The Miracle of Easter

I’ve got big news: April the giraffe has given birth! Not only is the womb empty, the tomb is empty! Today, Easter is observed all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits, finding eggs, and eating jelly beans, chocolate, and peeps? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier. As you’re turning to Luke 19:28, earlier in Luke 19, there is the miraculous transformation of Zaccheus; then there is the parable of the talents or minas and we come to what is called the triumphal entry.

Take a look at our passage from Luke 19:28-40.

Who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds.  Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Bruce Springsteen was the Boss. Gordon Sumner is better known as Sting. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. Our Secretary of Defense is James Mad Dog Mattis. There are the not so great people like Ivan the Terrible, Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John the Baptizer and Lydia the seller of purple. Few people call him Thomas without preceding it with doubting.

These descriptive names are no different for Jesus. In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people from all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel; One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 says,  Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”  Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good.

The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21. “The deeds of the flesh are evident.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’”         There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe you’re thinking that you need to try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him. Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept me like I am. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Are you thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and then I will follow Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13: “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12)

So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, all that adoration was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb. The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you because of His incredible, unending, and unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?

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Good News for 2017

2017Check out the audio version here.

Take a look at our passage for today found in Rom. 10:11-15.

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.”

I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2016.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2016 according to AP.

  1. US ELECTION: This year’s top story traces back to June 2015, when Donald Trump descended an escalator in Trump Tower, his bastion in New York City, to announce he would run for president. Widely viewed as a long shot, with an unconventional campaign featuring raucous rallies and pugnacious tweets, he outlasted 16 Republican rivals. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton beat back an unexpectedly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, and won the popular vote over Trump. But he won key Rust Belt states to get the most electoral votes, and will enter the White House with Republicans maintaining control of both houses of Congress.
  2. BREXIT: Confounding pollsters and odds makers, Britons voted in June to leave the European Union, triggering financial and political upheaval. David Cameron resigned as prime minister soon after the vote, leaving the task of negotiating an exit to a reshaped Conservative government led by Theresa May. Under a tentative timetable, final details of the withdrawal might not be known until the spring of 2019.
  3. BLACK MEN KILLED BY POLICE: One day apart, police in Baton Rouge, LA, fatally shot Alton Sterling after pinning him to the ground, and a white police officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis. Coming after several similar cases in recent years, the killings rekindled debate over policing practices and the Black Lives Matter movement.
  4. PULSE NIGHTCLUB MASSACRE: The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unfolded on Latin Night at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people over the course of three hours before dying in a shootout with SWAT team members. During the standoff, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
  5. WORLDWIDE TERROR ATTACKS: Across the globe, extremist attacks flared at a relentless pace throughout the year. Among the many high-profile attacks were those that targeted airports in Brussels and Istanbul, a park teeming with families and children in Pakistan, and the seafront boulevard in Nice, France, where 86 people were killed when a truck plowed through a Bastille Day celebration. In Iraq alone, many hundreds of civilians were killed in repeated bombings.
  6. ATTACKS ON POLICE: Ambushes and targeted attacks on police officers in the U.S. claimed at least 20 lives. The victims included five officers in Dallas working to keep the peace at a protest over the fatal police shootings of black men in MN and LA. Ten days after that attack, a man killed three officers in Baton Rouge, LA. In Iowa, two policemen were fatally shot in separate ambush-style attacks while sitting in their patrol cars.
  7. DEMOCRATIC PARTY EMAIL LEAKS: Hacked emails, disclosed by WikiLeaks, revealed at-times embarrassing details from Democratic Party operatives in run-up to Election Day, leading to the resignation of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other DNC officials. The CIA later concluded that Russia was behind the DNC hacking in a bid to boost Donald Trump’s chances of beating Hillary Clinton.
  8. SYRIA: Repeated cease-fire negotiations failed to halt relentless warfare among multiple factions. With Russia’s help, the government forces of President Bashar Assad finally seized rebel-held portions of the city of Aleppo, at a huge cost in terms of deaths and destruction.
  9. SUPREME COURT: After Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to fill the vacancy. However, majority Republicans in the Senate refused to consider the nomination, opting to leave the seat vacant so it could be filled by the winner of the presidential election. Donald Trump has promised to appoint a conservative in the mold of Scalia.
  10. HILLARY CLINTON’S EMAILS: Amid the presidential campaign, the FBI conducted an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private computer server to handle emails she sent and received as secretary of state. FBI Director James Comey criticized Clinton for carelessness but said the bureau would not recommend criminal charges.

Those are just the top stories and you might argue there was one piece of good news, but the rest are clearly what we would call bad news. We typically focus only on bad news.

As Christ followers, we have the privilege to share the good news that is always good. The good news we have is called the Gospel. We just celebrated Christmas which tells the story of how Jesus was conceived of a virgin and born into this world. We must go further and tell people that He lived a sinless life as He walked the road to Calvary where He willingly gave up His life so that we could be reconciled with God. Jesus died on that cross, but three days later, He rose again defeating death. He was seen walking about by the multitudes and He gave people hope. Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father making intercession for us. That’s all exceedingly good news. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

As we move into the New Year, there’s going to be crises, challenges, and problems. Let’s focus on living for Christ in spite of our circumstances. Let’s adjust our attitudes and focus on the positive.

As I look forward to the coming year, there are a few things I would like to see happen:

I’d like to see people truly commit their life to Christ. It’s clear that this is what God wants: 1 Tim. 2:4 says, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Somewhere along the way, we decided that sin is relative. There is no standard of conduct, but the Bible is very clear that we have a sin problem. Rom. 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Is. 64:6 says, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” But I have more good news: God has given up on us. God draws us to Him through the power of the Spirit. Jo. 6:44 says, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God made a way through Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day. It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross. Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” Peter said it this way:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9) “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16) You don’t have to be a certain way to get Christ, come as you are.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about their personal faith and ministry. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Nowhere in Scripture is this more evident than in the life of the Apostle Paul. Acts 9 records his conversion experience. The same Holy Spirit that transformed that murderer into an apostle lives in us so why do we have such low expectations from Christians today? Saul was lost. He finally recognized where he was without Christ and made a decision to follow Him and immediately began preaching. The people of the day were confused at this miraculous transformation, but that didn’t deter Saul from telling others what had happened. Acts 9:22says, “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” We need a renewed passion for Christ.

These days, a general commitment to Christ substitutes for repentance. We’re satisfied with mediocrity; we’re satisfied being halfway committed to Christ and His bride. Committed means to be wholeheartedly dedicated. I often say I wish people would be half as committed to their walk of faith as they are their favorite sports team. Faithfulness has been replaced by casualness. We spend a lot of time and energy engaged in things that don’t really matter when you consider eternity. We have a tendency to take things for granted. We think God will always be there and we’ll start really serving Him when we’re ready or when we have time. Remember Saul persecuted the church and then met God and his life was never the same. Today we have people meet this same God and their lives are no different. What’s really disturbing about that is many people in the church are okay with it.

In 2017, I’d love to see people get passionate about God. I’d like to see people take Bible study with us. In 2016, we had over 200 people take Bible study with us in person and online and studied the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and now we’re studying God’s covenants. What I have observed over the last 17 years I’ve been in ministry is that people who consistently study and apply the Bible to their lives grow stronger in their faith. When the challenges of life occur, you’re better equipped to handle it. Other people will see this and ask you how you did it. You use that as a springboard to tell people about the power of God that is available to them. It would be really nice if that power you speak of is evident in your own life. More often than not, we treat God as the genie in the bottle. We reach for Him when we want something and then we put Him back on the shelf for another day. That is not how you worship the God of the universe. We’ve got it backwards: we look for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him.

I think we have a tendency be complacent. Matt. 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. I think we’ve gotten lazy in our faith. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church What have you said yes to? I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like God’s people resist Satan. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We cannot resist the devil in our own strength. We must first submit ourselves to God.  Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Resist his destructive plans. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your church relationship, your testimony, etc. Once you say yes to Satan, it becomes easier the next time, and easier. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are too ignorant to recognize this. Stay far from sin. Don’t see how close you can get.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2017. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

The Wickedness of Today

WickedYou can listen and download the podcast here.

Last week, we started by asking the question, what does it cost to be righteous? The answer is that it just might cost everything. Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with the government and it’s just not right to fine people who are doing right. We still live in a society where wrongdoing is punished and there are ways to redress wrongs that have been committed. In a faith based setting, you can’t run down and correct all the nasty things that are said about you. David said in Ps. 54:1, “Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your power.” You must rest on the fact that God is the vindicator of the righteous and if people know you, they’ll know your character. We need to be calm, cool, and collected in our dealings with people and sometimes the best answer is silence. If people part company with you because you have been set apart for the Gospel, that’s one thing, but separating yourself from God’s people and God’s Word is a good sign that there’s spiritual sickness in that person. Ignorance of God’s Word is no excuse to live in the folly of your own mind. This morning, we’ll continue looking at some current events.

Our passage for today is found in Pro. 18:3-8 that says, “When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes, and with dishonor comes scorn. The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook. To show partiality to the wicked is not good, nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment. A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.”

We started last week with something for today and we’ll begin this morning in the same manner. “When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes, and with dishonor comes scorn.” Solomon has often used the adjectives wicked and foolish interchangeably, but that word contempt carries some significance. Contempt carries the idea of having no value, worthless, or beneath consideration. Some have wrongly assigned the contempt to the wicked one, but that’s not what Solomon is saying. When you put it together with all that we have learned in recent verses, Solomon is talking about contempt the wicked have for all things holy and pure. When that wicked guy comes; the guy that says the Bible is outdated, foolish, not relevant, old fashioned, too mean or judgmental, when that person raises his fist and declares that a loving God would not do x, y, or z, he is demonstrating contempt for God’s holy and perfect Word. When the wicked walk into your life, so does their contempt. Ps. 14:1-3 gives us this incredible truth, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” We see this happening all around us, but what’s even more disturbing is that we’re seeing it in Christian circles too. Fewer and fewer people are standing solidly on the truth found in God’s Word. We can attribute this to a number of reasons, but I think the primary reason just might be that we have people that profess to be followers of Christ that just are not. We have professing believers that don’t read or study God’s Word, that don’t participate in the things of the church and don’t even want to. These same folks are ones that will claim their relationship with God is special or wonderful. They might even say they pray all the time. I want you to really ponder this question: when you sin; when you fall short of the glory of God, when you fail to live up to the standard of perfection, does God say, “It’s okay, it doesn’t matter.” Do you say that when your employee messes up? Your child? Your friend? When we fall into that trap, we minimize the power of God to perform actual transformation in our lives and we cheapen the incredible sacrifice Christ made on the cross. Don’t live under the false premise that God’s love erases His judgment.

The scorn Solomon mentions means contempt or disdain expressed openly. It really doesn’t freak me out when lost people do this regarding God’s Word. In 1 Cor. 2:14 Paul said, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” There is a bridge that is established when you make a decision to follow Christ. There is a connection made when the Holy Spirit enters you. Things that were unexplainable to you now come together. Things you had such difficulty understanding are now received by faith. I have no problem saying, “I can’t explain it, I just believe it.” How can you believe so easily? They might ask. It’s really a dumb question. Some people aren’t willing to take that step of faith with Jesus even though they do it in nearly every facet of life. People that don’t understand the internal combustion engine have no issues driving a car. People that don’t understand how an airplane can fly have no problem stepping onto that plane. People that have no idea how electricity gets distributed from the power plant to the home have no issues flipping that light switch. People that don’t understand how medicine works still follow the prescription. But when it comes to spiritual matters, they want full disclosure and complete understanding. Have you ever tried explaining the inexplicable? Have you ever tried comprehending the incomprehensible? Have you ever tried figuring out a miracle?

It would be really helpful for you to read 1 Cor. 2 to give us the context for Paul’s statement I quoted a moment ago. Our responsibility is not to convince people about Jesus although there is a tremendous need to reason through the Scriptures. Our responsibility is to demonstrate what Jesus has done in our lives. I think that might be the reason why some professing believers want to distance themselves from absolute truth of Scripture. There’s little to no demonstration of God in their lives. And one final, very timely passage found in 2 Tim. 3:1-9: “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.” The times in which we are living in did not catch the Holy Spirit of God by surprise.

Solomon provides us with some more word pictures. “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.” Let me help you with this word picture. In our area we have what’s known as shallow wells. While the water drawn may be cool and seem refreshing, it’s not fit for anything except to irrigate your lawn. It contains Sulfur, iron, calcium, magnesium, organic compounds, and bacteria. It stinks; it leaves stains behind, it doesn’t taste good, and the well is affected by drought and overuse. If you want real refreshment that’s suitable for human consumption, you have to dig deep. “The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook” that does not run out. Real wisdom comes from deep within the soul because its source is God. Let me run through these next verses because they’re different ways to say what Solomon has already said. Pro. 18:5-7 says, “To show partiality to the wicked is not good, nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment. A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are the snare of his soul.” All familiar stuff.

Solomon addresses something that I think is destroying a lot of people. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.” Solomon’s talking about gossip. Before we go any further, we need to understand what gossip is. Gossip is generally defined as idle talk or rumor; especially about the personal or private affairs of others. For the most part, we seem to enjoy gossip, unless it’s about us. We have tabloid newspapers like the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star. We have gossip columns, celebrity gossip, and TMZ. Gossip is expressly forbidden in Scripture, but we find it’s commonplace in the church. Sometimes it’s veiled as a prayer request and it rarely comes from the one needing prayer. It comes in the form of, “Pray for so and so . . . they’re having a hard time with their husband’s drinking.” “Pray for . . . their children are so disobedient and rebellious.” “Pray for . . . they’re behind in their mortgage.” “Pray for . . . they’re so sick,” and then a long list of details regarding the sickness is shared. Sometimes it’s even shared with a pained look and there seems to be genuine hurt from the teller. Look at the word picture. “The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels.” Dainty means delicately small and pretty. I should tell you that the word morsel is also translated wound. Look at the results of taking in that dainty morsel. “They go down into the innermost parts of the body.” Here’s what gossip does. It gets in your system and destroys you from the inside out. It affects the hearer and the one about whom the tale is told. Think about it like this: there are things that are harmless when applied to the skin, but can be deadly if taken internally. Hydrogen peroxide comes to mind. On some medication, you’ll see the warning label: external use only. Gossip gets in you and affects you in ways you cannot overestimate. Gossip hurts people. So what if it’s the truth? Gossip often comes in unsubstantiated claims. I love it when someone tells me, “People are saying . . .” Really, who are those people? Oh, just people. Those people won’t be named because the one passing on the information doesn’t want it to come back to them because they’re gossiping. Now if you hear something, it’s okay to check it out. Remember, even if it’s the truth, it may not need to be shared.

Solomon uses the terms foolish and wicked interchangeably. Someone that says God’s Word is outdated or irrelevant will bring contempt for anything that is holy and pure, and godly. Even though fewer and fewer people are willing to stand in agreement with the unchanging Word of God does not mean you have to. Don’t dismiss the power of God to change your life. He wants to change you if you’ll allow Him to. A decision to follow Christ will bridge the gap in your understanding of things that are inexplicable, but there will always be things about God that cannot be understood. Biblical and godly wisdom provide an inexhaustible fountain of cool, refreshing living water. Don’t be a gossip. It hurts the listener and the one that it’s about.

Curious Creating

CuriousYou can check out the podcast here.

Last week Solomon told us that it’s easy to conclude that our plans are good and right, but asked did we consider God’s plan? It’s a good idea to step back and see eternity’s plan from God’s perspective. A great way to evaluate your plans is to use Scripture. God evaluates plans based on motive and His sight is perfect. Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean God wants you to be engaged in it. Just because you’re presented with a good opportunity doesn’t mean that God wants you to take advantage of it. When you’re in a vibrant, daily, engaged relationship with God through His Son, His plans become your plans. This morning, Solomon addresses a question many people ask.

Pro. 16:4-6 says, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil. Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished. By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.”

Here’s a question of the ages. Solomon begins by telling us, “The Lord made everything for its own purpose.” If you’ve ever watched Ask This Old House on PBS, they have a segment where they show an obscure tool or piece of equipment and the guys on the show try to figure out what it’s called and what its purpose is. I have a number of tools in my shop that are not obvious as to what they’re for, but they are invaluable for getting the job done quickly and correctly. That’s what Solomon is telling us. Everything God created has a purpose. We may not understand it all, but all things have a purpose. When you consider the far away planets, stars, and galaxies, it points to the incredible creative power of God. Those things in the sky are incredibly beautiful. They’ve provided astronomers with objects to spend years studying. We love spending time on the beach and we marvel at the incredible diversity of the fish living in the sea. The seas also provide opportunity to get from one place to another. Scientists continue to discover new species in the animal kingdom. We still find new ways to use items we’ve had around for years. There are 438 million hits when you Google new uses for old items.

Everything God created has its own purpose. Of course, sin corrupted many of the intended purposes of God’s creation. That’s what happened to the wicked. They are part of the rebellion of Lucifer and his demons which were a driving force behind Adam and Eve’s poor decision making skills. The progression of evil started before the garden and culminated in Gen. 6. Gen. 6:6 says, “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” In that pivotal chapter, you’ll remember that we’re introduced to a new character who was given very clear instructions. His name was Noah and to say he built a boat would be a tremendous understatement. Even though the wicked exist, God had an intended purpose and plan for them, but they had and continue to have other plans. Rev. 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Sin changed God’s design for humanity. “Even the wicked for the day of evil.” They were not created evil, but became that way because of sin. And they have a purpose too. Perhaps it’s to show God’s mercy or show His wrath. Maybe it’s to show judgment or maybe grace. Even the wicked will serve God’s purpose.

Here’s another restatement. Pride is on the list of things God hates and Solomon repeats it again. “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished.” There again is the root of where it begins. Everything starts in the heart. We’re not talking parental pride which is really delight, we’re talking personal pride. We’re talking my way is better than anyone else’s. Pride is what sets sinners against God. Pride causes people to go their own way. Pride causes people to consider only themselves. Pride says it’s all about me. Pride says I don’t need anyone else. Solomon says “proud in heart” which gives us the idea that this is really who a person is. It’s not a prideful moment, this is who they are. Remember the word picture for abomination – rotting flesh. As a result of the rotting flesh that is your heart, Solomon reminds us that, “He will not be unpunished.” When we read verses like this, I think we too often think in terms of our timeline. Don’t confuse the here and now with eternity. Nobody gets away with it.  Remember in Pro. 11:21 Solomon said, “Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished.”  Do you ever wonder why I use so many cross references? A great principle in Bible study is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. The Bible does not and will not contradict itself. That’s why we study the whole counsel of God’s Word and don’t pick and choose topics that won’t challenge us. When you work through the Bible, you will come across every modern issue we face.

Next, Solomon points to the future. This is a pretty exciting verse and contrasts what he just said. The proud person won’t go unpunished, but “By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for.”  God cannot allow sin to go unjudged. We have people these days that say God has changed and that the rules of the Old Testament are no longer valid. I think we lack a fundamental truth that is found in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Paul is writing to those misguided people at Corinth. Even in all their fussing and fighting, Paul says they, “Have been sanctified in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:2) Jesus Christ affected the change. This is what Solomon is pointing to. Solomon is talking about the atonement found only in Christ. Ps. 85:10 says, “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” Lovingkindness is also translated mercy. Tit. 3:5, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” It’s not anything that we have done because God did it all for us in the person that is Jesus Christ.

The word atonement is typically translated propitiation in the New Testament. The “atonement of iniquity” Solomon mentions is the same “propitiation for our sins” that John talks about in 1 Jo. 4:10. “By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for.” Iniquity is a synonym for sin. There is no amount of doing that will erase your sin. There is no process that will earn your way to heaven or that will cause God to forget. It’s not what we do or did, but what God did in Christ. Why would He do this? Paul says it this way in Eph 2:4: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us.” That came to light in Jo. 3:16 that many people in and out of the church know, but have not fully understood: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” This is what Solomon is talking about. When you have a life atoned for by Christ, Solomon concludes, “By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” Once again the idea is not that you go through life looking over your shoulder because you’re afraid of God like you’re afraid of being mugged or attacked. Solomon is talking about a reverential respect for who God is. It’s a recognition of the incredibleness and awesomeness of God, but it’s also recognizing that perfect justice will come from God – at some point.

Remembering who God is helps us keep away from those things that are not pleasing to Him. Sometimes we focus on what we think we’re not allowed to do as if God is preventing us from having fun. Growing up, there were lots of things I was not allowed to do, but I was allowed to do way more things than I was not. My parents established rules for my well-being and safety and so I wouldn’t annoy anyone. I followed them . . . mostly. God has established principles and rules for our safety and well-being and for His glory. Having respect and reverence for God with some straight up ‘I don’t want to face His judgement’ thinking will keep us away from evil. I’m not a fan of catch phrases or slogans in church, but the old WWJD does have an application. Of course you need to apply it biblically, but if you have in the front of your mind, “Is this                   going to glorify God or edify His people?” principle going through your mind, I’m certain we would not do a lot of the things we do.

There are questions we all want answers to. God did not create the wicked, but did allow His creation to choose the path of disobedience and rebellion to become the antithesis of His design. Evil and wickedness are present in the world and God will use even that to gain glory. If your life is characterized by pride, you’re like rotting flesh and you will not be unpunished. God loved us so much that He gave us His Son Jesus Christ who atones for our sin. Truth and mercy kiss each other in the person of Christ. Since we have such reverence and love for God, we keep away from evil. All this is part of God’s curious creation where He is the epicenter.

The Miracle of Easter

CrossYou can listen to the podcast here.

Last week we checked out Solomon’s words regarding wisdom and learned that no matter the path you’re on, there’s always opportunity to get back on the right path. Maybe you’re here and you’re thinking, I don’t know the right path to take. I didn’t even know there was a path. Today is your lucky day! Today, Easter is celebrated all over the world, but do we really understand this day that many people celebrate? Is it just another consumer holiday where we look forward to seeing everyone’s new outfits and enjoy chocolate and jelly beans? Maybe you enjoy Easter because it generally marks the beginning of Spring. I don’t want you to miss the miraculous and eternal significance of Easter. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back in time from the first Easter to a week or so earlier.

Take the time to read our passage for this morning found in Luke 19:28-40.

So who is this Jesus? The name Jesus brings many thoughts to people’s minds. Names are like that; they mean a lot. Sometimes nicknames are commonly associated with people and are instantaneously recognized. Old Blue Eyes – Frank Sinatra. The King of Pop – Michael Jackson. The King – Elvis. Michael Jordan is known as Air Jordan. There are the not so great people like Ivan the terrible , Jack the Ripper, Bloody Mary, and Vlad the Impaler. Biblically we have John – the Baptizer. Lydia – the seller of purple. Few people call him just Thomas without preceding it with doubting. These descriptive names are no different for Jesus.

In Matt. 1:21 an angel appeared to Joseph and told him, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, f He will save His people from their sins.” Jesus means Jehovah is salvation. Jesus most often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He is known as the Messiah. The Light of the world. The Prince of Peace. The bright and morning star. He is the alpha and the omega. He is the redeemer, the advocate, the bread of life. He is the power of God. He is the Lamb of God, the good shepherd, the high priest. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is the resurrection and the life. That’s who Jesus is. This Jesus was loved by people of all walks of life. This is the Jesus that the prophet Micah said would come to rule Israel, One whose, “Goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” While loved and adored by the common people, this Jesus was despised by the religious groups of the day – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus upset the apple cart; He rocked the boat; He went against the flow, He said things that were different than what those religious people had been taught and what they believed. They called Jesus a blasphemer, they judged Jesus because He hung out with the less desirables; the tax collectors and sinners. They accused Him of violating the Sabbath because He encouraged His disciples to pick grain when they were hungry. They didn’t like this, in fact, “The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him.” (Luke 6:7) Jesus taught on the Sabbath, Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

So now we know who Jesus is, but why do we need Jesus? The religious crowd of the day despised Jesus because He threatened their power, their control, their desire to be elevated above others, their desire to be better than anyone else, their desire to control their own destiny, their desire and requirement for everyone to follow the Law. The Law was an interesting thing. Various religions and even denominations attempt to control people by requiring the strict following of a set of rules and regulations. Rom. 3:19-20 tells us, “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Even though the Pharisees wanted everyone to keep the Law, they were powerless to keep it – all the Law did was show people they were law breakers. We need Jesus because no matter how good we think we are, the Bible says there is not a single person that is good. The Bible is very clear about our need for redemption. We need redemption because according to Rom. 6:6 we are slaves to sin. Sin owns us, it is our master. Rom. 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” 1 Jo. 1:8 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” Rom. 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”

What is sin? If we redefine what sin is, it’s easier to deal with. In our culture, we conform to the idea that personal feelings are the barometer of right and wrong, of morality and truth. We seek comfort and the least resistant path. We seek to please ourselves. We listen to so called “Christian teachers” or influential people who make us feel better about following our own path, about living in sin. Instead of calling people to repentance and authentic Christian living, these people refuse to call sin what God calls sin. We have a whole new generation of people that have succumbed to cultural pressure that it’s intolerant, judgmental, and unloving to declare God’s truth as absolute. I love Paul’s description of this found in Gal. 5:19-21 that says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Evident is from the word that mean plainly recognized. These are the things of the flesh – they are incompatible with a life that follows God. Left to our own devices, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know who Jesus is, and we know why we need Jesus, now finally, what should we do with Jesus? In answering this very question to the Jews that gathered in the treasury at the temple in Jo. 8:34-36: “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. ‘The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.’” There is freedom in Christ. It’s freedom from the penalty of sin, not from the consequences. God will not and cannot allow us to get away with sin, but don’t expect to see someone’s nose grow if they tell a lie. We live in such a hectic, no time for anything world; a world where we seek instant gratification. Our cure then, comes not by redefining sin or by avoiding it. Our cure comes by admitting our sin, turning from it and receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Easter          is about hope, it’s about life; it’s about fulfilled promises; it’s about Jesus. Maybe you’re thinking, “I want to be free, how do I get this freedom?” To answer that question, we need to go again to the standard of truth. Remember that each of us is a sinner, we have all done wrong. Rom. 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As with any gift, you must accept it; just because it has your name on it does not make it yours until you receive it. Maybe if we just try harder to be good and righteous. No, the answer to sin is not to try harder to avoid it or change who you are. No matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, it’s not enough. Eph. 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Rom. 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Confess is a great word. It means the same thing as agree. In other words, when you confess to God your failure to meet His standard or admit your wrongdoings, you are agreeing with Him.

Maybe you’re thinking God won’t accept you like you are. Pastor Ian if you only knew about me. Maybe you’re thinking, when I give up ___________, I will be good enough and I’ll trust in Christ. Here’s the good news: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) We don’t have to try harder because God knows that apart from Christ, we can do nothing. (Jo. 15:5) Rom. 10:13 says, “For ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’” You are that whoever. It is a guarantee. Becoming a Christian is a choice; it is a decision only you can make for yourself. Being a Christian really means being a follower of Christ. God changes your heart, changes your attitude, and you joyfully want to follow Jesus. It’s not something you do begrudgingly. Being a follower of Christ gives you freedom! You are not a Christian because you live in America or because you attend church, or because you pray or read the Bible, or go to a Bible study. You are a Christian because you have made a decision to trust in what Christ did to pay the penalty for sin; you choose to follow Christ. Paul gives us this hope in Rom. 6:10-11, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (Jo. 1:12) So how did we get to the point of death? What began just five or so days earlier as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt with people waving palm branches and expressing their adoration for this man from Galilee, was overwhelmed by the crowds in Jerusalem that demanded His death by crucifixion. They got what they asked for and Jesus was sentenced to die on a cross for being found guilty of nothing. Jesus dies a horrible death on the cross and was buried in a tomb.

The rest of the story is found in Luke 24:1-9. Easter is all about the penalty Jesus Christ paid to cover our sin debt. He shed His blood for you, because of His incredible, unending, unconditional love. He is not here because He is risen. Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new life that He can give you.

You have heard about who Jesus is and why we need Jesus. You have heard about what you should do with Jesus now there remains just one question. What will you do about what you know?Risen

Good News for 2015

2015You can listen to the podcast for this message here.

Rom. 10:13-15 says, “For “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Notice the words in v.15, “Good news of good things.”

I looked at what the Associated Press said were their top stories of 2014.  There were some items that people will consider good news while most people will consider it all bad. Here are the top news stories of 2014 according to AP.

  1. POLICE KILLINGS: Some witnesses said 18-year-old Michael Brown had his hands up in surrender, others said he was making a charge. But there was no dispute he was unarmed and shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson. In New York City, another unarmed black, Eric Garner, was killed after a white officer put him in a chokehold during an arrest for unauthorized cigarette sales. After grand juries opted not to indict the officers, protests erupted across the country, punctuated by chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe.” In both cases, federal officials launched investigations.
  2. EBOLA OUTBREAK: The first wave of Ebola deaths, early in the year, attracted little notice. By March, the World Health Organization was monitoring the outbreak. By midsummer, it was the worst Ebola epidemic on record with a death toll now approaching 7000, mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. A Liberian man with the disease died at a Dallas hospital, followed by a few other cases involving U.S. health workers, sparking worries about the readiness of the U.S. health system.
  3. ISLAMIC STATE: Militant fighters from the Islamic State group startled the world with rapid, brutal seizures of territory in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. and its allies responded with air strikes, hoping that Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground could retake captured areas. Revulsion toward Islamic State intensified as it broadcast videos of its beheadings of several Western hostages.
  4. US ELECTIONS: For months, political oddsmakers sought to calculate if Republicans had a chance to gain control of the U.S. Senate. It turned out there was no suspense, the GOP won 54 of the Senate’s 100 seats, expanded its already strong majority in the House of Representatives, and gained at the state level, where Republicans now hold 31 governorships.
  5. OBAMACARE: Millions more Americans signed up to be covered under President Obama’s health care initiative, but controversy about “Obamacare” raged on. Criticism from Republicans in Congress was relentless, many GOP governed states balked at participation, and opinion polls suggested most Americans remained skeptical about the program.
  6. MALAYSIA AIRLINES MYSTERY: En route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board. In the weeks that followed, aircraft, ships and searchers from two-dozen countries mobilized to look in vain for the wreckage on the Indian Ocean floor. To date, there’s no consensus as to why the plane vanished.
  7. IMMIGRATION: Frustrated by an impasse in Congress, President Obama took executive actions in November to curb deportations for many immigrants residing in the U.S. illegally. GOP leaders in the House and Senate pledged efforts to block the president’s moves. Prospects for reform legislation were dimmed earlier in the year by the influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the U.S. border, causing shelter overloads and case backlogs.
  8. TURMOIL IN UKRAINE: A sometimes bloody revolt that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych in February triggered a chain of events that continued to roil Ukraine as the year drew to a close. Russia, worried that Ukraine would tilt increasingly toward the West, annexed the Crimean peninsula in March and backed an armed separatist insurgency in coal-rich eastern regions of Ukraine. The U.S. and its allies responded with sanctions against Russia.
  9. GAY MARRIAGE: Due to a wave of federal court rulings, 19 more U.S. states began allowing same-sex marriages, raising the total to 35 states encompassing about 64 percent of the population. Given that one U.S. court of appeals bucked the trend by upholding state bans on gay marriage, there was widespread expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue and make a national ruling.
  10. VA SCANDAL: The Department of Veterans Affairs became embroiled in a nationwide scandal over allegations of misconduct and cover-ups. Several senior officials were fired or forced to resign, including VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. At the heart of the scandal was the VA hospital in Phoenix; allegations surfaced that 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment there.

 Those are just the top stories and there was little good news. That’s the problem, we thrive on bad news. As Christians, we’ve got the news that is always good. It’s good that Jesus came to earth, lived a sinless life, and shed His blood on the cross at Calvary. It’s good Jesus died, but three days later conquered death and rose from the grave and was seen by the multitudes. It’s good that Jesus ascended to heaven where He sits at the rights hand of the Father making intercession for us.

Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” As we think about the New Year, there’s going to be negative things or bad news that will be recognized at the end of the year.  As Christians, let’s not focus on the bad or negative, let’s focus on the positive. Good news should be what God’s people think about.  When we get to the end of next year I am sure there will be several things as we look back in reflection that we can truly say were, “good news of good things.” As I look forward to the coming year, I think of several things that I would like to have take place. I’d like to see people truly give their life to Christ and follow Him. It’s clear that this is what God wants:

1 Tim. 2:4 says, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God made a way through Christ.

2 Cor. 5:21 says, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 

Jo. 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”  (2 Pet. 3:9)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  (Jo. 3:16)

We have been justified in Christ: we are declared righteous based on the merits of Jesus. We have been sanctified: Christ’s righteousness is applied to each of us every single day. It’s our responsibility to make sure that everyone knows they’re welcome at the foot of the cross.You don’t have to be a certain way to get Christ, come as you are. Everyone can and should come as they are, but no one should expect you stay that way.

The attitude in America is being reflected in the church. We have seen the expectation of transformation reduced to simple profession. That’s not the expectation of Christ. Rom. 6:4-7 says, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” We must truly make disciples and allow ourselves to be discipled. I continue to be amazed at the people that seek my guidance and totally disregard the truth of Scripture when it’s presented to them.

I’d like to see God’s people passionate about ministry. Is. 44:22 says, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud and your sins like a heavy mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” We need to turn back and follow Scripture. Why? We have a tendency to rewrite what we don’t ignore God. The fundamental principles of godliness and holiness have been replaced by catch phrases. Deep spiritual truths preached from the pulpits of America have been replaced by short, empty messages from high energy dynamic speakers. We’ve reduced the perfect Word of God to catch phrases. We want to be entertained by the man in the pulpit rather than be transformed by the message from the man. We think if we post Scripture on Facebook or talk about what a great prayer warrior you are, church participation is not necessary. I think there is more damage done for the cause of Christ by people who say they’re Christians, but have no supporting evidence in their lives. I think we’re buying the lie that a Christian can live in the world and participate in all of its trappings and not be affected. In John 17:16, Jesus said that we are not of this world. We know we’re physically present here, but we’re not supposed to be spiritually present. We’re supposed to be set apart. If you keep reading in John, Jesus says to God: “Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth.”

I think we’ve also fallen into the trap of idolatry. God becomes this great provider in the sky rather than the One who is worthy of our worship. We are looking for God to serve us rather than for us to serve Him. To put anything above the Lord is foolish, but we do it all the time. I think few people would admit that they do this, but our actions speak louder than our words. I’d like to see people get more involved in the opportunities we have here. We have become impatient which further separates us from God. Fewer and fewer people are willing to work hard. Fewer and fewer people make themselves available to do the hard, stressful, and emotionally draining work of the ministry. Fewer and fewer people are willing to persevere. More and more people say no to serving in the church. What have you said yes to?

I’d like to see people really make connections with others. There are people very casual about participation in the things of the church. We have people that miss one, two, three, four weeks and no one seems to notice and if they do notice, nothing comes of it. I’d like to see people participate in intentional ministry.

I’d like to see God’s people recognize and resist Satan. He’s the source of all the schemes of the world. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  (Ja. 4:7) We must first submit ourselves to God. Then we can stand against Satan in the strength and might of the Lord Himself. Satan is a destroyer. He will try to destroy your home, your relationships, your testimony, your desire, your devotion, and all the principles that are expected of us as Christians. Don’t fall into the trap. Satan’s way is never good, but unfortunately, even Christians are sometimes too ignorant to recognize this.

I’d like to see Jesus come back in 2015. Phil. 3:20 says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus promised in John 14:3, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” We’re too attached to this temporary home. We work to have things that will pass away. We spend the majority of our time on things that have no bearing on eternity.

What do you want to hear and see by the end of next year? How many will you share Christ with? How will you serve the Lord by serving others? Will you live the life of holiness God has called you to live? How authentic will you be?

A Tale of Two Men

TransformationYou can listen to the podcast here.

This time of year brings about lots of changes. The trees get new leaves, the flowers bloom, and the grass comes back to life. Our students took a break from school and eagerly await summer vacation. Is this what Easter has become in our culture? Is it just another day, another time of year that bridges the gap to something better? If Easter represents the risen Christ, what significance does that hold for us today?

We are in an age where simple profession of faith has replaced transformation. Churches seek the right mix of charismatic leaders to draw the crowds. Find the right mix of musicians, creative teams, and speakers and it doesn’t even have to be a Christian church. Elaborate, high energy worship services filled with emotion seem to draw the bigger crowds and people look around and conclude, “God must be doing something here.” In order to more effectively understand Easter, we need to go back in time. Does the resurrected Christ represent the same thing today as it did back in the first century? For many people in our culture, Easter is part of the semi-annual pilgrimage to church. For others, it represents the culmination of the truth that was foretold from the beginning of time. The church was growing dramatically in the first century and continues to grow at a rapid rate in countries where it is most dangerous to be a follower. I want to look at a first century man that was considered extraordinarily religious, yet was not a Christian.

This is a tale of two people. Stephen was an example of Christ like behavior and our story picks up as his life is ending. I hope you’ll take the time to look up the Scripture references. Look at Acts 7:51-57. Stephen was brought before the religious leaders of the day. They were the Sanhedrin, the elders, and the scribes and he was brought before them because of his testimony of Christ. He told them the truth about the history of Israel telling the leaders about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and David. They had received the law yet did not keep it. This was total hypocrisy and when Stephen pointed this fact out, they became outraged. So outraged that they took him outside the city and began stoning him where we focus on a man whose story is just beginning.

Look at Acts 7:58-60. Who is this cruel, wicked, evil, heartless man that was so opposed to Stephen that he just stood there? His name was Saul. Stephen and Saul were polar opposites. Stephen is full of the Holy Spirit and Saul is without the Spirit. But Saul is more than an innocent bystander. Keep reading Acts 8:1-3. There was no coercion for Saul, he heartily agreed with what was happening. Heartily means loudly vigorous and cheerful. Think cheering like at a sporting event. The persecution of the church in Jerusalem began that day at the hands of Saul forcing Christians to scatter and Saul begins, “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Ravaging means to cause extensive damage, to devastate. Saul wasn’t content to do this in public settings; no he went in people’s homes and dragged them out and it didn’t matter if they were men or women, he was an equal opportunity hater. To say that he was evil incarnate might be an understatement. But something happened in his life that would change the course of his life and change the course for humanity. Read some more from Acts 9:1-22.

Saul is an example of a total life make over. I want to compare his life prior to Christ with his life following his decision to follow Christ. The key for Saul was written in v. 18, “And he got up and was baptized.” We have to understand the biblical meaning of this word. It wasn’t just that he got put under the water. Biblical baptism comes after a change of mind and heart. It is the outward demonstration of what happened in Saul’s heart. It was a miracle. When you look at Saul’s life, there was a complete and total transformation that could only be attributed to the power of the Spirit of God. Look what happened immediately following Saul’s baptism. Read Acts 9:19b-22. Saul went from destroying Christians to preaching the risen Christ. What he was saying so upset the religious crowd – the Jews – that they developed a plot to kill him. The tables are now turned on Saul. The hunter now becomes the hunted.

In order to protect him, look what happens in Acts 9:26-30. We don’t hear anything about Saul until Acts 11 when Barnabas was sent to get him in Tarsus. Are you thinking, that’s just two chapters over? Even though it’s just two chapters, those two chapters represent about 14 years. Another year passes before the Bible calls this man Paul in Acts13:9. We don’t know all that went on in those silent years of Paul’s life, but I’m sure he knew firsthand the meaning behind 1 Cor. 2:14 as he wrote, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” We often think that Saul got saved, God changed his name to Paul and he packed his bags and began his first missionary journey. That just isn’t so. There was a period of years where he must have studied the Scriptures with fresh insight and renewed vigor. We know he taught some and shared the Gospel during that time. He was preparing for ministry during the time he was engaged in ministry. We do get insight that God had big plans for Paul from Acts 9:15, but for about 15 years, Paul did what he could where he could. Paul had a lot of baggage and I’m sure people had their doubts about his authenticity. This is evident in his later writings. Paul mentions his turnaround I his letters to the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Philippians, and to Timothy.

There was such a radical transformation in Paul’s life that after his first recorded sermon (which was off the cuff) in Acts 13, the people begged him to speak again the following Sabbath. Look at Acts 13:42-44. That kind of turnaround can only be attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul went from being a persecutor of the church to one that was persecuted because of his faith. Why should we expect less of modern day people that are indwelt by the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead that we celebrate today? One last passage from Phil. 3:3-6. You see, Saul was very religious, but had no relationship with Christ. His attempts to get to God were fruitless because Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (Jo. 14:6) That’s the key to get to God. Saul resisted Jesus for the same reason we resist Jesus. We think we can make it on our own. We think we make the rules, we think we’re doing good and right in our own eyes. Easter is about the resurrection. 1 Cor. 15:17 says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Easter is about acknowledging what Christ did on our behalf and trusting that His words are true.

The teaching of Jesus was countercultural and it still is. We talk about self sufficiency and Christ speaks of total dependence. Living authentically for Christ is the best way to show others He is alive. Saul was a religious zealot, Paul considered himself the chiefest of sinners. That can only be accomplished through the work of a holy and perfect God. We don’t see a period where he did nothing for Jesus, we don’t see a period where he was too busy to serve, too busy to study, pray, or be with fellow believers. We don’t see where he ever quit or gave up when things got hard or didn’t go as expected. For all the incredible things Paul did through the power of God, his main purpose in life, his main goal is found in Phil. 3:7-11. It should be our goal too.