Foreshadowing Messiah Part 1

Foreshadowing Messiah

Our Promise Keeping God Pt. 1

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

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

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

Peter said in 2 Peter 1:20-21,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Galatians 4:4-5

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

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

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

Genesis 9:26-27

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

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

Genesis 12:1-3

In Matthew 1:1 we read,

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

John 1:14 says,

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

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

         Listen to these other passages of scripture foreshadowing our Messiah…

Genesis 49:10

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

Numbers 24:15-19

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

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

Deuteronomy 18:15,17-19

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

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

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

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

Our Confident Hope in the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 11:1

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

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

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

Romans 15:13 NLT

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

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

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

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

Hebrews 6:1-3,9-12

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

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

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

John 17:1-3

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

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

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

Ephesians 1:15-23 NLT

Hope beyond our Transgressions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope through Heartbreak

Frustration. The word “frustrate” means; To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire. Let’s face it, frustration can be…well…frustrating. No one likes to be prevented from accomplishing a purpose. None of us want to be prevented from fulfilling a desire. Our desires, our purpose help define who we are and when we cannot achieve them we feel empty, hurt and broken. In short, frustration can break our hearts.

However, broken hearts can go far beyond just experiencing some level of frustration. What about great disappointments? We build up our expectations from one situation or another, maybe it’s a new job or opportunity; maybe it’s a move; maybe it’s something we feel God has called us to, and we dive in believing he has led us this way only to experience some great disappointment; now we are asking God why are we here? We thought we were following you.

What about relationships? We find that person we think is the ONE. We devote our time, our emotions, our very lives to that person for days, weeks, months, years, decades; then the relationship ends. Sometimes tragically in an unexpected death, sometimes violently in the case of abuse or addiction. Maybe we ignored the command not to be in an unequal relationship with an unbeliever, so we got romantically entangled anyway. Perhaps believing that faith didn’t matter, or believing that they would change or convert. Maybe ignored our friend who said that person drank too much, or that we met in a bar, and they turned out to be an alcoholic or addict. Maybe we knew they had a violent temper, but always treated us good, so that could never turn into abuse. Sometimes amicably agreeing we’re just not in love any more, but we are still brokenhearted from the loss.

We don’t like pain, we don’t like broken hearts and often we wonder why God would even allow such pain into our lives if he loves us. But the fact is that God is not as concerned about our comfort as much as he is concerned about our character. And our character is best shaped through the painful circumstances of life. C.S. Lewis once said that “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God loves us so much that he is willing to allow us to endure the pain of a broken heart in order that we might become more than we currently are.

In my own life, it was abuse, alcoholism, addiction, broken home, walking down a road of atheism, becoming the very evil that had hurt me in the first place, broken relationships, using people, leading me into a road of recovery and seeking after God, finding myself in a relationship but leading us down many dead-end roads, chasing after what I thought might be his will but having terrible discernment, on and on, but God using all of that to lead me into ministry where his impact on my life has planted seeds and born fruit in faith being born and nurtured in others, all for his glory.

I think about the story of Joseph, my namesake, whose brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. Admittedly, it would seem Joseph was a bit of an entitled brat. He was daddy’s favorite. He was given special treatment. He was a tattle-tale. Then God blesses him with some visions of the future, and his brothers are belittled and jealous. But did he really deserve to be thrown in a pit, sold as a slave, marched to Egypt. He humbly does his best to glorify God, he manages his master’s household well, yet is falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. He again glorifies God and serves the warden well, eventually brought before Pharoah and made second-in-command of all Egypt. Eventually, his brothers, who had sold him, end up in front of him and humbly beg forgiveness, confessing their wrong, and Joseph says this,

‘But Joseph answered them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant to harm me, but God intended it for a good purpose, so he could preserve the lives of many people, as you can see this day. So now, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your little children.” Then he consoled them and spoke kindly to them.’

Genesis 50:19-21

In her song, Thy Will, Hillary Scott sings,

I’m so confused

I know I heard you loud and clear

So, I followed through

Somehow I ended up here

I don’t wanna think

I may never understand

That my broken heart is a part of your plan

When I try to pray

All I’ve got is hurt and these four words

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

I know you’re good

But this don’t feel good right now

And I know you think

Of things I could never think about

It’s hard to count it all joy

Distracted by the noise

Just trying to make sense

Of all your promises

Sometimes I gotta stop

Remember that you’re God

And I am not

So

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

Thy will

I know you see me

I know you hear me, Lord

Your plans are for me

Goodness you have in store

I know you hear me

I know you see me, Lord

Your plans are for me

Good news you have in store

So, thy will be done

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

Thy will be done

I know you see me

I know you hear me, Lord

Songwriters: Bernie Herms / Emily Lynn Weisband / Hillary Scott

We’ve tried to be obedient, we’ve tried to follow his lead, and yet somewhere along the way, we ended up somewhere we never expected to be. Now all we can pray is Your will, not mine be done. Please redeem this situation and bring people into a closer relationship with you through my example. Let them learn from both the mistakes and the successes.

There are times we end up in these situations as a result of our own sin, or the sinful behavior of someone else. God gives us clear direction in many, many areas of our lives; including relationships, obedience, purpose, talents, finances, but somehow, we think we know better than God. Those rules don’t apply to us. There won’t be consequences for our negative behavior, our self-willed actions, or bad decisions. We were told not to buy that, or not to borrow that money, or that was a really bad investment idea, but pushed ahead anyway. Then ended up bankrupt and financial trouble, which is the number one stressor on marriages, led us into a divorce. An unplanned pregnancy led to an unwanted child or abortion. Abuse, neglect, all terrible, terrible circumstances; we didn’t ask for and don’t deserve. What about the child that never had any choice and ended up being beaten, abused, raped; how can there be any hope there?

Listen to the words of Hebrews 12:1-13,

‘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. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. And have you forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons? “My son, do not scorn the Lord’s discipline or give up when he corrects you. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.” Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your listless hands and your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but be healed.’

Hebrews 12:1-13

There is hope! God can use any situation and circumstance to bring glory to himself and for our good and the good of multitudes of others. God never wastes a hurt, never delights in our suffering, but instead uses everything in ways that we can never imagine.

Romans 8:28 says, ‘And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,’

His purpose is always to conform us into the image of his Son, Jesus, and bring glory to himself.

James the half-brother of Jesus writes,

‘My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. ‘

James 1:2-4

We can have hope in any situation when we pray for God to bring glory to himself through us. He will use it for good. He will use our example to draw others closer to himself. He will use our suffering to help us learn to be more dependent upon him. And when we turn to him in confession, repentance, and submit to his will; he has promise upon promise he heaps upon us in fulfillment of his good and loving nature.

When we rejoice in him, when we trust in him, when we rely on his strength, when we submit to his will, when we confess our sins, when we turn to him in humility, when we earnestly pray with gratitude for all he has done for us, even through the pain of our current heartache, he blesses us and grows within us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; all the fruit of the Spirit that flowers, blooms, and bears a harvest when we live in accordance with the Indwelling Holy Spirit and not our own self-will. See Galatians chapter five.

Let us come before God in humility and pray turning our heartbreaks over to God.

Hope through Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

Psalms 143:1-12

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

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

Paul says,

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

Philippians 4:6 NET

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

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

Philippians 4:7

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

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

Matthew 6:25-34 NET

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

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

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

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

Philippians 4:8-9

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

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

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

Hope in Hopelessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippians 1:21-24

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

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

            Paul says in Philippians chapter 4,

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

Philippians 4:12-13    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope in Brokenness

Hope in Brokenness 9/25/22

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

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

John 17:3

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

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

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

This person started life as a shepherd.

Was the youngest of the family.

Inexplicably was chosen to succeed the leader of the people.

Was a musician.

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

Singlehandedly defeated an enemy almost twice his size.

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

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

His best friend was the king’s son.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalms 32:1-11

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

         Listen to Psalm 51 this time,

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

Psalms 51:1-19

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

Hope Happens Here, National Back to Church Sunday

Hope Happens Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, God has a plan for your life.

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

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

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

Jeremiah 29:11 NET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul says,

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

Romans 8:28-29 NET

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

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

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

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

Romans 8:37-39 NET

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

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

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

Honey,

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

Blinking back tears, his wife, Becky, wrote:

My sweet husband,

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

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

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

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

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

 Third, you can do anything through His strength

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

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

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

Philippians 4:13 NET

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

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

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

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

Sharing Jesus Part Three

Sharing Jesus Part 3

Real Discipleship

Over the course of the last six weeks, we have been laying a foundation for our future together as a congregation. We talked about prayer being the center of how we face forward and move in accordance with Holy Spirit’s guidance as we follow Jesus. For two weeks we talked about the inspiration, authority, interpretation, and application of the Bible in our lives. The Bible is the supreme authority to guide our lives and our ministry. Since it was written by God through the work of people, we can have assurance that the Bible will never lead us astray. However, we must read the Bible in the correct historical context to the people it was originally written to based on the original language it was written in before we ever think about how it applies to our own lives. When we read the Bible and study it, we always, always, always start with “what does the Bible say?” We do not get to read our own ideas, our own standards, our own presuppositions into what the Bible says. We don’t read our politics, traditions, or preferences into the Bible either. We start with this is what the Bible says, and if we don’t understand what it says, we can use resources to help us understand. We never get to say, “the Bible says, but…” We need to keep our butts our of it.

We have two guiding principles. We are never called to condemn anyone. Jesus came to save the world because the world is already condemned, we are here as his hands and feet to share Jesus love for humanity that they may come to him to be saved. Even when we use the scriptures to bring correction into the lives of fellow believers, we never use the Bible as a weapon. We do everything in love. Love is the rule of the day. Love God, Love others, Love one another are the three great commandments. It is only in the context of our relationship with God as our Father, Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and the indwelling Holy Spirit as our guide that we live our lives according to God’s standards, not the world’s standards. The Bible itself should shape our entire worldview, so that we live lives that are set apart as a beacon to draw people to Jesus, not drive them away.

Two weeks ago, we talked about the command that we have to make disciples, our Great Commission, Jesus said

‘Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”’

Matthew 28:18-20

He had also said in Acts 1:8 after telling his disciples to expect Holy Spirit to come,

‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”’

Acts 1:8

Part of what we discussed last week is the fact that Holy Spirit is with us whenever we are talking about our faith experience with another person, so we rely on him for the words to speak. However, it is usually far better to listen than to speak. If someone knows you care and you are listening attentively, you might be very surprised about how much they really end up sharing with you. Talk about a great opportunity to share how God has been walking with you in your life!

We over complicate how we witness, give testimony, or share our faith so much in our minds that many times it causes us not to try at all. Remember, sharing how God has walked with us through our lives can be as easy as sharing the details of eating at your favorite restaurant. If you have walked with God for any period of time, you have a story to tell of God’s faithfulness. My friend, Rick Grace, just last weekend called these your pivotal circumstances. My story may seem extraordinary to some, or your story may seem uneventful to you, but there is a story there if you take the time to reflect on it.

However, making disciples goes far beyond just getting someone to believe in Jesus. Making disciples is about teaching and instruction, about walking a path of faith, about living a life that reflects God’s glory as we become more and more conformed to the image of Christ. Roman 8:28-29 says,

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

Romans 8:28-29

Our purpose is to be conformed to the image of Christ through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Right doing through right learning about who Christ is and what, within the context of our relationship with Him, God expects from his people is what being set apart is. Over and over again through the scriptures God gives instruction and direction about how his people are set apart by how they act.

Jesus said,

‘“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” ‘           

John 13:34-35

Paul says to us,

‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ‘

Romans 12:1-2

And he told Timothy,

‘But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.’

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Through the power of the Spirit we learn to live lives set apart for God through the instruction of his Word. Our actions and attitudes are what define us before people, so it is our actions and our attitudes that become conformed to the way God wishes us to be living out godly lives in accordance with Christ’s righteousness covering us. All of this is gained through proper discipleship, as we make disciples by teaching them to obey everything that Jesus commanded his apostles.

            True discipleship is not what happens on Sunday morning or even at the our Bible study groups. True discipleship is a one-on-one personal walk with another believer who is more mature than we are or those who are mature spiritually walking and teaching someone newer or less mature in the faith. A prime example of what discipleship in the church should look like is the relationship between a sponsor and a sponsee in a twelve-step program like AA. In AA, a sponsor is someone who has worked the 12-steps, is continually sober, and living in such a way as to be a good example of sober living. It is a person the sponsee wants to pattern their life after. This is what a disciple of a rabbi in the Jewish culture did. Jesus’s core disciples lived with him, worked with him, ate with him, slept near him, watched everything he did and taught, and tried to pattern their lives after him. His disciples experienced true discipleship walking with Jesus. Discipleship doesn’t happen on our own or in a vacuum.

            According to the book, Biblical Discipleship, a disciple is a person who places him or herself under the instruction of an expert or master with the goal of becoming like the person they are following. There are four key elements to biblical discipleship…

  1. Discipleship is a process that happens to a person, it takes place at the individual level.
  2. Discipleship requires a relationship with someone else.
  3. Discipleship requires an expert teacher. The Expert Teacher is Jesus himself and we have his indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one we are following, and we need a growing understanding of who he is, what he taught, and what he expects from his followers. We find all this in the scriptures.
  4. Discipleship has a defined goal or destination. Jesus expects his follower to grow in their obedience to him until they finally become like him.

This is what Paul meant when he told the believers in Ephesus,

‘when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. ‘

Ephesians 4:21-24

As we grow in our knowledge, love, and obedience toward Jesus as our Savior, we are being active in our path of discipleship. As we move forward as a congregation, following the Lord’s will for us making disciples throughout our community and engaging in or supporting opportunities to make disciple throughout the world, these are the actions we need to be taking in actively making disciples of those already here and those who are coming.

            Maybe through the course of the last few weeks, you’ve realized you aren’t following Jesus quite the way you thought you were, or maybe you need to recommit to following Jesus closer, or maybe you have yet to commit your life to Jesus and start the process of discipleship. or maybe you’ve been a mature Christian for a while now, but you have not been active in making disciples. However, maybe you have been active in making disciples and now you are looking for ways to help others to learn from your experience. Pray for God to bring you in step with what his Holy Spirit is doing, so you can be a part of building his kingdom.

Sharing Jesus Part Two

Sharing Jesus Part Two

Do we really think about the fact that every person we encounter is potentially going to spend an eternity in hell if they don’t first hear and then believe the Gospel? We also talked about the top 6 reasons most believers are hesitant about sharing their faith in Jesus with others. When it comes to asking people to decide in their own lives regarding faith, it becomes a bigger wall for many people. We can sometimes do okay telling people how God has worked in our own lives but asking them to commit their life to God is an insurmountable task for us. As I said before, not every believer is an evangelist in the sense of Billy Graham or the apostle Paul. However, it is the job, the Great Commission, of every believer to make disciples. Making disciples starts with sharing our faith wherever and whenever we have or create an opportunity. Those opportunities are most effective within our one-on-one relationships with people.

Speaking of one-on-one relationships with people, do you know Jesus and Moses spend a lot of time together now. They are really great friends. One day while walking on the beach, Moses said to Jesus, “You know what really moved me?” “What?” Jesus replied. “It’s when you walked on water. That’s when I came to understand that you were truly the Son of God. Do you remember that?”

Jesus replied, “How could I forget? It was my most famous miracle. It made ALL four Gospels!” Moses asked if he could do it again and Jesus easily obliged.

But after getting a way off from the shoreline, he started sinking. Never needing to learn how to swim, He desperately thrashed about using all his energy to stay afloat and just barely make it to the shore alive. With Jesus gasping for breath, Moses ran up to him and frantically asked, “My Lord! My Lord! What happened?”

Jesus replied, “Last time I didn’t have these holes in the bottom of my feet.”

When it comes to sharing our faith in Jesus and asking others to make a commitment to faith in him themselves, the most important part is what we are asking people to believe. It’s what exactly we are asking them to have faith in.

Paul says,

‘For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.’ 1 Corinthians 15:1-8

To make it very simple, what we must believe is who Jesus was and what Jesus did.

         I told you last week we would be looking at how the biblical writers shared their faith. As we read the Gospels, the historical biographies of Jesus’s life and ministry, we find a common theme. Matthew starts in chapters 1 through three talking about identifying who Jesus is before he begins talking about anything Jesus did or taught. Mark only spends the first 11 verses of his Gospel talking about who Jesus is, but the pattern holds. Luke spends his first three chapters plus part of chapter four building on the idea of who Jesus is. John uses his first 34 verses to identify Jesus, but in his very first verse he makes a very clear point…

John 1:1 “’In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.’

From identifying the Word as fully God, John then builds up to the fact the Jesus is the Word and the Word is God, but John doesn’t actually mention Jesus name for the 1st time until verse 17.

         The point is, with every Gospel writer, who Jesus was is the first point about Jesus every one of them makes. For each of them, building Jesus identity by what he did up to the point of his death, burial, and resurrection is the stamp of authenticity on the Gospel message. Why? Because Paul tells us that without the Resurrection, the final proof that Jesus is truly the Son of God, our faith is useless. It is only the fact that Jesus was himself God the Son that gives his death any meaning at all. There are millions of people who have sacrificed their lives for one cause or another since the beginning of time. There are many who have died for their friends, what Jesus calls the ultimate act of love in John 15:13. Only the Resurrection gives Jesus’s death any meaning, because through Jesus’s Resurrection we are given an eternal relationship with God the Father through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit covered by Jesus’s righteousness and forgiveness before God.

         Answering the questions of faith, It really comes down to two things: who he is and what he did. In their book, “The Path” some dear friends of mine, including one of my mentors Dr. Daniel Goepfrich, phrase the answer of faith this way…

To call Jesus “Lord” or “Christ” is to acknowledge that he is the one sent from God to rescue humanity and that he did that through his death and      resurrection – nothing more, nothing less.

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in the Son and through him to reconcile all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his cross – through him, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” Colossians 1:19-20

In another conversation, Paul used the word “repent.”

“Although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he

now commands all people everywhere to repent , because

he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in

righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead.” Acts 17:30-31

To “repent” means to “reconsider and act.” In order to believe the truth, we must honestly consider it…the truth about ourselves and our sin, about Jesus and his death and resurrection. God wants us to change our beliefs based on the truth.    Believing in Jesus alone for salvation means that we have reconsidered our position; we have “repented,” accepting the truth. We accept that only God can rescue us from sin and hell, and we embrace it.

Naturally, the first step in sharing our faith with others is to have that kind of faith ourselves. If we don’t have a firm foundation in the faith that we have, we’ll have a really hard time trying to articulate any of that to someone else.

         However, there are some great benefits to sharing our faith. When we overcome our fear, get over the excuses that we don’t have experience or haven’t practiced, realize that every believer in Jesus as Savior is fully qualified to share the Gospel, rely on God to walk us through it knowing that we can’t screw it up, put sharing our faith at the top of our priority list in our relationships, and develop the ‘want to’ attitude to at least plant the seeds for someone to come to have eternal life the benefits become:

  1. It increases our own faith to share our faith with others
  2. Sharing our faith brings us deeper into the Presence of God
  3. It naturally makes us more aware of Holy Spirit working in our lives
  4. Our love for others will grow tremendously
  5. We are partaking in God’s Great Commission to make disciples
  6. Sharing our faith also protects us and prepares us for battle against the spiritual forces of darkness that rule this world.

Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 6 starting in verse 10,

‘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. Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak – that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak.’

Ephesians 6:10-20

When we are sharing the good news of our salvation through Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the leader of our lives, we are engaging actively in spiritual warfare. Some time, we’ll do an entire series on the Armor of God, but Paul is making a point here that as we live in Christ and share our faith following the Great Commission to make disciples; we will experience the attacks of the enemy.

         We need to pray for one another as Paul asked the believers of his time to pray for him. We pray that we may be given the message when we begin to speak to confidently make the Gospel clear, and that we may be able to speak boldly about the faith that we have.