New Year’s – Communion and Commission

Introduction:

            Another year has come and gone.  I am always amazed when the New Year comes around.  Some are excited 2018 is done and over with and are hoping for a better year; too many challenges and conflicts.  Others look back and have unanswered questions and are looking forward to possible solutions.  Others make New Year’s Resolutions looking for a fresh start.  Another aspect of the New Year is all the predictions, whether political or economic and local or global.  Even us Christians jump on the bandwagon of prophesying what the New Year will bring.  One of the challenges is the many different prophetic voices that seem to contradict each other.  The voices range from the a great apostacy to a great harvest.  Of course we have those who will predict the return of Jesus or the end of the world.  So here we are at the start of 2019 and I wondering what the Lord is saying to us here at Courts of Praise.  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches…”

Communion

            In my years of following Jesus I have learned the importance of relationship in God’s Kingdom.  Nothing is more important to God than his family.  Jesus died for mankind with the offer of personal friendship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Every day grace and mercy and peace are available to God’s children.  God wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives; family, work, play, church, mission.  In other words – our heavenly Father desires to communicate and connect with us.  This is where I believe God is saying “communion” is a key word for us to consider and engage with.  I love this verse from the Old Testament – “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him (2 Chron 16:9). 

            Communion has some wonderful synonyms to consider; Closeness, Compassion, Community, Intimacy, Relationship and Unity.  When we put communion together with “In Remembrance of Jesus” we discover a foundational value of the Kingdom of God – relationships.  We are the family of God and communion with God and each other is a fine goal to pursue in 2019.  “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 15:5-6).  What a beautiful picture of communion on earth as it is in heaven.

Let me ask you a couple of questions?  Are you interested in communion with God?   Or are you captivated by relationship with God?  On a scale of 1 – 10… where are you at?  We live in a world that provides too many distractions.  There are too many competing voices clamoring for our attention here and there.  What can we do?  I believe that 2019 is a year of opportunity for us to become not merely interested in God but fascinated by who he is and all that he has planned for us.  By fascinated I mean intentionally hungering and thirsting after God and seeking to fulfill his dreams on earth.  In other words, getting to know him and his Kingdom ways more than all that the world has to offer.  Apprehending God’s Heart and Fulfilling His Dreams is still the cry of my heart for Courts of Praise. 

So what does this “communion” look like in practice?  Firstly, Worship and the Word.  He is looking for true worshippers of Spirit and truth (John 4:34), for people who will devour his Word (Psalm 119).   Secondly, God has his ear on those who pray; not just simple religious or bless me prayers but prayers that thirst and pant for God as the deer pants for water (Psalm 42), prayers that are desperate and full of faith, prayers that long to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt 6:10).  God is not looking for a good song service, casual or brief reading of his Holy Scriptures or mechanical prayers.  In some ways we are genuine and growing in our communion with God and each other, and yet at other times we fall short of God’s glory.  One of the main reasons that the Great Commission is a struggle for many is that the life of Communion is lacking. 

Our Father in Heaven is looking for fascination, awe, amazement, and wonder to fill the hearts of his children once again.  He is also looking for a “communion” of the saints where there is love and care for each other.  “We are becoming a grace-full, loving, accepting and forgiving community of believers from all nations that celebrate each other and who are committed to bringing souls into God’s kingdom.”  Communion is both vertical with God and horizontal with each other and I am believing and praying for both in 2019.  But I must say that communion in and of itself is not complete unless there is a plan – a commission.

Commission

            Fulfilling His Dreams is part of the motto here at Courts of Praise.  This is all about the Great Commission.  The co-mission we are involved is the spreading of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Matt 28:18-20 is one of the foundational Scriptures of Foursquare Churches around the world – “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Over the past ten years or so we have put this verse into practice in a variety of ways.

·      Personal one on one evangelism, many of us sharing our testimonies of Jesus changing our lives. 

·      We done BBQ’s in the park.

·      PJ parties for the girls in Pleasant Hill School.

·      Outdoor concerts.

·      Mission trips to India and the Philippines.

·      Stephen’s Backpacks.

·      Mission trips within Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

·      Partnering with Foursquare churches and missions.

·      Prairie Light Christian Fellowship

 

Randy Barnetson who pastors the Street Church, a Foursquare work in downtown Vancouver was recently asked, “What is the Word for 2019?” I said “pretty much the same as He was saying in 2018.... “Visit the prisoners, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.”  I was blessed and challenged by Randy’s response.  He did not give some super-duper-spiritual-God-prophecy.  He kept it plain and simple and Biblical. 

I am not interested in “church as usual”.  Could the answer be as simple as making the transition from being fascinated with God once again (Communion) to intentional acts of Good News (Commission).  What does this look like?  During the Christmas season of 2018 we once again joined with Stephen’s Backpacks.  We shared the message with the congregation, engaged in fundraising and promotion.  However, one major difference was this – we packed backpacks together on a Sunday morning as part of our church service.  This service was a lot of work for many, set up, packing backpacks, clean up and then the delivery.  But over-all was one of the most productive services we have had at Courts of Praise in a long time.

What happened?  There was a convergence of Communion and Commission.  We worshipped together, shared the Word, prayed, had guest speakers from Pleasant Hill School and then we packed backpacks together – Fulfilling His Dreams and our too. 

In conclusion

            It is my hope and prayer that this 2019 will be a year of Communion and Commission meeting together for us.  A year of awe and fascination towards God.  Let’s draw near to God and in turn he will draw near to us (James 4:4).  The more we seek God the more he desires to share himself with us.  Let’s taste and see that the Lord is Good (Psalm 34:7).  Let’s be like the Bereans who “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).  Let’s walk in fellowship and unity with each other – this is true communion. 

But we are not going to stop there.  In the months ahead we are going to discover how we can be practically involved with sharing the Great Commission here is Saskatoon and beyond.  The Commission will involve our time, energy and money.  There is something wonderful when the family of God comes together fulfilling the plans and purposes of God. 

In application

We have a week of Prayer & Fasting in conjunction with our Foursquare Church Family.

           

We are planning for Feb 10/19 Mission’s Sunday – Lighthouse gifts bags for Feb 14th.

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Story

December 25th is just around the corner and there's no doubt we're all aware, it's the Christmas Season. We see the signs everywhere. Houses, streets and shopping malls are deck out with color and lights. Christmas music plays, and most everyone seems to be in a joyful spirit. People searching for the perfect gift and making sure it's wrapped and under the tree for their loved ones. When the big day arrives there's an excitement, the gifts are opened, paper is scattered about but, it is not long before life returns to normal and maybe even a disappointment or two set in, because what they were seeking was not found in a gift-wrapped package. Please don't misunderstand, giving and receiving gifts are wonderful. A way we express our love for one another, but there is only one gift that can truly satisfy.

Imagine for a moment the shepherds tending flocks of sheep on the hills outside of Bethlehem. Throughout the day the shepherds watched as the people grew in number. Some had journeyed from far away because Augustus decreed a census should be taken. As day turned into evening, maybe some of the shepherd noticed a donkey carrying a woman who was with child, being led by a man. They might have even wondered where the couple would stay as now there was no more room in Bethlehem. The stillness of the night settled in and there seemed to be an anticipation in the air, could it be just because of the gathering of the people for the census, or was there some more about to take place.

Before we talk about the birth of Jesus. Here is little history concerning the date, December 25, some may already know this. December 25th was a pagan Roman holiday before the birth of Christ. It was celebrated as the birthday of the sun god Mithra. Most ancient religions had a sun god of some sort. Around 350 AD, December 25 was Christianize by the Roman Catholic Church. Even though we did not know the exact date of Jesus Birth. There is nothing wrong in our celebrating Jesus Birthday on the December 25, but as believers in Christ we should remember to celebrate in a way that brings glory and honor to Him.

The Birth of Jesus is one of the most significant events in the history of mankind. The Old Testament prophesied Jesus would be born of a virgin. He would a restorer of Israel, and light to the gentiles (meaning us). Most of all he would bring Salvation to the world

·      Is. 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel

·      Is 49:6 He says, “You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

 

In Matthew and Luke, we find the genealogy of Jesus. About 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Micah prophesied the place Jesus’ would be born Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf. These scriptures and many more were known to the Jewish people. They had been handed down by word of mouth for generations. The people were in anticipation of the Messiah coming.

Luke 2: 1:7 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2(This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. While reading the passage from Luke there were couple of things that caught my attention. First, are the cloths, mentioned in Luke 2:7. Some translation say, "strips of cloth", like the NLT. Where the AKJV reads clothes, which seems to indicate a complete garment. These were more likely strips of cloth Mary used to wrapped Jesus in. This will be made clear as we processed. Scripture mentions the swaddling or wrapping snuggly two times. Once with Mary and then when the angel speaks to the shepherds.

I recently read a book on the cultural insights of First Century Jewish Life. The strips of cloth were fresh in my thoughts when Larry asked if I would read the Christmas story. In "Understanding Jesus" by Joe Amaral. He shares about a Jewish cultural practice during the First century where if you’re going on a long journey you would take strips of cloth in case one was to die. The strip was then used to wrap the dead body in to prepare for burial. He says these strips of cloth were what Mary wrapped Jesus, giving us a glimpse of God's future plan for salvation and foreshadowing the death of Jesus.

It was becoming clear the strip of cloth was written in scripture for a reason, especially when we read they are mentioned again where the shepherds are concerned. When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem and discovered there was no rooms available they were provided lodging in the caves were the sheep were born. It is possible if there were rooms available in the inn Mary would have had help in delivering Jesus and he would have been swaddled in something else. But God have a different plan for the birth of his Son. So, Mary wrapped Jesus in the only available resource they had, which spoke volumes to the Jewish community then, and to us today. Luke 2:8-14 8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

As I read from other sources, having to do the "strip of cloth" information concerning the shepherds came to light. It was not normal for shepherds to tend large flock close to where people lived, because the odor from the flocks made it hard for people to breath. Therefore, the flocks were normally confined far from where people resided. The question then is, why were there shepherds in Bethlehem?

 

Bethlehem was the exception.

 

Those sheep that grazed on the hillsides of Bethlehem, belonged to the High Priest and his family. For centuries lambs were raised in Bethlehem, which is located about 6 miles from Jerusalem. Each lamb was declared to be unblemished by the priests and they were separated to be sacrificed in the Temple or eaten as Passover lamb in Jerusalem. The flock of lambs required a great host of shepherds that worked in shifts. Some watched the sheep while the others slept. It is no coincidence that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was also born in the same town as the sacrificial lambs were raised. John the Baptist said of Jesus, behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The angel told the Shepherds they would recognized the baby by the "sign of being wrapped in strips of cloth." Luke 2: 12. My first though was, why did these shepherds who looked after the sheep, need the sign of "strips of cloth" to recognize the baby. Then I read the following quote by a Jewish Rabbi from New Jersey Rabbi Sobel offers a fascinating view of Jesus and the swaddling clothes. He says, "the so called "Levitical Shepherds" would wrap the lambs in swaddling clothes to protect them, thereby offering lambs without blemish for the Passover lamb."

Another source reads: "The Shepherds had been designated from the time they were very young and assigned the task of "keeping watch” over the Temple’s flocks. One of their tasks was to make certain that none of these lambs were blemished while being birthed. The lambs were immediately wrapped in "swaddling cloths" after their births to protect them from injury. Baby lambs tend to thrash about and harm themselves in their first couple of hours of their lives. The shepherds who attended these lambs, were under special rabbinical care, and were required to keep their birthing caves ritually clean."

It is in one of these caves, it is believed Jesus was born. Rabbi Sobel also says. "What did the shepherd see as they as they arrived where Jesus was born. A baby born in the same place the Passover lambs were born, swaddled like a Passover lamb, pointing to the fact, the Baby Jesus, the Messiah was the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world." Those Levitical Shepherds on the hillside of Bethlehem, who raised, nurtured and cared for the Passover Lambs, also knew the prophesies concerning the coming of the Messiah. When they witnessed Jesus wrapped snuggly in strips of cloth, I believe their eyes were opened and they understood this little baby was the Lamb of God. After witnessing this they went and spread the Good News to everyone.

Luke 2: 15-20 15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Jesus the only begotten Son of God, willing gave up all the Glory of Heaven, left his Father's throne and stepped from eternity into time to become the Lamb of God, shedding his blood for our sin. It is because of His great love for us, he freely gave the Gift of himself. The only gift that truly satisfies completely. As we celebrate with family and friends this Christmas I hope we all stop and ponder the cost of the Gift Jesus gave, and offer back to him the living sacrifices of our hearts completely without reservation.

Is 9:6-7 For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace. There will be no end.

By Bette Bechal

 

The “Parable” of the Good Shepherd

Introduction

The Gospel of John is uniquely different from the Matthew, Mark and Luke.  They tell the stories of Jesus often using parables, whereas John interprets Jesus’ teaching through lengthy reports.  The opening verses of the gospel reveal that John wants to focus on distinct theological themes.  There are no genealogies, no announcements to Jesus’ miraculous birth, as found in the other gospels.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.  3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:1-4).  Throughout John’s Gospel there is the progressive revealing of the Son of God by contrasting such ideas as light and darkness, life and death, belief and unbelief, truth and falsehood, love and hate.

Another unique distinction of John’s Gospel is that of the absence of a “traditional” parable.  While the other gospels record Jesus’ story-telling, John tends to use figures of speech to make his point.  This is clearly found in John 10, where Jesus speaks of the Good Shepherd.

“I am” the Door

             During Jesus’s ministry on earth, he said many things that challenged the people of his day.  He often spoke in parables, or, as we will see in this passage of Scripture (John 10:1-21), using figures of speech.  One of Jesus’ ways of teaching in John’s Gospel is that of the seven “I am” statements.  Each statement gives us a glimpse into God’s character and what he’s like.  The statements brought both challenge and encouragement to the listeners.

 

1. I am the bread of life

John 6:35,48,51

2. I am the light of the world

John 8:12; 9:5

3. I am the door of the sheep

John 10:7,9

4. I am the good shepherd

John 10:11, 14

5. I am the resurrection and the life

John 11:25

6. I am the way, the truth, and the life

John 14:6

7. I am the true vine

John 15:1

 

            Throughout his Gospel, John reveals Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah long promised by the prophets.  In the “parable” of the Good Shepherd, Jesus contrasts good verses bad shepherds in relation to sheep.  In context, the previous chapter relates to Jesus healing a man born blind and the subsequent effects on his life, his family and the Pharisees who investigate the healing.  Jesus relates natural blindness to spiritual blindness and then tells this story – “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them (John 10:1–6).  In a simple yet confronting way, Jesus shows the difference between himself and all those who claim to religious leadership in Israel.  The Pharisees did not understand because they were spiritually blind.  They knew all about sheep and shepherds, but they failed to see Jesus’ point.  It was often this way with the parables Jesus told, but in this encounter, he took time to explain it to them.        

           

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:7-10).  In Jesus’ day, many shepherds shared the same pasture and even drove their flocks together into a sheepfold at night.  In the morning, each shepherd would stand at the open gate and call for his sheep. The flock would recognize his voice and follow him out.  

Jesus stated that he was the gate for the sheep.  There are shepherds who care for their sheep, but none of them can be the entrance into the family of God.  When Jesus calls himself the door or gate for the sheep, he is identifying the not a “good way” (among many ways into heaven) but the only “God way” into God’s family.  There is only one Good Shepherd and Jesus states this plainly in John 14:6, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

Jesus came to care for the sheep and lead them back to God.  He has compassion and concern for the sheep and wants to do what was best for them.  The thief or the robber or the hired hand act in their own interest whereas the true shepherd acts in the best interests of the flock in mind.  In other words, the religious leaders were profiting off the flocks of God rather that helping them to grow and reach maturity.  On the other hand, Jesus did not come to gain advantage over their lives, but rather so that they may have a satisfied, fulfilling and abundant life (John 10:10).

“I am” the Good Shepherd

Shepherd was a term applied to spiritual leaders in the Old Testament.  Prophets, priests and Kings were often evaluated on how they “shepherded” God’s people.  Now, Jesus goes onto say that he is the Good Shepherd, who “lays his life down for the sheep” (John 10:11), which speaks of God’s plan for redemption.  Jesus repeats this idea four times in his conversation with his disciples and the Pharisees.  The laying down of life Jesus speaks about carries with it several ideas.  Someone who sacrifices themselves for the betterment of the flock.  Someone who pays the price.  Someone who lays aside as in putting something off; it was Jesus who lay aside his heavenly reign for the sake of God and God’s people. 

The shepherd who would die to save the sheep would remind the religious leaders about an Old Testament passage found in Isaiah 53:6“We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

 

Every one of us has wandered away from our Creator and entered into a sinful lifestyle.  It is only the Good Shepherd who can restore us into right relationship with God.  God has desired to express his love for his sheep by rescuing those who neither deserve rescue nor have the ability to bring themselves to safety.  We all need a Good Shepherd who can rescue, redeem and restore the flock of God. 

In Conclusion

            We see in John 10:19-21 the religious leaders who were unable to control Jesus.  There spiritual blindness leads them into division once again, after Jesus states “I am” the Door and the Good Shepherd.  They wrestle with their thoughts as well as the fact of a man born blind was now fully healed.  Some say Jesus is demon possessed while others question this idea.  How could someone demon possessed heal the sick? 

I see two main points of Jesus sharing the figure of speech using sheep and shepherds.  Firstly, Jesus is the Door, the only door and the only life and the only truth that brings people into the flock of God.  There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12).  This truth weeded out all the religious leaders and competition among them vying for authority and control of the people of God in Israel.  Secondly, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who truly knows his sheep and would fully die for them that they might live a new life in the Spirit.  The intention of the Good Shepherd is love, he desires that his people would live and be fully satisfied in this world.  There will be challenges for sure but the Good Shepherd’s longing is for us to experience an abundant life.  What would this mean for a sheep under the shepherd’s care?  Provision, protection, safety, affection, health, comfort.  When we put this into a human context these aspects are to become a blessed experience.  The abundant life is not just a theory or good idea but something that is to be the norm of Christian experience. 

In Application

            If there is someone who doesn’t know Jesus as the Door or the Good Shepherd, today is a great day to come into and under God’s care.  The best decision I ever made was to respond to the Good Shepherd’s love and care for my life. 

            My second thought for the application is this.  The abundant life made available to the believer is something to be enjoyed.  There are the basics of food, clothing and shelter that make up life in a modest sense.  But there is also an aspect of abundant and fulfilled living as a believer.  This is not a message just of financial prosperity, but of enjoying life beyond the nitty-gritties.  House verse home thinking and experience.  It is important to fill our lives with the goodness of the Good Shepherd.  Find out what you enjoy in life and then go for it, not as an idol but in pursuing God.  He is a good Father who delights in his children and desires us to know his paths of righteousness and joy.  

            So whatever is in the way of the abundant life in Jesus, let’s lay it aside and remember that Jesus lay aside his own life that we might experience life to the fullest.

           

  

 

A Parable of Christian Love

Introduction

Love is an idea encouraged by Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims and so on.  You may not even believe in God, like atheists or agnostics, but still understand something about love.  Love is something every man, woman, and child strives to obtain every day.  The word itself has become so watered down that love often loses its true meaning. 

The Scripture has a lot to say about God’s love.  With loud voices Christians will sing about God’s love and mercy.  They have memorized Scripture about the love of God with John 3:16 being the most famous – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.  As Christians, we have no excuse for not knowing what love is…  We understand that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8).  But the Scripture tells us “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  This verse alone should awaken the church of Jesus Christ to the important of Christian Love.  As believers we know the importance of not taking our eyes off of God’s love and mercy.  But God states, it is “Christian Love”, love for one another, that will be the distinguishing mark of believers, letting the world know that we are disciples of Jesus.    

As Christians, we have a powerful in-depth description of love found in 1 Cor 13:4-7 - “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and it not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.  As Christians grow in patience and kindness and so on the world around us gets a better picture of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  That is what love looks like.  These should be the marks of Christ’s disciples.  However, there are times when the world hears “Christian” – they do not think of this love.  They think of rules.  Or maybe Christian people who are judgmental.  That may or may not be true of us, but it is our responsibility to change what the world thinks of Christians.  It’s still our responsibility to demonstrate that radical love described to the Corinthians.  This morning we will look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus speaks about Christian Love.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

            Many of Jesus’ parables illustrate the tension that comes as we live in two worlds, one being the physical and the other the spiritual.  Jesus teaches us how to resolve that tension by giving priority to the spiritual, trusting that our heavenly Father will meet our practical needs.  In this parable, Jesus confronts the clash of cultures and how to distinguish true love. We find this parable in Luke 10:25-37.

 

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 

“Love your neighbor as yourself” was part of the Old Testament law (Lev 19:18).  However, Jewish teachers had often interpreted neighbor only in relation to people of their own nationality and religion.  The expert in the law was hoping that Jesus would agree with this interpretation.  Therefore, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  In response, Jesus shares this parable.  One of the main points of this parable is this - our love for God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind is seen in the way we love all people.  The key to understanding this parable is by identifying those involved - a man is robbed, robbers, a priest, a Levite, a Samaritan and an innkeeper.

·      The man robbed - The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was rocky with high walls and was frequented by robbers.  This would catch the attention of the listeners.  They would know the peril of this journey and maybe some of them were victims of the same crime. 

·      The robbers – a band of cowards pick on one solitary traveler.  They are villains who leave him to die.  And yet they are not the chief villains in this story.  That distinction belongs to the next two characters, the priest and the Levite.

·      The priest identifies a religious leader of Israel who would perform sacrifices, take care of the Temple and provide religious teaching.  The fact that he passes on the other side of the road speaks of his lack of compassion for the man in distress.

·      The Levite is also a religious leader who would serve in the temple and should have known better.  He, too, avoids the beaten and bloody man in need.

·      The Samaritan.  First of all, Samaria was a region of central Palestine that was once the capital of Israel.  It was captured by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. and they deported many of the inhabitants and replaced them with foreign colonists.  This caused intermarriage and the adoption of non-Jewish practices.  As a result the Jews considered the Samaritans to be religious heretics of a foreign nationality and inferior race.  The Samaritans offered to help rebuild the Jewish temple, but their offer was rudely rebuffed (Ezra 4:1-3). Later on the Samaritans actually built a competing temple proclaiming it to be the true house of God.  Suffice it to say, for hundreds of years the Jews and Samaritans hated each other.

 

The Samaritan was the one who took pity and action to help and heal the man beaten by the robbers.  He physically touched the man, bandaged his wounds, and poured in oil and wine to heal and soothe.  He goes above and beyond, in contrast to the priest and Levite who did nothing.  The Samaritan takes him to an innkeeper and pays for all the costs for his complete recovery.  For Jesus to introduce a Samaritan into the parable would arouse every ear listening.  How could Jesus bring a Samaritan into the parable?  How rude.  How insensitive.  The Samaritan would be considered less than a “neighbour” in the Jewish mind.  If a Samaritan man could be a potential neighbour, then everyone, regardless of race, religion, nationality or any other distinction could be our neighbour.

 

Jesus ends the parable with a question back at the expert of the Law (verse 36) - “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”  The expert in the Law could not bring himself to say the Samaritan which was the obvious and only reply.  Instead he says - “The one who had mercy on him.” 

“Go and do likewise” – is Jesus’ response, implying that all people are to be treated as neighbours with mercy and compassion.  In this case the Samaritan is the Hero!  God a be like the Samaritan.

In Conclusion

The expert in the Law asked the question of how to inherit eternal life.  One of the most deeply ingrained human notions is that a person must do something to win God’s love and favour.  We know how to accept gifts from other people.  But when it comes to our relationship with God our pride steps in and we want to say to God, “I earned it!”  However, we know from Scripture that salvation is a gift that cannot be earned – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).  In trying to justify himself, the expert in the Law tried to outsmart Jesus.  As in the case of many of Jesus’ parables, there is a shocking end to the story.  The Samaritan was the hero, not the religious leaders nor the expert of the Law. 

A big question for us today is the same as that of the expert of the Law, “who is my neighbour?”  In our culture the idea of the Samaritan is foreign.  However, we do have racial issues that spring up all around us as Christians.  We have First Nation issues, Immigration issues, Political issues, Gender issues, Economic issues and so on.  There are things that we may not agree upon and all of these can produce a sense of us and them.   And yet they are our neighbours and should be treated with compassion and mercy as described in this parable.   So when we find someone in distress, do not pass by, do not avoid or be rude.  We must be compassionate, and this is a learning process.  God will place us in situations with people so that we can learn what it is to demonstrate God’s love.  The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another and our neighbours.  Let’s pray…

Persistence in Prayer

Introduction

            One of the most common themes of preachers is that of prayer.  Why is the preaching on prayer so abundant?  Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, prayed throughout his life, giving us an example to live by.  The Gospel of Luke keeps a great record of Jesus praying. 

·      He prayed at the time of His baptism (Luke 3:21)

·      He prayed when he chose his disciples (Luke 6:12)

·      He often prayed alone (Luke 5:16; 9:18)

·      He also prayed with others around (Luke 9:28–29)

·      He prayed for Simon (Luke 22:32)

·      He prayed in the garden before his betrayal (Luke 22:40–44)

·      He even prayed on the cross (Luke 23:46).

 

Jesus was led by the Spirit of God and one of his points of connection with his Father was prayer.  We know that Jesus was introducing a new and spiritual Kingdom.  We preached and demonstrated the Kingdom of God and people were amazed that he taught as one who had authority.  This is because his teaching was accompanied with signs and wonders.  If Jesus the Son of God prayed, how much more should we take to heart our need to pray.  This leads us to today’s message on prayer. 

Jesus’ Teaching on Prayer

            We saw that last week as Jesus taught on humility and then shared a parable about the Lost Sheep, and, he taught on forgiveness and then again shared his parables relating to forgiveness (Matt 18:1-35).  The same is true in today’s passage of Scripture; one of Jesus’ methods of instruction was to combine teaching with parables.  One may ask why the Lord’s Prayer is different between Matthews Gospel (Matt 6:5-8) and Luke’s Gospel (Luke 11:2-4).  In essence, these are two different passages or teachings about prayer.  Matthew records Jesus teaching on prayer in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, whereas Luke records Jesus teaching on prayer in response to a question by one of the disciples - Luke 11:1-13One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).  In this passage, Jesus was leading by example when one of the disciples asked to be taught how to pray.  

            In Luke 11:2-4, Jesus speaks to five prayer points for his disciples to follow; most likely this is how Jesus prayed.  The first two points relate to being focused and concerned about God. 

1.     “‘Father, hallowed be your name

There is something wonderful about names.  Your name identifies you.  What you are called influences who you are.  This is definitely seen in the names of God.  Adonai – our God who rules; Elohim – our strong creator; El Elyon – our most high God; El Shaddai – our Lord God Almighty; Immanuel – our God with us; Jehovah – our relational God; Jehovah Jireh – our provider; Jehovah Tsaba – our warrior; Jehovah Shalom – our peace; Jehovah Rohi – our shepherd; Jehovah Nissi – our victory; Jehovah Mekoddishkim – our sanctifier; Jehovah Rapha – our healer; Jehovah Tsidkenu – our righteousness.  Jesus instructs his disciples to worship and pray these names back to his Father in heaven.  By focusing on his Names we become like what we worship.   

2.     Your kingdom come

When a person prays for the coming of the kingdom, he is identifying with the message of Jesus and His followers.  In other words, we are asking for the kingdom of God to rule supreme in our lives and circumstances. 

3.     Give us this day our daily bread

The third request was for daily bread.  Bread is a general term denoting nourishment and provision for the day.  Thus, this request is for food that is necessary to sustain life for the day.  Jesus also called himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35) which brings new meaning to our daily bread; we are to spiritually feed on Jesus daily.

4.     Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us

Jesus fourth point is concerned man’s relationship to God and to each other, the forgiveness of sins.  In asking for forgiveness of sins a person expresses his faith in God’s love and mercy and that God will forgive him.  This kind of true and experienced forgiveness is evidenced by our faith by forgiving others.  Forgiveness is essential and required in the Kingdom of God.

5.     And lead us not into temptation

The fifth request speaks to Jesus’ followers praying that they be delivered from situations that would cause them to sin.  His disciples, contrary to the religious elites realized that they were easily drawn into sin.  Therefore, Jesus’ followers need to ask God for help to live righteous lives.

Prayer and persistence

Initially Jesus answers the disciple’s question with a short teaching on prayer.  Now he moves into story mode once again.  “Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’  7 “Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.  9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:5-10).

Jesus’ teaching on prayer simplifies our approach to God and emphasizes that we are to not babble on with meaningless words, but to simply trust God.  Now in the parable we are assured that God welcomes prayer and urged them to come to him continuously and persistently.  “So I say to you” – this is Jesus kicking back into teaching mode - ask, seek and knock.   With the emphasis on persistence, we are to “keep on asking”, “keep on seeking”, “keep on knocking”.  Why?  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened…

It can be easy to become discouraged when we don’t see a response to prayer in the timeframe we had in mind.  But God is not required to work in our timeframes!  How often do you find yourself giving up after praying for something one time and not seeing an answer?  Jesus uses this parable to encourage the disciples to persist in prayer.  Even though your friend won’t get up because it is abnormally late, if you stand your ground, knocking, making a scene, and waking all the neighbors, he’ll finally get up and get you whatever you need.  In other words, our prayers need to be determined and bold…

Prayer and our Father in heaven

            The second illustration begins with a rhetorical question making the disciples listen more intently.  Jesus began his teaching about our Father in heaven, now he explains God’s excitement to meet our needs.  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)

            The main point to Jesus’ statement here is simple - our heavenly Father gives his children what is good for them, not what harms them.  Jesus encouraged the people of God to be direct with their Father.  The Message Translation says, “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct.  Ask for what you need.  This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in.  If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?  If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider?  As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children”.  Jesus ends this passage by saying that our Father will give us a good gift - the Holy Spirit.

In conclusion

            We all know the importance of healthy prayer in the life.  Jesus himself modeled a lifestyle of prayer for his disciples and us.  The Lord’s prayer is one of the most important teachings of genuine Christianity.  It involves worship of God, intercession on behalf of God’s Kingdom, supplication for our personal needs, and spiritual warfare over sin and satan. 

            In today’s message, Jesus’ then shares a parable of persistence and bold prayer.  Sometimes life is challenging, and we find ourselves growing weary.  At times the same can be said of our prayer life.  What are some of the prayers you've been praying for a while, and feel like giving up on?  What are some of the prayers you've given up on because you didn't get an answer quickly?  These questions and others challenge us in life, but nonetheless Jesus exhorts us to pray and not give up.  We are to keep on asking, seeking and knocking on heaven’s doors, so to speak.  Why?  This question is answered in the next story. 

            The second illustration explains God’s eagerness to meet our every need, and to grant our requests.  God is our Father and he is good.  This is key to understanding our relationship with the Lord and his attitude toward us and is foundational to a healthy and powerful prayer life.  As followers of Christ we learn to pray as we put the Lord’s prayer into action.  We ask and seek and knock not out of performing for God but because we are his children.  Our Father is eager to see us grow and deepen as his sons and daughters.  Every step of obedience and prayer deepens his work in our lives, forming our identities and discovering our destiny.

God has promised to answer our prayers and provide for our needs, but he is also a wise parent who will not give his child everything he or she wants.  Similarly, prayer is not a Genie in a bottle granting us our three wishes, no matter what they are.  Prayer is not a magical trick for a quick fix for problems that we should be solving ourselves.  God answers prayer requests in his own way and in his own time.  God answers prayer requests that agree with his Holy Bible.  God answers prayer requests that are persistent and not selfish in nature.  We may need a new attitude or a different way of looking at things, or we may need to make amends with somebody.

Jesus ends this passage of Scripture with this statement – “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  This should make of grow in desire to draw near to God and fully engage in prayer and communication with him.

In application

            There are several thoughts that I am having this morning in applying God’s Word. 

Firstly, we have been given a clear pattern for prayer, therefore we should pray…  The Lord’s Prayer is simple and yet divinely powerful to change our lives and those around us. 

Secondly, are there any prayer requests that you have given up on?

Thirdly, your Father in heaven wants to give good gifts to his children, especially the Holy Spirit, because he is good. 

 

Humility and the Forgiveness of God

Introduction

            Last week we looked at Jesus’ parables on the Kingdom of God, which was one of his main messages.  He was transitioning the Jewish people from the Law and the Prophets to a new spiritual kingdom.  In Matthew 13 Jesus shared 7 parables helping us to understand the importance of God’s Word being received into our lives.  Also, there is great value in encountering God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus exhorts us to passionately seek the kingdom with great joy.  This morning we will look at Matthew 18 and see Jesus giving some teaching and speaking in story form.  This back and forth style leads Jesus to introduce two parables that speak to humility and forgiveness. 

Teaching on Humility

At one point in Jesus’ ministry the disciples come and ask a question relating to the Kingdom of God, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matt 18:1) In Mark and Luke this question comes out of a quarrel among the disciples.  In essence, they were vying for position in this new-found spiritual kingdom.  This question opens up new conversation as to how to approach the Kingdom of Heaven.  Humility is key as Jesus speaks of becoming like little children in addressing their argument.  This would challenge any grown up who thinks they have it all together; in other words, become like little children.  Jesus goes even further by stating – “if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt 18:6).  In relation to sin, Jesus uses a hyperbole or exaggeration to make his point even more dramatic.  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  Or if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out (Matt 18:7-9). 

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

In the context of the Kingdom of God and “little ones” which speak of humility, Jesus tells a parable about lost sheep.  Jesus reminds the disciples that angels are looking over these little ones and keeping track of how they are treated, so to speak.  Then he shares this parable.   “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matt 18:12-14)

Just moments before this parable, Jesus was exhorting the disciples to humility as a means to greatness.  Now he speaks about sheep with humility still in their thoughts; sheep represented the people of God and Jesus desires humility to be their signifying characteristic. 

Jesus also warned the disciples about causing a child to sin.  Now in the parable he speaks of one sheep wandering away from the flock.  Jesus is wanting the disciples to understand the connection between teaching and this parable.  Sin will cause you to wander away from God.  I believe Jesus is saying that children have great value and if one of those “little sheep” wander away we must go and find that one that got lost on the way.   In the parallel passage in Luke 15:6-7 Jesus states – “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent”. 

Humility and joy go hand in hand.  Humility and innocence and trust go hand in hand.  We must not lose our humility through sin or wandering away from God.  Stay child-like and humble before God and each other. 

Teaching on Forgiveness

            In his previous teaching/parable, Jesus emphasized the importance of humility.  Now moving forward in his thought, Jesus now speaks to the issue of someone who sins against you (Matt 18:15-20) and how we should learn to forgive.  I want to say first of all that there is a difference between sinning against someone and offending someone.  Jesus was without sin and yet offended many by telling them the truth, yet he never asked for their forgiveness.  In this passage when Jesus refers to sin, he is speaking of someone acting contrary to the will or laws of God.  In this teaching moment Jesus gives very practical advice to avoid bringing shame to the person sinning and to help avoid misunderstanding and potential gossip.  GO IN PRIVATE TO THE ONE WHO HAS SINNED (NOT OFFENDED) YOU.  This first step is so essential to walking in humility and forgiveness.  If this does not work, Jesus gives further instruction to bring one of two “witnesses”, not gossips, but someone who actually has seen and experienced the sinful act or behaviour.  Jesus carries on by bringing an unresolved situation before the church.  If this does not resolve them treat them like a pagan or tax collector.  Reconciliation is the goal of Jesus’ teaching here; the entire assembly must try to bring the straying brother or sister back to the fold.  In Jewish context, Gentiles and tax collectors would be regarded as outsiders and this instruction to cut ties with the unrepentant sinner is intended to remove sin from the local group of believers. 

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt 18:18-20).  The expressions “bind” and “loose” were common Jewish legal terms meaning to declare something forbidden or to declare it allowed.  In this passage, Jesus uses these terms in the context of church discipline.  My thought is this, binding and loosing and agreeing is based on genuine and true forgiveness.  In other words, we must BIND or NOT ALLOW sin to infect the church.  But someone caught in sin can only be LOOSED or set free when the forgiveness of God deeply and totally touches their heart.  Within the church, forgiveness must flow if we truly want to LOOSE the experience of the fulness of God’s Kingdom.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

            I love the Apostle Peter and how he interacts with Jesus.  Jesus just taught about dealing with someone who sins against you and Peter comments – “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matt 18:21).  I can relate to Peter’s thoughts, “up to seven times” …  Jesus’ response would have seemed like a glass of cold water being thrown in Peter’s face.  The Law and Prophets put limits with regards to dealing with sinful behaviour, in some cases physical death was the punishment.  Jesus’ teaching needs to be spoken in parable form to make the point more understandable. 

            Let’s read Matthew 18:23-35

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

           

            In Jesus’ day, the reference to 10,000 talents represented the largest number used in financial transactions; one talent being equivalent to 15 years of wages (you do the math).  The man and his family were going to be forced into slavery for many generations.  The man asked for mercy and received great mercy.  This man was forgiven an enormous debt.  However, even though he was forgiven much, this man went after one of his fellow servants who owed a hundred denarii or about 100 days of wages.  The story of this man’s unmerciful treatment gets back to the master and king.  “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”  Powerful words.  The man’s debt was insurmountable; once in jail, he would never be able to make restitution.  Jesus ends with the punch line - “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

In Conclusion

            Jesus shared going back and forth in teaching and parable styles to help instruct the disciples and those hearing his words to be Kingdom Minded.  Humility and forgiveness are foundational characteristics in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Being child-like is a challenge for the religious elite and even for the disciples who were arguing about who was the greatest.  Jesus uses the little children in his teaching and sheep in the parable to get them thinking about humility and also the dangers of sins.  Sin and wandering away from God are unhealthy companions.  And when sin begins to affect the church, there is protocol for church discipline. The practical steps that Jesus describes are meant to protect the church but also to make reconciliation possible.  We must learn to BIND sinful behaviour from the church but also LOOSE forgiveness from a compassionate and merciful heart.  If we don’t forgive others as we have so graciously been forgiven, then we will end up in a worse state than we started.

 

 How many of us have imprisoned ourselves in side walls of arrogance and pride?  We think, I’m better than… I’m glad I’m not like those people… If only they would do it my way…

 

Sometimes our prison is unforgiveness and we hold onto anger and bitterness?  Holding onto grudges does not make you strong, it makes you bitter.  Unforgiveness is like poison.  It is deadly and causes great problems in relationships. 

 

In contrast, humility and forgiveness are so powerfully seen in the life of Jesus.  He humbled himself taking the form of a servant, leaving his high place in heaven behind.  He forgave those who mistreated and crucified him and has forgiven all our sins as well.

In Application

Before Nelson Mandela left prison, he said, “As I stand at the door to my freedom, I realize that if I do not leave my pain, anger and bitterness behind me, I will still be in prison.” 

 

Humility is the means to greatness in God’s Kingdom.  It opens doors spiritually and practically for God to be glorified. 

 

Forgiveness does not make you weak, it sets you free.  Confession is a practical application to experiencing the fulness of God’s love and mercy. 

 

Today we have the opportunity to choose humility…

 

Today we have the privilege of loosing forgiveness…

 

Let’s pray…

 

 

The Kingdom of God 

Introduction 

Jesus was the master story-teller with his parables often having an unexpected twist or surprise.  Jesus’ original audience in first century probably knew what he was saying because he used experiences and illustrations that were common.  Those of us who are far removed from that time and culture will need some help from historians and Bible scholars to understand the original cultural context and issues involved.  Last week we spoke the Parable of the Sower.  Just as the farmer scatters seed throughout the field, God gives His word to the entire world.  Some seed is trampled and hardened path, speaking of God’s word being rejected by people having hearts hardened by pride and prejudice.  Other seed falls on rocky or thorny ground where shallow faith and the cares of the world crowd out God’s word.  The seed that falls on good soil yields a fruitful crop in people who listen, understand and obey.   

One of the main themes of the New Testament is the Kingdom of God.  In Mark and Luke, the Kingdom of God is spoken of over and over while in the gospel of Matthew the phrase used is the Kingdom of heaven.  The Gospel of John speaks of eternal life while only mentioning the Kingdom of God a few times.  John the Baptist came preaching “Repent, for the Kingdom of God has come near” (Matt 3:2).  For hundreds of years, the Jewish people had been expecting the powerful intervention of the Messiah to restore the nation of Israel and defeat its enemies.  When John the Baptist and then Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom was at hand, it was certainly understood in terms of this expectation.  However, the Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming was a spiritual kingdom not of this world.  At one point the people tried to take Jesus by force and make him their king (John 6:5).   

The Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds 

Many of Jesus parables speak of the Kingdom of God and we clearly see this in Matthew 13.    

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)  

This is another of Jesus parables that he explains to his disciples because they did not fully understand.  In this second parable, Jesus again used the figure of the sower, but with a different twist.   

Then [Jesus] left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:36-43) 

After a farmer sowed his wheat seed, an enemy came at night and sowed weeds in the same soil.  There is a weed named darnel that closely resembles wheat in the early stages of growth.  There was no way to determine which was wheat and which was darnel until both had matured and it was time for the harvest.  Both the wheat and weeds grow together in a field, just like there are both good people and evil people in the world.  If anyone tried to pull up the weeds they would damage the wheat, so they had to wait for the harvest.   

The main point of this parable is simple and yet very challenging especially for the religious leaders of Jesus day.  Just as it is difficult to distinguish the weeds from the wheat, we cannot accurately determine who is truly good and who is truly evil.  And yet the religious people of Jesus day, appointed themselves as judges or moral judges.  We must be careful not to become judgmental but trust in the Lord who will determine who is truly good and who is truly evil at the final judgment.  Jesus warns us against substituting our judgment for God's judgment.  It is God alone who knows and judges the heart; God alone knows our fears and struggles.  This parable does NOT address the responsibility of the church to live with integrity and in order and to bring discipline to the faithful.  It is a warning against being the judge of people. 

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast 

The next two parables in chapter 13 stress the inevitable growth of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus continues with the illustration of the seed, using the mustard seed to contrast the small beginnings the kingdom of heaven, in the world and in a person’s life, with its amazing results.  Then he adds yeast to highlight the Kingdom of God and growth.   

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”   33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matt 13:31-33). 

In Jesus’ day the mustard seed was used by the religious to speak of the smallest amount of something.  Jesus uses this seed which can grow into a large bush 12-15 feet high in one season.  The mustard seed is seen as representing the kingdom of God initiated in the world by Jesus.  Just as the tiny seed grows into a large tree, the kingdom of God will grow into a powerful spiritual kingdom.  In the same way, a small amount of yeast causes the entire loaf of bread to rise, so to the kingdom of God will grow large and powerful until it eventually controls the entire world.  The message Jesus is communicating is this - powerful, small spiritual seeds can make huge changes in one’s life and world.  

It is interesting to note that Jesus quotes the Scripture found in Psalm 78:2 – I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”  The Psalmist prophecies that Messiah will speak in parables and hidden truths.   

 

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price 

Jesus shares his fifth and sixth parables next.  Two short examples of what the kingdom of heaven is like.  These two parables describe the great value of the kingdom of heaven and the intentional pursuit we should commit to.  It is interesting to note that parables four to six are not given explanations by Jesus but because they are short and to the point it is fairly easy to discover their truths.   

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:44-46) 

If a person is willing to give up their worldly possessions and pride for the sake of the kingdom they will gain more that they can imagine.   

The Parable of the Fishing Net 

This is the last parable in Matthew 13, and follows through with similar ideas from the previous parables.  Similar to the parable of the weeds and to the joy of hidden treasure, this parable describes the ingathering of the righteous and wicked and their subsequent fates. The kingdom of heaven will consist of those who follow Jesus.  

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:47-50). 

We see a net that was let down and caught all kinds of fish.  When the net was full, the good fish and bad fish were separated.  This is a similar concept to the parable of the weeds and the harvest at the end of the age.  Jesus also repeats the end result for the wicked - the fiery furnace and the weeping and gnashing of teeth.   

In Conclusion 

The theme of Jesus’ parables that we looked at today is the Kingdom of God.  Here are the thoughts we need to consider in our relationship with him.  Jesus speaks of spiritual seeds that if responded to correctly promise blessings and increase in God’s Kingdom.  There is also great joy and excitement in finding treasure, the same is true from a spiritual perspective.  We need to intentionally and passionately go after God’s Kingdom.  Lastly, we must understand that in this world there is good and evil.  Sometimes there is a tendency to judge the evil around us and we need to leave judgment to God and learn to be humble and loving towards everyone.    

Jesus is a master story teller.  His stories in Matthew 13 are meant to lead the people into “new” thinking in regard to God’s Kingdom of grace and faith in Jesus.  As King, he is not coming to establish a political kingdom but lead his followers into a new and spiritual kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  One day he will return to bring both judgment and restoration.   

Jesus – the Master Story-teller

Introduction:

            Everyone likes to hear a great story.  Jesus Christ was one of the best story tellers the world has ever known.  Over the next few months we are looking into the Parables of Jesus because they are both relevant and revealing to us today.  Roughly a third of Jesus’ words came in the form of parables.  A parable is a short statement or story designed to illustrate or teach some specific truth, spiritual principle or moral lesson; it conveys a meaning indirectly by the use of comparison or analogy.  They are the authentic red-letter words of Jesus and are considered by scholars as direct sayings ascribed to the historical Jesus.  It has been said that parables are earthly stories with heavenly messages. 

It is important to study how a parable is crafted, however, if we seek to study ever word exhaustively we could end up missing the main lesson of Jesus’ story; we must remember he is telling a story to make a point.  In other words, it is more important to take to heart the preaching and the message Jesus desired to communicate.  His story telling comes across as thoughtful and as a work of art to those who follow his new teaching.  To others, his parables come as a slap across the face, causing them to question what he is saying.  His parables often have a surprising twist that catches the reader's attention.  Jesus was transitioning the people of God from one Covenant to another.  He used parables and their hidden messages to draw listeners into new ways of thinking and feeling and acting.  Clearly stated, parables were one of the main ways Jesus introduced the New Testament. 

Why did Jesus teach in parables?

Story telling was one of the main ways’ truths were passed onto from generation to the next in Jesus’ day.  However, Jesus took this story-telling to a new level using parables.  The question is this, if parables have a hidden meaning why would Jesus let people wonder about the story and not simply tell them the truth.  The answer to this question is found in the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13:3-9, Mark 4:2-9 and Luke 8:4-8.  The Parable of the Sower concerns a sower who scatters seed, which falls on four different types of ground.  The hard ground prevents the seed from sprouting at all, and the seed becomes nothing more than food for the birds.  The stony ground provides a little soil for the seeds to germinate and begin to grow, but the plants do not take root and are soon withered in the sun.  The thorny ground allows the seed to grow, but the competing thorns choke the life out of the beneficial plants. The good ground receives the seed and produces much fruit. 

“When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:10-12) Looking at this passage, we might think that Jesus’ explanation seems uncaring or even unkind.  Was he saying the secrets of the kingdom were only for his friends?  Was he intentionally trying to hide the truth by speaking in parables?  We must remember that Jesus often used parables to introduce new truths and in this case was speaking to different attitudes of heart.  Jesus quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 where the prophet Isaiah had found that the Jewish people were so lost in sin that they disliked hearing God’s Word and deliberately turned away.  Jesus experienced the same struggle as people rejected his message, hence the Parable of the Sower.  When Jesus made this statement, he did not say it in anger but with exasperated love in his heart.  Jesus was confronting their hearts of pride, religious superiority and those caught up in the cares of the world.  In other words, if the people chose to stay in their laziness and prejudices, they are choosing to see but remain blind, to hear but remain ignorant.  So, Jesus spoke his parables meaning to trigger people’s minds and to illuminate the truth of God.   

In Conclusion

            In Jesus’ parables he used illustrations or stories that the people would more readily understand than those of us who are far removed by time and culture.  Jesus supplied the interpretation for some of his parables, but in other cases, it is left to us to determine the meaning and lesson.  Some parables have a clear meaning and at other times they are difficult to interpret. 

            So, what is the main point of the Parable of the Sower?  The condition of your heart determines how you receive God’s Word.  Salvation does involve a joyful hearing of the gospel, but also calls the believer to grow onto maturity producing a good crop.

Over the next few months we are going to have the opportunity to look through the Gospels at Jesus’ Parables.  We will observe and interpret and apply them to our life and circumstances. 

 

Practices of the Revived

Introduction

There was a moment in history where revival came upon many believers of God and a spiritual awakening and rebirth for others.  The background is familiar to us today and revolves around the person of Jesus Christ, his miraculous birth, his sinless life, his demonstration and presentation of the ‘good news’, his death on the cross followed by his resurrection from the dead.  Beginning in the Book of Acts we see the resurrected Lord Jesus speaking to his disciples about the Kingdom of God and giving them instructions to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  As a result of Acts 2, many Jewish believers were discovering the true Messiah and being revived in their faith for God.  Others had no faith in God and became alive for the first time as they discovered Jesus Christ and converted to the Way, followers of Jesus.  This morning we will be looking at Acts 2:42-47 to discover the practices of the church in the midst of this period of revival.  I have heard people say that they would love to join a church just like in the New Testament time.  While this is admirable, we must remember the vast differences between their context and our own modern realities.  The early church did experience positive revival and the outpouring of the Spirit, but they also suffered from disunity, heresy and persecution. 

Acts 2:42 - They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  As we look at their practices we can learn what to make habit in our personal journey of faith.

Act 2:42-47 – the Lord added…

I would like to start with the last part of verse 47 – “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  From this verse, we can clearly see that it is the will of God that Church – the ekklesia, the Body of Christ (local and universal) – experience a continual and steady growth.  God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  Oftentimes we approach our faith with a “how-to-do-it” mentality.  I started this passage backwards to remind us of God’s vision for an expanding family of faith.  We must see the big picture before us.  We must clearly understand God’s passion that none should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9b).  I would say that one of the distinguishing marks of a divine and genuine revival is that of the salvation of souls.  The thought arises is what we do with these new converts to Christianity. 

There are two perspectives that we can think of with regards to revival and a growing church.  One is the quantity of new believers coming to Christ and the other is the quality of those following Christ.  It is not a one or the other but a both-and, in other words, we need new believers to make into disciples.  We don’t want a church that is broad and wide but has no depth.  But on the other hand, mature followers of Jesus who aren’t leading people into faith in Jesus is equally challenging.

Acts 2:42-47 - Devotion

Before we look at their spiritual disciplines we must put ourselves in their experience.  There was no doubt in their minds that Jesus was alive.  They had seen with their own eyes, ate meals together with Jesus, and saw him ascend into the heavens.  Without a doubt they knew their mission – to seek and save the lost, to make disciples of the nations.  Without a doubt they experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  In this context Dr. Luke first speaks to the church about passion, devotion, continuing steadfastly in their faith.  The same idea is found in Acts 1:14 – “they all joined together constantly…”  There is great excitement in the moment of revival, but it is the devotion of the saints over the long haul that causes steady growth in the church; perseverance or staying power is essential. 

Acts 2:42-47 – the Apostles’ Teaching

Old school carpenters always used the first board as their template.  Here Luke records the first boards of the early church.  They were to continue steadfastly, be devoted to the Apostles’ teaching (the Word of God).  The gathered community listened to and followed the preaching and teaching of the twelve apostles based on the Scriptures.  On the road to Emmaus two disciples were walking with Jesus, although they did not recognize him.  We are told that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he (Jesus) explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).  This is what the Apostles would be doing with the early church in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Their instruction was solidly based on the Jewish Law and Prophets as to the revealing of the Messiah Jesus Christ; instructions about worship, how we treat one another and even the 10 Ten Commandments.  But it was during this time that through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the New Testament was written.  All of this teaching was not to bring people under the Law but was the revealing of Jesus and grace and truth of a New Covenant. 

Acts 2:42-47 – Fellowship

Fellowship is a powerful word to consider.  In one sense it is the gathering of the saints together with God.  There is a corporate expression of Jesus that is only seen in the fellowship of the saints.  John states - “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:3-4).  Another aspect of fellowship is the idea of partnership, working together towards a common goal.  “I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:3-6).  Community, partnership and teamwork are key to a growing and revived church.  This is the place where a sense of belonging is a treasure to experience. 

Acts 2:42-47 – The Breaking of Bread

There are a couple of things to consider hear.  The breaking of bread can refer to the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus himself gave them direction to take the bread and the wine in his remembrance (Luke 22:19-20).  This was a central point of the fellowship of the saints.  This was a place of worship and focus on Jesus Christ.  It was a continual reminder of the forgiveness of sins and the healing that is available in Christ and in his Body.  The breaking of bread can also refer to the common meal as the saints gathered together.  It is believed that the Apostles joined the common meal into a time of “communion” – a love feast (Jude 12).  This is also seen in 1 Cor 11:20 where the saints gathered for a meal partaking of wine and bread. 

Why was the Breaking of Bread so important?  Other religious communities had their own times of fellowship and meals together.  The Lord’s Supper was distinctive for the followers of Jesus, a time of remembering Jesus and looking forward to a glorious future.  There was a fresh devotion and passion for the gathering of the saints; it was not like the religious ceremonies of the Jewish people. 

Acts 2:42-47 – Prayer

In one sense prayer is an ongoing conversation with God about all aspects of life.  However, I believe that there was a fire burning in the hearts of the saints and prayer was much more.  There was intercession for the lost, boldness, words of encouragement, knowledge and prophecy for the saints.  Without prayer their lifeline to the Spirit of Christ was gone.  They had a mission before them – to share that Jesus the Messiah was alive.  The salvation of souls required spiritual work – and prayer was their work.  Prayer was the common language when they gathered together for instruction, fellowship, the breaking of bread.  Too busy to pray would have been a betrayal of Jesus Christ by the Apostles and believers.  That is why is Acts 6 we the leaders committing themselves to the word and prayer.  Commitment and one’s devotion are foundationally based on conversation - one’s prayer life...

In conclusion

These four practices – 1.  The Apostles’ Teaching, 2.  Fellowship, 3.  The Breaking of Bread, 4.  Prayer – were the foundations upon which the church of Jesus Christ was established.  Acts 2:43-47“Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

We cannot recreate the Day of Pentecost with all the glory of the Spirit of God giving birth to the “Church”, but we can put into practice the spiritual principles that we have discussed today.  We can stir up our devotion and passion and perseverance for God.

In Application

One of the basic applications of today’s message in the context of Courts of Praise is this, join a Care Group.  This is our putting into action Acts 2:42-47…  We study the Scriptures, we fellowship together, break bread and pray… 

 

Let’s pray

 

Revival – When Heaven touches Earth 

Review 

Over the past few months we have shared on the topic of Revival.  We have highlighted characteristics of revival such as fresh revelations of love and mercy, holiness and majesty and a heightened awareness of eternity.  We looked at Luke 4 and truths from the life of Jesus.  As well as the importance of the presence of God as seen in the life of Moses and especially Joshua who lingered in the Tent of Meeting.  Inevitably, there are moments in history when God and his children connect is precious revival ways, as heaven touches earth.  These encounters can be personal and life giving.  They can also be corporate in the life of the church and begin to touch society around us.  There have been many divine experiences of heaven touching earth throughout the history of mankind.  In those situations, a revelation of God is released that impacts society.  The same is true in our modern day.  This morning I want to share with you some key points of revelation from heaven that I believe are shocking our society.  These truths have confronted societies through the ages but I see them needing to be addressed again. 

Truth is found in Jesus 

One of the beautiful aspects of God is the reality that within himself he is the fulness of truth. Truth refers to what is real, trustworthy, dependable, genuine, or valid.  Truth carries the sense of dependability and genuine disclosure—showing things as they really are.  As we read the Scriptures we discover that God is trustworthy and dependable because he is the absolute presentation of Truth.    

However, in our society today we live where educated people don’t think there is absolute truth anymore.  Truth has become relative and nobody can say anybody else is right or wrong.  The unfortunate consequence of relative truth thinking is this – one of the greatest sins is now being judgmental and intolerant.  This is not new as the Christians of the early church faced persecution for preaching truth found in Jesus.   

Today, Christian faith is viewed as just another set of unprovable and personal religious opinions.  The symbols of Christian faith, the cross, dove, rainbow are combined together with symbols for Islam, pacifism, gay rights, United Nations etc.  In other words, everyone can have their own opinions but don’t you dare ever say I’m wrong, and don’t you ever say that your religion is the only right one. 

There are two key points to make about truth and Christianity.  Firstly, Christianity is inclusive; 2 Cor 5:15 - And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  The invitation of forgiveness and eternal life is open to all.  But it is exclusive too: “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:5,6).  

Believers in Christianity proclaim the exclusivity of Christ, not because they are any better than anybody else or enjoy feeling smug and superior but because there really is only one way out of the grave and hell.  Jesus is full of grace and truth.   

 

Family is God’s design 

One of my favourite aspects of the creation story is that of Adam and Eve.  The beauty of relationship and intimacy and family all come into focus these two people, male and female.  There is nothing more profound is all of creation than that of being able to create new life.  This was God’s design for a husband and wife and their subsequent family.  The strength of family has been a primary target of Satan over the ages.  And this is seen in our society today.  

One of the most profound social changes is recent generations has been in the area of marriage, family and human sexuality.  After WW2 there were significant challenges for the family.  Within a few years, the children of post-war families (baby boomers) began to explore the world.  They began to explore life and for many their identity was founded in anti-establishment thinking.  The sex, drugs and rock and roll of the 1960 changed the face of society.  These changes have affected not only the secular world but the families in the church as well.  Valued traditions for family were challenged and even rebelled against. 

The lines have become blurred between sexes.  It is no longer shameful to shack up with the opposite sex, but it’s now the new normal; Friends the TV show is a classic example.  A homosexual lifestyle no longer is something to keep quiet.  TV shows have helped to make gay couples the new normal. Same sex marriage is now legal.  Christians can’t say a word or you’ll be branded as homophobic.  There are no longer two genders, assigned by birth.  You may now choose your gender identity, and one option is “neither.”   

What does this tell us?  The biblical way has become the new counterculture and for many is not politically correct. The Bible has a lot to say about parenting, fathers, mother, and how to raise children. As well, there are numerous passages that speak of healthy sexuality and warnings to flee from sexual immorality.  This is an area of desperate need for Heaven to touch Earth.  We need revival in the midst of our families.     

People matter 

One of the blessings of being a follower of Jesus is that we belong to a global family.  In this light we have brothers and sisters from various ethnic groups who love Jesus.  We will spend eternity with them because we are citizens of heaven (Eph 2:19).  There is great encouragement and strength found in the gathering of the saints for the glory of God.   

However, in our day there are many groups that gather that do not promote the righteousness, peace and joy of the Holy Spirit.  We are warned in the Scriptures that there will be wars and rumours of wars.  The world is under increasing stress financially, ecologically, politically resulting in people gathering together in like mind.  This is 21st century tribalism.   

We have political tribes and racial tribes;  Green Peace, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and so on.  These groups when confronted with opposing views or tribes have little or no love for another, and can easily end in shouting and potential violence.   

This is where we need Heaven to invade Earth by the direct involvement of Christians. We can become peace makers.  We can speak of and demonstrate God’s love for all.  We can practice what we preach.  God wants all to be saved; remember that around the throne in heaven all nations and tribes will be represented.  We can show the world how to love, respect, and forgive people for Jesus’ sake.  

Evangelism is our mission 

People have resisted the truth about Jesus for centuries.  There are times when I have shared my faith and people have simply told me, “I don’t need your God.  And I don’t want your church rules”.  For years our country had a season where churchgoing and a Christian viewpoint were not only socially acceptable but actually socially expected.  Times have changed. 

We live in a post-Christian age that actually needs to be re-evangelized, as if it were a new world mission field.  People think, feel and act differently and yet are still seeking answers for the questions of life.  Our responsibility to share the truth of the Gospel needs fresh fire.  Sin and Satan have left their mark on earth.  It is time for the Body of Christ to be revived in their love for God and their love for the lost.  Here are five keys to sharing our faith in the midst of a culture that does not readily accept truth, that may not share your biblical view of family or those that are stuck in some kind of tribalism… 

  1. Do not be antagonistic.  The world is full of stress, therefore come in peace and not with a fighting attitude.  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Col 4:5-6).  Talk, listen and care. 

  1. Practice what you preach.  The church must learn how to model the ways of Christian life on Earth as it is in Heaven.  We don’t need to make a flashy show of our faith but we simply need to live our faith out in public.  Believers can easily compartmentalize their faith; Sunday is for God but so is the rest of the week.  Don’t be afraid to be Biblical. 

  1. Be friends with sinners.  We are told that Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners.  In a post-modern world we need to make friends with people before we ‘preach’ the gospel.  In other words, it is ok for people to be a friend or belong to a church community before they fully believe in God.  We are on a journey of faith and discovery.  

  1. Share your story / testimony.  The days of preaching the four spiritual days have lost their effectiveness.  What people like to hear is how Jesus changed your life in everyday practical terms.  As they grow in interest you will have opportunity to share Scripturally.   

  1. Pray and then pray more.  Eph 6:18-20 - And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.  19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the [mystery] of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. 

 

Let’s pray… 

 

 

Psalm 91

So who here reads, listens or watches the news?  In doing this what do you see happening in the world?  What kinds of emotions do you at times feel?

Psalm 91

V 1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty

There is a lot of fearmongering everywhere you turn today----on the news, in the papers, via social media.   It is vital that we do not let fear take over our hearts.  John 14:27 says my peace I leave with you my peace I give to you not as the world do I give it.  Let not your hearts be troubled neither let it be afraid. 

As believers we have no business feeding on fear.  If your mind is entangled with knots of anxiety, perhaps its time to examine your mental diet.  Are you ingesting and believing everything you see in the news reports, or are you living by what the Lord Jesus has purchased for you on Calvary?

To help you understand God’s heart for you regarding fear and you walking in His protection, I want to share with you a powerful key from today’s verse, the very first verse of Psalm 91, the prayer of protection.  The Hebrew word for “dwell” is yashab, which means to sit down, to remain, or to settle.  Notice that the very first thing that God wants you to do to enjoy His protection is to rest.  His protection, peace, love, and other blessings flow in your life when you are in a place of rest.

Let’s camp on the word dwell just a little more.  Let’s meditate on what it means to rest or “sit down”.  The Bible says that we are seated with Christ at God’s right hand (Eph 2:6).  The word “seated” means that you are no longer standing and working.

Under the old covenant, the priest has to offer the morning sacrifice at 9:00 a.m. and then remain standing for six hours until after the evening sacrifice at 3:00 p.m.  Our Lord Jesus was crucified at 9:00 a.m. and He hung on the cross for six hours until He died at 3:00 p.m., thus fulfilling the type of both morning and the evening sacrifices (Hebrews 10:11-12).  Because Jesus became the final sacrifice, the work of the priest is done and he no longer has to stand.  Because our Lord cried, “It is finished!” at Calvary (John 19:30), we are today seated in Christ.  WE can dwell in the secret place of the Most High – a place of peace, safety, and security – and we can live fear-free because the blood of Jesus has paid for every blessing of protection in Psalm 91!

No matter what you are dealing with whether it is financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, believe that God loves you and His strong Hands of protection are over your entire life and over every area that concerns you. 

I want to share a testimony of a grandmother whose grandson was born three months premature. 

He weighed 1 lb. 7oz.  He was in the hospital for almost six months.  She and her family were told that his survival rate was low.  Even if he did survive, he would have significant development delays. 

At the time of his hospitalization the mother was asked if there was a Bible verse that she wanted to be placed above her son’s incubator.  She gave them Psalm 91.  This grandmother didn’t know if her daughter had any idea of the power of putting that psalm above his incubator, and she didn’t either until later.

So this little guy had heart surgery and two for his stomach.  He did well in all the surgeries so much so that the doctor commented,” I don’t think he realizes he is suppose to be sick.”

This grandson is around seven years old with no developmental delays and advanced in almost every area.

My friends, there is power in the written Word when it is spoken from our mouths. 

V2 – I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust.”

The Hebrew word for “refuge,” machaceh, refers to a shelter from storms and danger.  This shelter is like the bunkers that many Jews have in their homes in Israel today to shelter them from small-scale attacks.  When you say the Lord is your refuge you are declaring that He is your place of hope.

The Lord is also your fortress.  In Hebrew, the word used for “fortress” is matsuwd.  It refers to a castle or stronghold, a place of defense and protection against large-scale attacks.  Whatever you might be going through right now, you can declare that the Lord is your refuge and your fortress – your protection in both small as well as big attacks. 

In the same way, even when you don’t seem to feel His presence, you can trust in Him.  Trust doesn’t mean that there will be no butterflies in your stomach.  Trust means that even though you have butterflies, you still act on God’s Word.  Whatever it is you are afraid of doing, do it afraid while keeping your trust in the Lord.  There are people who are afraid to leave their house, fly on a plane, pursue a new career, start a new friendship, volunteer in a ministry, visit a care group in church, or even show up for work.

Beloved, don’t let fear rule your life.  If you’re thinking of embarking on something, most certainly, be led by the Spirit, seek wise counsel, count the cost, and make responsible decisions in your situation.  Just don’t allow the butterflies in your stomach to dictate your life.  When you say to the Lord, “In You I trust,” it doesn’t mean you instantly stop feeling any fear.  Trust means choosing to act on God’s Word in spite of the fear.

V3 – Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.

Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler.  Not “maybe” or “sometimes”, but an unqualified “surely.”

The Bible depicts the devil as a fowler.  A fowler is a professional bird catcher.  He lays traps and carefully conceals them so that he can ambush unsuspecting birds.  The Bible also depicts the devil as a thief and murderer who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).

What we need to understand is that the world we live in is a fallen world.  Adam committed high treason and gave the keys of this world to the devil.  Because of what Adam did, the devil is the ruler of this world.  The apostle Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).  That is why as long as the devil is still the ruler of this world, the world will continue to get darker and darker and there will continue to be accidents, sicknesses, calamities, tragedies, and death.

But we can rejoice in the knowledge that the devil’s lease on this world is quickly running out.  The apostle Paul also tells us that our Lord Jesus is coming back and all His enemies will be humbled or put under His feet, with death as the last enemy to be destroyed.  (1Cor. 15:26).

In the meantime, we will see the world getting darker and darker.  But as believers, we do not need to live in fear.  Our trust is in the Lord Jesus.  We are in this world, but we are not of this world (John 17:16).  There is a very real and active fowler setting up snares.  You hear of bombs going off, shootings, airplanes  crashing and viral outbreaks all over the world.

In the natural, this can be extremely disheartening.  But don’t forget that we have a Saviour who is even more real, and He has promised to deliver us from the snare of the fowler and from perilous pestilences (dangerous diseases and viruses).  The bottom-line is, we need to realize how much we need our Saviour and His protection daily.  We need to involve the Lord Jesus in our lives every day.  Only He can deliver us and keep us safe.

V4 – He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler.

The Lord does not want you to simply claim His promises of protection.  He wants you to come close to Him.  Running to Him and coming under His feathers speak of closeness,  It’s not about how many times you have recited Psalm 91; it’s about having an intimate relationship with Him. 

My grandmother…

 

Our Lord Jesus who loves you wants you to come close to Him and to take shelter in His love just as I took shelter in the love of my grandmother.

Psalm 91:4 starts with “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge’ and ends with this proclamation: “His truth shall be your shield and buckler.”  What is a shield and buckler?  A buckler refers to a small round shield used for close-contact fighting.  A shield is much larger, one you can dig into the ground and hide behind when spears, arrows, and rocks are being launched at you in a bigger attack.  So whether it is a small or big attack, His truth – your shield and buckler – covers you completely.

Ephesians 6:16, tells us to, above all, take the shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  Why?  Because the shield of faith will cover you all around.  That is why the devil is after your shield of faith – he wants to make you doubt God’s Word, which is His truth.  Once you take up the shield of faith, his attacks against you cannot prosper.  So lift up your shield!

V5-6 – You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

So Psalm 91 reminds us that we have round-the-clock protection.  Whether it is at night or in the day.  Whether it is in darkness or at noonday.  Whether we are faced with terror or confronted by arrows.  Whether pestilences threaten or destruction looms.  We do not have to be afraid because our God, who watches over us, neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:3-4)!

The reality is, the world we live in seems to be engulfed in negative news and fear.  We often hear reports of senseless terrorist attacks on innocent civilians, horrific accidents claiming multiple victims, or an epidemic affecting entire communities, leading to hundreds of babies being born with deformities.  It seems that many can’t help but dread that the same tragedies could befall them.

But beloved, you need to understand that in the midst of all that is happening in the world, you can be fearless, and this comes from knowing the Lord as the God of peace.  Paul says in Romans 15:33 “now the God of peace be with you all.”  The thing is, isn’t God with us all the time?  Why then would Paul say that?  What Paul was speaking over the people was for God to manifest Himself as the God of peace in their lives.  Even though God is always with us, we may not always experience Him as the God of peace.

Do you know what happens when God manifests Himself as the God of peace in your life?  Romans 16:20 – “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.  Amen.”

Do you see what the God of peace will do in your life?  He will crush every fear, every worry, and every anxiety!

Do you see grace in that verse as well?  Grace – the undeserved, unearned, and unmerited favour of God – is the only thing against which the devil has no defense.  That is why we put our faith in the blood of Jesus when we talk about protection.  His sinless blood was shed to pay the price for the guilty one.  And because Jesus paid the price, we who are in Him have a right to walk in divine health and protection.  Grace qualifies us for God’s all-encompassing protection.  So no matter what is going on out there, we can walk out there knowing that He is with us, He is protecting us, and He loves us. 

V7-8  A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you.  Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked.

Imagine you are in a battlefield and all around you soldiers are being slain.  On one side, you see a thousand fall.  On the other, ten thousand crumple one by one to the ground.  You hear screams as bullets find their targets.

It is a disturbing picture and I thank God that the majority of us have not had to experience the horrors of being in a physical combat zone.  But that does not mean that we are not under attack nor does it mean that we do not see death claiming its victims all around us. 

We are assaulted daily from all directions by tragic newsflashes, by doctors’ reports and by attacks of the devil launched at us.  And every day, we see casualties around us as we read about people dying in accidents, in attacks, or of diseases.  Now this does not compare to someone who has been to war but we as believers are in a spiritual war and we should not be ignorant of the enemy’s tactics.

When the enemy attacks you, do you recognize his weapons?  The projectiles he shoots may not come with arrowheads or be filled with gunpowder, but they are no less deadly.  His weapons come in the form of crippling thoughts and crushing fears.  When you hear about a plane crash and are paralyzed by the thoughts that your next plane ride might be your last, you have been shot.  When you read about a shooting at a concert venue and fear going near one in case the same thing happens to you, a “bullet” has been lodged in your mind.  We water them with worry, fertilize them with anxiety, and allow them to sun for hours in our mind.  How?  By replaying them over and over again until it has taken root causing sleeplessness, panic attacks, and physical conditions of all kinds.  We must not give them time to take root.  The saying goes that you can’t stop birds from flying over your head, but you can surely stop them from building a nest on your head.  We can’t stop the enemy from attacking our minds, but we can surely defend ourselves with the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Eph. 6:17).  God’s Word is infallible, unshakable, and everlasting.  Our Lord Jesus Himself showed us what to do when we are under attack by the devil.  Three times He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness.  Each time, His response was the same – He quoted the written Word of God.  Against each attack, His response was to say, “It is written” (Matt. 4:1-11).  If Jesus had to say it how much more must we say it. 

When you say it that’s when latent (existing as potential) power becomes actual power.  When our Lord Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, He did not merely think about Scripture.  He spoke it out loud.  You can memorize thousands of Scriptures, but if you don’t learn to say, “It is written,” and release the Word, there will be no power.  God’s power is there, but it is all lying dormant inside you.  The moment you speak it out, it is as if God is speaking.  God’s Word in your mouth is like God speaking. 

Here is an example of what I do when the enemy comes at me with fear:  I say, “It is written John 14:27 My peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  I will not let my heart be troubled neither will I let it be afraid.”  As I go over this scripture saying it out loud over and over I am guarding my heart from trouble and fear.  When I guard my heart, God guards everything else.  The thing is, only you cannot let your heart be troubled.  God cannot let not your heart be troubled, your family cannot let not your heart be troubled.  Only you cannot let not. 

My friends, a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand BUT IT WILL NOT COME NEAR YOU!

PSALM 91:9-10 – Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling.

In the Old Testament the Lord told Joshua that when the children of Israel entered the land of Canaan, they were to designate six cities of refuge.  Back in those days, if someone unintentionally killed a person, the closest relative of the deceased had the legal right to avenge him.  However, in His mercy, God appointed six cities and said, “Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed” (Joshua 20:3)

The cities of refuge were designed for people who had committed unintentional manslaughter, not for those who had carried out premeditated homicide.

The six cities are scattered across the land so a person can flee to the nearest one to take refuge.  It is a picture of the local churches scattered all around the world.  The local church is a place of refuge.  The church is not man’s idea; it is God’s idea.  It is God’s heart for you to be a part of a community of faith.  It is here that we experience breakthroughs, healing, protection, and other blessings.  God the Father raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places. “far above all principalities and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named” (Eph 1:21).  This means that Jesus is far above all sicknesses, all diseases, all terror, all snares, all cancers, all depression, and all addictions. 

We all agree that our Lord is above every name, but on this earth, where does this power and dominion reside?  The apostle Paul declares in Eph. 1:22-23, “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all”.  Where is this power today in our broken and fallen world?  It is found in the church!  His power, His authority, and His fullness are all found in the church – our city of refuge where we can run to and find divine protection.

The verse also says, “nor shall any plague come near your dwelling. 

There’s a story of a lady preacher named Marilyn Hickey, a woman in her 80’s who was sharing on the mind.  Her father had a condition of the mind and the devil kept telling her, “You are going to lose your mind.  You are going to lose your mind just like your father”.  She came back at him and said, “Which Father?”  Today her mind is sharp!  She was not going to let the plague of the mind which her earthly father had come near her.  And because of that she is still preaching the Word of God overseas. 

John G Lake was a missionary to Africa in the 1800’s. The deadly bubonic plague broke out in his area – hundreds died. He cared for the sick and buried the dead. Finally the British sent a ship with supplies and a corps of doctors. The doctors sent for Lake to come aboard and asked him, ‘What have you been using to protect yourself?’

" ‘Sirs,’ Lake replied, ‘I believe the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. And as long as I walk in the light of that law of Life, no germ will attach itself to me.’

" ‘Don’t you think you had better use our preventatives?’ the doctor urged.

" ‘No’ said Lake, ‘but, doctor, I think you would like to experiment with me. If you will go over to one of these dead people and take the foam that comes out of their lungs after death, then put it under the microscope you will see masses of living germs. You will find they are alive until a reasonable time after a man is dead. You can fill my hand with them and I will keep it under the microscope, and instead of these germs remaining alive, they will die instantly.’

"The doctors agreed. They made the experiment and it was true. When they expressed wonder at what caused it Lake told them, ‘That is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’." (K E Hagin, In Him, pp 22,23.)

When the Spirit of Jesus finds a home in you, God gives you faith like He did to John Lake, and He performs wonders that defy human explanation.

 

PSALM 91:11-12 – For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways, In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.

In Matthew 4:5-7 it says, then the devil took Him (Jesus) up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ”If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down.  For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, in their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus said to him, “It is written again, You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

So here Satan tried to get our Lord Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, but you will find that it has nothing to do with endangering yourself to test God’s protection.  Psalm 91:11-12 is not encouraging you to throw yourself in harm’s way.  It is saying that as you go about the course of your daily life, “in all your ways” the Lord will protect you.  The Hebrew word of “ways” in verse 11 shows this clearly – it is the derek, which means path, road, or journey.

As you go about your daily path, there are times when the enemy may have put snares ahead of you that you are unaware of.  But God will give His angels charge over you, to go ahead of you to protect you from those snares.  It doesn’t mean that you should go and do something foolish and harmful to yourself to test God’s protection!  

So last week my cousin, who lives in Victoria, called to tell me of a situation where the enemy literally tried to kill her. 

Her and a friend had gone for a walk and had come to a crosswalk on top of a hill.  Those driving could see them clearly!  My cousin had looked to the left and all was clear, then looked to the right.  Cars had stopped and as she stepped onto the crosswalk all she could see was a big sheet of white, and felt a  breeze whizzing past her at a high speed.  It was, in her estimation, the width of a sheet of paper.  She froze, lost her breath and realized that her friend had also grabbed her arm, gently, and held her back so she couldn’t go any further.  She came out of the freeze and bent over laughing.  She felt it was a choice to either laugh or be afraid.  She asked her friend if she had seen a name on the truck because she wanted to call the company and explain what had happened and to see why the driver would be driving so carelessly.  But her friend had her eyes fully on my cousin making sure that she was safe.  She felt so safe with her friend. 

My friends, I don’t know, you don’t know what traps the enemy has schemed up but this much I do know and now you know – He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways, In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone. 

V13 YOU SHALL TREAD UPON THE LION AND THE COBRA, THE YOUNG LION AND THE SERPENT YOU SHALL TRAMPLE UNDERFOOT.

Do you know as believers in Christ, you have the authority over the enemy?

It is true that the devil is the god of this fallen world (2 Cor. 4:4) who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  But we, as believers, are not called to cower in fear like the people of the world, for the Word proclaims that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).  It’s interesting that the devil has to seek out those whom he may devour?  This means that he can’t devour everyone.  He roams about like, or as, a roaring lion and not some other creature.  Why is that?  In Proverbs 19:12 it says, “The King’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion”.  The devil is an imposter who goes about as a roaring lion because he is imitating the King of kings, our Lord Jesus, the real lion of Judah.  He wants people to think that our King is full of wrath, anger and rage against us.  He comes at us roaring with the voice of condemnation, accusation, and shame.  I want to share with you how you can become undevourable.  

The devil doesn’t want you to be strong in the Lord’s love for you.  Instead, he wants you to question God’s love for you.  To accomplish this, one of his key strategies is to try to make you think that God is mad at you.  My friend, you can become “undevourable” to the devil.  The secret is found in the proceeding verse, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  This, and other foundational verses, has literally kept me from being devoured. 

My job…

“And my god shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19)  Even if your employer retrenches you, say, “My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches”.  It is not according to your employer’s riches.  Your employer is not your source.  God is!  If your employer is your source, then you are very poor.  If God is your source, then you are very rich!  If God is your source, you will no longer be afraid of losing your job.  And you will have such a confident expectation of good that if you do lose your job, you know that God has a better one waiting for you. This my friends is how to tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent we shall trample underfoot.

V14 BECAUSE HE HAS SET HIS LOVE UPON ME, THEREFORE I WILL DELIVER HIM; I WILL SET HIM ON HIGH, BECAUSE HE HAS KNOWN MY NAME.

What qualifies us for God’s protection?  Is it our love for Him or His love for us?  Is it dependent on us fulfilling the condition of loving the Lord perfectly, with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind?  If it depends on us we are on a shaky foundation because no matter how “good” a Christian we think we are, our love for the Lord will fail.  That is precisely why God sent His Son.  He knew that man would never be able to fulfill all His commandments.  In sending His Son, He was saying to us, “I know you can’t, so let Me love you with all My heart, all My soul, and all My mind.  Therein lies the beautiful story we call the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God SO loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son to save and ransom us.  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself fulfilled all the requirements of the law.  1 John 4:10 it states, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  Is our love for God unimportant?  Of course not.  But under the new covenant of God’s amazing grace, that when our love for Him wavers, and when we fail, He still delivers us from evil.

V15-16– “HE SHALL CALL UPON ME, AND I WILL ANSWER HIM; I WILL BE WITH HIM IN TROUBLE; I WILL DELIVER HIM AND HONOUR HIM.  AND WITH LONG LIFE I WILL SATISFY HIM, AND SHOW HIM MY SALVATION.”

Daniel 3:24-27 – Suddenly, the King jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his officials, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?  They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”  “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God”.  Nebuchadnezzar called out, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego servants of the Most High God, come out!  Come here!”  The three men stepped out of the fire.  Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisors crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them.  Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched.  They didn’t even smell of smoke!

You know there is truly no other god who can rescue like our God.  Whatever circumstances you might be thrown into, our Lord Jesus is the fourth man with you in the midst of the fire.  Notice how He didn’t stand outside of the fire, but was in the fire, together with the three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Our Lord doesn’t deliver you from afar.  He is with you in the midst of your adversity.  Call upon Him and He will answer you.  When Jesus is with you, nothing can harm you.

I found this prayer in a book that I have and would like to pray it over you now:

As you call upon the Lord in your day of trouble, my prayer for you is that the trial you are going through have no power over you; it will not even leave a smell on you.  Instead, I declare in Jesus” name that you will walk out of that challenge in your life and the only smell on you will be the fragrance of the Lord Jesus. (2 Cor. 2:14)  And as the people around you witness how the Lord delivers you, may they come to know His wonderful name and give Him praise.  Instead of being negatively affected by whatever trial you might face, I pray that you will receive honour, and promotion just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and with long life You, Jesus, will satisfy us and show us Your salvation.   Amen!

 

 

Christ in You – The Hope of Glory

 

Introduction

            This morning we are taking Communion together and I want to share some thoughts with you in this vein of thought.  The Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples is a story full of beauty and betrayal.  There is the preparation of the meal and the gathering of the disciples and Jesus, John even lays back on Jesus’ chest.  There was a sense of intimacy and wonder, but the religious leaders had also plotted with Judas to betray Jesus.  In the midst of this Jesus is focuses on the cross before and prepares the disciples for what is coming.  He takes bread and wine to help the disciples understand what is coming.  Of course, they don’t fully comprehend what is happening because of the “mystery” surrounding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The key verse this morning is found in Col 1:27 – “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Communion

            Over the past 10 years I have been involved with the Saskatoon Evangelical Minister’s Fellowship and part of my experience there has been on a subcommittee with Catholic and Evangelical leaders.  We have spent time in discussion regarding theology and practice and what we agree or don’t agree on.  We have prayed together and over all the experience has been a wonderful time of learning and fellowship together in the Spirit of Christ and unity. 

One of the areas of disagreement is that of Communion.  The Catholics believe the elements (bread wafer and wine) become the literal body and blood of Christ. “The moment the priest or bishop says the words of consecration—the words of Christ at the Last Supper, "This is my body," and "This is my blood," (Matthew 26:26-29)—Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  The theological word used to describe this change is ‘transubstantiation.’  In partaking in Communion, Catholics engage in life, experiencing the very grace of God.  John 6:53 is a key verse for the Catholics to support this belief - “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

In contrast, Evangelicals wouldn’t have the same thinking about Communion.  The main difference is this - many Evangelicals think of Communion in symbolic terms where believers remember and contemplate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and anticipate his second coming.  In doing so the Lord’s Supper points to Christ, whose body was broken for us for healing and whose blood was shed to assure forgiveness and salvation for believers and to establish the new covenant. Through the Last Supper, the church identifies with the life of Christ given for the redemption of humanity and proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes.  The supper expresses the unity of all believers with Christ and expresses a sober remembrance of Jesus death, celebration and praise for his resurrection, and the strengthening of believers for true discipleship and service. 

 

 

The main point I want to make here is simple this – it is not our theology of Communion that saves us or makes us right before our Father in heaven.  There is a mystery surrounding Communion and this mystery is all about Jesus Christ.  No matter your theology or religious practice regarding Communion the key is to connect with Christ in you the hope of glory.

Col 1:27 – Christ in you

            In the context of Communion, the statement, “Christ in you” is simple and profound.  As believers in Christ, we receive the Spirit of God and Christ at the moment of conversion.  Simply put, conversion is turning towards the person and Spirit of Jesus Christ where you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sins and rose again which is the focal point of Communion.  Genuine conversion leads to a lifestyle of trust and obedience, repentance and forgiveness – God’s grace and mercy alive and active in the new life of the child of God. 

A parallel passage of Scripture is found in Romans 8:10-11 – “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”  The Spirit of God and Christ are used interchangeably in the preceding verses.  This tells us that when the Holy Spirit of God and Christ live in you – you become alive and the life of Christ in you brings life and healing to your mortal bodies. 

Can you imagine for a moment, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – Harry and Meghan – are coming for a visit.  We would want them to have the very best, we would be on our best behaviour.  When they travel they stay at the best hotels and receive royal treatment. 

Let’s take a moment and consider the fact that the King of the Universe is not coming for just a visit but to take up residence in our lives, not in a Five Star hotel, but in you and me.  We have the treasure of Heaven in earthen jars (2 Cor 4:7), imperfect but converted saints who are being transformed by the indwelling of Christ in you.  This is fantastic.

Col 1:27 – the hope of glory

              The second point of this morning’s message is the hope and glory, two uplifting words.  The Bible tells us that hope is a sustaining aspect of our Christian walk.  Faith, hope and love are three companions of Christian life and that love springs from hope.  Hope produces joy and peace in the life of believers (Rom 15:13). 

However, we live in a fallen world where are hope can be deferred, withheld or delayed (Prov 13:12).  The devil goes after hope with a vengeance, because hope is such a powerful force.  If he can steal your hope, he can set you on the path to total despair and depression.  He will work hard to plant thoughts like these in your mind:

·      “You have always been this way. You will never change.”

·      “You will never succeed!”

·      “No one will ever want to marry you.” Or “Your marriage is going to fail.”

·      “Your children will never amount to anything.”

·      “You will not have enough money for retirement.”

 

We must remember that Christ in YOU is the hope of glory.  There is nothing that the Spirit of Christ in YOU can’t heal, forgive, redeem, or restore.  This is why it is important to fight for the hope of glory in YOU.  We don’t need to fight to attain the Canadian dream materialistically.  We don’t need to fight and strive to get ahead in life.  But it is important to submit to God and resist the lies of the devil when it comes to your hope of glory. 

In Conclusion

            Christ in you is the hope of glory.  As we come to take Communion together let’s remember the life of Jesus – “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself

and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8)  

            In order for Jesus to be glorified he had to fulfill his purpose on earth as the Suffering Messiah.  He let go of his Canadian dream, so to speak, in not hanging onto equality or his place in heaven.  The Creator became human and a servant at that, not a ruling victorious King.  Humility and laying down one’s life are chief strategies when fighting for the hope of glory to be fulfilled in your life.  The Scripture goes onto say that Jesus was then exalted to the highest place where every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:9-11).  What a privilege to know Christ – King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and the indwelling of his Presence and Glory. 

In Application

            “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”  30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matt 26:26-30).

 

 

Revival and the Presence of God

 

Introduction

            One of the main passions of those seeking God is his Presence.  In the midst of revivals there are heightened experiences of God’s glory.  The love and mercy of God are showered upon the people seeking his face.  There are revelations of his majesty and holiness and greater understanding of eternity.  All of these glory encounters are the results of God’s Presence breaking through from heaven to earth.  One of the Biblical characters that has always inspired me is Joshua, son of Nun. Joshua 1:6-9 has been a life verse for me - 6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  It was only Joshua and Caleb, 2 of the 12 spies, we were able to enter the Promised Land because of their faith in God.  In his old age Joshua was victorious and set out to take his full inheritance.  I have asked myself the question what was different about Joshua that enable him to keep on fighting for his inheritance in his old age.  In light of this thought, this morning I would like to speak of God’s Presence and how to increase this in your life as you grow in your faith in Jesus Christ.  

The Presence of God

            There is a great passage of Scripture in the Old Testament found in Exodus 33.  The sequence of events surrounding this passage are as follows; the Law is given, Exodus 19-24, the Tabernacle is built and established, Exodus 25-40, instructions for living holy lives in Leviticus 1-27, and then the 12 camps are organized around the Tabernacle, Numbers 1-10.  I find it interesting that in the middle of all of this activity there is a chapter that speaks wholly to that of God’s Presence.  

God’s Presence will not go 

            The people of God had just created a god of their own choosing – a golden calf – which angered God.  Because of this idolatrous encounter God decides he will not go with his people into the Promised Land.  Instead, he will only send an angel to guide them.  In Exodus 6:3God gives his reason why – But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”  Our choices in life have consequences and, in this case, God not going with the people into the Promised Land was his act of mercy.  

            The response of the Israelites was to mourn and to take off all the gold and jewelry connected with the golden calf. Even with their repentance God’s Presence accompanying them was not a sure thing.  

Tent of Meeting

            The Tent of Meeting was the place where Moses could meet with God while the Tabernacle was under construction.  The tent was outside the camp in contrast to the Tabernacle with would eventually be the center of the Israelite camp, surrounded by the 12 Tribes of Israel.  It was here that Moses met with God – we are told this was face to face – signifying a place of deep closeness, friendship and intimacy.  Any Israelite who needed to inquire of the Lord would go outside the camp to the Tent of Meeting where Moses would meet with God on their behalf. It was in these moments of God’s Presence that the people would stand to attention and worship God.  

For myself I find Exodus 33:11a key verse – “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.”  After the ministry was done for the people of God Moses would leave the tent, the pillar of cloud would dissipate BUT Joshua would not leave the tent.  Moses was speaking to God face to face all the while Joshua sat there in observance.  Joshua did not leave because he was still desiring more of God for himself.  The was his after-glow in the Presence of God; he would meditate on what just happened, he would think about what was said by God and Moses, he would take time to emote and feel the experience.  I believe it is this hunger for God’s Presence that sustained Joshua later as he crossed into the Promised Land.  In his old age he was different because he spent time in God’s Presence as a young man.  Even though the Presence of God left Joshua would not, he would remain, abide and not let go of what just happened.  

Don’t send us without your Presence

            The conversations recorded between God and Moses are something to read.  The openness and honesty are stunning.  It is in Exodus 33that Moses speaks to God about crossing the Jordan River.  Moses is troubled because God has said he would not accompany them into the Promised Land.  In essence Moses says – “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here”(Ex 33:15).  After God assures Moses that his Presence will accompany them into the Promised Land Moses presses the dialogue even further with a “show me your glory” statement (Ex 33:18).  God’s Presence shows up in his goodness, mercy and compassion. 

In conclusion

            The times that I have experienced personal revival in Jesus are always associated with God’s Presence.  In the life of Joshua, we are giving a little glimpse into how this start for him.  Joshua stayed behind and lingered in God’s Presence.  He did not move forward without first taking in all the revelation and wisdom that was communicated between God and Moses.  

            How can we put this into practice in our own lives?

1. Find a Moses; someone that you can spend time with that is connecting with God.

2.  Develop a hunger and curiosity for God like Joshua.

3. Stay true to God’s Word.

4. Be courageous.

 

Let’s pray