Be Not Ashamed: A Balanced Christian Approach to PRIDE Month and Other LGBTQIA+ Issues

Be Not Ashamed


Over the last several weeks at Idaville First, we were looking at the letter from James and gleaning the practical wisdom from within that is meant for the Church to use as a guide for living. Doing so brought us face to face with what things we should and shouldn’t judge. Within the realm of what we should never try to judge, especially where judgment implies condemnation were the heart of a person, people’s motives, and the person’s salvation. However, we are called and encouraged to make judgment calls, based on the authority of God’s Word in the areas of behaviors, belief systems, and ideas. As Christians, we are never given permission to condemn anyone. God alone is the judge and lawgiver. God alone has already condemned the world. However, God has also provided a way for restoration for the people of the world. Jesus came to save the world, but those who choose not to accept him are already condemned.

One of the most divisive topics we can deal with in the 21st culture that we live in is the LGBTQIA+ movement. It is not a topic that the global and eternal Church can ignore. It is certainly an issue that has polarizing sides between secular society and Christ-followers, but it also has a wide range of division for those who profess to be Christian. For those of you who may not have caught on yet, June is PRIDE month. I would say nearly everyone in America knows at least one family member, friend, family of friends, or even themselves who are not directly impacted by the PRIDE movement.

One of the questions that I frequently face as a pastor is “where do you stand, or where does your church or denomination stand regarding this issue?” For me personally, I usually answer this way. I believe in the inspiration and authority of God’s Word. What the Bible calls sin is sin. That being said, it is not my job to condemn anyone. It is my job to love and accept people as they are, teach boldly and without compromise from the Word of God, and trust Holy Spirit to convict an individual leading to repentance and transformation. I want all individuals to feel welcome. I want them to hear what the Word of God says. I want them to experience the true love of Christ in Christian fellowship. I do not want them to simply go somewhere else to hear what they want to hear and to be fed lies leading people astray. Of course, there are many who would disagree or question how that stance can be put into practice. However, Paul says in Romans 1:16-17,

‘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.”’

Romans 1:16-17

Our eldership, our church, and our denomination also stand on the inspiration and authority of the Word of God as properly interpreted and taught. We are not ashamed to stand on the Truth of the Word of God. We are not ashamed of the full counsel of the scriptures. We are not ashamed to take a biblical stand when it comes to sin. Any sin. Our denomination puts out a guidebook of where we stand on a wide range of social issues. It is called, uniquely enough, “Here We Stand.” That guide as well affirms what the Bible calls sin is sin. When it comes to human sexuality, marriage, and relationships; the Bible has a lot to say. It gives us many examples of both good and bad behaviors, decrees many laws, and makes clear, all forms of sexual immorality are sin and against the very nature of how God created mankind to be.

So, what does the Bible say? Just a few of the references are going to appear on the screen behind me if you decide to take note…

God created man and woman to be complementary to one another. (Genesis 1:27) Jesus affirms this teaching in several other places, including the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Many of the letters to the churches also affirm this biblical stance.

“A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.” (Deuteronomy 22:5).

God forbids sexual intercourse outside of marriage, whether premarital or extramarital (Proverbs 6:27-29, 1 Corinthians 6:13-18, Ephesians 5:3). Male and female homosexuality, going so far as to call it an abomination in the Old Testament, (Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:24-27), plural marriage (Leviticus 20:14), bestiality (Leviticus 20:15, 16), God’s Word condemns all immoral perversions and distortions of human sexuality, including incest, orgies, swinging (Galatians 5:19-21, Leviticus 20: 11-12, 19-21), etc…

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body.’

(1Corinthians 6:18-20)

‘For this is God’s will: that you become holy, that you keep away from sexual immorality, that each of you know how to possess his own body in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion like the Gentiles who do not know God.’

(1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)

The loudest, little minority of the PRIDE movement is outright hostile toward any type of Judeo-Christian belief system. In some states, even saying that these behaviors are sin is considered hate speech. Although they certainly don’t speak for all, their voices certainly carry the most weight. They influence public opinion, educational systems, media in all its forms, and more…

For a movement that prides itself on inclusion and tolerance, it is very intolerant of Christianity or anyone else who will not endorse or affirm their viewpoint. Antagonistic to the scriptures, the PRIDE movement has made the rainbow its flag. After seeing the evil of mankind and destroying most of the life on the planet in the flood. Genesis 9:16 that the rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant to never to use a flood to destroy the all living things earth again. The PRIDE movement says, “love is love.” This driving division even within the Church, what does God really me in the three great commandments of love God, love your neighbor, and love one another. 1 John 4:16 says, God is love… John 3:16 says, God so loved the world… In the past we have talked the 22 different definitions of love in English, where Greek is very specific when it talks about different types of love.

At the heart of every facet of the PRIDE movement is an innate denial of who God is and the instructions that he has left behind for us. Even those who profess to be Christians must deny some portion of the inspiration and authority of God’s Word in order to justify a position the participates in, endorses, or affirms the PRIDE movement.

Target has lost over 13 billion dollars in two weeks. The silent majority was finally not so silent after Target released Pride clothing that included female-style swimsuits that have the option to “tuck” male genitalia. Other products in the line were labeled as “thoughtfully fit on multiple body types and gender expressions.” The swim suits were being displayed on child-sized mannequins and marketed to children which also fueled the outrage. Target’s Gay Pride collection has been linked to Erik Carnell, who is an outspoken Satanist whose other brand apparel includes occult imagery and messages like “Satan respects pronouns.”

However, this is just another example of the PRIDE movement trying to normalize and groom behavior that the Bible clearly defines as sin. The indoctrination and grooming have already begun in public elementary schools, in Illinois and other states, elementary classrooms are supposed to have a PRIDE safe space, teacher training seminars that are mandatory for employment require sensitivity and inclusion training, middle school and high school sex education classes normalize these behaviors, even affecting organizations such as the Girl Scouts of America and pressing in on the Boy Scouts.

All that being said, how can the church show the love of Christ without compromising the Word of Truth? That is the question. In the past, the church has done a terrible job. Hatred and condemnation piled on top of homophobia and intolerance leading to violence and resentment has happened in the past. Yes, in the Old Testament, God’s punishment within the law for almost all sexually immoral acts was death. But, when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus in John 8, Jesus said, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Jesus did not condemn the woman, but he also told her, “Go and sin no more.” We must present the whole Gospel. The Gospel is love and forgiveness, it is also mercy and grace, it is also confession, repentance, and transformation of mind and spirit, it is also correction and obedience, and cleansing from all unrighteousness. We must present the Gospel with compassion and consideration. However, I know some very judgmental Christians who are quick to condemn anyone, they would likely have been among those to be holding the stones.

I know the story of a young man struggling with same sex attraction that went to his church elders for help and counsel. To be clear for us today, attraction and temptation are not sins. Giving in to the tempation and embracing the urge is sin. This young man worked up his courage to speak with his elders and was met with hostility. He was looking for hope and godly counsel. Instead, they condemned him. Told him his lifestyle was sin (even though he had never engaged in any homosexual acts), and the people who should have held him up in prayer and given him strength to fight away the temptation drove him away in shock and tears. I would say that was the wrong approach.

At one time a couple years ago, a church in Springfield, Illinois was checking to see if I would be a fit to serve as pulpit supply and maybe more. In the midst of those talks, the elder I was in communication with told me that their church was an “open and affirming” church. They performed gay marriages and supported the PRIDE movement. Obviously, not a good fit. However, I asked if he, as an elder, could tell me how their church came to that conclusion. This was his response…

“I generally avoid theological debates, but I will tell you we do not believe one mortal sinner has the right to stand between God and another mortal sinner. We do not know anyone who takes the entire Bible literally. Everybody picks and chooses which parts of the Bible they believe as written and which they “interpret” before applying to their lives. Finally, we do not believe God needs our help in determining who is a sinner and who is not. We love and care for one another and leave the judging up to him.”

It’s concerning that a church elder would generally try to avoid discussing theology, but at face value, the statement makes sense. It is true that one mortal sinner doesn’t have a right to stand between God and another mortal sinner. Scripture says there is one intermediary between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. It is also true God doesn’t need our help determining who is a sinner. The Scripture says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The problem lies with their view of the inspiration, authority, and application of biblical Truth in the lives of individuals. In order to justify their position, they refuse the responsibility to properly teach the Word of God, call the people to repentance, and equip the saints; instead, they have chosen to enable people to keep sinning to make them feel good and not make a stand on biblical Truth. The old adage, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. I would say this is not the right approach.

I know a father and fellow minister who attended his daughter’s wedding. He didn’t officiate her wedding. He sat in his row with tears streaming down his face as his daughter and her wife took their vows. They were not the tears of joy a father should have at his daughter’s wedding. They were tears of grief for the sin he knew she was committing. Not long after, another pastor chastised him for even attending his daughter’s gay wedding. Even though he certainly didn’t officiate the wedding, the other pastor claimed it gave the appearance of approval. His response was, “if as a father, I can’t show my daughter the unconditional love of God in the midst of my grief at her behavior, who is going to?” In my opinion, the other pastor was wrong to chastise him, and the father was right to continue to show his daughter his love even if he didn’t approve of the relationship.

My grandmother taught me there is a huge difference between acceptance and approval. A difference between tolerance and affirmation. A difference between condemnation and correction. A difference between freedom from sin and freedom to sin.

Years ago, I met an individual in the mail room of our mobile home park. She introduced herself as Tammy. We had many conversations over the years, she and her housemate would go for walks around the park and if I was outside, we would chat. Our conversations included all manner of things. At one time, I offered to help build her a raised planter. After a couple years, as I was in the mail room, an effeminate looking man I recognized walked in. He said, “Joe, I would like to reintroduce myself. My name is Thomas.” He said, “We never really talked about it, but you’re a Christian, aren’t you?” I said, “Yes.” Thomas said, “When we first met, I introduced myself as Tammy. As I’m sure you probably realized, I was a cross-dressing homosexual and had even looked into gender reassignment. However, I recently came to know Christ as my Lord and Savior. Under the conviction of the indwelling Holy Spirit, I have repented of that lifestyle. I knew you had to be a Christian. You always treated me with respect and dignity. You even offered to help me several times. You truly showed me the love of Christ while I was steeped in my sin. Thank you. If it wasn’t for people like you, I probably wouldn’t have ever become a Christian.” Thomas is the one who encouraged me to find a church home after I had become disillusioned and discouraged from mistreatment in other churches. Thomas went to Oak Tree Church with me the first time I went, to give me courage and so I wouldn’t feel out of place and alone. Oak Tree was my church home for many years before moving to Illinois. Thomas has also gone on to plant many churches throughout Africa teaching them about God’s love and righteousness.

We all are born with a genetic defect called a sin nature. How can we minister to LGBTQIA+ individuals? The CGGC Here We Stand statement says,

We must first recognize that many LGBTQIA+ individuals have been hurt by those they love, their families, and even their churches. They have felt the sting of rejection and that rejection has left scars. That acknowledgement calls us to love LGBTQIA+ individuals and show them kindness. While there is a time to confront a person with his or her sin, the person must first know that we love them. As with any other sin, however, we should lovingly call for repentance. After all, it is not love to hide the truth from someone, particularly as it relates to a destructive lifestyle. Further, we should celebrate and encourage those individuals who experience same sex attraction, yet resist the temptation to act upon those urges. Most importantly, we must never enable or encourage homosexual or transgender behavior, whether through conducting same-sex “marriages” or some other practice that could be construed to endorse sexually immoral behavior.

As for society generally, we should continue to speak the truth as to all sexually immoral behavior. In order to do this, we must ensure that our congregants, particularly young people, are trained early-on to have a well-reasoned biblical worldview. We will uphold the biblical and natural definition of marriage and encourage repentance from all sin, including all LGBTQIA+ related sin.

Here We Stand,

And this is where we stand. Unashamed.


Pastor Joe

Thrive Part 8: Be Spiritually Disciplined

Thrive Pt. 8

Be Spiritually Disciplined

This is the last week in our Thrive series, and so far, we have covered a lot of ground.

Oswald Sanders, a great Christian writer and teacher once wrote,

“It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let other things go, but don’t neglect Him.”

This week begins the Lenten season with Ash Wednesday. In evangelical circles, my past self also included, Lent as a religious practice gets a bad rap. Usually because of the way we perceive the Roman Catholic Church observes Lent starting with an ashen cross on the forehead and six weeks of Friday fish fry and a return of resolutions to give up this or do more of that, that usually last less time than a New Year’s resolution. After growing up in the Catholic church and my long journey back to faith, although my wife would typically celebrate Lent and ask us to observe some of the tradition as well; I typically bemoaned the time. It is in more recent years that I have begun to see the benefit in celebrating the season in a constructive way according to its purpose, and it was most profoundly demonstrated to me last year by the massive amount of spiritual growth I saw in my wife as she spent 40 days in prayer, devotions, and fasting. And those changes have carried through from last year to today.

Lent is meant to be a time of repentance. These 40 days are set aside to praise and worship the Lord; to read the Bible more, and to pray more often. Christians who observe Lent correctly anticipate deeper intimacy with the Lord. It is a time of prayer, fasting, self-sacrifice, and rededication to the Lord. The time of repentance associated with Lent is not a feeling of shame, guilt, or condemnation, but an awareness that sin separates us from God and of what it cost Him to be reunited with us.

The history of Lent is connected with the 40-day fast that Jesus undergoes (Mark 1:13; Matthew 4:1–11; Luke 4:1–13). Mark tells us that Jesus was tempted by Satan, but it is in Matthew and Luke that the details of the temptation are fleshed out. All three accounts say that Jesus went without food for the 40 days. One of the spiritual disciplines closely connected with the observance of Lent is fasting. We are not talking about medical fasting, or fasting for weight loss; nor are we talking about screen fasts, etc…

Fasting – not eating (and sometimes drinking too) for an extended period of time – is a practice that goes back long before Jesus. Ancient Jews fasted on certain days throughout the year. Mark 2:18–23 and Matthew 6:16–18, for example, both take for granted that fasting is a normal part of Jewish religious practice. Other Jewish texts from the Greco-Roman period depict fasting as an effective substitute for sacrifice. About a hundred years before Jesus, the Psalms of Solomon 3:8–9, which are a part of the collection of Hebrew literature from the Second Temple Period, describe fasting as a way to atone for sins and as a habitual practice of the righteous.

In the earliest years of Christianity, Christians seem to have observed the same fast days that Jews observed. Not eating and not drinking could be seen as a means of atonement, but it could also clear the way for an expected meeting with God. Moses, for example, fasted prior to going up the mountain to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments in Exodus 34:28.

Jesus’s fast in the desert, then, would have been understood to prepare him to commune with God and to strengthen him against the devil’s temptations. It is little wonder, then, that later Christians began to associate fasting with being close to God.

Greater intimacy with God is the reward of sacrifice. His love and one’s salvation are not reliant on denying oneself chocolate or coffee, but idolatry stands in the way of worshiping the one true God. These 40 days are set aside to praise and worship the Lord; to be more spiritually disciplined, and to pray more often. They learn to practice various spiritual disciplines to assist them in their growth in the knowledge and love of the Lord and Savior. Those who celebrate Lent correctly gain deeper intimacy with the Lord, which is the blessing; they do not expect rewards such as more favorable answers to prayer or the resolution of health concerns, although many Christians have reported that, following Lent, they experience freedom from long-standing issues.

This morning, in preparation for the Lenten season about to start, we are going to spend some time looking at various spiritual disciplines and practices. Not every one of these suits every individual; for instance, I could never get into journaling. However, journaling has become a foundational part of my wife’s spiritual growth. Other things, like prayer, worship, confession, repentance, practicing good stewardship, regular, personal Bible study; those are universal to all believers and Lent is a great time to rededicate ourselves to diligence in those things.

Spending regular time in God’s Word is one of the most important spiritual disciplines the is. If we do not know God’s written revelation of himself to man; we really do not know God himself. Regular Bible study and hearing the Word of God taught in church are important but having a daily devotional time to spend with God’s Word in prayer and reflection is extremely important as well.

Here are five steps to devotional reading:

1. Pray—pray and release the chaos and noise occurring around you. Invite the Spirit to join you as you engage with God’s Word.

2. Read—Lectio means “listen.” Slowly read the passage out loud and listen to the text. When a word or phrase stands out to you, linger over it. Don’t overanalyze or justify it. Just listen and consider what the Lord may be saying to you in that moment.

3. Meditate—read the passage out loud again. Meditate on the words that stand out to you and reflect on their significance.

4. Respond—read the passage again prayerfully. As you talk with God about the passage, tell Him how your spirit is resonating with the passage and how this passage is stirring in you. Not every passage of scripture, particularly historical accounts and promises made directly to certain individuals or the descendants of Israel apply directly to us today, but we may consider replacing the pronouns in the passage with our name, or using the passage as a template for a personal prayer to God, particularly in the Psalms.

5. Contemplate—take some time to let the passage sink in. Jot down what stood out to you from your devotional that you want to be reminded of later. Throughout the day return to the passage and mull over what the Lord said to you.

Other people will ascribe to the SOAP method of Bible study and reading.

Scripture – What does it say? If it seems unclear or confusing, read several different translations. I prefer the NET for daily reading, but I will frequently compare it to the New Living Translation, the NIV, the NASB, and even the King James and the Greek New Testament (although I have gotten a little rusty). No, I haven’t learned to read Hebrew.

Observation – What did it mean to the audience to whom it was originally written within their historical and spiritual context?

Application – Primary. How did those people apply the lesson or instruction in their lives?

Secondary. Does this also apply to us today, and if so, how do we implement that in our lives?

Prayer – Holy Spirit wrote these words, ask Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and direct us into a better relationship with our Father through what we are reading and studying.

Memorizing Scripture is a great way for some people to tie the practice of Bible study and devotions into their daily lives. It is also our defense against the schemes of the Devil trying to sow lies into our lives. From the beginning when Eve was deceived, the serpent said, “Did God really say…” The Devil knows the Word of God and how to pervert it to lead us astray. If we don’t know the scriptures ourselves, it is easy to get sidetracked or dive head first into the rabbit hole leading to sin and disobedience in our lives. I admit, I also am not the best at quoting verbatim or remembering the address, the reference, chapter and verse; that is why technology like smartphones and the YouVersion Bible app are so great.

This week, I am making a printed Lenten devotional reading plan available on the welcome desk. I will also be posting a link on our Facebook page to a YouVersion Bible reading plan that can be accessed through or the Bible app on a smartphone or tablet. Feel free to participate with me through either or both of these reading plans. I will also be making a special printed reading plan available on Palm Sunday for Holy Week.

However, coming to church or reading God’s Word and not allowing Holy Spirit to direct you into correctly applying it to your life is like filling your refrigerator with expensive, healthy foods and allowing them to mold and rot; then eating them gets you sick or leads to death. But eating that same food fresh and prepared properly in correct proportion leads to a healthier body that will flourish and thrive.

Closely tied to Bible study and devotional reading would be journaling. Journaling is one of the spiritual disciplines that many people find deeply fulfilling. It is the discipline of reflection, a tool for slowing down and reflecting on how you see God showing up in the ordinary moments of your everyday life. It can also provide a way of processing your hopes, fears, dreams and emotions, especially in uncertain times. Providing a space where you can get real with God, journaling allows you to address what is going on at a heart level to see where you need Him the most, and the areas in which you have growth opportunities in your faith. Even a prayer journal, writing down your prayer requests and then going back over them later and recounting how God may have acted in those situations is a great bolster to our faith.

Over the last few weeks, we have spent a lot of time discussing prayer. Scripture says in Luke 6:12,

Now it was during this time that Jesus went to the mountain to pray, and he spent all night in prayer to God.

We frequently find times in the Gospels when Jesus separates himself out from the crowds and even his own disciples early in the morning or late at night to pray. Even the night he was betrayed, he set himself away from everyone, taking Peter, James, and John with him; then leaving them to keep watch went by himself to pray. We have also talked about the roadblocks and obstacles that can hinder our prayers before God. Oswald Sanders also wrote,

“The Bible is very clear on the reasons why prayers go unanswered, and every reason centers on the believer’s relationship with God. God will not cooperate with prayers of mere self-interest, or prayers that come from impure motives. The Christian who clings to sin closes the ear of God. Least of all will God tolerate unbelief, the chief of sins.”

Many may not think of good stewardship as a spiritual discipline, but obedience in our tithes, offerings, and management of our resources God’s way is very much a spiritual discipline. Good stewardship includes obedience to the tithe (Deut. 14; Lev. 27; Neh. 13; Heb. 7), the giving of the first ten percent of fruit of our labor, in our modern equivalent, our paychecks and earnings, back to the Lord. In 2022, only about 25% of a normal congregation give a biblical tithe. But of those that do, 77% give an additional offering of 1-10%. Historically, the tithe is not divided up among all those organizations and ministries you would like to support with “YOUR” money. The tithe is entrusted the administration of the local church (Mal. 3:10) and the leaders whom God holds accountable for the care of your soul. Good stewardship also includes sacrificial, generous giving (Luke 21; Deut. 15; Prov. 22) of our time, talents, and treasures in the form of our offerings to God in worship and service; our generosity in our offerings above and beyond the tithe to the local Body is where we support other “good” causes, or other ministries within our local Body as the Spirit leads. Good stewardship also includes handling our finances and resources in a God-honoring way as prescribed by scripture; avoiding debts, providing for our families, investing wisely to support generous giving, scripture even teaches such countercultural concepts as when you lend generously (Deut. 15:8) not to charge interest (Exodus 22:25, Lev. 25:37) and not to expect repayment (Luke 6:34), and not to store up treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal (Matt. 6:19)… Some great resources for guidance in managing finances would be Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace curriculum and Larry Burkett’s Crown Financial ministries.

Other forms of spiritual discipline to focus on during Lent may be a concerted effort to further personal evangelism. To spend time in prayerful contemplation and self-examination where we can focus on areas of strength in obedience or weakness in sin and turning those over to the care and control of our Creator. We can focus on gratitude and thanksgiving as we talked about during the month of November, cultivating a heart that recognizes all the blessings God has for us.

When comes to any of these and other spiritual disciplines, while Lent is a great time to rededicate ourselves to a new practice or something we may have strayed away from; building the habit is meant to be carried through our daily lives in the form of transformation beyond just these 40 days. It is also interesting, Oswald Sanders also wrote,

“Most Bible characters met with failure and survived. Even when the failure was immense, those who [rebounded] refused to lie in the dust and bemoan their tragedy. In fact, their failure and repentance led to a greater conception of God’s grace. They came to know the God of the second, chance, and sometimes the third and fourth.”

When we meet with failure in our lives, we lean on the mercy and grace of our loving Father through the gift of his Son’s perfect sacrifice on our behalf to bring us into closest fellowship with him. We confess our weakness and shortcomings and we lean on the promise of 1 John 1:9, that he is faithful and righteous to forgive us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness, restoring us back into that most intimate of relationships with our Father through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We must remember, God is far more interested in our character than he is our comfort.

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Thrive Part 7: Abide in Christ

Thrive Part 7

Abide in Christ

         Last week, we continued our series, Thrive, with more on the topic of prayer. One of the most important tie ins with prayer is our connection with the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Holy Spirit is the very Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, tied together with us in our daily lives. Living inside us, guiding us, convicting us, comforting us, counseling us, teaching us, advocating for us through Christ before the Father, identifying us as children of God, adopted into the family of God, co-heirs with Christ, priests and priestesses, princes and princesses, empowering us to know God’s will and to follow it, and producing all the facets of the Fruit of the Spirit within us. It seems like Holy Spirit has a lot of responsibilities in our daily lives. Yet we hardly make use of that connection; we barely scratch the surface of what is possible, and it’s not because God isn’t willing to enter our lives. It’s because we don’t want him interfering with our plans, desires, and ideas. We want to bend God’s will to our own. In order to justify doing that, we change the very essence of who Jesus was and why he was here. We change the Word of God to suit ourselves. And we end up following an imaginary Jesus who is absolutely powerless to help us overcome the trials and temptations of life. Any time we pick and choose from the scriptures what we want to believe and what we don’t; any time we insert our “the Bible says, but…” We leave the path and begin following a false Gospel.

         When we reach John chapter 14, Jesus and closest disciples are walking in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives right after the Last Supper. Jesus begins to teach his disciples about the advocate, the other comforter, that God will send to them in his place, because he tells them he is going to be with the Father. He has predicted his death and resurrection, and he is telling his disciples what it’s going to mean for them going forward to follow him when he is no longer right in front of him. Hear the words of Jesus as he is speaking with his disciples.

         John 14:15-17,22-26

‘“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.

“Lord,” Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “what has happened that you are going to reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and take up residence with him. The person who does not love me does not obey my words. And the word you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me. “I have spoken these things while staying with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will cause you to remember everything I said to you.’

In our lives, as we try to follow Jesus and know him better, we submit ourselves to God in prayer. However, as we talked about last week; we hit obstacles in our prayer lives that inhibit our ability to find fellowship with God. In order to avoid blockades to prayer, it helps to know prayer’s purpose. Wonderfully, Jesus explains this to his disciples during this same conversation with them on the working of Holy Spirit in their lives, he says:

         John 15:7-10

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

This passage immediately follows Jesus as he describes our relationship with the Father and himself as the Vine and the Branches. How many of you can at least quote part of this from memory? I am not putting it on the screen, but I am sure this will sound very familiar. Jesus said,

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. ‘

John 15:1-6

By a show of hands, how many of you have heard a message preached at some point in your lives about “bearing fruit”? Okay, how many of you have heard a message about bearing fruit is to make disciples? The more disciples you make the more fruit you are bearing? I know I have heard many of those messages preached in my life.

         However, Jesus is teaching about Holy Spirit’s work in our lives to glorify God. He is teaching about obedience to his commands. He is teaching about the third great commandment. To love one another as he has loved us. He is teaching about how our love and obedience will lead to his joy and our joy being complete. Jesus is teaching about the Fruit of the Spirit. Paul says, the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

In English, to remain means primarily to continue in the same state or in the same place. To abide means primarily to remain, continue, and stay; it also means to reside or dwell, to make one’s home. The Hebrew idea behind these words is to tabernacle. The Tabernacle was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. It was also the place the Spirit of God lived or dwelled for the Hebrew people. Within the Tabernacle was the Holy of Holies; the place where to enter unclean meant death. Jesus says to live in him and he will live in us through his Holy Spirit.

So, the phrase “abiding in Christ” pictures an intimate relationship, and not just a superficial acquaintance.oHo

To abide in Christ’s love, we follow his commands, which means knowing Scripture, “the word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16). Listen to this passage of Colossians 3:15-17,

‘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.’

As we increase in the knowledge of Jesus, we will also increase in love for him, which drives us to our knees in repentance. When you know Jesus and what he has done for you, it becomes progressively easier to turn from the ugliness of sin to the beauty of the Savior.

As we come to know and love Jesus, our prayers will be increasingly transformed. This will change how, why, and what we ask of him. We will love what he loves, hate what he hates, and desire what he desires. We will learn to submit to his timing in answering because we are learning to trust him more.

1 John 2:24-29

‘As for you, what you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. Now this is the promise that he himself made to us: eternal life. These things I have written to you about those who are trying to deceive you. Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him. And now, little children, remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back. If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been fathered by him.’

As our Father, God delights to give good gifts to his children (Luke 11:5-13). Knowing we ask according to his will, we can have faith that he will answer us, even when his answer doesn’t align with our understanding or timetable. When doubt still comes, we reject it and turn to our forgiving and compassionate God who will bolster our faith. We come to God humbly in prayer through Jesus, who opened the way for us to do so by removing all blockades to communion with God when he defeated sin and death.

Yes, we will still struggle with the flesh and the world; therefore our requests may be tainted, and our ability to notice God’s answers may be clouded. So we cling to Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Jesus has changed those who love him, delighting us in himself. Even when we don’t know how to ask or receive, he sees what we truly want—to know him, love him, and bear fruit for him—and knows how and when to provide and answer.

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Thrive Part 6: Hear our Prayer

Thrive Part Six

Hear our Prayer

Many books and even more sermons have been written on the topic of prayer than almost any other topic in Christianity. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that I heard a series from Dr. Tony Evans that started to make sense in my life. My family and I had been members of a para-church ecumenical charismatic community of believers called the People of Praise. Our meetings were considered ‘private’ because they didn’t want to biblically violate the 1 Corinthians instructions for church gatherings and order in services, but it was the kind of place where, like in any pentacostal gathering, people would speak in tongues (not biblical tongues, but a babbling “prayer language”, usually without an interpretation), be slain in the Spirit, there were occasionally legitimate healings taking place, but the were also those who needed to be healed of the same ailments over and over again week after week. I ran into issues when they would say, “We teach”, and I would respond “But the Bible says” and they would say, “But we teach.”

After all that, obviously, anyone might be confused about the true nature and purpose of prayer. This is also a place where, as I mentioned last week, people would take the LORD’s name and authority upon themselves, and when God didn’t act according to what they said his will was, the faith of individuals, like myself, would be injured and shaken. Around the time we left the People of Praise, I heard a sermon series by Dr. Evans on Moody Radio that started to make sense. The series was in essence, why God wouldn’t hear our prayer and how our prayer could be hindered. Since the early 2010s, I have seen more articles and books come out regarding hindrances to our prayer lives. You may have heard it said that God always listens to our prayers, but we can find evidence to the contrary within the scriptures. Our prayer lives can be disrupted, our prayers can be hindered, and there are times when God may not hear our prayers.

Last week, we focused read the brief passage from The Screwtape Letters, where Uncle Screwtape told his nephew, Wormwood, to have the patient focus on how he feels during prayer and what feels he is able to create within himself rather than being empowered by God through his prayer. We must all admit; God can seem far away when we pray. It can feel like I’m beating my head against a wall. My prayers feel repetitive, self-indulgent, short, and they seemingly go unanswered.

There are times when I pray, my prayers are often filled with a wish list of things I want. Instead of being a time of communion with my Savior, prayer becomes a means to an end, and that end is self. Instead of praying for God’s will to be revealed, I try to impress my will upon God. In Partners in Prayer,  John Maxwell shares ten things that act as “prayer killers.” Other writers focus on fewer hinderances to prayer. Let’s look into scripture and see what we can learn about hinderances to our prayers.

The very first should be obvious and should go without needing to be said, but most of our culture misses this one. God is under no obligation to listen to or answer any prayers of those who have not accepted his gift of his Son’s death on the cross, his burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins. For God to hear our prayers, we must enter into a relationship with him. So for an unbeliever, the one prayer God is guaranteed to hear and respond to is one of confession, repentance, and surrender. As simple as, “God, I believe you to be who you say you are, and I know that I haven’t lived up to your perfect standards. I accept the forgiveness your Son, Jesus, has bought for me with his death. I want to turn my life over to your will and your ways, and I ask for your Holy Spirit’s guidance in my life from here forward.” Such is a prayer that God will always hear and respond to. It is not a sacri-magical cure-all and the exact wording doesn’t matter, but it must come from your very soul and be sincere.

Once we have gotten that far, what does scripture say about what can hinder our prayers?

1. Ignoring God’s Word

Proverbs 28:9

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

If someone, even a professed believer, refuses to hear and heed God’s discipline and guidance, their prayers become detestable to the Lord.

This includes a rejection of the Bible’s authority as God’s revealed Word. If you reject God’s primary communication about Jesus and his work, how can you know him? You don’t love the real Jesus; your imaginary Jesus is powerless to answer prayers.

2. Loving Sin

Psalm 66:18

“If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”

The New Living Translation says,

‘If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.’

Our prayers won’t be heard if we “cherish iniquity,” holding unrepentantly to some sin. This is loving our sin more than loving God. As we read the context of these verses, not only will he not listen and hear, he will also reject our prayers and will withhold his favor also translated “love” from us. This does not include a believer struggling with a recurring sin who regularly and humbly repents, but this is anyone who willfully harbors sin and refuses to repent. We always have the promise in 1 John to be restored and cleansed, being made righteous.

1 John 1:8-10 says,

‘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. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us. ‘

To restore our right relationship with him, we go to him with a prayer of confession and repentance, and then those hinderances will melt away.

James, the half-brother of Jesus makes several points regarding prayer within his letter to believers.


3. Lack of Faith

         James 1:5-8

‘But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.’

This idea of being double-minded is a person like one with a split personality. Not only do they say one thing and do another, they are not even sure what it is they actually believe and follow the latest fads of faith and whatever suits what they want to believe rather than standing firm on what the Bible says. They are the house built on the sand that crumbles into the sea. They are incapable of hearing from God or receiving the gifts he has for them.

         James makes two points in this next passage.

         James 4:2-3

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

4. Not Asking

The first is that we don’t ask God for his help. I’ve fallen into this many times, either when I think my prayers are insignificant or selfish, or when I try to do things in my own power.

5. Asking with Wrong Motives

James’ second point speaks to our motivations. He writes this after saying that we’re too often ruled by our desires, and just as our unchecked passions may lead to quarreling and sin, they can inhibit our relationship with God, including his response to our prayers.

6. Lack of transparency with God and others

         James 5:15-16 says,

‘And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up – and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.’

James is sharing a fundamental truth about God: When we confess our sins to one another, which requires us to be open and vulnerable, God is able to heal and cleanse us. We experience a spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental relief and restoration. This is why, in 12-step programs, the fifth step is to admit our shortcomings to God, to ourselves, and to one other human being. You don’t need to broadcast this on public radio, it’s about being transparent with someone. It also helps us have a sense of accountability before someone else and before God to not repeat the same mistakes.

7. Resentment and Unforgiveness

         During the Sermon on the Mount, immediately after introducing the pattern for prayer that we know as the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says,

Matthew 6:14-15

“For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins.’

Being forgiven and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. By harboring unforgiveness in our hearts, by holding on to those resentments, we are also blocking God’s ability to forgive us and answer our prayers. By the same token, if we know someone has a resentment against us, we need to clear up our side of the street. Before Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer, after the Beatitudes, he teaches about anger and hatred, at that time he said,

Matthew 5:23-24

‘So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.’

Not only are we making ourselves right with God and our fellows by doing this, we are also potentially helping the other person overcome some resentment or unforgiveness in their life.

         These seven areas are areas of our lives that we can consciously submit to God in prayer and his Holy Spirit will empower us to have a more effective prayer life. There are other roadblocks and hinderances that can come into our lives when we pray. For instance, putting anything before God in our lives in the form of idolatry (Ezekiel14:3), living in disunity or being unloving toward our fellow Christians, dishonoring who God is, putting our will before his own, husbands should know the way they treat their wives could lead to their prayers being hindered (1 Peter 3:7), but the biggest thing that helps us is to really understand the purpose of prayer. The purpose in prayer is intimacy with God, understanding who God truly is, becoming the people God wants us to be, and following his will and ways more closely. Martin Luther said it well,  “God wants us to pray, and he wants to hear our prayers – not because we are worthy, but because he is merciful.”

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Thrive Part 5: Hotline to Heaven

Thrive Part 5

Hotline to Heaven

I seriously can’t believe we are already in the fifth and final Sunday of January. For the past four weeks, we have been talking about what it really means to thrive in this life. If you remember, to thrive means to be successful, to be prosperous, and to flourish. If we are going to thrive in this life, last week, maybe we realized that we need to redefine success and prosperity when we determine what it means to flourish. For believers in Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior, financial prosperity and success in achieving material goals should not be our first measure when we think of what it means to flourish. Many early believers were persecuted, beaten, hounded and killed for their faith; yet I would say they thrived in a manner few in the 21st century truly do.

On January 1st, I asked us as a congregation to make a resolution to take it SLOW this year. That we would resolve to Serve, Love, Obey, and Worship to thrive in our faith in Jesus and impact our community and our world for Christ. We’ve talked about four ways, four phrases that help guide us when it comes to living in a right relationship with God and our fellows here on earth. To have faith, do good, show love, and do the next right thing. Then for the last two weeks, we talked about how confession and repentance open the doors for the flow of the Spirit to flow through us and out into the world. We don’t want to quench or grieve the Spirit but instead open up the flood gates of heaven showing love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, contentment, and joy, and restoring our brothers and sisters in gentleness and humility by bringing one another into closer fellowship with our God.

This morning, going to start talking again about our Hotline to Heaven, PRAYER!

I said before, second to our salvation, the most important part of our relationship with God is our prayer life… From the beginning of time, God has been trying to commune with his creation. He takes great join from being able to have a relationship with us. So much so, he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, to die as an atoning sacrifice to cover our multitude of sins with his Son’s righteousness. Added to that, he gives us his indwelling Holy Spirit so that he can be in the closest possible fellowship with us, living within us… Yet, we commonly neglect talking with, fellowshipping with, communing with our Father in heaven.

I’ll remind you of Commissioner Gordon’s red bat phone in his office in Gotham city. Whenever there was a big problem, Gordon would ring up Batman and Robin to come and save the day.

We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. Paul tells us,

Romans 8:26-27 NET

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.

This issue is so important, in CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Uncle Screwtape writes this to his nephew, the young tempter, Wormwood…

“Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself, we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so.  The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.  Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by their own wills.  When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them instead start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing.  When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave.  When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.  Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling…”

Jesus taught on this subject himself in a very famous passage of Scripture. And, yet, we still missed the point… He said, Matthew 6:5-8 NET

“Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

In the following verses, come what we know as the “Lord’s Prayer”, which is meant to be a template for how to pray that he gave to his disciples, but in our humanity, we turned it into another thing to mindlessly recite… he just finished telling us not to do that, not ‘babbling repetitiously’. He was trying to give us a pattern for how to start a conversation with God.

Last year, I gave these two patterns that you can use to pray that follow Jesus’s example to his disciples…

PRAY – Praise Repent Ask and Yield

ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication

God wants a relationship with us. He is not a celestial vending machine we plug our prayer quarters into and make our selections of what we want. He is not a genie in a bottle waiting for us to rub the prayer lamp to grant our next wish. He is a heavenly Father with a deep desire for a relationship with his kids. He wants us to pick up the phone and call him frequently. He does want to meet our needs, but what Father only wants a call from their kids only when they want something???

If we turn to Exodus 20 we find the Ten Commandments. The first ten of 613 dos and don’ts given to the nation of Israel that would define them as a people set apart by God for God himself. A people he has called to look and act completely different from an other society on earth. A people that were supposed to draw other nations into a relationship with God by demonstrating his glorious power through them. This is also the beginning of the Law of Moses that Jesus came to fulfill. And in Exodus 20:7 we find the 3rd Commandment which you may have heard,

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

That is the King James Version. Most people have since interpreted that to mean something along the lines of don’t say “GD” or curse in some other way. But that is not truly the intent of the command. The New Living Translation captures the intent a little better, it says

“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.”

The heart of this commandment, while we shouldn’t misuse his name in our casual speech, frustration or anger, goes way deeper than something as superficial as that… In ancient times, to take someone’s name or use someone’s name, was to use that person’s power and authority for yourself. In our modern world, we would consider it identity theft. And when it comes to the identity, power, and authority of God; to misuse his name is to insert or pass off something as his will and ways when he would have nothing to do with it.

There was a woman in a Bible study who kept asking for an unspoken prayer request. My friend, being a discerning individual, would only pray for God’s will to be done, and not agree with her in prayer not knowing what he was praying for. He came to find out, she was praying that a man she was lusting after would leave his wife and family to be with her. That is taking God’s name in vain. Another instance I heard about more recently was a man who was struggling in his marriage who met a younger woman. He claimed God put her in his life after praying, for him to have an affair because she made him feel better about himself. God doesn’t endorse or approve of adultery in any instance, he was taking God’s authority and misusing it.

There is a very popular song on Christian radio right now that is one of those scattergun prayers, a very well-meaning woman singing a beautiful song with a terrible sense of theology and application fuel by misunderstanding and poor teaching. And have you ever watched a prayer or healing service where the preacher, pastor, whomever rattles off every possible ailment, illness, discontentedness, financial problem, on and on without praying directly for any one particular person or purpose? That is not God’s purpose in prayer. That is a whole lot of taking God’s power and authority upon yourself and misusing his name. What happens to people’s faith when that behavior is going on and they aren’t getting the results they are looking for?

Even in the life of Paul, he tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me – so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s thorn wasn’t removed. Whatever problem, temptation, or torment Paul was experiencing; he didn’t give in to it. But instead, God’s strength and power were perfected in Paul’s weakness. When the going gets tough, God will strengthen us in his will to get going. But sometimes, the going gets tough because it isn’t God’s will and we get going leaving God behind.

When God answers a prayer, an answer to prayer from God through the power of God in the will of God will never violate or contradict the will of God as expressed through the word of God that was written through the power of the Spirit of God.

There are many purposes and practices associated with prayer and next week we will look at more of them. One such purpose Paul tells us is the cure for anxiety is prayer… Philippians 4:6-7 NET

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

James the brother of Jesus, who was know as James the camel kneed, because his knees were so callused from constant prayer tells us, James 5:16 NET

So confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.

The point is, if we want to thrive, if we want to have a vibrant and fulfilling faith, and have a true relationship with our heavenly Father through his Son, Jesus, we need to be deeply in touch with him in prayer through the Holy Spirit that is right here, in us, all the time! When we pray, we also need to take time to listen, he will answer, through intuition, through other people, through signs, through his Word, through peace that surpasses all understanding, through healing, through all sorts of other ways, if we are praying according to his will. And, as Romans 8:26-27 says, the Spirit will express his will in prayer through us in ways we can not express for ourselves, and he knows all our needs… we just need to pray!

It all begins with our prayer of confession and repentance, turning our lives over to the care of God through the sacrifice of Jesus… that prayer can enter us into or restore our fellowship with our Creator and our Father.

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Thrive Part 4: Guard your Heart

Thrive Part 4

Guard your Heart

Anyone else have a crazy week? Yup, me too. Welcome back. You may not know this, but after preaching and working around ministry for a while, talking to a lot of pastors in a lot of different settings, and watching various congregations grow and shrink I’ve learned something. The two hardest topics to prepare for and preach, and then follow up on are, can you guess? …repentance and money. Can you guess the reason? No one likes to hear about repentance because it means acknowledging and submitting to God’s way of doing things and as humans, we always think we know better than God. We make excuses for ourselves, we rewrite the text or it’s application to suit ourselves, or we throw the text and it’s meaning right out the window because “God just wants us to be happy…”, right? So, I’ll say it again, welcome back; not everyone is eager to return to a church that preaches on repentance.

No one ever wants to hear about money either. Don’t worry, that’s not our topic today…

We started our series on what it means to Thrive in our lives. Really thrive. If you read the scriptures, read through the book of Acts, and follow everything Jesus and his early disciples went through. By modern sensibilities, it would be hard to say they were thriving. They didn’t own cars. Most of them left everything, family, friends, houses, jobs behind to follow Jesus. They slept wherever someone opened a room to them. Ate wherever they were invited in. They were persecuted. They were plotted against. They were beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, despised, and run out of towns. But they had a vibrant, thriving faith that attracted new believers to them in droves. They performed miracles, met physical needs, and most importantly, saved souls. Even in need, they were content and joyful, tried to be at peace with everyone, did good at every opportunity, devoted themselves and all they owned to following Jesus.

I said last week that Paul’s letter to the Romans was the most complete treatise on what it means to live apart from Christ, why we should come to faith in Christ, what the results of coming to faith in Christ are, what living life in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit means, and on and on. Why is Romans so different from Paul’s other letters? Because Paul had never been to Rome. Unlike Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Philippi; Paul didn’t plant the church in Rome. He didn’t know if they had a firm grasp on what the Gospel meant. Paul’s letters to the other churches and to individuals were always in response to various issues he heard were going on and reminding them what he had taught or clarifying misunderstandings the churches may have had regarding something he taught. Paul was always very concerned that the believers in the churches had a firm foundation and grasp on the TRUTH. He wanted to make sure they never fell victim to falsehoods or traps laid by the enemy of our souls, Satan. In order for those churches to thrive, Paul wanted to make sure they guarded their hearts and held tight to the TRUTH of what they had been taught.

         Proverbs 4:23 NLT

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

When Paul told Timothy in his second letter to the young elder in

2 Timothy 3:16-17

‘Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.’

Paul would have been thinking about what we know of the Old Testament, but Peter lumped Paul’s writing in as inspired by the Holy Spirit as well when he wrote in 2 Peter 3:15-16. Peter acknowledged Paul’s letters as well as the other scriptures would be twisted and corrupted by the ignorant and unstable. It’s important that, in order to thrive, we hold tightly to the TRUTH God has given us. It’s also why we see Paul quote or make allusions to the Old Testament over 70 times even though he is writing to a largely pagan and gentile audience in Romans. But why? Why is Paul so concerned about how the Romans are living? Because how we live has a great impact on our witness to the world as the church.

How we live and what the world sees is why Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the Earth and a light on a hill. We, as the church, should be counter-cultural. We should be right side up, even if the world itself is upside down. And Paul and other biblical writers give instructions on how to help one another live upright and godly lives. Last week, we read through part of Galatians chapter 5 ending in the fruit of the Spirit. Paul continues in chapter 6…

Galatians 6:1-5

‘Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. For each one will carry his own load.’

There is a huge difference, although we don’t see it in our cultural rhetoric, between judgment and correction within scripture. Even in Jesus example of the plank and the speck, in Matthew 7:5 he says, ‘FIRST remove the plank, or beam (imagine a floor joist), from your own eye, and THEN you can see clearly to REMOVE the speck from your brother’s eye.’ It never says we shouldn’t help one another out or call one another on our shortcomings, but we absolutely must do so in love and grace, humility and gentleness, making sure our own sandbox isn’t being used as a cat box before helping our brothers and sisters in Christ clean up theirs.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says,

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. ‘

Jesus himself died so that we can be free from the power of sin and death over our lives. But we can be blind to our own shortcomings and wrongdoing. I have a friend that has always said we must learn right before we can do right. In order to guard our hearts and minds against the schemes of the devil, we must learn the truth in order to recognize the lies. This is also why Paul writes to the Ephesians to be strengthened and put on the full armor of God. Listen to Ephesians 6…

Ephesians 6:10-18

‘Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.’

We can easily, and we will someday do a full series on the armor of God, but the point made to the Ephesians, to whom Paul is writing through the power of God’s Holy Spirit, is to guard themselves. Truth, righteousness, being ready share the Gospel, our faith shielding us, minds on our salvation, and the word of God, breathed out by Holy Spirit into its authors, in hand and parry and defend against the lies thrown at us. And prayer.

We must remember that Galatians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philippians were all written around the same time, while Paul was sitting in prison, and so these letters are also very closely related to one another. They were all also written to churches planted in pagan areas that Paul had intimate ties with, and he knew their struggles. And through God’s Spirit wrote in Philippians chapter 4,

         Philippians 4:4-7

‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

I do not believe that it is through sheer coincidence that after speaking about guarding ourselves with the full armor of God in Ephesians 6 Paul ends those instructions with an instruction to pray and that after telling the Philippians to always rejoice and not be anxious and before sharing the secret to contentment Paul also tells the Philippians that the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard their hearts and minds through prayer. Then Paul tells the Philippians,

‘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 (Jesus) who strengthens me. ‘

Philippians 4:12-13

It is First and Finally, Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, was raised to new life to bring us eternal life in a relationship with His Father and giving us his own Holy Spirit inside us who gives us all the strength we need. He has given us the TRUTH of his Word written through his powerful Spirit to guide us and given us one another to lift each other up in love and grace and humility and gentleness to live lives filled with peace, contentment, and joy. So, let us guard our hearts to live lives where we can truly thrive.

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Thrive Part 3: Live by the Spirit

Thrive Part 3

Live by the Spirit

         Have you ever picked up a device, tool, opened up a smart phone, tried to turn on your computer or television, and it just doesn’t work? We live life by faith all the time without even realizing it frequently. We walk into a dark room and flip a switch on a wall or pull a cord, and we expect the light will come on. We have faith the electricity is powering the house properly and the bulbs are in good working order. When the light doesn’t come on, we know there is a problem. Then we start troubleshooting to find the problem. Is it just this bulb or is it the room? Is it just the room, or is it the whole house? Is it just this house or the whole neighborhood? Then we deal with the parts of the problem that we can address… If it’s just the bulb, we change it. If it’s the room, maybe we reset the breaker. If it’s the whole house, we’ll check the breaker and then call the power company. We take action to fix the problem whatever it might be.

         With certain devices, it can be more complex. A computer or other technological device like a phone or tablet, not only needs electricity, but it has a basic input output system, then an operating system, then the individual programs to run each operation or series of operations to get the desired result. Troubleshooting those problems can sometimes take weeks or months. Writing new programs and development is a whole career that can take years and then you are always working on different versions to improve or upgrade the experience. Not unlike our lives…

         We started a series called “Thrive.” As a congregation and as individuals we should want to thrive. To thrive means to prosper, to be successful, to develop, and to flourish. We want to thrive as a church. We want the Body of Christ to thrive. We want our community to thrive. We want our families to thrive. It is natural for us to desire those things. And as the Body of Christ, we started off with a resolution to take it SLOW. To Serve, To Love, To Obey, and To Worship. Serve, love, obey, and worship to develop as a thriving congregation and impact our community and the world for Christ. In our efforts to thrive, we looked at those four short phrases last week that can wrap up how we can live in such a way as to remain right with God and right with others. To have faith, do good, show love, and do the next right thing, but just like a house without power, or worse, troubleshooting a faulty computer; in order to thrive, we need to be properly plugged in.

         As believers in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are given the gift of God’s very own Holy Spirit living and abiding within us. There are a lot of similarities between our existence as human beings and the computer systems that we have created. So much so, we continue to use ourselves as a pattern to develop more and more complex machines, artificial intelligences, and robots. All those things still have a basic input output system, operating system, and programs; but if we break it down; our lives, and especially our spiritual life has a similar structure.

         Our lives in Christ are powered by his Holy Spirit living inside of us. His Holy Spirit inside us is what defines us as children of God. Romans 8:14-16 says,

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

To live a life filled with God’s Holy Spirit’s power and authority within us is the only way for a Christian to thrive. Paul, throughout all of his letters, writes about living in and relying on Holy Spirit’s power to live godly lifestyles, to practice righteousness, to fight against the desires of the flesh, to guard against the works of the devil and escape temptation. However, if we continue to live as we once did, we can grieve or quench Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. Don’t quench the Spirit, Don’t grieve the Spirit, Don’t short circuit Spirit’s power in your life. The power in the life of a Christian runs on Holy Spirit power, and so we must remember that Holy Spirit’s effect in our lives is controlled by a basic input output system and an operating system.

         Earlier this week I posted on our Facebook page the content of Jesus’s first public sermons; he said in Matthew 4:17

         Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.

The most basic message from the beginning of the Gospel is to repent. 34 times in the New Testament repentance is talked about… To repent literally means to change your mind. Change your mind from what you think about and do to what God says you should think about and do. Acts 3:19 says,

Therefore repent and turn back so that your sins may be wiped out…

To repent is closely tied to the idea of confess we find in 1 John 1:9 where we are told,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

Where repent means to change your mind, confess literally means to say the same thing. To confess our sins means we say the same thing about our sin that God says about our sin, then repent means to change our mind about our sin to agree with what God wants us to think about our sin. The basic power of Holy Spirit’s operating system functioning properly in our lives starts with confession and repentance. If we do not confess and repent, God is under no obligation to impart his Holy Spirit to us. The same Holy Spirit that God breathed into the scriptures themselves is the same Holy Spirit that empowers believers to live according to the precepts that God has given us. Of course, we have mercy, of course we have grace, of course we have forgiveness when we mess up, but that is not an excuse to not surrender our lives to the control of God’s Holy Spirit living inside of us.

We must notice, IF we confess, HE, GOD through JESUS, is the one who forgives, he is also the one who cleanses!!! We can’t cleanse ourselves! We open ourselves up to be cleansed through confession and repentance, HE DOES THE WORK through the power of his Holy Spirit.

Romans is Paul’s most complete treatise from start to finish on the state of mankind without God, the effect of salvation, living in through the power of Holy Spirit, living holy lives, and how life within the church should function tied into one letter. He chases down a few rabbit trails of course, because Holy Spirit is writing through him to the believers in Rome whose societal norms were so contrary to God’s laws for the Jews; they had no basic understanding of sin in the first place.

When we compare ancient Rome to today, living in Rome would have been much like living in any big city in America minus the technology. Particularly some of the more ‘modern and enlightened’ self-indulgent areas like L.A. Las Vegas, New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. Paul tells the Romans what judgment God had made on those who chose to claim he didn’t exist despite all the evidence he has left them, and those who chose to worship the creation rather than the Creator himself, and Paul says in Romans 1:26-2:5

For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless. Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.

Therefore you (believers in Rome) are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things (all those things he just listed). And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!

The problem for these believers in Rome who had grown up in such a perverse society was, after coming to believe in God and salvation, they continued to do the things that they had been doing. We find a similar situation in Corinth when Paul writes to them. They are believers in Jesus, but they continue to live as though they have not been saved. Paul says in Romans 6:1-2

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?

He continues in verse 12,

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!

When we continue to allow sin to rule in our lives, we can cause our connection to God’s Holy Spirit to short circuit. This is why in Romans 12:1-2 Paul 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.

Being transformed is the act of God doing the work in us, we are being actively changed by God. He does the work in and through us. Paul describes this scenario in Galatians 5, because again, he is writing to a pagan relativistic society, he reminds them; 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 is getting high for the sake of enlightened thinking), 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.  

It is living by in Holy Spirit’s power that we thrive. It is by living according to indwelling Holy Spirit’s power that we produce the fruit of the Spirit. By the way, even in the original language, it is THE fruit, singular, one fruit, of the Spirit is multifaceted. THE fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit is a multifaceted fruit that produces many Spirit-filled attributes. Those attributes are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. His Holy Spirit in us produces all of these things together and simultaneously. If I am lacking in any one or more of these attributes it means Holy Spirit is not fully in control of my life. The more I thrive in my faith, the more our congregation thrives, the more these attributes will burst forth and shine in and through us.

         The meditation of our hearts should be, where in my life am I refusing to acknowledge and repent of my wrongdoing before God? I am willing to submit, to God, for him to cleanse my life?

Visit for more information about the ministry of Idaville First Church.

Live stream and recorded messages can be found on Facebook or on the Idaville First YouTube Channel.

Thrive Part Two: Vibrant Faith

Thrive Part Two

Vibrant Faith

When we love God, we should want to do things to glorify him. Not to earn his love, but out of gratitude for his love for us. Our motive in all we do should be to glorify God. When we turn to live in God’s will, both as individuals and congregations, there is no amount of hurt that God will not heal, there is no transgression that God will not forgive. There is always hope when we rest on God and live according to his will.

I have shared before more than 20 years ago, a dear friend gave me four short phrases that when put together remind me how to glorify God and how to have a vibrant, living, and growing faith. If we do these things, our faith will thrive.

Your first phrase is “HAVE FAITH”. Why have faith? Because without faith it is impossible to please God. Hebrews 11:6 says,

“Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” 

We cannot glorify God unless first we have faith. But, have faith in what?

The Bible makes this very simple for us. Have faith in Jesus, who he is and what he did. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, himself God, lived, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day to make us right with God by taking the punishment for our sin, making it possible for us to have a relationship with God as our Father.

Why Jesus? Who is this Jesus guy anyway? The historical accounts written in the Gospels, which are confirmed by the letters of the New Testament, and outside historical sources confirm that Jesus really did exist. Jesus is the Son of God.

John 3:16 says, “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.”

God himself confirms that Jesus is his Son at Jesus’s baptism. We read in

Matthew 3:17, “And, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.’” If Jesus really is the Son of God as the Scriptures state, then he is the only one that has any authority and he says so, in

Matthew 28:18. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

And, he says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point… Jesus is the only way to the Father, and it is through belief and faith in him, his saving work on the cross, and his resurrection that we are saved from an eternity without God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “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.”

Remember, grace is the unearned, unmerited, gift of God, it is free and available to everyone.

Romans 10:9-10 puts it in simple terms, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.”

Salvation is available to each of us. It is available to you. You can take this vital step, right now, where you sit. In your heart, have faith in Jesus, who he is and what he did.

Once we “have faith” and have started our journey toward a vibrant, living, and growing relationship with our creator; we now have some work to do. Your second phrase is “DO GOOD”. Whoa, wait…, you just told me that I have to do something?! YES! In

James 2:26, in a section on living a godly lifestyle, it says,

“For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

We work, not to earn God’s love. Not to earn salvation, because that is a gift of grace… Remember, we just looked at Ephesians 2:8-9, yet Paul tells us in the very next verse,

verse 10 “For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.”

This word, workmanship, in Greek means, handiwork or masterpiece. It is also where we get our English word, poem. We are built to be his poem, his masterpiece, and do his work. We also have a purpose, a purpose that he planned out for us. When we love God, our response to his love and grace should be that we want to glorify him. We glorify him through good works. We glorify God by showing others the same kind of grace that God has shown us. By being his Body at work here on Earth. The writer of Hebrews tells us

“And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,” (Hebrews 10:24)

Here it is again, work. One more time, Paul told Titus,

“showing yourself to be an example of good works in every way.”(Titus 2:7),

as we boil this down, we are to “have faith”, we are also to “do good”. There are many, many practical ways we can “do good” congregationally, individually, both for the Church and in outreach to the rest of the world. Brainstorm, you’ll easily come up with something…Make a habit of trying to do something good for someone else without being caught in the act and don’t tell anyone about it, pay it forward at every opportunity…

Our next phrase is, “SHOW LOVE”. When the religious people of Jesus’s day tried to trap him with a question, Matthew 22:36-40,

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

They asked this because in the law of Moses, all 613 commandments were to have equal weight, not just the big 10 at the beginning… Jesus instead answered in a way they could not dispute.

He said, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Have faith, do good, show love. Jesus said,

“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.” (John 13:34-35)

Here, Jesus is speaking specifically to his disciples, speaking directly to the Church. Telling them the first place that they should show love is between one another. So, for those of us who are disciples of Christ, where is the first place that we should show love? The first place that we show love is right here. Right here, in our local church, then to other believers outside of this local church in the global Church, then to the world at large. The command to love is repeated throughout the New Testament. John tells us that we love because God loved us first. This is agape love, unconditional love, love that surpasses understanding, Fruit of the Spirit love. If a member of our congregation is starving, but we take meals to the poor, what kind of people are we? It is very true; the millennials and Gen Z are very socially conscious generations and want to know what the church is doing for the oppressed and the heavy laden. They are also very conscious of when we don’t walk the talk coming out of our mouths. We need to work on building unity and promoting healing, inside our families, our congregations, our denominations, and the global Church.

Make no mistake though, love does NOT mean approval! Our culture has this point very confused… I can love you, I can show you the same love that Jesus has for you, I can show you mercy, forgiveness, love, and grace; but I do NOT have to approve of your behavior in order to do so. After all, God doesn’t approve of our behavior at times, but he offers us forgiveness and restoration because of his loving kindness.

So far, we’ve got “have faith, do good, show love”, now we add “DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING”. But how do we know what the next right thing is??? In Scripture. Paul tells Timothy

“Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Here it is again, equipped for every good work. We have work to do. It is through knowledge of God’s word that we can discern what the next right thing is. We don’t all need to be Greek and Hebrew scholars of the original biblical text because God has used those people to give his Word to us in our own language, in many different translations, so that we can understand it. However, we do need to know the Word, if we are going to live according to God’s will for our lives. Many people say, “I don’t need all that religious stuff, I don’t need to attend a worship service, I just need to follow the Ten Commandments.” Okay, can you name all ten? Do you realize those ten are the tip of the ice burg and that there are 613 commands in Exodus and Deuteronomy? Others may say, “Okay then, I try to live by the Golden Rule, treat others the way I want to be treated…” That’s a good start. However, doing what is right in our own eyes, is not the same as living according to God’s will. As humans, we always miss the mark.

The point is we learn to live a life of obedience. Oops, if I lost a quarter of you with my joke earlier, I lost another half of you right there with the word obedience. Well, even Jesus was obedient to the will of his Father, why should we be an exception?

There are a few places in Scripture where it comes right out and says, “This is the will of God.” For instance, 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and 5:17-18; other times it comes as a simple imperative command: Philippians 4:3, Ephesians 4:2, or Romans 12:16; other times it gives us a list of guidelines, what is beneficial and what isn’t: Galatians 5:19-26, 1 Corinthians 6. Sometimes, doing the next right thing is to do nothing at all, sometimes, it is to pray over a situation, but it is always a step of obedience to God’s will over our own will, especially when the Scriptures are clear on an issue. JW von Goethe once said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” What in our lives have we known without applying and what have we said we have been willing to do without acting?

My challenge for all of us is to reflect on this question and make the necessary changes:

If someone came undercover… into our house, into our work place, followed us at the store, or in our car; if they were to ask those we run into or associate with on a regular basis, is there something different about us or are we just like everyone else? If they ask, could we be identified as a Christian by the way we act toward others and the things we do? What would the answers be?

Remember, this is time for a hard look in the mirror, not a chance to compare ourselves to others.

We all are works in progress… The question is: are we making progress through the power of the Holy Spirit? We can trust God to keep his promise in Philippians 1:6,

“the one who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Is everyone still with me? Good!

Remember, as we go out into the world this week, “have faith, do good, show love, and do the next right thing!” Demonstrate to the world what it really means to be a Christ Follower, go out from this place and go be the Church.

Visit for more information about the ministry of Idaville First Church.

Live stream and recorded messages can be found on Facebook or on the Idaville First YouTube Channel.

Thrive Part 1: Resolute

Thrive Part 1


It’s that time of year again. Resolution time! How many of you make New Year’s resolutions? Okay. How many stick with your resolution all year? Six months? 3 months? A week?

Let’s look at a couple statistics…

According, in 2019, here are the top 10 New Year’s resolutions according to a survey of 2,000 people:

1. Diet or eat healthier (71 percent)

2. Exercise more (65 percent)

3. Lose weight (54 percent)

4. Save more and spend less (32 percent)

5. Learn a new skill or hobby (26 percent)

6. Quit smoking (21 percent)

7. Read more (17 percent)

8. Find another job (16 percent)

9. Drink less alcohol (15 percent)

10. Spend more time with family and friends (13 percent)

 “Researchers say about 60 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions but only about 8 percent are successful in achieving them.”

What disturbed me most…? Building up our spiritual life, serving God, praying more, nothing of the sort made the top ten list. Given all the events of 2020-2022, building up our spiritual lives, serving God, loving our neighbor, living in fellowship, praying more would have made a huge difference.

In a time of resolutions, what does it mean to be resolute? I’m glad you asked… says resolute means to be admirably purposeful, determined, unwavering!

Do you think this person was resolute to accomplish the task of climbing this cliff face? I used to rock climb as a teen in Colorado. For me, and I am afraid of heights, it took a lot of determination to climb 100 and 200 foot faces, nothing like what she is doing. She had to be very resolute to climb that cliff.

Joshua was also extremely resolute. He was absolutely determined to follow the Lord. Listen to what he says…

If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my family will worship the Lord!”

Joshua 24:15 NET

In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the word here, λατρεύω “lä-tryü’-ō” for “worship”, some other translations say “serve”. It’s because throughout the New Testament the word refers to ministering to God or rendering homage or worship. WORSHIP equals SERVICE and personal SACRIFICE!

If we are going to resolve to do anything this year, maybe we should resolve to emulate Joshua and serve the Lord!

Jesus speaks about this heart issue himself in his letter written by John in Revelation to the Church at Laodicea. He says,

‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth!

Revelation 3:15-16 NET

If we are resolute about anything, maybe we should be hot for the Lord…! Maybe we should let his Spirit burn brightly in us! Be on fire for the Lord and shine brightly.

Paul tells his readers in Philippi,

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that – whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent – I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel,

Philippians 1:27 NET

Maybe we should be absolutely determined to act in a manner which would make God proud to call us his children…

I suggest we, as the body of Christ have one united New Year’s Resolution.

We are going to take it SLOW in 2023!

Let me explain what I mean, get ready to take a quick note…

SLOW stands for:

S-serve. Serve God, serve one another, and serve our communities, fulfill the Great Commission to “make disciples” Matthew 28:19-20 and remembering Colossians 3:23-24.

L-love. Love God, love one another, love your neighbor. Remember that is the first and greatest commandment. Matthew 22:37-40

O-obey. Obey God’s precepts and commands found in the only inspired authoritative source of revelation from God. His Word. If there is a conflict between God’s Word and our cultural standards, God’s Word wins. If there is a conflict between His Word and another culture’s standards, God’s Word wins. We must season the truth with LOVE, not driving unbelievers further from grace and shouldn’t expect those who do not have a relationship with God to obey the commandments that God established for his children, but as his Children, we should obey our Father’s will. ‘By this we know that we love the children of God: whenever we love God and obey his commandments.’ 1 John 5:2 NET

W-worship. Worship our Father in heaven, worship his Son, Jesus, our Savior, worship the Holy Spirit inside us, who helps us and guides us. Worship through love, prayer, work, service, obedience, song, teaching, learning… Remembering again Colossians 3:23-24. Everything we can do is an act of Worship. Remember worship equals service and personal sacrifice.

Here is our New Year’s Resolution… Take it SLOW. Act SLOW. Be SLOW.

Be purposeful, determined, and unwavering; Be resolute; to SLOW up!

Maybe you’re visiting this morning, maybe this all sounds new to you, maybe you’ve fallen away and haven’t made your relationship with God a priority, maybe you don’t have a relationship with God as your Father at all…or, maybe you aren’t even sure God does exist… You’re only here because it’s the holidays and someone invited you… Or, you’re in pain and seeking answers…

I have a resolution for you as well. Commit. Commit to learning more, commit to asking the hard questions, commit to seeking the truth, commit to having an open mind, commit to restoring that estranged relationship with God, commit to turning your life over to God’s care and control…

Then, take it SLOW!

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Messiah Has Come

Bob and Michelle know, I am not a fan of reality TV shows. They are. While I would rather watch Notre Dame football, a movie on Netflix, an anime on Crunchyroll, or a series I like without commercials; they will turn on Survivor or Masked Singer, Bob is also a fan of game shows. I watch for a little while, but then I will go up to my room and turn on something else. Whether it’s Masked Singer, or the votes at tribal, or a mystery series, there is usually a big reveal. Built up with suspenseful music, or six commercial breaks, or a myriad of guesses; there is always that moment. One episode of Masked Singer caught me by surprise when the performance was done by Jerry Springer, I never would have guessed. But then you wonder, how much of this was staged. During one reveal, one of the people supposed to guess said to the performer, “We had been talking a little bit ago backstage, but I never thought it was you in that costume…” Why are the people guessing even getting a glimpse of the secret performers backstage? Let alone having a conversation with them? Then you get the big reveal that is flat wrong. In the Tournament of Champions on Jeopardy, the contestants were asked which letter from Paul in the New Testament has the most Old Testament references. The correct answer that we know without a doubt was written by Paul is the Letter to the Romans. However, Jeopardy producers say it is the letter to the Hebrews, which is anonymous. It caused a firestorm of comments online, including many people, me included, writing about how no one knows which human author wrote Hebrews, even though it does have the most Old Testament references. The Jeopardy producers justified their answer by saying, all our contestants know we use the King James Version as our official text at Jeopardy, and the King James notes Paul as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. We, in our flawed and limited humanity, may never know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, but without a doubt, it was inspired by Holy Spirit along with the rest of the scriptures.

For several weeks now, we have been looking into the scriptures and seeing the miraculous, supernatural, unexplainable power of God in making promises, predictions, and prophecies hundreds and thousands of years in advance, and keeping his promises. We have a promise keeping God! Amen?! He tells us what he is going to do, and he does it!

Over 7,400 promises made to mankind, over 1,800 prophecies including 300+ made regarding his coming Messiah; and so far God has kept them all, and we look forward to more to come. We have a promise keeping God. We’ve briefly looked at tons of passages over the last several weeks, and the big reveal although you should have caught on by now; they all had to do with Jesus. One of the very first promises God made to humanity was words he said to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, and it foreshadowed the coming of a Savior the Messiah from the seed of the woman, who would bruise the head of the serpent. Oral history passed down several thousand years until the time of Moses, written over 1,500 years before the birth of Jesus. Yet, God’s promised redeemer, our Savior, the one to conquer sin and death came in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, Son of God and Son of Man, the one Isaiah said would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We have a promise keeping God, and his promises are kept in the little baby that showed up in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. How do we know that little baby, the one we celebrate at Christmas, is the promised one? Most of the Jewish people living then missed the big reveal. Most of the Jewish leaders, the teachers of the Law, the self-righteous church people of the day, the ones who went to Bible study week after week missed it. How do we, 2,000 years after the fact, know this baby we celebrate is the one? We must put our faith in the words Holy Spirit left us. Believe he is the one the Bible tells us he is. Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16,

‘We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him— these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.’

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

When we have the Spirit of God, the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Truth, the indwelling Holy Spirit inside us, then the words we read stop being foolishness and start explaining the spiritual realities to us with Spirit-taught words. In those words, in the words of scripture, we find Jesus. We find the child, born of a virgin, prophesied for ages, come to live a perfect life as a man, die a sacrificial atoning death on the cross, be buried and rise again to bring us eternal life in a relationship with our Eternal Father. All the prophecy fulfilled is a stamp of authenticity on the Word of God being exactly what it claims to be. And Jesus’s resurrection is the proof he is the Son of God, God in the flesh of man, who came to save us.

         What does the disciple whom Jesus loved, the Apostle John say about who Jesus is? 1 John 1:1-3

‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. ‘

1 John 1:1-3

Based on John’s eye witness testimony, as one who walked with, talked with, ate with, slept near, lived with the man named Jesus; John says our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

         John tells us in chapter one of his gospel… John 1:1-5, 9-14, 16-18

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’

John 1:1-5, 9-14, 16-18

John told us the reason he wrote his gospel is John 20:30-31

‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

John 20:30-31

And in 1 John 5:9-13

‘We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. ‘

1 John 5:9-13

We are believing in the testimony of the men who wrote the scriptures, and we are accepting the miraculous nature of the scriptures that foreshadowed, prophesied, and promised hundreds and thousands of years in advance the coming of the Messiah, in having faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and in that faith, we become children of God ourselves. We are not just here to celebrate a baby being born 2,000 years ago. We are here to celebrate the coming of the king of glory, the creator of our universe, God who has stepped into his own creation in order to have a relationship with us. A relationship more personal than any other relationship we could possibly have with any spouse, child, friend, or parent; because in this relationship with God, his Spirit lives inside of us.

         My question for you this evening, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, is this: “What steps do you need to take starting this Christmas to live your life in the Spirit of Christ to its fullest?”