones we’ll see there. However, there is enough in Scripture that reveals this too. And who better to share his perspective on it from Scripture than C.S. Lewis.
   Playing off of Jesus’ reference to Paradise and Isaiah 11’s depiction of all animals (the predator and prey) living together in perfect harmony, a writer records Lewis as suggesting that “heaven is a gloriously beautiful and exciting place of unlimited adventure and unlimited security where you can swim up waterfalls and play with wild animals without ever being afraid. Heaven is a place of re-union with the people you love to see and get to know, a place where good things never end and each adventure is better than the one before. Heaven is a place where every creature is in the prime of life, in the best possible physical shape, and free from the constraints of time and the bondage of sin.”
   There is no way possible for us to wrap our minds around the glory that truly awaits those true believers who are born-again.
   Nevertheless, Jesus said to the criminal “Today.” And Jesus says that to you too. Whenever your, or my, “TODAY” is, you will be ushered into His presence with rejoicing for all time ... IF He is your Lord and Savior.
   Conclusion
   You are in the gospel story in this moment. In that story we have the crowd, criminal #1, and criminal #2.
   1) The crowd who refused to believe in Jesus unless He gave them PROOF FOR FAITH. Matthew 27:40,42 says “If you are the Son of God ... come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”
   2) The criminal who wanted Jesus to save him from his PAIN. Luke 23:39: Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!
   3) The criminal who wanted Jesus to save him from his SIN. Luke 23:40-42: “Do you not fear God? Jesus, remember me ...”.
   Which one are you? Which one will you be?
   The scandal? Only one was saved. One who had never been religious, never been baptized, never participated in the sacraments, one who was void of last rites. There is no-one so low or so vile … so criminal or so sinful that Jesus would turn His face away from and deny them Himself and eternal life and joy. The only conditions are belief that Jesus was raised from the dead, confession of sin, repentance from sin, faith in His Word and obedience in Christ alone.
   Will you embrace the scandalous grace of Jesus … TODAY? 2 Corinthians 6:2 says “TODAY is the day of Salvation!!!!!”

April 14, 2019     The Stones Will Cry Out (Palm Sunday)

   Opening passage - ​Luke 19:28-40 (NLT) - Jesus’ Triumphant Entry - 28After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. 29As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30“Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
   32So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”
   34And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.
   36As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.
   38“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”
   39But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”
   40He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”
   Children’s Church is dismissed
   What a celebration! Crowds were excited! Jesus was thrilled to see the response of worship. We see vs.39 & 40 that some party-poopers were there. Don’t you just love Jesus’s response? Let them celebrate, don’t shush them. If they keep quiet the stones will cry out ... Oh God wants us to celebrate! Partying in His presence! He loves the praises in loud voices. He enjoys the gladness of the people! That’s Palm Sunday. (Grand Entrance (source: www.Christianitytoday.com)
   Palm Sunday celebrates the day Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But let’s test how much we really know of that day’s events, recorded in all four Gospels, with these true or false statements.
   1. According to the Gospels, the people waved palm branches when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.
   False (Matt. 21:6, Mark 11:8, Luke 19:36, John 12:13). None of the four Gospels say the people "waved" branches but that they spread garments and branches in Jesus’s path. Only the John 12 passage mentions palm branches, apparently, a tree not native to Jerusalem. In our Luke passage, it only mentions the spreading of cloaks. Palm branches usage signifies “victory.” But I guess, there must be some waving too as cloaks and branches are pretty big, and when you spread it around, it’s gonna wave a bit, don’t you think?
   2. The date of Jesus’s triumphal entry, five days before Passover, was a special holiday in his time.
   True. It wasn’t called Palm Sunday in Jesus’s day, but each Israelite family chose the lamb they would sacrifice for Passover on the tenth day of the month. As the people shouted "Hosanna," they didn’t realize they were choosing the Lamb of God as their sacrifice.
   3. By their actions, the people were publicly proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.
   True. When Solomon was anointed king, he rode into the city on a mule, to the shouts and praises of the people (1 Kings 1:43-45). Zechariah prophesied the Messiah would arrive the same way "gentle and riding on a donkey" (Zechariah 9:9).
   4. The fact that Jesus rode a donkey portrayed him as a warrior king.
   False. Conquering kings would ride war horses; the donkey symbolized peace and humility (Zechariah 9:9, 10). Jesus’s entry was a stark contrast to the war-like Romans, whose military presence was very visible. We rather have this imagery: “The stallion stood on its hind legs, neighed loudly, and pawed the air with its front legs. When it stood as tall as it could stand, Jesus leaned forward in the saddle. Holding the reins with one hand while lifting his white hat in the air with the other, He shouted with a loud voice, "Hi Ho Silver!! Away!!"
   5. The shouts of "Hosanna!" meant "Praise the Lord!"
   False. The Hebrew word Halleluia means "praise the Lord;" Hosanna means "save us!" The Palm Sunday crowd falsely assumed that Jesus would bring them political liberation.
   6. The route Jesus chose for His triumphal entry was down the side of Mount Zion.
   False. Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives offering him an excellent view of Jerusalem, which is built on Mount Zion. According to Zechariah 14 (4), Jesus will again stand on the Mount of Olives at his second coming.
   7. When the people spread branches and garments in Jesus’s path it was to pay him honor.
   True. The people were boldly declaring that Jesus was their king, an accusation eventually written in condemnation above his cross. It was common in Bible times to spread garments in the path of princes and kings, especially at their coronation (2 Kings 9:13).
   8. The shouts of "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" were words of a Jewish hymn.
   True. The phrases "Hosanna" and "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord" both come from Psalm 118 (25-26), one of the "Hallel" (Ha′ lel) or praise psalms (113-118) were used every Passover. These Jewish hymns would be as familiar to the Jewish people as Christmas carols are to Christians.
   A. Question — Are we clueless?
   Thank God qualifications for heaven is not based on getting a score of 100% on a quiz about what you know or don’t know about Palm Sunday. Thank God that there is no one in heaven scary lady like that lady on that TV quiz show, saying “Dooley, you’re the weakest link, goodbye!”
   Today we celebrate Palm Sunday, because we remember that Jesus chose this road to Jerusalem … even though it meant death. Even though this road meant death for Jesus, it was the start of what would become everlasting life for us. If He didn’t get on that donkey and fulfil the OT prophesy … we would all be snuffed out, for we’re all the weakest link in every shape and form.
    Look at humanity’s record … it is not pretty. Ever since history’s been recorded there is no peace … somewhere on earth there’s evidence of violence, war and death. Even sitting and watching an NHL game, if you are not careful, you can get killed as we saw in 2002 in game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary Flames where 13 year old Brittanie Cecil was struck in the head by a puck and died.
   As you examine his entry into Jerusalem in Lk.18 (31-34), you’ll find Jesus is thinking about the events that will lead to His awful death on the cross. But we need to understand that Jesus’s disciples were clueless to what was actually happening around them (18:34).
   And I wonder today, if any of us here are clueless. Are we as clueless as the crowd that spread their cloaks and cut branches were on that day when Jesus rode in on that donkey! They would not have celebrated if they knew that their Messiah would be killed very in just a few short days. As the people shouted "Hosanna," or “save us” … they didn’t realize they were choosing Jesus, the Lamb of God, as their sacrifice for the Passover. They didn’t know that Jesus would be killed so that their sins could be forgiven. Yes, they would be saved, but saved from their penalty of sin … not from political powers. All they wanted was instant gratification, all they wanted was a political Messiah. They want to rid themselves of the hated Roman Empire and the vicious iron-grip rule of the offensive merciless Jew hating Gentile Pontius Pilate.
   Are we just as clueless to what God is doing here with us? It’s sad to say, but most of us are. So, we go for instant gratification. Drowning in our current misery, we are oblivious to what God is accomplishing thru out history. Are we too missing out on what God really wants to do for us? Just as Jesus’s disciples missed out and were out of tune with their Master, are we missing out on the fact that God wants more than anything else to work out the ultimate saving event while they were bogged down with the Romans.
   Just as we are today, we’re bogged down with what the Government of Mexico or Canada or the US is doing. Bogged down by our worries if the US will get that wall built or not … and who’s going to pay for it. Bogged down in all the “investigations” brought on by the opposing side. Bogged down by society’s pollution. Do we not live in a world where there are continuous problems galore right here … right now?
   Just as the Roman empire declined and their glory became a blip in history, so shall our concerns for the day in comparison to the on-going story of eternity that God is weaving for us. With all the current problems in our lives, our eyes seldom have the perspective of the things eternal.
   You see, our eyes are fixed on this distant dry land that we call home ... and it sure feels like we’re the weakest link, just waiting to be snuffed out by a careless driver who believes he is a Michael Schumacher, or by disease or a terrorist plot … or by a hockey puck. We visualize a world that will be safe … but the realism of history teaches us … that no matter where you go … there is no such place.
   There are folks who are building panic rooms with the latest high-tech computers and camera surveillance equipment in their houses just in case bad guys or home-invaders come. There are folks who buy old army bunkers to prepare for the end of the world. There are folks who pin their hopes that a political system called “democracy” will save them. There are folks who are doing big-time business maneuvers as if the whole world is hanging on it and then things like the bank failures in 2008 shatter their confidence. We feel totally victimized, helpless, looking for a Messiah. So, we cry like the crowd in Jerusalem … “Oh God!!! Save Us!!!”
   Thank God, Palm Sunday reminds us that we’re not the weakest link in the history of this world. Somehow through the events triggered by Palm Sunday leading to Good Friday and then to the Resurrection victory of Easter Sunday, we are soon to be restored to become the sons and daughters of God … co-heirs and co-rulers of the earth with the Lord Jesus, as we were meant to be, as we were created to be. You see, we weren’t created to be insignificant pawns of history, manipulated to pop out our tax money to support a government that is so self-absorbed that it isn’t working for the people. You see folks, we were created to be significant world changers.
   Palm Sunday reminds us that there is victory … that there is a celebration … a party that will be thrown by God for all who gets it. Palm Sunday reminds us that God has not forgotten us. He remembers that our deepest problem and deepest need is to get rid of the root of our problems. He’s not like most doctors are today … content with just treating the symptoms … He’s going all out to get rid of the cancer. And the cancer, that fatal disease of humanity is sin. That’s why when Jesus set out to ride that donkey, He’s setting things up for us because God has heard the cry to save us.
   Even if that means suffering the humiliation of what seemed like defeat and the pain of death on the cross, crying out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) Imagine the God who could snuff out the universe with a word, going all the way to be born of woman, living some 30 years on earth, patiently enduring the misunderstanding of His own family members, the mistreatment from the religious folks who should have known of His coming as prophesied in their Bible. Who should have known that Jesus would be here to be the Suffering Servant, seeking the lost, wooing people to God’s love, to His kingdom, not with force but by the power of His deep concern and love.
   But there will be victory!!! Palm Sunday is about one of the events that eventually led to the Good Friday event, where Christ died for all sinners, so that all who believe in Christ’s substitutionary death are forgiven, freed from the clutches of death and sin and ushered into eternal life through the resurrection victory of Jesus.
   Yes, there will be a victory!!! But it’s a victory not shared by all who spread their cloaks and branches that day. For a few days later, the ones who praised and worshipped the ground on which Jesus rode on, would shout “crucify him”. They should have known the moment Jesus used the donkey and not a stallion … that he would save them … not from their momentary problems, but from the problem of sin which is the root of all their problems, the cause of wars, violence, broken families, everything that’s filthy and broken in this world. They desired a political Messiah, but what God will give them is a Messiah who loved them enough to go for a more permanent solution, even if it meant suffering and death.
   Lest we be too critical of Jerusalem, ask yourself this question: What city, even today, would not be shaken by Jesus’s entry into it? Imagine Jesus entering New York, London, Tel Aviv, Vancouver or even Washington.
   Oh, I’m sure we’d welcome Him with our “Hosannas!!!” … at first, anyway. We’d line the streets and strike up the band and have a grand parade right down Main Street. But I’m equally sure that, by the end of the week, we’d have him nailed to a cross, too. Why? Because the Kingdom Jesus came to establish still threatens the kingdoms of this world -- your kingdom and mine -- the kingdoms where greed, power, and lust rule the day … instead of grace, mercy, and peace. And who among us really undersatnds that?
   B. The Colt
   I am sure the owners of the young donkey colt didn’t really understand what was going on. They probably didn’t understand the world changing implications of that ride on the donkey that would lead to the salvation of the world. But they gave up a valuable mode of transportation and means of making a living because the Lord needs it.
   People today often speak of donkeys in belittling terms. You may have heard the expression, "I’m just someone who has to do all the donkey work." Or "So-and-so is as stubborn as a mule" (a mule is part donkey).
   These sayings overlook the contributions of a truly valuable animal. Donkeys have served the human race for thousands of years. They were once prized as symbols of humility, gentleness, and peace. So, for the owner of the donkey, it was a sacrifice to give up the animal. It’s like us giving up not only our wheels … but a source of income as well.
   Apparently, in Bible days, donkeys that had never been ridden were regarded as especially suitable for religious purposes. So, it was most fitting that Jesus sent for a colt to perform the royal task of carrying Him into Jerusalem.
   As we reflect this Easter season, what are we giving up so that others could celebrate the coming of God’s kingdom? The Lord would love it if you and I would think of others today, so that they could get into the kingdom.
   There is a guy named Bill Wilson who pastors an inner-city church in New York City. His mission field is a very violent place. He himself has been stabbed twice as he ministered to the people of the community surrounding the church. Once a Puerto Rican woman became involved in the church and was led to Christ. After her conversion she came to Pastor Wilson and said, "I want to do something to help with the church’s ministry." He asked her what her talents were and she could think of nothing---she couldn’t even speak English---but she did love children. So he put her on one of the church’s buses that went into neighborhoods and transported kids to church. Every week she performed her duties. She would find the worst-looking kid on the bus, put him on her lap and whisper over and over the only words she had learned in English: "I love you. Jesus loves you."
   After several months, she became attached to one little boy in particular. The boy didn’t speak. He came to Sunday School every week with his sister and sat on the woman’s lap, but he never made a sound. Each week she would tell him all the way to Sunday School and all the way home, "I love you and Jesus loves you."
   One day, to her amazement, the little boy turned around and stammered,
   "I---I---I love you too!" Then he put his arms around her and gave her a big ole hug. That was 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon. At 6:30 that night he was found dead. His own mother had beaten him to death and thrown his body in the trash ... "I love you and Jesus loves you." ... Those were some of the last words this little boy heard in his short life---from the lips of a Puerto Rican woman who could barely speak English. This woman gave her one talent to God and because of that a little boy who never heard the word "love" in his own home, experienced and responded to the love of Jesus Christ.
   What can you give from yourself? What is your "colt". You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the colt, move Jesus and His message further down the road.
   A missionary in China calls herself "the Lord’s donkey." She’s a humble believer, "carrying" her Lord faithfully into town after town and training others to do likewise. The Lord has need of many such "colts" in today’s world, humble people who will carry Him into their Jerusalem and make Him known.
   I want you to understand something this morning … before Jesus could use that donkey … the donkey had to be untied. We too must be untied from worldly attachments if we are to serve Christ. What’s got you all tied up that you can’t fully trust and serve the Lord? That you can’t fully give yourself to be a humble servant of God? What in your life are you willing to get “UNTIED FROM” to be the Lord’s colt?
   A 19th century Sunday School teacher named Kimball led a shoe salesman named Moody to Jesus Christ. Dwight L. Moody became a famous evangelist who influenced Frederick B. Meyer to preach on college campuses. Meyer led J. Wilbur Chapman to the Lord. Chapman, while working with the YMCA arranged for Billy Sunday to come to Charlotte, North Carolina to attend revival meetings. Community leaders in Charlotte scheduled another revival with Mordecai Hamm. Under Hamm’s preaching Billy Graham gave his heart to Jesus Christ. Billy Graham has preached to more people than any man in history.
   I am sure, on that day, this Sunday School teacher in Boston named Kimball had no idea what would happen from leading a shoe salesman to Christ. Kimball didn’t have a clue. He was just trusting in the Lord and being His faithful servant by sharing the story of the Gospel.
   As we examine this passage of Scripture, let me encourage you to look at the owner of the donkey and his response to the king who entered into Jerusalem that day. “Hey!! Why y’all messin with my donkey??” … “The Lord needs it.” … “OK.”
   What is God calling you to do for Him today? Are there ties to this world and its concerns that you need to untie? What is God asking you in your heart to do?
   C. The Crowd
   The crowd’s response was great! Jesus said “I like that!”
   Let me remind you of 1 Peter 2:5, 9 “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
   Psalm 150:6 says “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.”
   Worship can change us.
   Jeremiah 2:5 tells us “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”
   In a round-about way the Bible teaches that if you lay down with dogs … eventually you’ll get up with fleas. Other words … you become what you worship.
   If you worship superficial things … your life becomes superficial.
   If you worship perverted things … your life becomes perverted.
   If you worship evil things … your life becomes evil.
   (pause)
   If you worship the One True God … you become godly.
   You see, praise and worship ushers in the manifested presence of God.
   Psalm 22:3 (KJV) says “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabits the praises of Israel.” That’s because praise defeats our enemy.
   Psalm 8:2 NIV tells us “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”
   Psalm 149:5-6 “Let the saints be joyful in glory; Let them sing aloud on their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, And a two-edged sword in their hand.”
   We need to understand that our praise during the storms is what puts evil to flight.
   OK? How do we Praise God?
1. With loud voice.
2. With my body.
3. With music.
4. With the way we live our lives.
   1 Corinthians 10:31 instructs us “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
   Palm Sunday teaches us that Jesus would love such a response. So, let’s not keep quiet just because we’re clueless. I trust, by the end of this lesson you will be clued in with God’s eternal purpose to win us back to Himself with the message of Easter.
   You are no longer the weakest link, but the crown of His creation, which you were meant to be from the very beginning, made in His image! You are valuable enough that Jesus would go to Jerusalem and endure through the suffering of the cross.
   So, God invites us to humbly serve Him like the colt. Get untied to this world, let Jesus in your life, let Him ride into your life, and celebrate!!
   Matthew 4:10 “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”
   Psalm 95:1 “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.”
   John 4:23-24 “True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.”
   Expressions of WORSHIP:
Singing (Ephesians 5:19)
Thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20)
Submission to one another (Ephesians 5:21)
Noise (Psalm 100:1)
Gladness (Psalm 100:2)
Knowledge of God (Psalm 100:3)
Acknowledgement of God’s love and faithfulness (Psalm 100:5)
Praying (Ephesians 6:18)
Body movement (Romans 12:1)
Baptism (Romans 6:3-4)
Celebrating the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 11:23-26)
Meditation (Hebrews 3:1)
Giving (1 Corinthians 16:1,2)
Hearing the Word (Colossians 3:16)
A heart that is clean (Hebrews 10:22)
… just to name a few.
   Do y’all remember the song “Heart of Worship” by Matt Redman?
I’ll bring You more than a song,
for a song in itself
is not what You have required.
You search much deeper within,
through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart.
I’m coming back to the heart of worship.
And it’s all about You.
It’s all about You, Jesus.
   Pray with all your heart for BOLDNESS!!! Don’t keep quiet about your faith anymore. Get out there and let people see that you’re a Christian by the way you live your life. Get out there … tell people about what Jesus has done in your life. … because if we don’t … the Bible says that the rocks will cry out!!

April 7, 2019     Hindrances Of Salvation

   Opening passage –- Acts 24:17-27 (NLT) — Paul writes … 17 “After several years away, I returned to Jerusalem with money to aid my people and to offer sacrifices to God. 18My accusers saw me in the Temple as I was completing a purification ceremony. There was no crowd around me and no rioting. 19But some Jews from the province of Asia were there—and they ought to be here to bring charges if they have anything against me! 20Ask these men here what crime the Jewish high council found me guilty of, 21except for the one time I shouted out, ‘I am on trial before you today because I believe in the resurrection of the dead!’”
   22At that point Felix, who was quite familiar with The Way, adjourned the hearing and said, “Wait until Lysias, the garrison commander, arrives. Then I will decide the case.” 23He ordered an officer to keep Paul in custody but to give him some freedom and allow his friends to visit him and take care of his needs.
   24A few days later Felix came back with his wife, Drusilla, who was Jewish. Sending for Paul, they listened as he told them about faith in Christ Jesus. 25As he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment, Felix became frightened. “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.” 26He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him.
   27 After two years went by in this way, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And because Felix wanted to gain favor with the Jewish people, he left Paul in prison.
   Children’s church is dismissed.
   Today we start a 4 part Easter Series
Today - Hindrances To Salvation
Next week - The Rocks Will Cry Out
Easter Sunday - Today, You’ll Be with Me in paradise
And the last Sunday in April - The Evidence of Salvation

   I pray you’ll make plans to attend the next few weeks as we explore the whole purpose of Easter and how this time of the year is such a special time if you’re a Christian.

   Salvation – why do people refuse to receive Salvation? Why do people refuse to choose Salvation? It’s a choice, ya know. God doesn’t force His way on anybody. You have to choose to let Him in … or not. The biggest question most people ask about Salvation is a question of fear … “What do I have to give up?” If I do this … look at what I’ll loose!!! Instead … they should be asking the question “What will I get out of this?” And, of course, the answer is heaven … an eternity with Jesus and the Father.
   I would like to be able to say that everyone here today is saved and on their way to heaven. It breaks my heart to have to say that according to the scriptures, it’s highly unlikely that everyone here today or reading this on the website is gonna make it. Now it’s not because God doesn’t want you to be saved – He does! The reason so many people are not saved today is because there is something in their life that “hinders” them from being saved.
   If you’re not absolutely positive … if you’re not quite sure that you’re going to make it heaven or not … what’s keeping you from it … what’s keeping you from KNOWING if you’re saved … or not? You’ll be shocked to see what sins are keeping people right on track as they ride down that long, dark road that’s headed towards hell!
   As we enter into the Easter season … I’d like to ask you … what do you think Easter’s all about? Most people will say it’s about the resurrection of Jesus … and it is … but there’s more to it than that. It’s also about His death and burial … about repentance, forgiveness and salvation. You see, if Jesus hadn’t died on the Cross and was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven to be forever with the Father … there would be no such thing as repentance, forgiveness or salvation. I mean, you can’t have one without the other, right? What good would it do to have repentance, forgiveness or salvation if Jesus hadn’t died on the Cross and was raised from the dead? Without the cross, it would be impossible because, in the Old Testament … it’s already been tried … and it didn’t work.
   Look at what happened in Noah’s day … God drowned and destroyed every living person … except for eight people … because it didn’t work.
   Through the average individual’s life, the Bible teaches they’re offered God’s free gift of salvation at least once – for some it’s more than once … but for one reason or the other they reject God’s gift and go on about their merry way … headed down that highway to hell.
   Here in the book of Acts, we see that several times Paul stands in judgment for what he believes and for the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
   Now what I want to do with this lesson today is simply point out 3 different types of people in 3 different situations and show you what it was that kept them from ever being saved – and then we’ll make it applicable to us today.
   1. I begin my lesson this morning with a man by the name of Felix.
   Here in chapter 24, Paul has already testified before Felix of the false accusations that were against him. He was accused by the high priest and the elders for stirring up trouble in the synagogues and among the people. Several days has passed by and Felix, along with his wife Drusilla, had sent for the Apostle Paul to hear him concerning the faith. In other words, they called Paul … and Paul preached to this man and his wife a message that brought deep conviction in the man’s heart.
   In v.25 as Paul preached of righteousness, temperance and judgment, the Bible says that Felix trembled. as he heard Paul preach the Word of God –
· his heart began to melt
· deep conviction set into his soul
· the Holy Spirit of God was really working him over
· Felix knew that everything that Paul was saying was true.
   Here was a man –
· who was married to another man’s wife
· his very name means “pleasure”
· who was immorality is uncontrolled, his passion went unrestrained!
· he lived his life with the attitude – get all you can while you can! eat, sleep, drink and be merry!

   Here was a poor depraved lost sinner who had an opportunity to sit and listen to the one of the greatest men of God that ever lived – yet when all was said and done … Felix allowed his love for sin to keep him from getting saved!
   In vs 25 Felix tells Paul to “Go away for now,” he replied. “When it is more convenient, I’ll call for you again.”
   What a dumb move!! How stupid could he have been!
   Let me be clear by saying this:
· you can’t get saved in a time of your convenience
· you can’t get saved when you think you’re ready
   I’ve had many people say to me –
· I’ll get saved God when “I” get ready
· I’ll get saved when “I” get my life straightened out
   Hebrews 3:13 says “You must warn each other every day, while it is still called "today," so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.” … “While it is still called “today!!!” Think about that for a second. You see … in the very near future … “today” will be forever.
   In 2 Corinthians 6:2 God said “I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped you: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, today is the day of salvation.”
   Isaiah 55:6 tells us to “Seek the lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.” Remember a few weeks ago we talked about the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids? They didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps, so left to get more. When they got back the Bridegroom had already come … and the door had been locked and they couldn’t get in for the wedding.
   Listen folks, if you ain’t saved – do it now because 30 minutes from now may be too late! 3 minutes from now may be too late!!!
  Check this out … sitting beside this man was his wife Drusilla. It’s interesting to note that the Holy Spirit saw fit to tell us that she was a Jewess. Even though she was by her first marriage a me mber of the Herodian family – she was still a Jew, but she had forsaken her Jewish beliefs! She knew her lifestyle was wrong, she knew according to the Old Testament Law that she was living in sin!
   Now here’s what I want you to see. When Paul preached to BOTH of them, the Bible says that Felix trembled … but it says nothing about his Jewish wife! I think that this dear woman had hardened her heart against the Truth for so long that Paul’s preaching had little or no effect on her at all! … Oh, what a tragic situation she was in!
   My friends … if you ever come to the point (or if you’ve already come to the point) that your heart is no longer convicted when the Word of God is being preached … Brothers and Sisters … you’re in BIG trouble! REALLY BIG TROUBLE!!!
   Dr. George W. Truitt many years ago had a friend who was a lawyer in Dallas Texas. He came to Dr. Truitt one day and said, “George, you and I came here to Dallas at the same time. You were a young preacher and I was a young lawyer. I must confess that when I first heard you, I was moved a great deal by your sermons. Very frankly, there were nights where I couldn’t sleep. But as the years wore on, I could listen to you and it didn’t disturb me anymore.” He chuckled and said, “and you are a lot better preacher now than you were then.”
   How tragic is that? You see folks, the more you knowingly live in sin and the longer you reject God’s free gift of Salvation … the less and less the Truth will be able to convict your heart.
   In Ephesians 4:19 we read “They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.” You see ... the Bible says that God is going to call you ONLY so long … then the door will be closed and locked … and He will leave you to yourself … to perish.
   2. Our second gentleman this morning is a man named Festus – it was his fear of man
   In Acts 25:19-20 we can see that during the time he had spent with Festus he had surely witnessed to him. In verse 19 the Bible says Paul had affirmed Jesus to be alive, who Festus knew was dead. Paul told Festus that Jesus was the Christ who rose from the dead. In verse 20 we see the reply of Festus to the Gospel. Felix used procrastination as his ticket to hell and now Festus uses unbelief. The Bible says in verse 20 that he doubted of such manner of questions.
   I’m going to go way out on a limb here and say that this man doubted his way to hell with all the rest of those who have died in unbelief of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus indeed rose from the dead and this shows his rightful place as Lord.
   I’d like to share this video with you this morning. Let’s listen.    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8KjVU2-18o
   They put Him in a tomb over 2000 years ago thinking Him to be dead forever but I want you to know I talked to Him today. The Bible says that whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13). Whether you believe it or not … He is the risen Lord and you will submit to Him now or you will answer to him later when He judges your sin and cast you into hell.
   Acts 4:12 says "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."
   Philippians 2:10-11 says "At the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
   3. Our third gentleman is the man Agrippa – finally, we see a third rejection of the Gospel of Christ by a roman politician … it was his attitude toward time that sent him to hell.
   When you read Acts 26 (1-26) you can see that Agrippa had a decent knowledge of the scriptures and the religion of the Jews. Paul tells him that he will gladly tell this high platform politician his testimony. Paul proceeds to tell Agrippa how he personally met the Lord on the road to Damascus. He then tells Agrippa that Christ was supposed to suffer and die and that He would be the First that should rise from the dead. Again, Paul presents a risen Lord and Savior for all mankind to see, including the Gentiles. Paul then asks Agrippa the magic question and says, king Agrippa, “Do you believe what the prophets have said?”
   Agrippa gives a sad response that is shared by many people of all kinds today. He says, “Paul, you almost persuaded me to become a Christian.” (Acts 26:28)
   We all know that almost isn’t good enough except in hand-grenades and horseshoes. Almost saved … is all the way lost. Almost saved is definitely a trip to hell. Agrippa no doubt was also under conviction of the Holy Ghost just as Felix was and instead of procrastination, he just flatly rejects the Gospel of Christ with … “You almost persuaded me.”
   Today … all three of these men are crying out in the midst of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the place we know as hell. They’re suffering eternally for procrastinating salvation, not believing salvation, and flatly rejecting salvation. If you could talk to these men right now as they fry like a piece of bacon … I’m sure that you would say to them, “Why didn’t you just get saved?”
   There they are … burning and totally depraved of hope and they never will they know anything of God … eternally separated from His aid. Why didn’t they just get saved?
   I ask the same question of many of you here today and reading this on the web. Why don’t you just get saved? What’s holding you back? What are you holding on to that would be worth an eternity in hell?
   I want to give you 5 things I believe people are holding on too that has kept them from accepting God’s free gift of Salvation. Many, many local church members as well as those that are in the world will go to hell because they reject the gift of God for one or more of these 5 things.
   1. Pride: If you look at any sin, pride is the underlying cause. Pride is “All About ME!!” I believe that pride is the biggest sin that people have that keeps them from being saved. They are simply too proud to bow. To proud to submit to the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
   a. Pride is a characteristic of Satan. Isaiah 14 (12-23) says that Satan was thrown out of heaven because of pride. The Bible teaches that those who are not saved or born again are the children of Satan (John 8:44). We all know that children often share the characteristics of their father … so this is no surprise. You and the devil have something in common and that’s your stinking pride. You’re worried about your reputation or what people will think and you will end up in hell because of it.
   b. The Bible calls you wicked. Listen, if God says you are wicked because of pride then you are wicked. Psalm 73:3 talks about the prosperity of the wicked and then in verse 6 we see their main characteristic. It is the same as yours and the same as Satan’s. "They wear pride like a jeweled necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty." The Bible says that your pride has you bound up like a chain and Jesus said that if you will get in Him that he will set you free.
   c. Pride will keep you from getting saved. The Bible says in Psalm 10:4 "The wicked are too proud to seek God. They seem to think that God is dead." Even if you are not seeking God because you are too proud to get saved … I want you to know that He is seeking after you anyway. The Bible says that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10). You are lost and if you will drop that chain of pride and turn to Him … He will save you. Just get saved. Don’t hold on to your pride, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth an eternity in hell and then the lake of fire.
   2. Pleasure: a lot of people love the pleasures of this world so much and what this world has to offer ... that they are not willing to live for God and get saved. I’ve heard people say too many times that they don’t want to give up all the fun they are having to become some kind of Jesus freak. Well, the Bible says your pleasure won’t last because there is coming a pay day when you will suffer an eternity in hell for rejecting the Son of God and His righteousness as your ticket to heaven. It’s not worth it.
   a. Pleasure will not satisfy you. Have you ever noticed how even your best of times enjoying the pleasures of this world have to be repeated. The pleasure you got from doing something will not last and is forgotten before you know it. Ecclesiastes 2:1 says " I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless."
   Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, says that pleasures of this world are meaningless. Let me say that I can proclaim with no ill to my conscience that since I got saved, born again, I am satisfied with Jesus. Pleasure will not satisfy … but Jesus will.
   b. Pleasure is short-lived. As we said before, pleasures of something you have or have done in this world will not last. They are soon forgotten. Hebrews 11: 24-26 says that "It 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."
   c. pleasure will seal your fate. 2 Thessalonians 2:12 says "Then they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth." The Bible says that the pleasures of sin and of this world will only last for a short season and then comes judgement day (Hebrews 11:24-26). You may be having pleasure in unrighteousness now but in eternity, while you are suffering the torments of hell, you will wish you could come back and receive the free gift God is offering through his Son. This gift is eternal life. Just get saved.
   3. People: The Bible says in Psalm 118:8 that "It is better to trust in the lord, than to put confidence in man." A lot of you who are hearing or reading this message are going to end up in hell because of the influence you allow people to have on your lives. You may have confidence in a minister who is telling you that your works are going to get you into heaven or that your works are the reason you’re saved. You may have confidence in a church and what it teaches. You may have confidence in yourself. People are a big reason that others will not receive the free gift of salvation.
   a. Friends- some of you are afraid that you will lose your friends and you’re right. You will lose a LOTS of friends when you get born again, but you will find that they were not really friends anyway. James 4:4 says " You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God." I’d rather have God on my side than all the friends this world could offer. Just get saved and you will get some new friends. Some real friends. You will have Jesus and the Bible says that He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). you will have some church folks that will become your friends and edify and encourage you in your walk with the Lord.
   b. Family- I have witnessed to many people who shrug off the Gospel by changing the subject to some family member or group in their family who goes to this church or follows this belief. The people they are closest too are there excuse for not getting saved. They say well my grandfather was a preacher or my uncle preaches down at that big church on Main Street.
   There are others who have tight nit families and they know if they get saved that they will be an outcast to the family. They have family reunions and parties that any saved person would not fit in. I say DROP EM!!! Praise God and just get saved. Nobody on the face of this earth is worth going to hell over. The Bible says in Matthew 10:37 "If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine." Just get saved and win your family to God. Then you can all enjoy that sweet reunion with the Lord in the by and by.
   c. Foes- a lot of people think that if they get saved that it will lend their adversaries more ammunition against them. They want to hold up their reputation to their enemies. the Bible teaches that our real enemy is Satan and that we fight not against flesh and blood but against his powers. Ephesians 6:12 "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Your real enemy is Satan who roams about seeking who he may destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He wants you to continue living for him and fulfilling his lust and by doing so you will end up in the place that was originally prepared for him (hell).
   4. Past: a lot of people in our day seem to think that the sins they have committed in the past and are committing now are too severe for them to be saved. They think that they are beyond saving.
   a. Past sins- the Bible says that Jesus’s blood paid for all our sins; past, present, and future. Ephesians 1:7 says "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." Jesus blood did not just pay for small sins but all sins
   b. Past failures- a lot of people think that because there track record is filled with failures that God cannot use them and that there is no reason to get saved and live for Him. I say just get saved and God will make a winner out of you. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things become new." That’s right friend. if you will give your life to the Lord and get saved he will make you a totally new creation and all your past failures will be gone that he can make you new.
   c. Past commitments- there are others who have even made pacts and vows with and even sold their souls to Satan and because of this they think they are beyond saving. I will say that there is no doubt they are in danger of condemnation … but it may not be too late. Any pact with the devil (or anyone else for that matter) that would cause someone to pass up on the gift of salvation is overruled by the word of God. The Bible says in 2nd Peter 3:9 "The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent."
   5. The price: first of all, let me say that Jesus paid it ALL. When Christ bled and died on the Cross he paid the sin penalty for all who will come to him. He was the propitiation for the whole world is what the Bible says. John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
   Secondly, there are many people who are not willing to repent and get saved. The Bible says in Luke 13:3 and again in Luke 13:5 "except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." Yes, Jesus paid the price for us to get to heaven but you must be willing to let it all go and turn to him. Surrender your life to him and He will take care of you. it’s a promise. Just get saved. You’ll not regret it. It’s the greatest thing by far that has ever happened to this old country boy and it will be the best thing that ever happens to you … no matter who you are.

March 31,2019     Lord, How Am I Supposed To Love This Woman?

   Opening passage — Ephesians 5:21-33 (NLT) — Spirit-Guided Relationships: Wives and Husbands — 21And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
   22For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
   25For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30And we are members of his body.
   31As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
   Summary:Women learn to submit to their husbands by watching their husbands submit to God. If a husband is not submitting to God, more than likely there will be a problem of submission in his home.
   Before I get started, I want to say something about this lesson. Every lesson that we talk about on Sundays may not apply directly to a situation that may be going on in your life at this particular moment … I pray it doesn’t happen … but one day it might ... better yet I’ll tell you exactly what will happen.
   God is going to send someone into your life that needs the knowledge that you have gained from our lessons on Sunday mornings. Remember, you never really understand what you have learned until you can teach someone what you know.
   With that I want to look at 2 verses from the passage of scripture I read earlier. Let’s look at verses 22 and 25 … 22For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 25For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.
   Let’s look at what Paul is saying here. Now most women don’t have a problem with the second phrase of verse 22 … they have no problem with submitting to the Lordship of Jesus.
   But looking closer at this passage, Paul is saying that the woman is to submit herself to her husband in the same manner as she would submit herself to Jesus. Now that’s a powerful level of submission. That’s giving a significant level of authority to the husband.
   Now let’s read verse 23 & 24 … 23For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
   So that in a manner similar to the way that Christ is the head of the Church, the man is to be the head of the wife. The obvious meaning of headship in the New Testament and the Greek language is to be in a position of authority and a position of leadership.
   And what I understand this passage of scripture to mean is that the husband is to be the head of the home. This is not a license for tyranny; this is not a license to demean the woman or to treat the woman as a slave … but the responsibility for final authority and for leadership in the home is vested in the husband. And if the woman resist that, she is resisting God, it is God who gives that directive.
   Now there has been teaching that I have heard that men have bought into the idea that the only way that God could tell women to submit to men is if men are naturally superior to women.
   This is so very not true. Subordination in terms of the division of labor in the Bible never carries with it the idea of inferiority. Even our Biblical doctrine of the Godhead says that the Son is subordinate to the Father and the Holy Spirit is subordinate to the Son, and no way do we waver from that, the idea of inferiority or there is any less dignity to the Holy Spirit than there is to Jesus Christ. So, Biblically, there is no less dignity, no less value to the woman than to the men.
   Submit is not one of those dirty four-letter words. God is telling you that you are to submit to one another in reverence of Him. Anything you do for God is not shameful or degrading and should not be looked upon or thought of in that manner.
   We hear constantly in our society now days the myth of the 50/50 marriage. I can’t think of anything worse because in a situation of a 50/50 marriage there is no final authority … because both parties are equal. You see, what these 50/50 marriages tend to do is to be locked in a perpetual power struggle to gain that 1% to make them not equal to the other.
   Let me tell ya something … God settles that because He’s got final say … and the Word says that the leadership in the home is vested in the man. And, gentlemen, before that grin gets too big on your face, I’m not so sure that’s as much a privilege as it is a heavy responsibility.
   It’s God who has ordained the man as the leader, the head of the church and the home. Understanding this statement leads me to another revelation that most men will not be comfortable with. “Every problem in the home or in the marriage is the responsibility of the Man.”
   Now I did not say that it was the fault of the man, but as the leader, as the head of the home, it is the man’s responsibility to do something to make it right. To many times men want to just wait and see what happens, and all the while complaining about this not being right or that not being right, there is no peace around here. Well … as the leader of the home … what are you going to doing about it? It may not be your problem … but it is your responsibility to make sure it is resolved and peace is restored.
   If a company has a problem with a product it’s producing, do you think the president is going to sit back and just wish it gets better or hope it works itself out? NO!! The president is going take some action to make it right.
   We’re losing too many marriages to the enemy with these wishing and hoping husbands. It’s time out for wishing and hoping … it’s time for action … and God teaches that action is initiated by the man because ultimately, when that Great Day comes, the man will be held responsible for what goes on under his leadership.
   Wife unhappy, what are you doing about it? Kids not acting right, what are you doing about it? Family doesn’t what to come to church, what are you going to do about it?
   Listen men, you don’t want to answer God’s question of “Why was your family such a mess?” with “Well God, You see, I was hoping and I was wishing it would get better.”
   Now when you bought your motorcycle, you want that motorcycle to perform the way it was designed. You want that motorcycle to last. Therefore, in order to make this happen, the first thing we do is we pull out this book called the “Owner’s Manual” and we look in a section called the manufacture’s recommendations.
   And we understand that following the recommendations of the people who made the motorcycle about how the motorcycle should work; will give us our desired result.
   In that same vein, if we understand that God instituted marriage, then you must understand that if you are not following His recommendations, His guidelines … you cannot expect your marriage to work like it was designed to.
   So, with that, the question before us today is “Lord, how am I supposed to love this woman.” Well let me tell you first, that if you don’t love the Lord, you cannot love your wife the way she needs and deserves to be loved.
   I’m going to tell you that my wife gets more love from me as number 2 in my life than she would ever get at number one. Let me make it clear for you, with God as number one in my life, pleasing Him is synonymous with loving her.
   The God I serve is the same yesterday today and forever, He never changes (Hebrews 13:8), but our spouses do. If we put our spouses in that number one position in our life, then as she changes, your love for her changes. There are no governing rules for a marriage where your spouse is number one in your life. God says in his most basic commandments, “Have no other god before me” (Exodus 20:3).
   You see, when God instituted marriage, it was a secondary relationship to Himself. So, if your spouse is number one in your life your marriage has no boundaries, no standards and is just an endless roller coaster of heart ache and heart break, frustration with nowhere to turn and no light at the end of the tunnel.
   Because if God is number two, you are not going to use the standards of what is number two in your life to govern number one.
   But the Word of God screams the command to the men, “love our wives, as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25-29)
   What God is telling us husbands is that if we don’t know Jesus Christ, then we don’t know how much Jesus loves the church; then we won’t know how we are suppose to love our wives. If we don’t know how much Jesus loves the church we won’t have a clue how to love our wives the way God intended for us to.
   We already talked about men being the leader’s in the home, but verse 22 talks about submission of the wife to their husbands. As I stated earlier, this has been a sore subject for a lot of women for many years and I always wondered why, why is it so hard for some women to submit to their husbands as God has commanded them to do in His Word, and then the Lord revealed it to me.
   Let me ask a question, if women are supposed to submit to their husbands, where do they learn to submit from? I have held several pre-marriage classes from several different instructors. Each one of those classes were very much different in the layout and presentation, … submitting to your husbands was in every one of those classes. But I didn’t see any instruction telling wives how to submit to their husbands. I only saw the command to do so.
   Let me tell you guys something this morning … our wives learn to submit to their husbands from watching their husbands submit to the Lord. How fascinating is that, we submit to God and our wives watch us and learn to submit to us by watching us submit to God … and we turn around and love them like Christ loves the church.
   So, then it was clear to me, it made sense. If a man is not submitting to the Lord, then there will be problems with his wife submitting to him. Why? It’s because if a man is submitting to Jesus Christ as his leader, guide and Lord, then his wife doesn’t have to worry about being physically or verbally abused, being neglected or being led into an ambush. She doesn’t have to worry about if its late … and you’re not home and where you are and what you may be doing … because she knows that Jesus would never do that to the church.
   Therefore, a wife would have no problem submitting to the Godly leadership of her husband because there are boundaries, standards and morals set by God where she can live free from worry. If God in His Word tells us not to worry, then, gentlemen, we should not create situations of worry in the marriage because if she is spending a lot of time worrying, that is less time she can spend finding ways to further express her love to you.
   Men are not just generic leaders, but they are the pastors of their home, they are the spiritual leaders and the prayer leaders of their families.
   So, men to love our wives, we must first love Jesus, and follow His direction for your lives.
   Jesus also tells the church that he loves it. The Bible is an endless love story of the Lord telling us how much he loves us, the same way we must tell our wives that we love them.
   The Bible tells us that what we believe in our heart, we confess with our mouth; therefore if you love your wife, you need to tell her. Don’t just tell her privately … tell her publicly ... not only with your words but also by your actions.
   One of the greatest things you can do for your children is let them know that you love their momma. And don’t stop there … express your love before family members and coworkers. Let the world know that this is the woman God gave me, my queen, the mother of my children and the love of my life.
   Don’t be like the man who’s wife was complaining to the pastor that she has been married for 20 years and her husband had never told her that he loved her. The pastor could not believe it. So he confronted the husband with this information and the husband replied, “That’s right. 20 years ago I told her that I loved her and if I change my mind, I will let her know.” Guys … that’s no way to live.
   Now Jesus also showed the church that He loves it by giving his life as a sacrificial atonement for sin on Calvary. Now many believe that John 3:16 “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” is the greatest verse in the Bible because it shows the sacrificial love of God toward us. Our wives must feel that beyond the shadow of a doubt that we are prepared to die for them.
   Does the calendar dictate your love for your spouse? Is the only time she receives special treatment; flowers, cards, candy, etc. is Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries? Do you compliment her enough to keep her self-esteem high? Do you show her that behind Jesus she’s the most important person to you on earth?
   Now Jesus shows that He loves me daily, giving me life, giving me answers to my problems, giving me strength the endure in the storm. He feeds me daily with His Word, He hears my prayers, He is there with me when I am at my highest and he picks me up when I am at my lowest. OH yeah!!! He shows me daily that He loves me.
   Is love a stranger in your house?
   One day after work a man was invited over his Christian friend’s house for dinner. He was amazed and how nice his Christian friend treated his wife … he said please, thank you, he told her he loved her and he noticed how happy they were so he said “I am going to try this when I get home from work tomorrow.”
   The next day when the man got home from work he opened the door and smothered his wife with kisses and told her that he loved her and she immediately burst into tears. Confused he asked what was wrong. She replied, "Your son got into a fight at school, the refrigerator quit working and the food spoiled and I had to throw it all out … then to top it all off you have come home drunk."
   Is love a stranger in your house?
   Many men get so caught up in trying to provide monetarily for their family that they forsake what they need most … and that’s love and leadership. And you cannot provide love and leadership if you’re never home.
   Listen very carefully men, your family needs your presence more than they need your paycheck. There have been many deathbed confessions of “I wish I had been a better husband” … “I wish I had been there more for my children.” Well you don’t have to wish any longer, start showing your love for them today.
   As men, we need to adopt the phrase for our life of something like “Good is not good enough.” If you consider yourself a good husband, that’s fine, but are you content? Have you reached your plateau? Do you think where you’re at right now will last … will it sustain your marriage?
   A marriage relationship is never stagnant, you’re either growing closer or you’re growing apart. Just as our relationship with Christ is never stagnant, we are either growing closer to Christ or we are growing apart from Christ.
   The world will tell us that a good husband just consists of paying the bills, cutting the grass, keeping the motorcycles serviced and running, working on the cars and the house.
   Let me tell you something … if we can be replaced as a husband by our wives with her getting a better paying job, a car with and extended warranty and a lawn care service, then I’m sorry men we’re missing the boat.
   But as Christian men we’re not going to settle for a worldly view of what constitutes a good husband. Our goal will be set on becoming the husbands God calls us to be and our wives need us to be.
   If you don’t take an active role in showing your love for your wife, she will seek love somewhere else … primarily from the world. What have we said about our children? “If you don’t raise them the world will,” and it is no different when it comes to your wife, if you don’t love her and take care of her, the world will.
   Let’s for a moment explore the type of wife the world turns out.
• She Puts career before family needs.
• She Refuses to submit to her husband as a result of listening to her single and or divorced friends telling her that she don’t need a man, don’t need to depend on a man, get your own checking account and don’t put his name on it.
• Don’t spend all that time in the kitchen, if he wants something to eat, fix him a TV dinner.
• Constantly asking you, what have you done for me lately?
• She is going to start arguments every chance she gets because that is the only way she can get your focused attention.
   A worldly praised wife is miles apart from a Godly wife. So what are we going to do about it?
   We need to praise her and not criticize her.
   Pay attention to her; let her know she is special.
   Let her know she is appreciated for all the things she does that we tend to take for granted
   Tell her you love her
   Make time to take her on a get a way vacation
   Make your marriage a life long date. Do you remember how excited you felt about her when you were dating? Well the same things you did to get her are the same things (and more) you need to do to sustain her.
   And finally, to love this woman we as men must pray, and pray and pray some more. Our wives need to see the source of your strength; your family needs to see the source of your strength. If your wife and your family think YOU are your strength, you have failed them, because what if something happens that takes you out of the picture?
   Where is your family going to turn for strength? Your family needs to see you praying, you need to lead your family in prayer. In times of trial and times of tribulation everyone needs to turn to Christ in prayer.
   Let me tell that MaryLu and I have never had an argument ... and never will. But we have had a few minor disagreements and not one of those disagreements could not be solved without prayer.
   You will be amazed at how calm the situation gets when you say “Hang on a minute. Let’s pray about this first … then we can talk about it.” As I used in the analogy with the motorcycle and the owner’s manual.
   Our manufacturer has given us 24 hour 7 day a week access to Him. But our God is a God that cannot be pleased without faith. You must believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the situation in your life right now, the situation in your marriage right now can and will be fixed by God. You must believe that there is power in prayer and turn that problem over to God, turn that situation over to God. He can fix it, if you just submit and let Him.

March 24, 2019     If Noah Were Here

   Our opening passage is Genesis 6:1-8 (NLT) A World Gone Wrong -- “1Then the people began to multiply on the earth, and daughters were born to them. 2The sons of God saw the beautiful women and took any they wanted as their wives. 3Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years.”
   4In those days, and for some time after, giant Nephilites lived on the earth, for whenever the sons of God had intercourse with women, they gave birth to children who became the heroes and famous warriors of ancient times.
   5The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. 6So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. 7And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” 8But Noah found favor with the Lord.”
   Our second passage this morning is Matthew 24:37-39 (NLT) — “37When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.”
   Summary: What would the message of Noah be like in today’s society?
   Nearly 6000 years ago there was a great man of faith called Noah. Noah lived in a time of great turmoil and much confusion. It had all began so beautifully as God had created man and placed him in the paradise known as the Garden of Eden. But, oh how quickly the beauty and peacefulness began to disappear as sin entered into the picture.
   From the lives of Adam and Eve, who knew the pristine innocence and beauty of God’s perfect creation, mankind had quickly fallen to the corrupted world of immorality that Noah lived in. In fact, things had become so bad that God was sorry that He had ever created man. Genesis 6:5-6 says, "5The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. 6So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart."
   Genesis 6:2 tells us what happened to bring about this fall into absolute corruption when we read the words, "2The sons of God saw the beautiful women and took any they wanted as their wives."
   The term “Sons of God” refer to those who, for a time, had chosen to have a form of religion where they would still recognize the Lord God, Jehovah. Over a period of time man began to multiply and to fill the land. As the number of people grew and each successive generation began to get farther and farther into sin, there was soon a large majority of the population who had totally forsaken God. They had gone so far from God that there was no reaching them any longer. They had no thought of God. Their heart was only growing more corrupt with each passing day.
   Living in a world of corruption had its toll upon those who considered themselves religious also. Little by little, day by day, their religious beliefs were compromised, their faithfulness to serve God became weaker and weaker, their love for God was replace by a love of the things of this world.
   Reading this passage (Genesis 6:2) gives us a picture of absolute immorality in the hearts of men. "2The sons of God saw the beautiful women and took any they wanted as their wives." Prostitution became the norm as Satan did his best to destroy the very design of God for one man to have one woman for life and create a family that would serve the Lord.
   The depths of corruption, sin and immorality that man can ever reach down into are without bounds. Satan’s purpose is to drag every man, woman and child into those great depths of sin so that they will no longer have any thoughts of our Holy God and the great Creator. Satan’s ultimate goal is always to destroy all of God’s creation, but his greatest hatred and absolutely worst attacks are designed to come against all of mankind that is created in the image of the God that Satan hates.
   His plan seemed to be working all too well. At the rate that man was becoming more corrupt, it would not be long until Satan would realize his dream of stealing man from God … the one thing in all of creation that God loved. You see, God created all things and called them good, but it was only man that God really loved … for man was the only part of God’s creation that had the power of choice to love God in return and the only part of creation that possessed an eternal soul.
   But God has always had a plan of redemption for a remnant of those who will serve Him faithfully!
   Into this sin blighted world of immorality was born a man who would be faithful to God in the midst of it all. That man was Noah.
   Noah came from a godly family. His family is recorded in the Book of Genesis:
   Enoch was his great-grandfather! At the age of 65 Enoch had a son and named him Methuselah. When he was 356 years old, Enoch was taken up into the very presence of God without ever having to die.
   Methuselah, when he was 187 years old, had a son named Lamech. Methuselah lived longer on this earth than any other man in the Bible, leaving this world at the ripe old age of 969.
   Lamech, at the age of 182, had a son and named him Noah. Then Lamech lived to the age 777.
   Noah was a patient man and a godly man, staying faithful to the God of his fathers and did not have children until he was 500 years old. That’s when he had 3 sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth.
   The problem was that the longer that man lived, the greater their moral corruption became. God finally put a limit on the life of men when he stated in Genesis 6:3, "3Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years."
   God had built this body to live forever and never die. His design was so perfect that it took the power of sin to destroy God’s creation. Even so, the body’s design would allow it to live for centuries if God would not have placed a limit on man’s lifespan.
   As you know, the average lifespan in our time is about 70-80 years. God’s had to continually place limitations upon the lifespan of mankind because the heart of man is still set upon every evil imagination (Jeremiah 17:9-10) and the world only grows more immoral and corrupt with each passing day.
   The sin in the heart of man had finally reached a place that God would not tolerate it any longer. So, God determined in his heart to utterly destroy man from the face of the earth lest all flesh would destroy itself. God loved man too much to allow man to destroy himself in such fashion.
   In the midst of this great melting pot of sin, immorality and corruption, there was only one man who still placed his faith in God and made an attempt to serve God.
   Genesis 6:8 tells us "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD."
   Noah – the man of faith – heard from God and began to build an ark. Using crude tools, wooden hammers, crude saws and forming every part of the ark from wood that had to be cut, hewn and hauled from miles around, Noah built an ark, a ship, that measured 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and approximately the same height as a 6 story building of our day. It wasn’t until the 20th century when we began to build large metal ships that a ship could be built this large again.
   While he built this ship, God also instructed Noah to begin to preach to those around him that the flood was coming. God was going to make one final plea to the people He loved so much. God knew that they wouldn’t hear Noah. Noah found grace in God’s sight but not one person would give him the time of day. They were too busy having their “good times,” remembering the “good ole days” and living their lives of self-indulgence. They had no time for a “crazy old prophet”. After all, it’s never rained before. There’s never been a flood before.
   Adam was created over 1650 years ago and all things have been like they are for many centuries. Why would we believe this old gray-haired preacher now? Besides, don’t ya think it would take someone TOTALLY off their rocker to build a boat out in the middle of the desert??
   BUT … no matter what came and went … Noah just kept on working and preaching – being faithful to the call of God upon his life. He withstood all of the taunts of the crowd, as they would gather to watch Noah and his family building this monstrosity of a building that would be the salvation of mankind and God’s plan for starting all over again.
   People could not and would not accept God’s plan and … as a result … not one of them, except for those 8 people in Noah’s family who obeyed God and built the ark … survived the judgment of God. Every living thing that walked the face of the earth drowned as a result of their sin and stubbornness. Every one of those people is in hell today and, after Judgement Day, will be in the Lake of Fire forever. I wonder, if they could do it all over again, would they help Noah built that ark? But that chance will never come – their eternal fate is sealed and there is no coming back and no second chance to make it right.
   What do you think that Noah would be doing right now, if he were living in our time?
   He would be doing just what he did 6000 years ago. He would be doing what you and I had better be doing also.
   Matthew 24:37-39 says " 37When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. 38In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. 39People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes."
   These words are given in response to the Disciples asking Jesus the question found in Matthew 24:3, "What shall be the signal of your return and of the end of the world?"
   After giving a list of the things that would come, Jesus warned us that the heart of man would yet be ever after immorality, corruption and sin, and that not many would hear the message of the gospel. The same condition would exist and the ears of those who are wholly sold out to sin would still be deaf to the call of God and preaching of His Word of warning to repent.
   What kind of things did Jesus say were coming that would give us warning of His soon return to judge the world again?
1)"For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.”
2)“… Wars and rumors of wars”
3)“… For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”
4)“… Famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in places too many to count."
5)“…You shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.”
6)“…Many will be offended, and will betray one another, and will hate one another.”
7)“…Many false prophets will rise, and deceive many.”
8)“…Because iniquity will abound, the love of many will grow wax cold."
9)“…This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come."
   Can there be any doubt that we are living in the days that Jesus spoke of? If there was ever a time when all these things are happening … it’s now!
   Our daily newspapers are filled with news that carry shock waves that God is using to try to wake us up!
   The preaching of the gospel has spread around the globe to every nation through the power of satellite broadcasting. There is no place on the face of the earth that cannot be reached with the gospel at any given moment that a man will turn toward God and tune in to what is being said.
   All of these other signs are visible as well. There are battles begin fought all over the globe as nations, religions, ethic factions and races rise against one another to commit genocide of those who are different.
   Famines have been and continue to sweep across the third world nations as 90% or more of the world’s population goes to sleep hungry every night.
   Earthquakes and other natural disasters are more intense and more frequent than any other time in the history of man.
   Pestilences, like aids, venereal diseases that are resistant to any drugs, viruses that don’t respond to treatment and then things like chemical and biological warfare (anthrax) that threaten to destroy people by the millions are a constant topic of discussion and concern.
   False preachers, false religions, false prophets and false, self-proclaimed saviors abound as men try to gain power and influence over the lives of others.
   Christians are becoming more and more the target of all the world’s religions as they attempt to lay the blame for fear and guilt upon the teaching of the truth of Christ’s Word.
   Sin has caused love to disappear as mothers kill their own children; children kill their classmates and their own parents, our children call the cops on us when we try to discipline them. Families have fallen apart because love has grown cold and we are more concerned about what we want … we are more concerned about what makes US happy … instead of what is right and good for everyone involved.
   Mothers turning their kids out to fend for themselves as they chase after immorality that makes them feel good no matter what the costs.
   Fathers who refuse to accept their responsibility for the children they bring in to this world and, instead of being the Biblical head of the household, they become soft and even turn to homosexuality and perverseness with those same children.
   In the midst of this sin and corruption there is still a voice in the wilderness crying out for man to turn back to God, but these days … that voice is seldom heard anymore!
   Noah would say to us – get in the ark! Judgment is coming! Death lurks at your very doorstep and he waits for no one! The floodtide of sin is rising! The rain of God’s judgment is already falling and will soon become greater! Listen and obey for there is little time left!
   Each passing generation since Noah has only gone deeper and deeper into sin. Each passing generation looks upon the next to wonder just how bad can things get and man still survive!
   God has already promised that He would come back after a remnant just as He did for Noah and his family.
   I have heard it time and time again where some have said that they don’t believe such a loving God would condemn every sinner to the Lake of Fire forever. Tell that to those who drowned in the flood!
   Every living soul except for 8 people died and went to Hell because of their unbelief and their way of life. What makes us think God’s holiness and His justice won’t do the same thing again?
   If Noah were here, he would be shouting to the top of his lungs – Repent – Get Ready – God’s judgment is coming and it won’t be long! Don’t wait – there is no promise of tomorrow! Jesus could return to catch away His remnant this very second … then where will you be? What will happen to you if you missed that boat?
   We don’t have to drown in our sin! We don’t have to spend eternity in Hell with those drowned victims of the flood! We can accept the invitation into the Ark of Salvation through Jesus Christ! We can enter in because the door is still open but I fear it has begun to close.
   Once the last soul has come in that Jesus knows will accept Him … like the parable of the “Ten Virgins” … the door will close and there will be no more chance for salvation (Matthew 25:1-13)
   All of us have to listen, hear and obey the message of the gospel (James 1:22-25). There was only one door into Noah’s Ark and there is only one door into salvation today.
   That door is “Jesus Christ”. He is the way; the truth and the life and no one can enter except through Him (John 14:6). There is no life that is “good enough”, there is no sacrifice that we can make that can “pay the price”, Jesus is the ONLY way and His blood is the ONLY sacrifice that is good enough.
   1 Peter 3:20-21 says, "20… those 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."
   There is your way into the Ark of Safety. There is your door into the Kingdom of God – it is only by having a good conscience, a personal relationship with the Father and His Son and by having a clean heart before God by believing in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
   Be part of the remnant, not part of the crowd that will suffer eternal death. Be a part of the remnant that will live eternally in Heaven!
   Accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior!
   Surrender your heart to Him!
   Repent of your sin today!
   Jesus will bring you in through His blood and make your life count for something good!
   Do it today while there is yet time to enter in – the door is open but it won’t be long until it begins to close forever.

March 17, 2019     Imitate God

Ephesians Series Part 4 of 4

   Ephesians 4:30 – 5:2 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (NIV)
   Someone once said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” Any parent knows this is true. You’re out in the garage, carefully pounding some nails in that dresser you’ve been refurbishing. As anybody with any wood working sense knows, you must be very careful pounding those finishing nails in lest you put a gaudy dent in your final product. Suddenly, you hear pounding next to you. There’s your son with the same expression of deep concentration as you have on your face, tongue out the side of his mouth, with a hammer in his hand. He’s beating the tar out of your dresser. He says, “Look, daddy, I’m just like you.” Dents all over your masterpiece! You’re furious, yet flattered, because he wanted to be just like you. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
   The same is true when it comes to God. If you want to flatter God … worship him … there is no better way than imitating him. And, looking back over Ephesians, we can’t help but wanting to flatter God. Remember, he blessed us with every spiritual blessing; he chose us to be his children from before time ever began; he bought us back for himself in Jesus’ blood; he sealed us for heaven in Jesus; he made us alive when we were dead in sins; he saved us by grace; he made us citizens of heaven; he welcomes you into his presence at any time; he does immeasurably more than all you ask or imagine.
   Last week in our lesson, Paul used the world as an example of what we should not do. In our passage this morning, Paul gives us examples of what we should do to imitate and flatter the God who has done so much for us.
   Our lesson this morning is telling us not to do things that we know dishonor the Holy Spirit. We are to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. We’re to be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
   The chapter 5 starts out with “Be imitators of God” and “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us.”
   A pastor shared this story. “She was a girl with endless possibilities. She was great with people. She was beautiful. She was kind-hearted. She played the piano perfectly by ear. But she gave it all up. As my sister drifted away from God and my parents, it filled their heart with ache. As she slept around, refused to get a job, lived with her boyfriend and married him without so much as an invitation to her family, it brought torrents of tears. When she got divorced after her baby was born, as she wandered around aimlessly without a job, as she told lies about her family and her past, my parents put on a brave face, but the grief only grew.”
   In our lesson, Paul tells us not to grieve God like that. You see, our disobedience, our bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and our refusing to forgive … all grieve God. They grieve him because a good Father hates to see his children hurt themselves and others. He knows how these awful attitudes destroy us and the ones around us. These type of attitudes ruin his church and get in the way of his work.
   I doesn’t matter what anyone says, because we all struggle with it. Are you harboring bitterness and unforgiveness in your life? Maybe it’s family. Families sometimes seem to bring out the worst in us. I’ve said horribly insulting things to some of my family members I wouldn’t dream of saying to others. Familiarity often does breed contempt in this sinful world. Maybe it’s bitterness over a personality clash from years ago or differences of opinion. Maybe he talks about you behind your back; maybe she rubs you the wrong way or intimidates you. Maybe he sabotages everything you do. Maybe she doesn’t respect you. Maybe they have something you don’t like, maybe popularity or money.
   Max Lucado writes, “Doesn’t someone owe you something? An apology? A second chance? A fresh start? An explanation? A thank you? A childhood? A marriage? Stop and think about it (which I don’t encourage you to do for long), and you can 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 should be more sensitive. Your preacher should have been more attentive.” (Great House of God, Lucado, p. 121) If we chew on it long enough … there’s always something to make us bitter.
   That bitterness grieves God as we hurt ourselves and others. Yes, we hurt ourselves. Max Lucado goes on to write, “Ever notice that we describe the people who bug us as a “pain in the neck”? Whose neck are we referring to? Certainly not theirs. We are the ones who suffer.” (The Great House of God, Lucado, p. 123).
   You see, bitterness and unforgiveness shackles us, it consumes us and it eats up our conscience. We suffer; we sin; we sabotage our relationship with the loving, heavenly Father and those we love.
   It reminds me of this guy in Tennessee who saw a water moccasin in the bottom of his row boat. In panic, he pulled out his pistol and began blasting at it. Can you guess what happened next? The bullets tore holes in the boat, the boat sank and he rested on a nest of water moccasins. Blasting away at others in bitterness sinks our boat. It destroys us in the end.
   Thankfully, we have a God who lets go of our bitterness. Psalm 25:6-7 says, “Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord…For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.”
   That’s a repentant request that is always answered. The Bible says that IF we confess of sins with a repentant heart … God doesn’t remember them anymore, not a one. In fact, he doesn’t even remember your rebellion from yesterday because he let it all go when Christ “gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” God lets go of every sin, even our bitterness.
   So … what are you hanging onto it for??? If God forgives and forgets our shortcomings … why can’t we do that for others???
   Now, Paul tells us to imitate God by letting go. Start by saturating your life with Scripture and the power of prayer. Ask God to help you do the impossible with someone who is impossible. Consider writing down the name of that person who is the object of your bitterness. Write down the things that makes you angry. Get it all out, how they hurt you, how they get on your nerves, how they make gagging noises in your presence. Then, crinkle up the paper, throw it in the fire pit and burn it up. Then … with a true heart … ask God to burn up your bitterness and consume you with love. Imitate him, and let it go!
   Having let go, now what do we do? How do we imitate God once bitterness has been banished? I saw an article on Britney Spears. It reads, “Spears, now cutting an image-shifting, comeback album after an 18-month hiatus, said she now realizes ‘I need my single time’ to learn to ‘be self loving.’ Now that she has let go of a relationship with her boyfriend she needs some time to love herself.
   OOOPS!!! Sorry Britney … but … God says something different. In verse 32, He says to “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” and in verse 1,he says “and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”
   Having let go of bitterness, God tells us be “others-loving,” not “self-loving.”
   Martin Luther once wrote, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord, subject to no one; a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” God set us free from guilt and sin when he let our sins go, but now he calls us to serve others, to imitate God’s service and to imitate to others His love to us!
   Looking at that word “compassionate.” Literally, it means “having good bowels.” What in the world does that mean? What do bowels have to do with compassion? Well, the Greeks believed your insides represented your feelings. That’s why your stomach hurts whenever you’re nervous, anxious, disgusted or sad. The Bible often says that Jesus “had compassion” on people. They were so spiritually sick and helpless that it made him sick to his stomach. But, more importantly, it moved him to action. He healed the blind, the lame, the demon-possessed. He preached God’s good news to the poor. He clambered up Calvary carrying THEIR cross.
   God tells us to imitate him by hurting for those are hurting. But more importantly, he tells us to imitate him with compassionate action. 1 John 3 (16-20) says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity (compassion) on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” You see, the Bible teaches us that compassion leads us to action as we imitate God.
   It’s awful tempting for us to say, “I don’t want to butt my nose into their business. It’s better not to meddle.” Nice excuse ... BUT … when we see people who are sick, who are struggling to hang on to their faith, whose world has been shattered by death, who have been through abuse and failure and rejection—God wants us to take compassionate action. Send a card, buy some food, stop by—give them some time. Can the TV show wait? Can the house be cleaned another time? Someone needs to see God’s helpful hands in your hands, God’s comforting voice in your voice, God’s sympathetic eyes in your eyes. Let’s love with compassionate action.
   This is where we find real significance, real fulfillment, in imitating God, in copying his compassion, kindness and love (James 1:27).
   Pastor Rick Warren writes, “What matters is not the duration of your life, but the donation of it.” (Warren, Purpose-Driven Life, p. 233)
   Let go of the bitterness barrier by forgiving and forgetting those things of your past because the Bible teaches that if you never let go of the past (and all the junk that comes with it) … you’ll never have a future. How can you have a truly Christian life if you’re all bogged down with all the guilt and shame of you past.
   LET IT GO!!!! Stop wallerin in all the stuff that is dead and gone … and start living!!! Live your life like you have a future with Christ … live your life like you have a future with your spouse and your children. Stand up firmly … take compassionate action in your life. Imitate God, and give him the highest form of flattery. He deserves it, don’t you think?

March 10, 2019     Be Different

Ephesians Series Part 3 of 4

   Ephesians 4:17-24 (NLT) — Living as Children of Light — 17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles [other words Live no longer as the unsaved] do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
   20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.
   Summary: God calls us to be different. He doesn’t want us to be anything like the vile, unbelieving culture around us. He offers us power to do that. He said in 60th chapter of Isaiah “1Rise up and shine, for your light has come. The shining-greatness of the Lord has risen upon you. 2For see, darkness will cover the earth. Much darkness will cover the people. But the Lord will rise upon you, and His shining-greatness will be seen upon you. 3Nations will come to your light. And kings will see the shining-greatness of the Lord on you. (Isaiah 60:1-3) (NLV)
   It’s not easy to be different, is it? You see a young lady with pink hair spiked up like a porcupine at Pizza Hut. Her clothes are black, her eyes are black, her fingernails are black. All is black except for the silver glint of her countless metal accessories. You say to yourself, “She’s different.” No one else in Pizza Hut looks anything like her.
   Now, you run into the same girl on Friday night at the coffee shop. She looks the same—hair still pink and spiked. However, the girl next to her has pink hair, and so does the one behind her. The one next to her has purple hair and the one over there has green hair. The one in the back corner has fire engine red hair. Wow!!! You’ve haven’t see so much head color since you went to the parrot convention at the zoo.
   Now, as you sit in the Pizza Hutt, you realize how different you look in your kaki pants and button-down shirt … while she looks like everyone else. The reality is that we all like to be accepted, even in our differences. We don’t mind being different as long as someone else is different with us. It’s not easy to be truly different.
   During this past week where were you different than anyone else? Did anyone notice that you did not belong? Did you stand out in the crowd? Did you go against the flow?
   Whether you like it or not, the Bible says that you are different. Sure, we’re just as foolish, frail, and faulty as the next guy. Different sins, but the same sinful weakness. Just because people can’t see the lust or hatred struggling in our heart doesn’t make us better than the adulterer and the murderer. But, you’re different … because God chose you as His child from before time ever was. You are loved, forgiven and saved. You’re a Christian, a follower of Christ. You are different than the world around you.
   So, were you different this week? Did you stand out? Did you go against the flow? Today God is telling you, “You are different, so be different!” That’s who you are, so act like who you we called to be! He talks about this in our lesson:
   Let’s read our passage again from a different translation. Ephesians 4:17-22 17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. 20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; … (NIV)
   1-The command
   A pastor told this story. There was this guy in college who was sort of wild. For instance, he once had some friends tie him in between two mattresses and launch him off the balcony of the auditorium. That was just one of the times he had to be rushed to the hospital for a concussion. Years later, I ran into him, dressed nicely, sitting on a couch talking in a quiet and gentle voice. Surprised to see him I said, “Nice to see you, Matt!” The first words out of his mouth were, “I’m sorry. For what? For what you remember me as.” He was trying to put his old self behind him.
   As we see here in vs 22 Paul writes something similar in our lesson today: “Put your old self behind you. Be different than what you once were; be different than the vile, unbelieving culture you came from.” You have to remember that most of the people Paul wrote to came to faith when they were adults; their old life was still very real for them. Those of you who learned about Jesus as adults can understand Paul’s thought more easily. Those of us who have been Christians from infancy have a tougher time relating.
   Either way, his point is clear: God commands us to be different than the vile, unbelieving culture around us. Again, in verse 19 he says, “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more.”
   “Indulge” literally means “busy-ness” or “diligence.” The culture around us diligently seeks one thing … self-satisfaction … at any cost … constantly craving the next self-indulgent experience, the next thrill-filled roller coaster ride. If it feels good, do it, no matter how it affects anyone else.
   How many of you have seen the movie called “The Family Man?” It’s about this selfish guy who abandons his fiancé for a career and a self-indulgent life. An angel gives him a glimpse of what life would have been like if he had married his fiancé. He shows him how wonderful she would have been and how great his kids would have been. He falls in love with that life, realizing how much more fulfilling it is. There was an interview with the actor who plays his character. He basically says, “Either life was great; he just had to pick which was right for him.” In other words, as long as you’re happy, you’re doing great, whether you’re living as a family man or a self-indulgent, money-grubbing sexaholic! That’s the way the vile, unbelieving culture around us thinks!
   Our culture believes that your happiness is the most important thing in the world. So, if you want to ruin your marriage because you crave porn, good for you. If you want to mess around and play house before you get married and actually have one, good for you. If you want to sit around all day watching worthless shows while the world turns, good for you. If you don the religious mask on Sunday but live the way you want the rest of the week, that’s fine. Inconsistency is fine, so long as it makes you happy. If you want to retire from serving God and others when you retire from work, great. If you want to max out your credit cards on new clothes and motorcycle chrome while sickly children starve on our streets or in your own homes, go ahead. If you want to spend all your time playing games and warming bar stools while your children grow up without you, you go right ahead; it’s OK because it’s your life, right???
   But, you see … we’re not supposed to be like that. God commands us to be different. We don’t exist to indulge ourselves at the expense of everyone else. Paul adds to this thought in the 3rd chapter of Colossians where he says: “This means that you must try to kill everything in your body which belongs to this earth, things like sexual sins, and unclean thoughts and actions, sinful sexual urges and desires and greed, which is idolatry (worshiping something other than God). It’s because of these things that God’s holy anger is coming…now you must also try to get rid of all such things as anger, bad temper and hatred. And there must be no insulting or shameful words coming out of your mouths. You must stop lying to one another, since you have stripped off your old self and all the things it does and have put on your new self.” (Colossians 3:5-15) You see … God commands us to live selfless lives of sacrifice, compassion and care.
   By the way, this brings me to a topic that has been burdening my conscience for some time. Lately, I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I know that my brother hasn’t been to worship in months or he is living a completely selfish life, but he still believes in God.”
   Belief, or trust, in God is not the mere acceptance of his existence. It’s relying on him COMPLETELY!!! Even the devil believes that God exists. But the devil nor his demons rely on God for anything. How can you rely upon Jesus when you won’t have anything to do with Him? How can you rely upon Him when your entire life is consumed with your own happiness? How can you be His child if you refuse to be different than the world?
   I’m often afraid that more of these loved ones have turned their backs on Christ than we realize. Psalm 2:12 says, “blessed (happy) are those who trust is in him.” But it also says, “Kiss the Son (Jesus) lest he be angry and you be destroyed.” (NIV)
   You see … membership at Red Stone (or any other church) won’t hold any water with God at the pearly gates. These loved ones need our encouragement and prayers. Pray that God would take them out of the world and make them different again. We ALL know someone who needs to be in church. Help them to become different by helping them back into the fellowship of God’s children. If they’ve never been to church, help them to understand the importance of being in fellowship.
   2-The power
   After thinking about it, it seems really difficult to be different, doesn’t it? Selfishness says it’s no fun to live for others; sinfulness says it’s boring to obey the rules. But look at verses 23 and 24, “to be made new in the attitude of your minds: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
   This ever happen to you? (have keys in left hand) “Where are my keys? I just had them here in my pocket.” (put pencil in ear) “Where’s my pencil? I just had it.” It’s right there in front of us, any closer and it would bite us.
   So God tells us today that the ability to be different is right in front of us. While we still have a rebellious sinful nature (our old self) to contend with, God has given us something right here: a new self, a new person, created to be like him in true righteousness and holiness.
   You see, when Jesus triumphantly said with His last breath “It is finished,” from a crimson cross, he accomplished two amazing things. First of all, He finished paying the punishment for every rebellious romp in your life. Second, He completely conquered the power of sin in your life. When it comes to being saved, Jesus did it all for you; forgiveness and peace with God are yours. And when it comes to living godly lives, he has given you the power over sin. That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 6:14, “Sin shall not be your master.” God has given you a new self who has the power to be different, a new self who says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). You are not stuck in your sin; you are not clamped to your culture; you’re not helpless or hopeless. You have the power to be different through Jesus Christ and his life-changing Word.
   So, how will you be different this week? Will you put the video game down and give your wife and kids some of the time they need? Will you take on a ministry in your church or your community? Will you pass up that top or that skirt you don’t really need to help someone in need? Will you fight that addiction to lust, angry outbursts or self-indulgent living? How will you be different?
   Sesame Street had some great songs. Remember the “different” song? “One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong.” They showed you four different men, three dressed up as firemen, one dressed up as a policeman. You were supposed to point out which one was different.
   My friends, you are different. You’re not like the others. That’s because our merciful God chose you as his child from eternity past. You’re forgiven and loved beyond measure. You’re different. Now, let the world see that you are different!

March 3, 2019     Restoring Unity In Our Community

Ephesians Series Part 2 of 4

   ​Ephesians 2:13-22 (NLT) — 13But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
   14For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
   17He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
   19So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
   Summary: It’s essential that Christians be unified if we are going to glorify Christ, build each other up and share his message with the world.
   The Early New Testament church was known for its love. That’s why it grew so incredibly fast. People were attracted to the love which changed Christians so much.
   Now, Satan knew that thousands of people were being drawn to Christ through this love, so he attempted to destroy the church. At first, he tried to splinter it from the outside. In A.D 64, he moved the Roman Emperor Nero to blame the Christians for a terrible fire in Rome. Hundreds of Christians were arrested, covered in animal skins and torn to death by dogs; some were crucified, coated in tar and lit on fire. Satan incited many other powerful men to persecute, imprison and murder Christians for years. Thousands died for the faith, but the Church continued to grow; more and more people joined the church when they saw the love and dedication of Christ’s followers.
   So, Satan tried another tactic: splinter the Church apart from the inside. If he could get Christians to fight with each other, to stab each other in the back, not only would the Church fall to pieces, but unbelievers would smell the hypocrisy from 100 yards away and steer clear. He has had much more luck with that tactic: Destruction through Disunity. Leveled through a Lack of Love.
   How successful has Satan been with Red Stone? Has he caused Destruction through Disunity? Has he Leveled us through a Lack of Love? Well, think of it this way: What is Red Stone known for in our community? a. Teaching b. A building c. Rigidity or d. Love? When people say “Red Stone” do they picture a family of believers bonded together in Christ, working together in love to bring Him to a dying world? Or, do they see an assembly of spiteful squawkers who love to tear each other down behind the back?
   I’m not entirely sure what they think, but it’s a very important question. If we cannot lovingly unite, we cannot do Christ’s work of glorifying God and reaching the lost. We’re wasting our time! We must make sure that we are united as a congregation, as families, as friends. If not, God will take his work elsewhere regardless of what we do.
   The Church in Ephesus faced a similar challenge, to stay united so they could do God’s work. Satan had already started to divide them. Let’s listen to Paul’s words to them to help us Restore the Unity in our Community.
   We start with verses 13 & 14 …
   I. The Conflict
   “13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,”
   Paul talks about the hostility between two groups of people in the Ephesian church. Those two groups were the Jews (those who were near) and the Gentiles (those who were far away). The Jews were the physical descendants of Abraham whom God had delivered from slavery in Egypt and given the Promised Land (which is now modern day Palestine). They were God’s chosen people.
   The Gentiles were everyone else, those who were not descended from Abraham. These would be people like the Romans, the Greeks and the Egyptians. Most of us are Gentiles, descended from Gentiles of European descent.
   At the time Paul wrote this letter, the Jews and the Gentiles did not get along very well. The Jews had the Ten Commandments and the special laws of God. They prided themselves on the stress and strain they went through to keep these precious laws. And they loathed the ignorant Gentiles who mostly lived self-indulgent lives.
   The Gentiles, on the other hand, got sick of hearing the Jews preach on and on about their law, especially because many Jews dreamt up clever ways to sidestep God’s laws. It annoyed the Gentiles that such people called themselves “God’s favorites.”
   The reality was that both were guilty of sin and both needed Jesus. The Gentiles because they lived how they wanted to live and rarely cared what God wanted … and the Jews because they knew better and disobeyed God anyways … the Gentiles because of their self-indulgence … the Jews because of their hypocrisy. Like Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God!” Two guys jump out of a plane; both of their parachutes fail. It doesn’t matter if one lands high up on a mountain, the other way down in a valley; both are going to splat.
   How it burns God’s ears to hear us dividing because we think that we are better than the lady two rows in front of us. How it annoys Him to see us rating our ministries as though one person’s work were more important than another’s. How it annoys him to see us exploiting the mistakes of others so that no one will notice our own faults. How quickly we, in an attempt to satisfy our own demonic cravings for blood, devour gossip or cling to one side of a two-sided story. How arrogant to ignore the fact that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This foolishness divides the church, and the stench of hypocrisy drives people away.
   In 1917, when the Russian revolution was rocking the streets of Petrograd, leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church were meeting a few blocks away from the fighting, having a heated debate over what color vestments (stoles, etc) the priests should wear! (From When God Builds a Church, Bob Russell, p. 167) When we battle with each other, we forget the real battle, to win souls for the glory of God. The church will never grow when it is driven by disunity and lovelessness.
   We must unite to glorify God and to reach our community, and there is only one place to do that—in…
   II. The Resolution
   Listen to verse 15-20: “15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body (Christ’s body) to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
   When we were kids and guests came over, there were two tables: the adult table and the kid’s table. The kid’s table was always a bummer. When the adults were pulling sirloin steaks off the grill, we would ask, “Do we get steak, too?” My dad would reply, “Yeah, tube steaks. Ha, ha.” And throw hot dogs on our plates at the kid’s table. All the cool conversation took place at the adult table; we got stuck talking about Strawberry Shortcake dolls and Masters of the Universe. We weren’t welcome at the adult table.
   These verses tell us that God welcomes us all to his table through trust in Jesus; no one is turned away … not one.
   Look at verses 16-19 with me: verse 16 says no matter who you are, Jew or Gentile, blue-collar or white collar, man or woman, child or senior, you have been reconciled to God through Jesus’ blood on the cross. In other words, God has been turned from your enemy into your friend, from your judge to your Father.
   Verse 17 is saying No matter who you are, you are at peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1).
   Verse 18 … No matter who you are, you have access to God. God always welcomes you into his presence whether you are coming for protection, promises or prayers.
   And verse 19 … No matter who you are, you are a member of his household. Membership has its privileges and heaven is yours.
   But remember something else…the guy next to you, yeah him, the one you don’t like because he thinks Greenbay quarterback Brett Favre is a putz, or, worse yet, because he thoughtlessly slammed you in front of your friends … yeah … that guy is also God’s child.
   Remember verse 16, “Jesus reconciled both of them to God…” And verse 18, “through Jesus we both have access to the Father.” As much as you may not care for that guy, he is your brother in Jesus, and Jesus has made you one. You are loved; he is loved. You are forgiven; he is forgiven. You are blessed; he is blessed.
   Pastor Bob Russell of Southeast Christian Church writes something interesting about this: “The twelve apostles were a diverse group. Simon the Zealot was a patriot—a kind of redneck who hated the Roman government. Matthew was a tax collector—a collaborator with Rome. That would be like Rush Limbaugh and Ted Kennedy serving on the same committee! They’d about slit each other’s throat! But Jesus united them.” (Russell, p. 197).
   Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Man were both forgiven and loved by Jesus. All of us here today are forgiven and loved by Jesus. We all have peace with Him; we all have access to Him; be all belong to Him. We are united in Him.
   And if that is the case, then it will certainly change…
   III. Our Response
   In verses 21&22 we read “21In [Jesus] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)
   I’m sure that many of you have heard of Ladan and Laleh, the Siamese twins from Singapore. Ladan and Laleh were joined together at the skull but had individual brains and. In June 2003 the doctors attempted to surgically separate the 29 year old twins. Unfortunately, they did not survive. They were joined together so closely that it couldn’t be done.
   Interestingly enough, Paul tells us we are “joined together” like that in Jesus, wholly dependant upon each other, brothers and sisters for eternity. And in Jesus we find the strength to build each other up until we become a marvelous temple that projects His loving face to a dying world.
   When that world sees us so closely joined together and building each other up … they see Jesus … and they are drawn to him!
   They’re turned away by hypocrisy and dissention; they see enough of that in the workplace and government. But when they see unity and love, they are drawn to Jesus.
   So, Galatians 5:13 Serve one another; Romans 15:7 Accept one another; Colossians 3:13 Forgive one another; Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens; Romans 12:10 Be devoted to one another; Romans 12:10 Honor one another; Romans 15:14 Teach one another; Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another; 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Encourage one another; James 5:16 Pray for one another and Confess your sins to one another.
   Take the time to listen to both sides of the story; take words and actions in the kindest possible way; be patient. Do everything on your part to restore the unity and the love. That way, our families, our friends and our community will be drawn to the love of Jesus who welcomes us all!

February 24, 2019     We Are The Wealthy Children Of God

Ephesians Series Part 1 of 4

   Ephesians 1:3-14 — (NLT) — Spiritual Blessings — “3All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. 4Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. 6So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. 8He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
   9God has now revealed to us his mysterious will regarding Christ—which is to fulfill his own good plan. 10And this is the plan: At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in heaven and on earth. 11Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan.
   12God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.”
   Summary: Sometimes it seems like we don’t have much, but in reality, we are wealthy in God, past, present and future.
   How many of you know the story of the Munity on the Bounty? The Bounty was a British ship that set sail in 1787, bound for the South Seas. The crew was sent to plant fruit trees and make some of the islands more habitable for colonization. And they did just that for the first six months on the islands.
   When it came time to leave, however, the sailors rebelled. They liked the native girls and the warm weather. So, they set Captain Bligh and a few loyal men adrift in a tiny boat. Soon after, the British government sent an expedition to punish the mutineers. Fourteen were captured.
   Nine mutineers, however, along with the Tahatian men and women who accompanied them, found their way to Pitcairn (pit’karen) Island, a tiny dot in the South Pacific only two miles long and a mile wide. Ten years later, drinking and fighting had left only one man alive--John Adams. Eleven women and 23 children made up the rest of the Island’s population.
   Around this time, Adams discovered the "Bounty’s" Bible in the bottom of an old chest. As he read it, God’s love and forgiveness transformed his murderous heart forever. He began to teach the children from the Bible until every person on the island was transformed. And that transformation still takes place 200 years later. In 1988, with a population of slightly less than 100, nearly every person on Pitcairn (pit’karen) Island was a Christian.
   (pause) The Bible is powerful; it transforms people. It answers those hard questions of life: Who am I? Why am I here? It changes our perspective and gives us direction.
   Now, I know that that we are headed into the riding season … things are fixin to start getting really busy. With spring around the corner we’ll all have a bunch of stuff going on. But I want you to remember … none of those things is as important as our connection with God.
   So, as we begin this Bible study of Ephesians, I ask you to pray with me and commit yourself to studying this life-changing message with us. Go out to our website and re-read these lessons. Act like the Bereans … go home and read and study the things you hear here today.
   PRAYER FOR GOD’S BLESSING.
   First of all, the Bible changes us by reminding us who we are. And Ephesians starts right there. It reminds us that we are the wealthy Children of God.
   “What?” you say, “I’m not rich!” I’ve got more bills than bumps on a pickle. I’ve got a mortgage that I will still be paying when my great grandchildren pass away. I’ve got car payments and motorcycle payments, insurance … and I’ve got a job that could disappear tomorrow.”
   Unfortunately, we so often measure who we are by what we have or don’t have. We’re really something if we have the hottest car on the block. We’re “all that” if we are advertising Abercrombie and Fitch on a nappy looking t-shirt. We have something if our garage is packed full of junk. We’re somebody if we can travel the globe.
   And … to some of us … if we don’t have these things, our lives seem so empty. Even when we have it, it’s not all we want or think we need. How short-term and shallow we can be!
   The people in Ephesus (the Ephesians to whom Paul wrote) probably had similar faults. You’ll notice that Ephesus was on the coast of Asia Minor (what now is modern-day Turkey). It was a thriving port town of over 300,000 people. It was the most important trade center in that part of the world. It was a city of culture and proud history. Money was everywhere. People talked about it, dreamed about it and prayed for it. Making money was their life.
   That’s probably one of the reasons Paul starts his letter to the Ephesians this way in verse 3: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
   He wants to remind us that, no matter what we have, we are the Wealthy Children of God. We are richer than we could ever imagine – past, present and future.
   First of all,
   1. We are rich because we were chosen by God in the past.
   Look at verses 4-6: “For he chose us in Jesus before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
   We were never the kind of kids who planned ahead. We were always clambering to put cards together on Father’s Day; we were in our bedrooms right after worship coloring, cutting and pasting desperately before dad could get in our room. And there was definitely something missing, especially when dad got wet glue on his hands while opening his card.
   God’s different. He’s the kind of God who plans ahead. He’s never spontaneous about you. Paul says that he chose you before the Creation of the world. Billions upon billions of years ago, he planned for your arrival. Knowing everything you were going to be and do, knowing about that about that blurry year of college and that rotten relationship and that turbulent temper, He planned to love you anyway, adopt you and take care of you the best way His infinite mind could dream up.
   In other words, the captain of the eternal baseball team chose you first, long before the bases were even plopped on the field. You weren’t the last one left after all the good hitters were picked. God didn’t say, “I guess we’ll take her.” You were part of his eternal, loving plan from the very beginning. You were first on his mind before the birth of the stars. NOW!!!! That’s rich!
   But you’re even richer yet, because Paul says,
   2. We are “in the know” right now
   Look at verse 7-9, “In Jesus we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, …”
   We’ve all been there. Last Halloween, you assumed everyone would be wearing costumes to the party. So, you showed up as Speedy Gonzalez, complete with sombrero and whiskers only to find everyone else in casual clothes. Or, you drive all the way to the zoo, only to find out they’re closed on Sundays. Or, pulling into the parking lot at a Braves game in Atlanta, your spouse asks, “You got the tickets, right?”
   How many of us have said … “It would have been nice if someone had told me.” There are certain things it would be nice to know, certain things … it’s comforting to know, certain things … it’s necessary to know.
   Our passage today puts us “in the know”. God has lavished complete forgiveness on us through the blood of Jesus. The word “lavished” literally means “given us an abundance.” In other words, God has given you more forgiveness than you will ever need! You cannot out-sin God’s undeserved love. After one of those days when you got nothing right, when every good intention of faithfulness got flushed down the toilet, when you were more crabby than a Christian should be, you are still forgiven as you climb into bed at night. And you know what?? There’s still enough forgiveness left over for tomorrow.
   2 Corinthians 5:19 puts us even further in the know: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”
   God reconciled whom? The rich? The well-dressed? The good-looking? People with white beards? No, God reconciled the world. That means you and me and everybody else in the world.
   Someone once wrote, “Isn’t it great to be included? Universities exclude, businesses exclude, sports exclude. But God? … Never!”
   The whole world has more forgiveness than it will ever need. The whole world has more forgiveness than it could ever fathom. But most people don’t know that. They’ve heard a few rumors that “God is love”. But they wander around thinking they’ve done such bad stuff that they’ve ticked him off enough that He can’t forgive them. Then hope they can do enough right stuff to make him happy … but they’re never quite sure.
   Not you. Our loving God has put you “in the know,” … a mystery that brings eternal joy: You are totally forgiven today. And you will be tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, and the next day too. That’s rich!
   But you’re even richer yet. Why? Because…
   3. We are sealed for the future in Christ.
   Look at verses 13 & 14: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Jesus with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.”
   You ever heard of a “Movie Mangler?” Me neither. I heard a pastor use that term. He said a “Movie Mangler” is someone who gives up the ending to a movie you would like to see. He says things like, “I really cried when Shelby dies in Steel Magnolias.” Or, “I didn’t realize Darth Vader was Luke’s daddy.” It stinks to know the end of a movie before you watch it, doesn’t it?
   But when it comes to life … it stinks not to know the ending. Its nerve wracking not to know if you will be carried off to heaven or thrown in hell when you die.
   And God knows that. And He loves you too much to keep you hanging. So, He gives you assurance for the future.
   Remember, Ephesus was a trade city. The people were constantly talking about deals, steals, agreements and contracts. They knew all about sealing a deal ... and through this example God is reminding you, that through faith in Jesus, your deal with him is sealed. You are guaranteed heaven. Although you can always jump out of his hand, but remember, in John 10:28-30, Jesus himself said, “Nothing can snatch them from my hand.” Trouble, trials, tribulations and tormentors can do nothing to take you away from Jesus or snatch you out of heaven. Your future is guaranteed in Him if you choose for it to be.
   In fact, God has even put a deposit down on you — the Holy Spirit, who lives in your heart. He is the down payment for your spot in heaven. The word which Paul used for deposit is arrabon. In modern Greek, an arrabona is a deposit — it’s like engagement ring —, a guarantee that a man is going to marry a woman. When someone gives his fiancé an engagement ring, it’s his deposit, his guarantee, that he’s going to marry her. It’s the warning that if she wanted to run, now’s the time to do so!
   MaryLu and I had been talking about getting married for about 6 month or so. One day out of the clear blue sky one of her sons asked me when I was going to get her a ring. I looked at him and said “I did. As a matter of fact, I got her two. A front tire and a back tire. I figured she would get more enjoyment outta those two rings than that one ring.”
   Folks, it’s ONLY through faith in Jesus, and it’s ONLY by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord has made a guarantee that He will take you to heaven. You need not be afraid. Don’t let your past haunt you … don’t ever let the present scare you … but rest assured that you have a future waiting on you in heaven.
   Are you starting to catch on yet? Do you know who you are? You’re the Wealthy Child of God! You’re rich! You may not have all you ever wanted or desired, but, above all, your Father desires to have you in heaven with Him. That’s why He chose you in the past, put you in the know and sealed your future in Jesus.
   You’re rich! Let that wonderful message about who you are transform you into the person God needs you to be. Let it change your perspective as it did for John Adams all those years ago on Pitcairn (pit’karen) Island. And make plans to come back next week as we learn more about why we exist.​