Foreshadowing Messiah Part 2

         Today we’re continuing our series, Foreshadowing Messiah, and acknowledging that we have a promise keeping God who has never, ever broken a promise. Amen! Scripture records over 7,400 promises God has made to humanity, and other than the smaller percentage that have not been met yet, each and every promise has been kept! God is a faithful to keep his promises, unlike so many people we may know.

         It reminds me of a politician. We all expect politicians to break their promises, but some are just bold-faced lies. For instance, a politician visited a small town and asked what their needs were.

“We have 2 basic needs sir,” replied the councilman. “Firstly, we have a hospital, but there’s no doctor.” On hearing this, the politician whipped out his cellphone, and after speaking for a while he reassured the town council that the doctor would be there the next day. He then asked about the second problem. “Secondly sir, there is no cellphone coverage anywhere in this village.”

         God doesn’t break his promises.

1 Samuel 15:29 says,

The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind.”

Numbers 23:19 says,

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a human being, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not make it happen?

God has made his promises and kept them. When we look at predictive prophecy, we can look at those prophecies as promises of what will happen and throughout scripture, we find that when God has told a prophet to speak; it has happened as God said it would. If it hasn’t, it simply hasn’t happened yet. Of the 1,817 prophecies recorded in scripture, all have come true except those that haven’t happened yet. Those prophecies yet to happen, largely have to do with the end-times or with Messiah himself when he returns at the end of the age as Jesus promised. For a couple hundred years, liberal scholars and pastors have tried to remove the miraculous from scripture. Especially the fulfillment of prophecy… Why? Because prophecy is the stamp of authenticity on God’s great masterpiece of scripture. If the Bible is truly written by Holy Spirit as it claims to be, if it is truly God-breathed with the life of God flowing through every word, then twisting it, corrupting it, denying it, and using it to justify, condone, and openly approve of sin in the lives of believers could almost be judged by God as blaspheming the very Holy Spirit that wrote every word. Praise God, he is the judge. However, as you know, I take teaching and preaching the Word of God very seriously. The more evidence and ancient documents we discover, like the Dead Sea Scrolls so many years ago, the more proof we have of how God has guarded the transmission of scripture down through the ages. The more we can see; the Bible is truly miraculous in nature.

         The over 300 prophecies concerning the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and second coming of the Messiah are proof of the identity of Yeshua bin Yoseph ‘al Nazereth. The man we know as Jesus the Christ, the Holy Son of the one true and living Creator God and Father. Last time, we looked at the books Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write and the prophecies they contain regarding the identity of the Messiah. We looked at how those prophecies are fulfilled in the New Testament scriptures talking about Jesus. Today, we are going to look more closely how Job foreshadowed the coming Messiah, at the promises made to Israel through Samuel the prophet, and the some of the Psalms written by David and others describing Messiah in more detail.

         Four different places in the book of Job, Holy Spirit foreshadows the coming of the Messiah as the story of Job’s tribulation and the attacks by the Adversary, Satan, commence. We have to remember, Job nor his friends nor wife, can see the scenes of what is happening in heaven. Yet, we find passages that directly foreshadow who Messiah is and the coming of the Messiah.

Job 9:32-35

For he is not a human being like I am, that I might answer him, that we might come together in judgment. Nor is there an arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both, who would take his rod away from me so that his terror would not make me afraid. Then would I speak and not fear him, but it is not so with me.

Job is crying out that he doesn’t have an arbiter or other translations say mediator, but Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:5-6,

For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all, revealing God’s purpose at his appointed time.

Job foreshadows Messiah, Paul shows us how Jesus fulfilled that role for all of humanity.

Job 16:19-21 says,

Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; and he contends with God on behalf of man as a man pleads for his friend.

Jesus tells his apostles in the Garden when teaching on the indwelling Holy Spirit’s presence and purpose in John 14:15-17 and then John 15:26-27,

“If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.

Jesus saying that God the Father will give another Advocate, or comforter, or helper implies that Jesus himself is the first Advocate. Continuing to teach on Holy Spirit, Jesus says again in John 15.

When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me, 27 and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning.

In Job 19:23-27 he cries out for a Redeemer; Job 33-23-28 he is again asking for a Mediator, and then we find Jesus. We have no idea who Holy Spirit used to write the book of Job, scholars believe Job would have lived before the flood, but we don’t know. What we do know is in James 5:10-11 the believers are told,

As an example of suffering and patience, brothers and sisters, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name. Think of how we regard as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and you have seen the Lord’s purpose, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

While scholars would have us doubt whether Job truly lived or not, James certainly uses what those believers know about Holy Spirit’s testimony of Job to instruct them on perseverance, the Lord’s purpose, compassion, and mercy. How then can we choose to throw out those lessons, or how Job had foreshadowed the coming Messiah?

         The books recording the history Samuel and David also give us more information concerning the coming Messiah. In 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Hannah describes the LORD, the Adonai, in her prayer of thanksgiving concerning the birth of her son Samuel, and in this prayer she is also foreshadowing the Messiah. She says,

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;

my horn is exalted high because of the Lord.

I loudly denounce my enemies,

for I am happy that you delivered me.

2 No one is holy like the Lord!

There is no one other than you!

There is no rock like our God!

3 Don’t keep speaking so arrogantly,

letting proud talk come out of your mouth!

For the Lord is a God who knows;

he evaluates what people do.

4 The bows of warriors are shattered,

but those who stumble find their strength reinforced.

5 Those who are well-fed hire themselves out to earn food,

but the hungry no longer lack.

Even the barren woman gives birth to seven,

but the one with many children withers away.

6 The Lord both kills and gives life;

he brings down to the grave and raises up.

7 The Lord impoverishes and makes wealthy;

he humbles and he exalts.

8 He lifts the weak from the dust;

he raises the poor from the ash heap

to seat them with princes

and to bestow on them an honored position.

The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord,

and he has placed the world on them.

9 He watches over his holy ones,

but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness,

for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails.

10 The Lord shatters his adversaries;

he thunders against them from the heavens.

The Lord executes judgment to the ends of the earth.

He will strengthen his king

and exalt the power of his anointed one.”

 and then in verse 35 when God condemns the house of Eli he tells him,

Then I will raise up for myself a faithful priest. He will do what is in my heart and soul. I will build for him a secure dynasty and he will serve my chosen one for all time.

2 Samuel 7, God makes a series of promises to David within those promises we find foreshadowing of the Messiah to come from the line of David, picking up in verse 11 we read,

The Lord declares to you that he himself will build a dynastic house for you. When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. I will become his father and he will become my son. When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings.  But my loyal love will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent.’”  Nathan told David all these words that were revealed to him.

In Matthew 1 and then in other New Testament passages, Jesus is described as coming from the house of David, Jesus the everlasting King, and Jesus on the throne of David.

         When we jump into the Psalms, we find so much more describing the Messiah to come, all written 500 to 1,000 years or more before Jesus ever lived.

In Psalm 2 Messiah is declared to be God, a conqueror, an enthroned ruler ; we find all those themes throughout the New Testament, and in Matthew 3:17 we find God himself claiming Jesus as his one and only Son. Psalm 16:10 and Psalm 49:15 speak of the resurrection that we find record of in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, and even referenced in passing in the histories of Josephus a Jewish historian in Roman. Psalm 68:18 speaks of Jesus ascension that we find in Ephesians 4:8 and Acts 1. Psalm 22 describes the scorn and ridicule that Jesus went through, even describes his clothes being gambled away. We find those recounted for us in Luke 23:35 and Matthew 27:35. Psalms 34:20 refers to Messiah having no broken bones that is later described in John 19. Psalm 35 describes how false witnesses will testify against Messiah recorded about Jesus in Mark 14:57, and he’ll be hated for no reason as Jesus himself says about himself and his disciples in John 15:24-25. In Luke 22:47-48 the prediction of Messiah being betrayed by a friend is fulfilled; that prediction was made in Psalm 41:9. In Psalm 109:4 it is predicted Messiah will pray for his enemies, and we find Jesus doing that in Luke 23:34. And Psalm 110:4 describes the coming Messiah as being a priest like Melchizedek that the writer of Hebrews describes for us in Hebrews chapter 5.

         But one of the most important predictive prophecies of Messiah I believe is in Psalm 118. The entire Psalm is a description of the coming Messiah, but three times in the Gospels and three other times in New Testament we find Psalm 118:22. It reads,

The stone which the builders discarded has become the cornerstone.

Jesus himself quotes it as recorded in Matthew 21:42, Mark 12:10, and Luke 20:17; after telling the pharisees and other religious leaders the parable of the tenants who kill the land owner’s son because they do not want to send their portion of the crops to him; the religious leaders realize we are told Jesus was talking about himself and them. That he was the landowner (God’s) Son, and they were going to reject and kill him.

         Jesus is the cornerstone. Not only do we see it here in Psalm 118, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Zechariah 10:4, Isaiah 28:16, Jeremiah 51:26 all foreshadows and prophesies it of the coming Messiah. Peter says it in Acts 4:11 and again in 1 Peter 2:6-7, Paul calls Jesus the cornerstone in Ephesians 2:20. The Messiah who was promised. The Messiah who was prophesied. The Messiah talked about for thousands of years. The Messiah Holy Spirit wrote about for over 1,500 years. Jesus, our Messiah who came, our Messiah who lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, rose again to bring us into new life, and give us the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus is the cornerstone of our faith, the foundation of all that we believe, and who without; our faith is useless.

         The evidence is overwhelming but just like those who lived while he lived and should have recognized his coming; he is rejected and scorned by those who live today. The scriptures are scoffed at as mere fairy tales and myths. Their miraculous nature is denied. But as those who believe, our lives should be a living testimony to the truth. We shouldn’t live in fear of proclaiming the name of Jesus. We should stand firm on the inspiration and authority of scripture. Holy Spirit wrote it for them then and for us now to learn to live by, for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness as 2 Timothy 3:16 says. Our Messiah came as prophesied.

Foreshadowing Messiah Part 1

Foreshadowing Messiah

Our Promise Keeping God Pt. 1

         Do you know someone who throws around the word “promise” for everything, and probably rarely keeps those “promises”? I promise I’ll wash those dishes before bed, then doesn’t. I promise I’ll send you a check, then doesn’t. I promise I’ll pay you back, then doesn’t. I promise I’m telling you the truth, and isn’t? In our language, the word “promise” ends up being a lot like the word “love”. Although love has even more potential definitions, in English, promise can be defined in 13 different ways, and I would say it’s used far too frequently. Especially when people really don’t mean what they say…

The Bible is full of promises. Victor Knowles of Pepperdine University found throughout the Old and New Testaments there are 8,810 promises recorded; 7,487 of those promises recorded are promises that God has made to humanity. In addition to promises made and kept, J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy lists 1,239 prophecies in the Old Testament and 578 prophecies in the New Testament, for a total of 1,817. We can easily think of prophecies as promises God has made through his prophets predicting future events. Proof of an all-powerful Creator God and loving Father who will step into the natural world he created to do miraculous things that are scientifically impossible by human standards.

Over the last 200 years or so, liberal theologians have been trying to take the miraculous out of scripture. They deny that inspiration of the scripture as the very words that God wants his people to hear and read. They say modern enlightened humanity cannot accept the miraculous and it is all superstitious nonsense made up to convince the ignorant, uncultured, and uneducated to follow the precepts of the Bible. These are church leaders and scholars with Pastor, Reverend, and Doctor before their names. People whose opinions and false teaching bear a lot of weight with some denominations, within universities and seminaries, and develop belief systems. They deny when the biblical passages were written and what they meant, deny the deity of Christ, that Jesus was truly God in the flesh, they deny prophecies that predict his coming, deny that Jesus bodily rose from the grave, deny the very fundamentals of biblical Christianity while still claiming to be Christian.

Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20-21,

‘Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’ 2 Peter 1:20-21

These people would deny this statement for the Holy Spirit could not carry along anyone. Scripture is not inspired and authoritative. Jesus was not born of a virgin overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the blameless, righteous, sinless, spotless, Son of God who is the only acceptable atoning sacrifice on behalf of sinful man before a perfect God. Jesus was a great teacher and a fully God-conscious man, but he was not God in the flesh. Jesus may have been crucified and buried, but he did not physically rise from the grave. Only the spirit of Jesus still lives today, he did not bodily rise to heaven after appearing to and teaching his disciples for 40 days. Those are all just made-up stories, not miracles.

If we disregard the inspiration and authority of scripture, we might as well throw the Bible away completely. If we don’t believe that God has made 7,487 promises to humanity and hasn’t been keeping his promises, what is the point of faith? If we deny the miraculous and toss out the 1,817 predictive prophecies God has made, including over 300 having to do with the plan God had for the coming Messiah, how can we stand firm on the Solid Rock of our foundational belief in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus, who is God’s anointed Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the one true and living God.

Jesus was not just a good man, a great teacher, a moral leader, or even a fully god-conscious man. Jesus is the Adonai, the LORD, the eternal Son who existed from before the beginning, was involved in creation, the living Word, the light of the world, the cornerstone and capstone of our faith, the Head of the Body of the Church, and the fulfillment of the predictions and prophecies of his coming are not only a part of the fingerprint that identifies who he truly is; they are also offer proof of who God is and what he has been doing for humanity from the beginning.

Over the coming weeks, we are going to be looking at some of the prophecies and passages foreshadowing the coming Messiah. The passages and prophecies that the Hebrews would have know and been expectantly looking for before the birth of Jesus. The passages and prophecies that are evidence that we have a promise keeping God, who has never broken a promise or failed to keep his covenant with his people.

God told his people through Moses in Deuteronomy 18:21-22,

‘Now if you say to yourselves, ‘How can we tell that a message is not from the Lord ?’ – whenever a prophet speaks in my name and the prediction is not fulfilled, then I have not spoken it; the prophet has presumed to speak it, so you need not fear him.”’

Unfulfilled predictions made in the name of God are a stamp that God did not speak. Unlike Nostradamus and any other oracle, unlike weatherman trying to forecast, every prophecy spoken by God and recorded in scripture has come true as predicted, except for those yet to happen. There are still prophecies from both the Old and New Testaments yet to be fulfilled. But for the coming weeks, starting with the writings of Moses beginning in Genesis, we are going to look at Messianic passages and prophecies and compare them to the life and ministry of Jesus. Why? Because we have a promise keeping God, and our mission is to develop disciples. With a world that denies the existence of God, with denominations that deny the inspiration and miraculous nature of scripture, with theologians and scholars who claim to be Christian trying to change the very nature of the faith we profess; we need to be ready to strengthen our own spirit against such attacks based on the truth and offer hope to those who have none or are looking for answers when even their own churches are feeding them lies.

We are going to start in the beginning, with the creation of mankind and the birth of sin in our world, all the way back to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve. In Genesis chapter three, serpent starts his discourse to deceive Eve by asking, “Is it really true that God said…?” This same question is used as justification for nearly every willfully sinful act Christians make today, does the Bible really say? Or did God really mean that when it was written? Or the Bible says, BUT… The serpent asks, “Did God really say?” And as a result of following her own desires and lead by the lies of the enemy, Eve ate of the fruit and then gave some to her husband, her husband who should have stepped in and defended her, her husband who was not deceived as Eve was, but instead followed his wife’s lead rather than standing up for what God said, ate as well. And sin came into the world. Then we have the first foreshadowing of the coming Messiah the Redeemer who will defeat sin and death. Genesis 3:14-15 says,

‘The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the wild beasts and all the living creatures of the field! On your belly you will crawl and dust you will eat all the days of your life. And I will put hostility between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; her offspring will attack your head, and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”’

You may have heard it as, ‘And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”’

In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul explains that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophecy. Paul said,

‘But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. ‘

Galatians 4:4-5

Jesus is the promised offspring, the promised seed of the woman who came in response to sin to redeem humanity. From the very beginning of time, God has been planning to redeem his creation.

         Starting in Genesis 9 and jumping into Genesis 12 we read,

‘He also said, “Worthy of praise is the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem! May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers! May he live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave!”’

Genesis 9:26-27

The Hebrews would have considered this passage a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah to abide with, or live in the tents of, his people through the line of Shem. From the line of Noah through Shem, one of Shem’s descendants is Abram, later know as Abraham. God made a covenant with Abram in Genesis 12, we read,

‘Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you. Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name.”’

Genesis 12:1-3

In Matthew 1:1 we read,

‘This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.’

John 1:14 says,

‘Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. ‘

Jesus in John 14 and John in 1 John 2 both use the language of abiding and remaining, living with and in that we find of God living in the tents of or abiding with the family of Shem and from the line of Abraham. Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophesies and promises of God. The fulfillment of the First Covenant with Abraham.

         Listen to these other passages of scripture foreshadowing our Messiah…

Genesis 49:10

‘The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; the nations will obey him.’

Numbers 24:15-19

‘Then he uttered this oracle: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor; the oracle of the man whose eyes are open; the oracle of the one who hears the words of God, and who knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, although falling flat on the ground with eyes open: ‘I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not close at hand. A star will march forth out of Jacob, and a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the skulls of Moab, and the heads of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be a possession, Seir, his enemies, will also be a possession; but Israel will act valiantly. A ruler will be established from Jacob; he will destroy the remains of the city.’”’

Balaam wasn’t even a Hebrew prophet, but he prophesied the coming Messiah. In Luke 3:33-34 we can find the evidence of Jesus being from the line of Isaac and the tribe of Judah, Matthew 1:1-14 confirms Jesus lineage as well from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and down through Judah. All predicted 1,500 years in advance when Moses was writing recounting the history of the Hebrew people and foreshadowing the coming Messiah, then we find Moses making this prediction.

Deuteronomy 18:15,17-19

‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you – from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him. The Lord then said to me, “What they have said is good. I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I command. I will personally hold responsible anyone who then pays no attention to the words that prophet speaks in my name.’

Peter addressed the crowds in Jerusalem saying in Acts 3:18-26,

‘But the things God foretold long ago through all the prophets – that his Christ would suffer – he has fulfilled in this way. Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and so that he may send the Messiah appointed for you – that is, Jesus. This one heaven must receive until the time all things are restored, which God declared from times long ago through his holy prophets. Moses said, ‘ The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your brothers. You must obey him in everything he tells you . Every person who does not obey that prophet will be destroyed and thus removed from the people .’ And all the prophets, from Samuel and those who followed him, have spoken about and announced these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your ancestors, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities.”’

We have a promise keeping God! We have a God who has given us his word, written hundreds and hundreds of years in advance of the days of fulfillment. We have scrolls dating years before the birth of the Messiah telling of his arrival and historical records proving his life, death, and resurrection. No other religion or belief system on Earth has the evidence and providence that foundational, fundamental, biblical Christianity does. But we are fallen people, in a fallen world, who don’t want to have to live by the objective standards got has set. So we justify and deny them instead of conforming our lives into his image through the power of indwelling Holy Spirit.

Gratefully Sharing our Gift

Grateful?

Share your gift!

November being gratitude month and Thanksgiving coming up this week, we are continuing with our theme of being grateful. Of having a heart of thanksgiving to God for all he has done for us. We give thanks to God by bringing him glory. By being gracious in expressing our thanks for all he has done for us in our lives. We all know at least one ungrateful person in our lives. The one who always has something to complain about no matter how well their needs are met don’t we? They could have a glass that’s ¾ of the way full and still say it’s half empty.

We behave that way toward God frequently in our lives though, if we care to actually think about it. He blesses us with life, eternal life, the gift of God through his Son, Jesus, but we can become apathetic toward it. Take it for granted, even right it off… We mostly do it through our attitudes and our actions. Jesus came to offer abundant life to all those who believe, but we decide some people aren’t worth our time to tell that story. Or, through our attitudes and actions we turn people away from God… People hear what we say to one another. They hear what we say about them. They watch the way we treat one another. When we treat one another poorly, when we serve one another or them with a sour attitude, they notice and don’t feel welcome or loved, and that doesn’t bring glory to God. One the flip slid, when we treat people with love, grace, respect; regardless of how we are treated in return, they notice that too. We need to maintain a level of self-awareness to make sure that those we serve see the love of God.

Jesus said, if you love me, then you will follow my commandments. How often does the global Church try to rewrite the Bible and spit in God’s face? Last week, we read Galatians 6, “God will not be made a fool…” We will reap what we sow. If not in this life, definitely in the next. Unbelievers face judgment based on whether they have believed in Jesus as their Savior and accepted his mercy, grace, forgiveness, and righteousness on their behalf. Believers face a different kind of judgment or evaluation, and our rewards in heaven, we are told in Romans 2,

‘He will reward each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness. ‘ Romans 2:6-8

We do good, show love, and do the next right thing out of our gratitude to God for his precious gift that he has given us. Rather than stomping on it or kicking it across the room, rather than setting it on a shelf and never receiving the true benefit of it; we will openly receive his gift of righteousness and live a life of abundant faith in God.

In our lesson for the children Wednesday night, we tossed these ping pong balls into this container. As a demonstration of our inability to be perfect and do the right thing all the time, we miss the mark. We sin. The further we are away from the goal, the harder it is for us to hit it. In the same way, the further we are from living in the Spirit of God, the more space we put between ourselves and God through our apathy or disobedience, the harder it is for us to hit the mark. But when we draw near to God, in prayer, in learning more about him in his Word, in practicing obedience and righteousness, in demonstrating his love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and draw near to him in confession and repentance; the easier it is to hit the mark. To be transformed (brainwashed) by the renewing of our minds, as Romans 12 says.

How do we express our gratitude? We share our gift. In our finances, we give back to God the first 10%, the tithe, in gratitude and thanksgiving for his provision. We give back an offering with a cheerful heart, giving generously and sacrificially to his kingdom, so that the work of ministry may be done. We give back of our time, putting forth effort to do good and show love to God’s people and to the world. We give of our talents, skills, and abilities to glorify God. We try to meet needs as the hands and feet of Jesus, as the Body left behind on earth to serve as Jesus’s representatives. But we also serve as his witnesses…

Jesus told his disciples in Acts 1:8,

‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” ‘

One of the greatest ways we can show our gratitude toward God and bring him glory is to be a witness, telling people the Good News of everything God has done in our lives and for the world, and by being obedient in making disciples. If we want to show God how grateful we are for the gift he has given us, we should share that same gift with the world.

To that end, we have prepared a tool to help you to share the Gospel. You should have received one of these on your way in, and can pick a couple up on your way out. We will also be handing these out to those who will receive them at the mobile food pantry tomorrow. On the front of this is obviously some information about our congregation. One the back, you may or may not be familiar with the Roman Road. These six passages from Paul’s letter to the Romans map out a road to salvation. A quick and easy reference that you can use at any time to help you explain the Gospel to someone. Jesus said in Matthew 10:32-33,

‘“Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven.’

And Paul says in Romans 1:16-17 says,

‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

Paul continues in verse 20,

For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.’

Romans 1:16-17, 20

People are without an excuse, but we frequently excuse ourselves from sharing the message of the Gospel with them. God’s glory is evident, and since we are so grateful for the gift we have received, we want to share his gift with those who have not yet received it.

Even though we are pulling some of these verses out from the immediate context they are in, if we read through all the context surrounding these verses, the entire letter to the Romans, and the Bible itself; these verses all fit together like the small pieces of a big puzzle to make a picture of the puzzle as a whole.

Let’s walk through this, even though it is fairly self-explanatory.

Romans 3:23

‘For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.’

When I try to toss the ball into the jug, most of the time I’ll probably miss. I am not perfect nor will I ever be, But God is perfect, and his standard is perfect as well.

Romans 6:23

‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.’

The wages, the just and equitable compensation for all our imperfections, all our pride thinking we know better than God, all our rebellion, all our twisting and perverting the Word of God, and making excuses for ourselves and justifications of our actions. The wages for that sin, is death. But that precious gift, that we only need receive is a relationship knowing the one true and living God through his Son, Jesus.

Romans 5:8

‘But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. ‘

In our case, in the 21st century, approximately 1990 years or so after the death of Jesus, he already died on our behalf as a demonstration of just how much God loves us.

Romans 10:13

‘For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”’

Romans 10:9

If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’

Jesus himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” Either Jesus was a liar and/or a lunatic, or he truly is the one and only Son of the one true and living God and capable of making and backing up such an audacious and exclusive statement.

Romans 12:1-2

‘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. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. ‘

And so, as a result of accepting God’s perfect gift through his Son, Jesus, and through the power of his indwelling Holy Spirit living in and through us. The fruit of his Spirit inside us transforms the way we think, the way we act, and empowers us to live lives where we can hit the mark.

As the writer of Hebrews says, and my prayer over us all today,

‘Now may the God of peace who by the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus Christ, equip you with every good thing to do his will, working in us what is pleasing before him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen.’

Hebrews 13:20-21

A Heart of Thanksgiving

A Heart of Thanksgiving

         Last week, we started talking a bit about gratitude, because November is gratitude month. One question I had afterward was, “Why do we have to be so specific? Can’t I just look at creation itself in awe and be grateful for all of it?” It is absolutely true that you can do that, the exercise is to help us remember just how much there is that we take for granted and build our awareness of our blessings. What happens if we have a top three and lose two, like health, happiness, and a relationship. We get sick, that person dies or leaves, and now we lost our happiness too. What is there left to live for? Or if we just leave it at our relationship with God or Jesus, what happens when we go through one of those dry spells where he feels really distant? People talk about going through a wilderness experience and how it feels God is far away… They’ll fall back on God was always with Israel in the wilderness and so he is with us, but forget that Israel was in the wilderness because of their disobedience and didn’t enter the promised land until that entire generation, including Moses himself was dead. I have learned it’s better to obey the first time around than go into the wilderness because of my disobedience.

         One of the things we are commanded and told over and over is to be thankful. If you simply search “thankful” on bible.com around 130 related verses pop up. Old and New Testament alike…

Paul tells the Thessalonians

‘Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.’      1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are all commanded and closely related. They are God’s will. As a result of these things, rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks; along with examining all things, doing good, and staying away from evil; we can avoid extinguishing the Spirit. If we extinguish the Spirit, we are putting a damper on his power in our lives, limiting the fruit he can produce, and being directly disobedient toward God.

         Remember, we have said our obedience is a result of our first having a relationship. Paul says,

‘ Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ‘         Colossians 3:12-17

We don’t obey out of fear, we obey out of love and gratitude. It starts with agreeing with God about the state of our heart, our selfish and prideful desires, and agreeing with him that how he is teaching us to live is better than any way we can devise on our own. But we need to receive his gift.

If I am given a gift, like this one, but because I don’t like who gave it to me, or the way it’s wrapped, or think there are strings attached, or whatever; and I throw it down and smash it; I have lost out on whatever that gift may have been and will never know how good it actually was.

On the other hand, if I receive a gift, and open it, but then set it over here on the piano, or on a shelf at home, or stick it in storage, or even give it away to someone else; I may have received the gift, but then it is of no benefit to me whatsoever and I wouldn’t really be very grateful for it.

However, if I open the gift and receive what it has for me. The cross of forgiveness and salvation for those who believe, the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower my life, and the truth of the Word of God teaching me to live and glorify God by loving God, loving people, and using its truth to help developing disciples. I will perhaps express my gratitude for such a precious gift in a very different way.

Paul tells the Romans,

‘For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’         Romans 6:23

This idea of payoff or you may have heard it “wages of sin” is death, is the idea of equal compensation for the work we do. In our flesh and apart from the Spirit of God, the just compensation given to us for our selfish, prideful, indulgent desires is death. Not just physical death, but also spiritual separation from God for eternity. But the gift of God, that which we could never earn or work for is eternal life, the same eternal life that Jesus died to give us, the same eternal life that Jesus defined in John 17:3 as knowing the one true God and Jesus, whom he sent. What do we then do with that gift? Are we grateful for it? How do we express that gratitude?

Paul gives the Galatians these instructions,

‘Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it. Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.’

Galatians 6:6-10

The ways in which we show our gratitude over and over again are demonstrated in our obedience to God’s word. Just like the Israelites when they received the commandments of the Law. We too have been given instructions on how to live and through the power of the Spirit we do those things and turn away from or repent of the works of the flesh. We like to sum up God’s commands to the church as Love God, Love our neighbor, and love one another. And it is absolutely true that the entire Law and Prophets are summed up in those commands, but that doesn’t mean the New Testament writers like Paul listed all the other sins and works of the flesh for no reason…! Paul says to the Romans,

‘What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? ‘         Romans 6:1-2

He also tells the Galatians,

‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel – not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ! ‘  Galatians 1:6-10

There are those who have always tried to add to or take away from the Word of God. Every cult in the history of the Christian church has tried to add revelation to the canon of scripture and led people away from the truth. Or individuals and entire denominations disregard or deny the inspiration and authority of the Word of God or insert their BUT into what the Bible says. We see that every day in hundreds and thousands of denominations and divisions within the Body of Christ, when what Christ prayed for in John 17 was unity.

Jesus told his disciples the evening he was betrayed,

‘“If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.’ John 14:15-17

Jesus continues to instruct his disciples regarding Holy Spirit’s work in their lives saying,

‘“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. ‘                  John 16:12-15

The same Spirit that came to comfort us, the same Spirit that is indwelling us, the same Spirit that is teaching us, is the same Spirit that carried along every prophet and writer of scripture, the same Spirit of God that was breathed into his Word for our benefit. To say those things that are expressly written for our instruction and reproof, for our training in righteousness don’t apply to us in the 21st century is the same false pride that had Eve deceived by the serpent in the Garden when he asked, “Did God really say…?”

         God did say, and the natural response in gratitude and thankfulness for everything he has done for us, for the precious gift he has given us is found in Romans 12:1-2

‘Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.’     Romans 12:1-2

Our Confident Hope in the Lord

In the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12-step programs, November is considered gratitude month. So much so, that nearly every meeting is on the topic of gratitude and attendees get sick to death of talking about it. Odd, isn’t it, that we would become sick of talking about how grateful we are? However, it’s true. Part of the reason behind that, in my opinion, is many people forget just how much they have to be grateful for, especially when they don’t have the hope that we as believers in Jesus as the one and only Son of God have. Even then, I found myself like everyone else. I would get sick of talking about gratitude, because my gratitude list was only so long, and I hate hearing anyone, including myself, say the same things over and over again. As if nothing ever changes and there isn’t any more to life than the top 10 things on our gratitude list.

That was what I had. My top 10 list, just like David Letterman, my top 10 reasons for being grateful to be alive and sober. Before I was married, and when I first was sober, this was my list…

  1. Sobriety
  2. A relationship with God – you may ask, PJ, why was a relationship with God 2nd back then? Because without the sobriety God had given me, I would never have sought him out and had my relationship with him in the first place.
  3. My mom
  4. My dad
  5. The rest of my family
  6. A place to live
  7. Transportation to get to meetings
  8. Food
  9. My sponsors
  10. My friends in AA

That was as far as my list got. Sometimes, when I was really depressed, I could only remember that top two or three, but I wrote this list and kept it in several places to look at and remind myself. I had a reason to be alive. I had a reason to have HOPE.

As my life changed and things came and went, the list shifted and changed too. God and sobriety became the core of a circle and my gratitude list began to expand out from that center. It started to look more like a bull’s eye in my mind than a top 10 list.

You’ll notice now. God is number one but in the same core as Sobriety which is number two. But #1 causes #2 to happen and has from the first moment of my sobriety, although I wasn’t quite conscious of that. My wife, Sierra, is number three. And she understands and is grateful for why. If I didn’t have my relationship with God and if I wasn’t sober, I would quickly go off the deep end loosing her and everything else while I would be destroying my life and their lives as well. And then the circle starts to widen… But the circle itself still has that bottom part, “What did I forget? That stuff too…”

Sometime ago, I had a professor in a spiritual formation class that issued a thankfulness challenge. She asked us to list five things per day during the eight weeks of the class that we were grateful for. But there was a catch, no two items could repeat themselves. Unlike my top 10 list in AA, and unlike my circle that has 22 items plus the catch all, no repeats… So (5×7) x 8 = 280. Our list had to have 280 separate items on it. As you can imagine, since I already had a habit of cultivating a heart of gratitude based on my other lists, the first five days or so were easy. BUT… As the days went on, the task became more and more difficult. My first problem was repeats coming to my mind. The second problem was I had to start getting more and more specific in order to brainstorm more and more items. Let’s try something, I have twenty-two items on my list, how can my list get more specific, or what would you have on your list that I don’t have? We have #x people here today. Let’s start on this side of the room…………no repeating what I already have or what someone else says.

The more people we ask, the more we have to think. The longer my list went and the more specific I got, I had to review my list over and over again to make sure I wasn’t repeating items too. I had to start asking questions like, “What about my relationship with God am I grateful for?” “What about my wife am I grateful for” “What about each of my kids?” I even started to ask myself, “What foods am I grateful for?” Hunan pork from Golden Dragon and China House up in South Bend, IN even made the list. It might seem ridiculous, but I love that dish and the way they prepare it.

However, if we go all the way back to the center of my bull’s eye. My relationship with God. My relationship with God is based on HOPE and FAITH. The Bible has a lot to say about HOPE and FAITH. The writer of Hebrews in the Bible defines faith as,

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament plus the New Testament, the word that means hope in the verb sense is used 95 times, in it’s noun form it is used another 78 times. The Bible makes a pretty big deal about hope, but why? Hope throughout the scriptures has the meaning and connotation of expectantly waiting for something. Hope isn’t just a whimsical sort of wishy washy, “I hope I have a good day today” or a negative type “Boy, I hope I don’t get into a car accident today.” Hope is even more expectant than an overcast day with a 85% chance of rain and thunderstorms, a farmer puts on a poncho and goes out into the pasture to bring the horses into the barn before the rain starts. He hopes it’s going to rain to benefit his crops, hopes the rain starts soon, but hopes the horses don’t spooked by the thunder so he is bringing them into the stable where they’ll feel safer.

         That puts a whole different perspective on hope, doesn’t it? Paul prays for the believers in Rome,

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 NLT

God, the center of the bull’s eye, is the source of our hope, the source of our joy and peace, the source of the confidence, expectation and assurance that something is going to happen, something we can trust far more that a weatherman’s forecast, that we can have in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that gives us the ability to live lives that glorify God. We can have that hope, that absolute trust, that expectant waiting, because God has fulfilled his promises over and over again. The writer of Hebrews in chapter six encourages those believers not to reject God, to get beyond the most elementary of teaching and have an expectant hope, trust, and confidence in God because of the promises he has already fulfilled. The writer says,

‘Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this is what we intend to do, if God permits…

After giving harsh warnings to those who would fall away and reject God, he continues on…

‘ But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints. But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises.’

Hebrews 6:1-3,9-12

We don’t like pulling certain proof texts and omitting others, but for the sake of not engaging in an argument over apostacy right now, we will stick to the matter at hand. The HOPE, confident trust, the expectant waiting for God to fulfill all his promises.

         At the moment of our salvation, we have an expectant hope, and we have the confident assurance that Holy Spirit is with us. God in his fullness and glory demonstrates his love for us through his Son, Jesus, that we have the forgiveness of our sins, we have access to the throne of grace, we have the victory over sin that empowers us to turn away from the nature of the flesh and fulfilling all its desires and power to live holy lives that are set apart and shining brightly to attract others to God in his glory. Jesus defined eternal life in John 17:3. Praying in the garden on the night he would be betrayed and handed over to be crucified John writes…

‘When Jesus had finished saying these things, he looked upward to heaven and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify you – just as you have given him authority over all humanity, so that he may give eternal life to everyone you have given him. Now this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent. ‘

John 17:1-3

Eternal life, the eternal life we so expectantly hope for is living in us right now, as those who believe in Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection, through our relationship with the Father through the Son in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have the hope of the resurrection to come, we have the hope of life everlasting in God’s presence. We can also have the knowledge, not book learning head knowledge of facts and statistics, but the deep intimate knowledge far closer than the way a wife knows her husband, of the Father, the one true God, and his Son, Jesus, who was sent to live, reside, and remain with us.

As we go into a time of communion together, remembering Jesus body broken for us and his blood spilled on our behalf as an atoning sacrifice that washes away our sins; reflect on Paul’s prayer over the believers in Ephesus, and know that is the heart of what I hope for in you as well. Paul says,

Ever since I first heard of your strong faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for God’s people everywhere, I have not stopped thanking God for you. I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance. I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

Ephesians 1:15-23 NLT

Hope beyond our Transgressions

Three pastors went to the pastor convention and were all sharing one room. The first pastor said, “Let’s confess our secret sins one to another. I’ll start – my secret sin is I just love to gamble. When I go out of town, it’s cha-ching cha-ching, let the machines ring.”

The second pastor said, “My secret sin is that I just hate working and studying. I copy all my sermons from those given by other pastors.”

The third pastor said, “My secret sin is gossiping and, oh boy, I just can’t wait to get out of this room!”

Sin is one of the easiest and hardest topics to preach on. Why? It’s easy because it’s so obviously a huge problem in our world today, even within the church. It’s so hard because sin touches nearly every area of our personal lives and reveals the true heart of the human spirit. The hypocrisy toward sin is so prevalent within the Body of Christ because the idea of being holy and set apart may be preached, but it is hardly ever practiced. Just one look at our world and the effect of sin is obvious, but those churches that preach about it are considered hateful, intolerant, self-righteous, hypocritical, and ultra-conservative.

In the past here, we have talked about how Jesus said in John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him.” He said that immediately following one of the most well-known passages of scripture ever written, John 3:16, “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

I have said in the past that those within the Body of Christ have no business expecting a broken and fallen world to live according to the standards God has laid out for his people. Even throughout the Old Testament, starting with Adam, on to Noah, then to Abraham and through Moses and the law; God’s rules, God’s Commandments all were based first upon those people having a relationship with him. The law and those other rules were first put in place to make the way God’s people lived stand out from all their neighbors, and through the way they were set apart; they were to attract others to their way of life.

Paul and the other New Testament writers also wrote about how the Christian lifestyle was supposed to set God’s people apart from the rest of the world. Jesus himself gave the first defining characteristic for his disciples to be set apart by, the third great commandment, John 13:34-35,

“I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”

However, Paul and the other New Testament writers never excused, approved of, or affirmed any other sin, shortcoming, wrongdoing, imperfection, or rebellious behaviors and attitudes. They never denied that sin existed in the lives of believers, but they did offer hope upon hope of a life free from the bondage of sin. They gave guidance for leadership in helping believers address it in their lives. They also reiterated that God’s people should be holy, set apart, living Godly lives through the power of the Indwelling Holy Spirit.

Paul makes it clear in Ephesians, there are only two camps that everyone in the world can belong to: The Children of disobedience, the children of wrath, who John calls the Children of Satan; or we can be saved. John calls all those who believe in Jesus, the Children of God. Paul says in Romans we have been adopted into the family of God and made co-heirs with Christ. Listen to Ephesians 2:1-10…

And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…

But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

The key, the linchpin, the cornerstone, the tipping point, the difference between being condemned for eternity and being adopted into the family of God is found in the beginning of verse for, listen again… Ephesians 2:4-5

But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!

Our hope is found in BUT GOD! But God acted for us, but God sent his Son to die for us, but God wanted many sons and daughters, but God wants to dwell with us and inside us, but God wants to spend eternity with us, but God wanted to raise those who were spiritually dead in their transgressions, their sins, their disobedience, their false pride and rebellion, but God wanted to raise them to new life.

Based on that hope, based on that new life, based on the power of the Indwelling Holy Spirit, based on the relationship God has already established with us as those whom he has already saved, God then has expectations for his people to live by. We have the hope of our salvation in Jesus Christ, but with that hope, we lose the excuse that we’re only human, because now we have the Spirit of God himself living within us. From that point, we either work to live in obedience to the Spirit, or we quench the Spirit and continue to live according to the flesh.

Paul fought this fight, he knew the struggle, he talks about it in Romans Chapter 7. Joyce Meyer wrote an excellent book called, The Battlefield of the Mind based on what Paul is talking about there as well. Paul talks about the sin nature and the Spirit nature warring against each other in his mind and flesh. He knows what he wants to do and what he should do, then does the very thing that he doesn’t want to do. This isn’t copping out and saying the devil made me do it. Paul admits it is his own sinful desires in the flesh that make him want to do it. If we remember that these are letters and that chapters and verses are not a part of the originally inspired text, listen… Romans 7:24-8:4

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Paul never excuses his sin, but instead, through the power of the Spirit walks according to the Spirit instead of the flesh. We find more on this in Galatians 5:16-25

But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery (which in that culture was actually getting high on drugs for the sake of spiritual enlightenment, pharmakia), hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.

Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.” Over and over again throughout the New Testament, especially Paul writes about the hope we have in Jesus. And, how our hope in Jesus through the Power of the Spirit can help us overcome our sin nature, how we can overcome death, how we can live as sons and daughters of God.

         Paul had to write so extensively on these issues because he was the Apostle to the Gentiles, the Greeks and Romans, the “enlightened” ones who lived according to their desires. We think “wokeness” and relativism are newer concepts. They aren’t. Greek and Roman society were filled with it. Paul’s answer was not to affirm and license the ungodly behaviors and attitudes, it was to preach a Gospel of love, acceptance, forgiveness, confession, and repentance, based on the sacrifice of Jesus and within the bounds of that relationship and the power of Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering the new believers to live holy and righteous lives, being conformed to the image of Jesus. We have a hope in Jesus Christ to overcome our sin and we have a promise delivered to us in 1 John 1:8-9

If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin, 1 John 1:7b

Hope through Anxiety

We have been talking about hope for the last several weeks and at how we can have a hope in Christ that can carry us through anything. At least for the next few minutes, cast your cares aside and let go of your worries, because we are talking about having hope through our anxiety this morning.Did you know that in 2018, and I am sure these numbers have risen, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting over 40 million adults. That’s roughly 18% of the population, including Christians, but only about a 1/3 of those suffering are receiving treatment.” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America?

Studies show that many of the people who struggle with anxiety, worry, or fear, and I have been one, learned to have those feelings from either a very traumatic event in their past or from parents or caregivers who modeled this way of thinking and feeling. Living with constant worry and even paralyzing anxiety is a learned response, not something we are born with like a genetic disorder.

I said before, I am not one to dismiss properly prescribed medications, but many Christians, and certainly those without God in their lives, try to fight anxiety and worry about an unknown future or feelings they project into others without first turning to the author and creator of life itself. This is an issue as old as time, an issue that even Jesus and the New Testament writers referred to on several occasions. So although these feelings may be all in our heads, jokingly and literally at the same time, they are also very real and can disrupt not only our material lives, but also wound our spiritual lives deeply as well.

Listen to the heart of David, a thousand years before Christ, and see if you can relate to some of his struggle…

‘O Lord , hear my prayer! Pay attention to my plea for help! Because of your faithfulness and justice, answer me! Do not sit in judgment on your servant, for no one alive is innocent before you. Certainly my enemies chase me. They smash me into the ground. They force me to live in dark regions, like those who have been dead for ages. My strength leaves me; I am absolutely shocked. I recall the old days; I meditate on all you have done; I reflect on your accomplishments. I spread my hands out to you in prayer; my soul thirsts for you in a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord ! My strength is fading. Do not reject me, or I will join those descending into the grave. May I hear about your loyal love in the morning, for I trust in you. Show me the way I should go, because I long for you. Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord ! I run to you for protection. Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God. May your kind presence lead me into a level land. O Lord , for the sake of your reputation, revive me! Because of your justice, rescue me from trouble! As a demonstration of your loyal love, destroy my enemies! Annihilate all who threaten my life, for I am your servant.’

Psalms 143:1-12

It’s true that David was being pursued by very real, physical enemies; who were trying to take his life. I would say, the vast majority of the time we are worried about something, our lives are not literally on the line. Although in our distress, especially a panic attack, it can feel that way. But listen how David goes through several stages working through his feelings and crying out to God. Allow me to paraphrase for you…

         God hear me. God pay attention to me. Because of who you are God, faithful and just, answer me. (Petition and praise) I know I’m not innocent, but please don’t hold that against me. (Confession) I am losing all hope, help me. (Asking) I remember everything you’ve done for me in the past and I trust you to help me as you have before. I want to follow you and live how you want me to live. (Repentance) Please get me through this. (Asking again)

Paul says,

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.

Philippians 4:6 NET

This is a command, not a statement, and not a suggestion. Don’t be anxious. Or don’t worry. But instead reach out to God in humility, be grateful for everything he has done for you, and ask God for what you need. As the result of reaching out to God like this Paul says,

‘And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

Philippians 4:7

When we are anxious, frightened, and worried, isn’t that what we most need, beyond any solution of bandaid fix, God to reach into the situation and give us PEACE. Freedom from the worry. Contentment to continue on. Listen to what Jesus said,

‘“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life? Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith? So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.’

Matthew 6:25-34 NET

Jesus lived life through hardship just as we must. Jesus needed shelter. Jesus had real enemies. Jesus had real people that relied on him. Jesus constantly had people asking him for stuff. Jesus certainly had enough he could be worried about, I mean seriously, the souls of the entire planet, with death and betrayal already written into his future hundreds of years in the past. If anyone had something to get anxious about, he did.

Jesus gives the same command, not a suggestion, don’t worry about tomorrow. Trust God for today, live in today, let tomorrow go, because God knows your tomorrow and will still be here to live through it with you.

Paul tells us to rewrite the script in our minds. Replace what worries us with other thoughts. He says,

‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.’

Philippians 4:8-9

If we look at practical steps even non-believers use to work through their anxiety, this idea of replacement is there. But for those of us who are believers in the salvation and hope that Jesus brings to us. Those of us who are in a relationship with God the Creator of everything. Those of us who should have the indwelling Holy Spirit residing in us and guiding us through every situation and circumstance. The truth that we have nothing to fear should be foundational. Here are some other practical steps we can take.

  1. Identify the source of your anxiety- what is it that you are really worried about?
  2. Understand that feelings are not truth- remember that although what you are feeling is real, that the feelings you have may not be based on the truth.
  3. Evaluate your feelings- Evaluate whether your feelings are based on beliefs that make sense, or are realistic, when you say them out loud. What real evidence is there for them?
  4. Make sure your feelings are really yours- Can you really trust your feelings are from you? Are you just repeating the thoughts and beliefs of your parents, an ex-lover, or someone else in your life because they impressed it upon you, or are these thoughts and feelings actually your own? If you come from a Christian worldview, how do you know your true thoughts and feelings are not being manipulated by your enemy – Satan, the world, and your own sinful desires?
  5. Separate lies from truth- Take what you feel and compare it to the truth of who God is, who God says you are, and what purpose God really has for us here.
  6. Recall the times you made it through- God is faithful. For those who are his, he will always walk us through when we turn to him.
  7. Replace your thoughts
  8. Read Scripture
  9. Observe yourself- Learn to sit with your emotions and thoughts. Imagine watching yourself as an observer would watch a play. No need to react to them; you are just observing. See them as random thoughts, impressions, passing feelings. If these were actually narratives in a play or movie, what would the author be telling the audience? What can you learn from them? Instead of internally saying something like, “Oh, no, I can’t stand this,” try “This is really fascinating, I wonder why this theme always emerges, or why these people are always in the play?”
  10. Lay your burdens down- Cast your cares on the one who cares more for you than anyone else in your life.
  11. Relax- No one can just turn off their feelings, and it is not always as simple as “throwing your cares on God because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) Many people need time, practice, support from others, and knowledge on how to truly do this. There are literally thousands of various websites and books on relaxation. But learn to chill, do what you enjoy (within the bounds of godly living), exercise, eat right, read, etc…

Above all, remember, anything you are going through is not too big for God. A great lie I hear all the time is that “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Read scripture, God constantly gives people more than they can handle. Because he wants us to rely completely on him and through him, overcome, and though overcoming, he receives the glory because it’s something we never could have done on our own.

Hope in Hopelessness

Well, we’ve started a series on Hope. One popular song says, “Our hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’s blood and righteousness.” God has proven himself to be faithful to both the nation of Israel and the Church time and time again. God continues to keep all his promises. There are times we don’t feel like he is with us. There are times we feel our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling. There are times when, because of our disobedience, just like Israel, we find ourselves walking through a desert. For those who have yet to believe, life is even worse, because on their bad days, they have nothing and no one to turn to for hope. Our world is filled with false hopes and Band-Aid fixes. I am not one to tell anyone to avoid all medications, some medication, including for mental illness, is beneficial. But many doctors would rather pump a person full of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety meds, and sleeping pills than offer a person real hope in the Savior of the world. There is hope in our hopelessness, our despair, and in our depression far beyond just what the doctors can prescribe.

In his book This is Your Brain on Joy, Dr. Earl Henslin says,

All our brains are uniquely wired. Some of our wiring gifts us with a basic emotional set point that includes mostly though and feelings of happiness and peace and basic sanity. Sadly, however, some of us are wired to experience more anxiety, anger, or depression. Some have mental predispositions for psychological imbalances or illnesses. And many of us are wired with a mixture of everything in between.

There are disorders that are genetic. There are disorders that can be identified by specific brain imaging. But there are also issues that have specifically to do with ungodly behaviors and sin. Some issues can be both. For instance, I have the genetic predisposition for alcoholism that does not give me license nor an excuse for alcoholic behavior. To consume alcohol is not necessarily sinful, but for me, to consume alcohol leads to drunkenness and other destructive behaviors and attitudes. Once alcohol was out of my life, alcoholism and drunkenness no longer dominated it. But if I ever choose to drink again, the cycle starts all over.

Nicky Gumbel has interviewed hundreds of people around the world who have come to faith in Jesus. The question he asks over and over again is, ‘What difference has Jesus made?’ and the genuine answers given by the people I have quoted are typical. – ‘My life has completely changed. I now look at the world through different eyes… I feel love for everyone and an inner peace that I never imagined could exist.’ – ‘I had been living my life in a dark hole, I was carrying a great weight on my shoulders… that burden has gone… and I am filled with great hope, joy, excitement and love, and all I want to do is to serve Christ in whatever form he chooses.’ – ‘I feel like I have found love and conquered death in one day.’ The difference Jesus makes is massive, eternal, and impossible to fully comprehend.

The hope we find through a relationship with the one true and living God through the forgiveness and sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, and the comfort of the Indwelling Holy Spirit is far better and more beneficial than anything that can be found in a pharmacy, a liquor store, a bar, a dispensary, or a back-alley deal. The hope we have in Jesus is better by far than any relationship or number of relationships we could ever have. But our relationship with God is one relationship that can make all the rest that much better.

Dr. Charles Hodges, an old friend of mine, wrote a book called; Good Mood, Bad Mood, many years ago. At one point in this book on depression and bipolar disorders and the role of faith and hope he says,

Our label-oriented society is struggling under the medical impression that once we are diagnosed with a mood disorder, our brains (and our lives) will never change unless medically altered. It is good to know from recent science that our brains can change in response to our thoughts and actions… The Bible has many passages to support the idea. As Paul said to the church at Corinth, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The idea that believers could “put off” old bad habits (sins) and “put on” godly behavior (Eph. 4:22-24) is so vital to Christian theology that denying it leaves the gospel impotent.

God has gifted the human race with skilled doctors. However, the idea that when dealing with the mind and moods that drugs can fix people better than the “Great Physician” while leaving him out of the treatment process is utter foolishness. Romans 12:1-2 says,

‘Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.’

Our circumstances and our moods should not determine our attitudes and actions. However, our godly attitudes and acting out in God’s will can certainly change our moods affect our circumstances and give us a sense of peace, contentment, and joy.

            No one recorded in the New Testament went through more hardship and persecution than Paul. Paul was arrested, stoned, flogged, beaten, and shipwrecked multiple times each. He had a long-term illness (thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor. 12:7) that God chose not to remove even though Paul had prayed for its removal several times. There were times and circumstances where Paul had everything he needed and more, but there were also times when Paul had nothing but the clothes, tattered though they may be, on his back. He went hungry at times, but he also had plenty at other times. In Philippians chapter one Paul says,

‘For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. ‘

Philippians 1:21-24

In the Pastor Joe paraphrase edition, we could say, “I’d rather be dead and in heaven with Christ, but God has work for me to do still so I need to be productive.” He goes on to say the reason he needs to stay is so the Philippians will make continue to make progress and have joy in the faith.

            Although Paul longs to leave the physical world to go be with Jesus in heaven, he continues on and in chapter 4 he tells the Philippians a big secret…the secret to living a life honoring God through each and every circumstance he has faced or will face. Dr. Henslin in the book mentioned earlier has also discovered this secret has a profound impact of brain imaging when addressing mood and behavior. The secret is how to have joy and contentment. Joy and contentment are some of those things that philosophers, religions, and psychologists have sought for millennia. Eastern gurus may describe it as bliss. Hindus and Buddhists among others also build this into the idea of nirvana, not smells like teen spirit… Psychologists may call it self-actualization. But in Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization comes at the top of the pyramid after all other needs are met. For Paul and as many Christians, POWs, and others have discovered over the years, this idea is foundational. With contentment and joy, all trials and tribulations can be faced with a godly attitude and God-honoring actions.

            Paul says in Philippians chapter 4,

‘I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. ‘

Philippians 4:12-13    

The secret to having contentment is the strength we receive through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are commanded to Rejoice always in Philippians 4:3. We are commanded not to worry in Philippians 4:6-7, but instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving to tell our requests to God and he will give us peace that will guard our hearts and minds.

            Dr. Henslin phrases laid-back joy in this way:

            Contentment is a wonderful word, related to joy and happiness. By the way, in the scripture, joy usually means a sense of internal delight; happiness is the recognition of how blessed we are…Both bring a smile and are related to feelings that are connected to an inner attitude of gratitude…Contentment contains the habit of being grateful for every possible thing there is to be thankful for, in any and every situation.

Gratitude, thankfulness, praise, worship, rejoicing are all actions and attitudes we keep that all lead to a contented heart that can bring hope and faith into the darkest despair or depression. We have the gift of an eternal relationship with the Creator of all and his power to live through the trials and circumstances we face.

            Looking through Philippians, Dr. Henslin suggests there are six keys to creating joy in our lives.

  1. Reframe your chains- God doesn’t always remove our trials, but he can always use them for his glory. How can you bring glory to God in your circumstance?
  2. Shrink irritants- You get to choose which voices to listen and pay attention to. If there is a negative influence in your life that only makes things seem worse, limit their time and influence in your life.
  3. Letting go, looking ahead- Dory, in Finding Nemo, said frequently, “Just keep swimming,” we can let go of past hurts and hang-ups and push forward into the new life that Jesus has in-store for us.
  4. The remedy for high anxiety- Pray with gratitude and thanksgiving trusting God to work his will in your life.
  5. A richly stored mind- Paul says, ‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.’ Philippians 4:8
  6. Be deep-spirited friends-You need at least one friend who you can be authentic and transparent with, a friend who will also be honest and encouraging toward you that isn’t afraid to correct you when you are wrong. Can you also be this kind of friend for someone else?

Framing our lives in the hope we have through faith in Jesus Christ is the first and most profound step in dealing with depression, despair, and hopelessness. We can find some help through medication, counseling, friends; but without an eternal relationship with our Creator, we are a train running full speed down a dead-end track. The only real hope for the hopeless is found in Jesus.

Hope in Brokenness

Hope in Brokenness 9/25/22

It always amazes me how fast time seems to fly by. Every one of us gets 60 seconds a minute, 60 minutes an hour, 168 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Yes, each of us gets the exact same amount of time, but we never know when our time is up. We never know when we will breathe our last breath. We never know when we will find ourselves before the Lord to receive judgment and our choices in life are laid out before us. Did we accept his gift and grace, or did we deny it? Did we make the most of each moment to live effectively for his glory, or did we squander the time we had? We have the hope of God’s mercy, forgiveness, grace, love, justice, and eternal life. Jesus said,

Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent.

John 17:3

We are going to carry the theme of hope with us through the month of October. We all need a little hope. We all need to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Especially as the days grow darker and it seems like the world is falling apart. We need hope that this is not the end of the journey, but really it is just the beginning.

         Today, we need to find hope in brokenness. For some, they may have never reached the point of absolute brokenness. Others of us have, and it’s highly likely you also know someone who has been or is broken. Do you know what it’s like to be broken? Do you know what it’s like to be unmade?

         When I think of brokenness, and I look into the scriptures; I think of one person more than any other. Let me give you some hints, and I am sure you’ll figure it out fairly quickly. Once you figure it out, don’t say anything until I ask you to, okay?

This person started life as a shepherd.

Was the youngest of the family.

Inexplicably was chosen to succeed the leader of the people.

Was a musician.

Was indignant on the behalf of God when an enemy jeered the armies of Israel.

Singlehandedly defeated an enemy almost twice his size.

He was promised the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage.

By a show of hands, how many of you think you know who I am talking about? Don’t say anything yet. Here are a few more highlights.

His best friend was the king’s son.

Although the king loved him, the king suffered from paranoia and tried to kill him over and over again.

He was known as the apple of God’s eye, and a man after God’s own heart. Although, in the original language, neither of these titles had anything to do with actions he took, but being chosen by God himself.

Finally, after the king’s death, he became king of Israel.

Okay, who is it? That’s right. King David. Who is known as the greatest king in the history of the nation of Israel.

King David has a list of some serious highlights in his life. The 2nd king of Israel, he expanded Israel’s influence throughout the region creating political alliances and defeating enemies. He is known as Israel’s greatest king. He received God’s personal promise that his line will rule the nation forever. A promised that is fulfilled in the person of Jesus, not only LORD of lords, and KING of kings, but Savior of the world and eternal king of not only Israel but also the whole world. David united a kingdom, created Jerusalem as the capital city that is still there today although it has been sacked and destroyed several times. Gathered all the materials to build the first temple to God. David was a skilled battle commander, skilled warrior, and a good king.

         David also gives a picture of what brokenness and restoration look like. In addition to the highlights, he has some real low points too.

Saul, the king before David, became extremely paranoid and feared David’s popularity and tried to kill David many times. While on the run from Saul, he lied to the priest in Nob taking the sacramental bread and taking Goliath’s sword from the synagogue where it was kept. Saul found out and murdered the entire town of priests and their families. David hid in caves multiple times. He pretended to be insane, drooling on himself and commanded armies for his nation’s enemies, although he didn’t lead troops against Israel. David took for himself many wives and had many children. One son raped his half-sister and was then killed in vengeance by his half-brother. David had an affair with another man’s wife, then learning Bathsheba she was pregnant; he tried to bring the Uriah back from the battle lines to have him sleep with his own wife to cover up the child being David’s. When Uriah didn’t, he arranged for him to be killed in battle, in all truth murdering him. David’s first child with Bathsheba ends up dying shortly after birth. Later in life, in David’s passivity, his son Absalom, seizes the throne from him but ends up dead. David sinned and was confronted by his own brokenness several times.

         Roy Hession says this about brokenness, “To be broken is the beginning of revival. It is painful, it is humiliating, but it is the only way.”

         In AA there is a saying, “We can either go to our knees before God in humility, or we will be brought to our knees in humiliation.” To be truly broken, it is only in understanding the depth of our depravity, that we truly understand the depths of grace. Understanding just how bad we could be doesn’t mean we need to have acted out in all those ways. To understand that given the right circumstances that we have that potential is to also understand how broken we really are. Whether we have lived it out or not.

         The biggest danger for ‘Church people’ that have grown up in the church. Lived life following the ‘rules’ and checked all the boxes, is self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Thinking somehow, we are the ones who have lived the good life and forgetting that the power of Christ is what makes all things possible. The Pharisees and Sadducees fell into this trap of pride. The Pharisees were the seminary grads, the devout, the pastors and teachers, the Bible scholars, and spiritual leaders, but Jesus’s harshest words were against them. Jesus probed past their external appearance and acts of apparent devotion. Over and over, he exposed the proud, self-righteous attitudes and motives. He insisted that the ones with broken, repentant hearts were the ones he came to save, that God rejects the proud, self-righteousness shown by the ‘church people.’

         Brokenness goes far beyond our feelings or the sins we have lived in. Nancy Leigh DeMoss says in her book entitled Brokenness,

“Brokenness is not a feeling or emotion. Rather, it requires a choice, an act of will…True brokenness is an ongoing, constant way of life…Brokenness is the shattering of my self-will-the absolute surrender of my will to the will of God…The broken person has no confidence in his own righteousness or his own works, but he has cast in total dependence upon the grace of God working in and through him.”

David’s brokenness and hope in restoration can be found over and over in the Psalms. Listen to Psalm 32,

‘Then I confessed my sin; I no longer covered up my wrongdoing. I said, “I will confess my rebellious acts to the Lord .” And then you forgave my sins. (Selah) How blessed is the one whose rebellious acts are forgiven, whose sin is pardoned! How blessed is the one whose wrongdoing the Lord does not punish, in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I refused to confess my sin, my whole body wasted away, while I groaned in pain all day long. For day and night you tormented me; you tried to destroy me in the intense heat of summer. (Selah) For this reason every one of your faithful followers should pray to you while there is a window of opportunity. Certainly when the surging water rises, it will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you protect me from distress. You surround me with shouts of joy from those celebrating deliverance. (Selah) I will instruct and teach you about how you should live. I will advise you as I look you in the eye. Do not be like an unintelligent horse or mule, which will not obey you unless they are controlled by a bridle and bit. An evil person suffers much pain, but the Lord ’s faithfulness overwhelms the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be happy, you who are godly! Shout for joy, all you who are morally upright!’

Psalms 32:1-11

David is humbling himself before God confessing and repentant toward his sin and humbling himself before countless future believers, like us, who would read his confession and learn of his failure.

         Listen to Psalm 51 this time,

‘Have mercy on me, O God, because of your loyal love! Because of your great compassion, wipe away my rebellious acts! Wash away my wrongdoing! Cleanse me of my sin! For I am aware of my rebellious acts; I am forever conscious of my sin. Against you – you above all – I have sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. So you are just when you confront me; you are right when you condemn me. Look, I was guilty of sin from birth, a sinner the moment my mother conceived me. Look, you desire integrity in the inner man; you want me to possess wisdom. Sprinkle me with water and I will be pure; wash me and I will be whiter than snow. Grant me the ultimate joy of being forgiven! May the bones you crushed rejoice! Hide your face from my sins! Wipe away all my guilt! Create for me a pure heart, O God! Renew a resolute spirit within me! Do not reject me! Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me! Let me again experience the joy of your deliverance! Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey! Then I will teach rebels your merciful ways, and sinners will turn to you. Rescue me from the guilt of murder, O God, the God who delivers me! Then my tongue will shout for joy because of your deliverance. O Lord, give me the words! Then my mouth will praise you. Certainly you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it; you do not desire a burnt sacrifice. The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit – O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject. Because you favor Zion, do what is good for her! Fortify the walls of Jerusalem! Then you will accept the proper sacrifices, burnt sacrifices and whole offerings; then bulls will be sacrificed on your altar.’

Psalms 51:1-19

In our brokenness, just like David, we find hope in the faithfulness of God. We find hope in the forgiveness found through our relationship with the Father through Jesus, his Son, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. All our hope is found in seeing ourselves as we really are, broken in a broken world, and turning our will and our lives complete over to God in humility.

Hope Happens Here, National Back to Church Sunday

Hope Happens Here

This message is from National Back to Church Sunday, September 18th, 2022.

This church, and every Bible-believing church, is here to help support you and your family’s spiritual needs. We are here to help you discover what the Bible says about God and His plan for your life. But honestly, the church is not a building; it is made up of the people inside—people like you—who are looking for purpose, authentic relationships, support, and hope.

The basis of the Christian faith is an audacious hope that God is at work in our lives. A hope that things don’t have to remain the same tomorrow as they are today. A hope that broken things can be mended. A hope that we are loved by our Creator. Maybe this morning you have come here in need of some hope. Perhaps the weight of the world is more than you can bear. Or maybe you have come here today because you feel there is nowhere else to turn. May I reiterate: hope happens here.

Pastor Timothy George, in his sermon “Unseen Footprints,” recounts a story told to him by a professor during his time at Harvard Divinity School. He recalls the professor telling a story from when he was preaching in Louisiana during the Depression. Electricity was just coming into that part of the country. He was out in a rural church that had just one little lightbulb hanging from the ceiling to light up the whole sanctuary. He was preaching away when, in the middle of his sermon, the electricity went out. The building went pitch black and, being a young preacher, Dr. Taylor didn’t know what to say. So he stumbled around until one of the elderly deacons sitting in the back of the church cried out, “Preach on, preacher! We can still see Jesus in the dark.” Sometimes that’s the only time we can see Jesus—in the dark.

In the gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as “the light of the world” (John 8:12). And it is Jesus who both illuminates our lives and exposes all that needs to be restored. The illuminating and healing hope of Jesus can be found all throughout scripture. But today we’re going to look at three specific points together. First, God has a plan for your life. Second, He loves you with a never-ending love. And third, you can do anything through His strength.

For these three reasons, and so many more, we have hope for an illuminated and restored life.

First, God has a plan for your life.

You were created by God. He made you with a purpose and an intention. He placed you uniquely in the family you have and equipped you with the gifts that you possess. The greatest questions in human history has always been: who am I, and why am I here? God offers us the answer to those questions, which give us hope.

One of the most famous verses in all of scripture is found in the book of Jeremiah. The backdrop to this passage is that Israel had been conquered by Babylon, and many people were going to be taken into captivity. This was known as the Exile. It was a very dark time in Israel’s history. Many of God’s people had lost hope and believed that God had forgotten them. I would argue that many of us today may feel the same way. After years of a pandemic, perhaps relational conflict or a devastating diagnosis, we may wonder if God has forgotten about us and be tempted to lose hope. However, the writer makes a profound statement as he writes to God’s people in the midst of their exile.

For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NET

This is not a promise made to us today as so many try to make it, but God places hope in the hearts of the people of Israel. He tells them that, though they were now living in a land that was not their own and though Jerusalem had been destroyed, God was not done with them yet. He still had a plan to prosper them and not to harm them. God was working for a better future for Israel, and he had not forgotten about them.

He goes on to explain to them, in chapter 31, the hope of the New Covenant he will make with them through Jesus. Although they have been unfaithful to him over and over again, he sends his Son as the promised Messiah, to bring not only them but the whole world into a relationship with him.

A few verses later in chapter 32, God tells Jeremiah to purchase a piece of land. This instruction would hardly make sense since Israel was under siege. But God reminds Jeremiah that he is not done yet. There was hope for Israel’s return to its home because God had a plan.

It’s like planting fruit trees. There are many farmers in our community and some of you have fruit trees on your property. We all know that trees don’t produce fruit overnight. In fact, it can take years of growth before you harvest any fruit. Many trees begin as tiny twigs that look like they have zero chance of survival. But you plant that twig in the ground and faithfully water it year after year, hoping one day you’ll enjoy the fruit of your labors. 

God was asking Jeremiah to be faithful and plant himself even though there seemed to be zero chance of survival. God was working an even greater plan for the good of His people. 

Wherever you find yourself today, I want to encourage you that God has a plan for your life. When you continually do the next right thing and live in obedience to God, you can rest assured that you will live into God’s purpose for your life and he will produce wonderful fruit in and through you.

God has a plan for your life, and you can put your hope in Him. His love and care for His creation is unfailing and never ending.

Paul says,

And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8:28-29 NET

God wants a relationship with us and has a purpose for us, to look and act like his Son, Jesus.

Second, He loves you with a never-ending love.

The truest thing about you is that you are loved by God. Love is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. The Apostle Paul appeals to the powerful love of God as he writes to the early Church in Rome. Similar to Israel living in the foreign land of Babylon, God’s people were in the midst of a sinful and foreign culture in Rome. It was a difficult place to be—complete with persecution and suffering—but Paul wanted to instill hope into the lives of the believers there.

No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-39 NET

Paul tells them: you are conquerors. You are not defeated. No matter how bad things may seem or how hopeless your situation may appear, you are overcomers.

But why? Why does Paul make this claim? It is because of God’s love for them. He is convinced that nothing can separate God’s people from God’s love. Death can’t do it. Demons can’t do it. The depths of despair can’t do it. God’s love is so prevailing and so potent that it is ever present and never ending. God loves us no matter what. He loves us when we love him back, but He also loves us when we fail to love him in return.

Roger Zerbe, who was succumbing to early onset Alzheimer’s disease, journaled this to his wife after a particularly troubling bout of forgetfulness.

Honey,

Today fear is taking over. The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. You and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love. I don’t want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so slowly and painfully.

Blinking back tears, his wife, Becky, wrote:

My sweet husband,

 I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you, not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you. I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family. I’ll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I remember you.

(Becky Zerbe, “Penning a Marriage,” Marriage Partnership – spring 2008)

This is the kind of sacrificial and pervasive love that Paul was referring to in Romans.

The Greek word used in the passage from Romans for the word love is the word agape. Agape literally means a selfless and sacrificial kind of love—the kind of love that gives without needing anything in return. God’s agape love for his people caused him to offer his one and only son on a cross as a sacrifice for our sin so that we might have new life. This sacrifice was once and for all and is available to everyone.

Our hope is found not only in His plan for us but also in his love for us. There is nothing that can separate us from the love that God has for us through Jesus. And that truth empowers us to face any challenge life may serve up.

 Third, you can do anything through His strength

Living the Christian life is no easy task. Living counter culturally, loving our enemies, giving generously, serving faithfully, and avoiding sin obediently are all costly endeavors. The way of Jesus is not something we can do on our own. If we try, it will leave us exhausted and burned out. We must rely on God’s strength to do it.

Paul speaks to this hope we have when writing to the early church in Philippi. Again, the surrounding context of this passage is persecution, suffering, imprisonment, and the like. In fact, as Paul pens this letter, he sits in chains because of his faith in Jesus. You would think he feels hopeless; however, it is quite the opposite. He is overflowing with hope.

I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 NET

When we become followers of Jesus, the spirit of God actually takes up residence inside of us. The spirit dwells in us, and it becomes the engine behind our faithful obedience. So when we feel like we can’t forgive that person who hurt us, the spirit of God gives us strength to set them free. In doing so, we set ourselves free from bitterness and anger. When we want to defeat a sinful pattern in our lives, we don’t have to do it alone; we can rely on God’s strength. When we want to make a difference in the world by serving those around us, we can accomplish much, not because of our hard work, but because of the work God has done in and through us.

There was middle school boy who recently defeated a rare form of cancer. After his diagnosis, his church rallied around the family by providing meals and mowing the family’s yard. Their pastor went to the house one day to pray with Adam, and he was blown away by his calm nature and confidence. When he asked him how he was handling the news, he smiled and handed the pastor a rubber bracelet to put on his wrist. He looked down and read the writing on the bracelet: “I can do all things – Philippians 4:13.” He told his pastor he was not afraid. He told him he had hope because God was with him every step of the way. His faith carried him for the eight months of chemo and radiation he had to endure. In the end, Jesus was the strength he needed to do something hard.

Oh, that we all might have the kind of hope that Adam had when we face troubles in this world. Hope happens when we come to realize that we don’t have the strength in and of ourselves to live the way of Jesus. Hope happens when we submit our lives to his leadership and allow him to empower us for his glory.

My prayer for each of us today is that we would be bursting with hope as we become more aware of God’s plan, love, and strength that is ours in Christ. I invite you to pray with me and ask God to fill you up with hope.