Sermon, Sunday August 9, 2020. Walk in Love

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Walk in Love

Ephesians 5:1-2

“Like father like son.” We have all heard this expression and seen it played out in the lives of those around us. Young boys take on the characteristics and mannerisms of their fathers, sometimes without even being aware of it. A few weeks ago, Christie mentioned that Joshua was standing next to the car with the same posture that I always use. No one told Joshua to stand that way, he simply was following what he saw in me, hopefully he learns my good habits and not my bad ones.

Sadly, today we are witnessing the effects of a fatherless generation.  A generation growing up with absent or abusive fathers. But praise be to God, we have the privilege and blessing to call the creator of the universe, Father. Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”

In The previous chapters of the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul paints a glorious picture of God the Father, and now he adds that we must imitate Him. Obviously, we cannot be exact imitators of all the characteristics and nature of God, but we can and must reflect His character as we have put on the “new self” in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:24).

Ephesians 5 verses 3 to 21 are clear and direct instructions for walking in love and walking in the light as followers of Jesus. These verses are setup by verses 1 and 2, we can only walk in Christ as we walk in love.

When we become followers of Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit who enables us to love the way we were first loved by God (Romans 5:5). Paul reminds his readers in verse 1 that we are “beloved children”. This takes us back to Ephesians 1:5, “In love He predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” We are adopted sons and daughters of God our Heavenly Father. We have probably heard that so many times, it has lost its impact on us. I encourage you to spend time praying and meditating on all that it means to be adopted and chosen by the Great I Am.

Along with being adopted, we are welcomed into a family, the church filled with brothers and sisters. We as family have responsibilities, chores to do. Our responsibilities include caring for the widows and the orphans, practicing hospitality, caring for the poor, sharing the Gospel, praying together and living sacrificially for one another (James 1:27, Romans 12:13, Ephesians 4:28, Luke 6:36). As part of this family, we gather together, not out of tradition, but because we need each other. We are created and adopted for community to live and grow together. This is why, even in the midst of this pandemic, we need to meet together regularly, building one another up as we read in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Paul continues in verse 2 to focus our attention on the ultimate example of love. Jesus is the perfect imitator of the Father, he was able to say, “…Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” In John 14:9. Jesus loved perfectly, and the greatest display of this love in history was when he willingly died on the cross for us. Jesus died the death we deserved, and he rose again from the dead, overcoming death so that we might have eternal life.

When we submit ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus, we are empowered with the Holy Spirit to be able to love others sacrificially.

The love that Jesus displayed for us is the love that we are called to. This love is not sentimental o a feeling, this love is displayed in sacrifice and action (1 John 3:18).

Last week, we returned from our mission trip to Cincinnati, where we displayed the love of God as we prayed for people and shared the Gospel with people we met in the streets. One of the greatest displays of Christlike love, is sharing the Gospel. Telling people we have never met about Jesus. We go because we are driven by the love of Christ for the lost (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

One of the most transformative prayers you can pray is to ask the Father to give you His heart for the lost. You will be overwhelmed with compassion and love for those you meet.

Meditate on the love of your savior, and you will be filled with love like your savior.

Paul ends the sentence in verse 2 stating that the sacrifice that Jesus made for us was a fragrant offering to God. We read in the Old Testament occasions that God received the burnt offerings that were placed on the altar as a pleasing aroma. The sacrifice that Jesus made was the ultimate acceptable offering and was pleasing to the Father. Christ gave himself for us, but the offering was to God to atone for our sins. In response to this, we offer our lives as living sacrifices, living generously for the glory of God (Philippians 4:8).

May we be a people who love others like Christ loved us and may our love be a pleasing aroma to God.

Missions in a Covid Era

The city of Cincinnati

July 27, 2020

As I write this email, I am hurriedly preparing for our mission trip to Cincinnati. The day is filled with doing laundry, checking packing lists, finding air mattresses, picking up a rental van and making sure all the vehicles are gassed up. With all the scurrying around, it seems like a normal summer mission trip, but every now and then, I realize that this summer is anything but normal. We have the cloud of a pandemic over us all and we have had to take that into consideration in the midst of planning our trip.

For those who are new to Grace Point, this is the 4th year we are taking a team to Cincinnati with the express purpose of supporting Brandon and Brooke Long with their church plant in Cincinnati. Each year has looked a bit different, but the main thrust of the mission is to meet people, pray with them, share the Gospel and introduce them to the new church plant. The primary method of meeting people is door to door evangelism and walking along busy streets and starting up conversations.

With that in mind, we are still going to be following the same methodology, while at the same time, wearing masks and following safety guidelines.

Some would say that we are being foolish for going on a mission trip while we are advised to stay in place and not leave our homes. Why don’t we wait until this is all over, and then go out to the mission field?

Let me assure you, this has not been an easy decision, along with just about every decision I have had to make in the past four months as a pastor. There is no seminary course on guiding a church through a pandemic, and if there was, it would probably not be very helpful.

“But God!” I love those two words that we find scattered throughout the Bible. When we don’t know what to do, we turn to the reality and the authority of the Word of God. He has the plan to lead His church, using pastors and leaders who would simply walk in faith and listen to the Holy Spirit.

The Bible has hundreds of promises of God’s protection over His people:

Psalm 91:4-6, “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”

Psalm 121:7, “The Lord will keep you from all harm- he will watch over your life;”

Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,”

Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

There are many more, and it is so encouraging to meditate on the truths of God’s Word as we pray for wisdom and direction.

One of the key factors in hearing from the Lord and discerning His purposes, is to see where the Holy Spirit is leading. We should always be looking to see what the Spirit is doing and run in that direction.

For example, we have extraordinary things happening at Grace Point over the last few months. We have prayerfully opened the doors as often as we can and faithfully proclaimed the Word and worshipped together. We have seen numbers grow exponentially as more and more people from the community come for the first time to the church in search of a community that believes and acts on the Word of God.

Two weeks ago, we held our first Kids Camp in many years and impacted over 150 people from the community. It was overwhelming to see the joy and sense of relief as families gathered in the parking lot, to share a meal and be challenged by the team of performers from GX International. The fruit of the Kids Camp was immediate, and we celebrated the baptism of 12 people the following Sunday!

Getting back to the mission trip, we have a large group of twenty people all hungry to share the Gospel message on the streets of Cincinnati. I have been reading through the Gospel of Luke in my devotions this week and came to Luke 11:33, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.”

Being the reflection of Jesus in our community is what sharing the Gospel is all about. Sadly, churches and ministries who have decided to close their doors and “hibernate”, until it all goes away (whatever that means), are missing one of the greatest opportunities for us to be the light for our communities.

This is a season of tremendous opportunity for the church to boldly declare our trust and hope in Jesus as the only way of salvation for the world. Are we being reckless? Not if we are following the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Please join me in prayer for our mission team, for our church family and for wisdom for our leadership team. I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to reach people with the Gospel in this season of unprecedented fear and uncertainty.

In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul exhorts young Timothy to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

This is definitely an “out of season” moment in history, and we need to continue to do what God has called us to do as the Body of Christ.

Sermon, Sunday July 19, 2020. What Are You Wearing? part 2

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Ephesians 4:25-32

What are you wearing part 2

Ephesians 4 verses 17 to 32 can be divided into two sections. Verses 17 to 24, deal with our new spiritual condition as followers of Jesus. As Christians we put off the old self and put on Christ as a new creation, daily asking the Holy Spirit to help us in the renewing of our minds.

Verses 25 to 32 address the practical aspects of living as a new creation. How to live a life that conforms to the purposes of God and the direction of the Holy Spirit.

When we become followers of Jesus, we learn how to replace sinful habits with holy habits by the process of the renewing of our minds (Ephesians 4:23 and 24).

The list of sinful actions that we find in these verses are not an exhaustive list, and the Apostle Paul probably has some specific people he is addressing in the church. But he doesn’t simply have a list of things we should not do, he also gives the positive alternative and the theological reasons for these new behaviors or habits. As followers of Jesus, we must know the reason why certain behaviors are detrimental to our lives and the reason why we should make better behavioral choices. As we know, Christianity is not simply a lifestyle made up of rules and regulations, but rather it is based on a relationship with our loving Heavenly Father through His son, Jesus.

The behavior choices that Paul addresses are as follows:

1:Replace lying with Truth-telling (v25).

We speak the truth to each other because we are all part of the same body. God’s people are to be truth-tellers. But there is more to this; in verse 15, Paul encourages the church to, “speak the truth in love”, and in verse 21, we read that, “the truth is in Jesus”. As followers of Jesus, we are to be constantly talking about the person who is truth personified.

When we encourage one another by talking about Jesus, we are not simply pointing out sin, we are pointing to the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

2: Replace unrighteous anger with righteous anger (v26-27).

Anger itself is not sinful. Anger is part of the nature of God. God is angered by sin, and as His children we too should feel anger when we encounter sinful injustice (Mark 1).

Unrighteous anger is rooted in selfish motives and leads to violence, jealousy, envy and even murder. The Apostle Paul encourages us to quickly repent of our unrighteous anger and humbly ask for forgiveness to those we have wronged. This takes humility and dying to our own selfish pride. Someone has once said, “don’t go to bed with unresolved conflict or else you will sleep with the Devil”. Always seek reconciliation and forgiveness quickly.

3: Replace stealing with working and giving (v28).

We are created to work, and work is a gift from God to give us fulfilment and purpose in life. Even Jesus worked hard as a carpenter. The Apostle Paul said to the Thessalonian church that those who don’t work, shouldn’t eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12).

But we don’t simply work to eat or amass riches, we work to be able to give generously to anyone in need. John Wesley said, “Work as hard as you can, make as much as you can, then give as much as you can”. Those who have lived this way, know the secret of a truly fulfilled life.

4: Replacing corrupt talk with edifying talk (v29-30).

The translated word for corrupt or foul language in verse 29, is the same word used for rotting food. Sinful language does not nourish and leads to a stench. Sadly, Christians have accepted gossip and slander, even vulgar joking as acceptable. The fruit of such language leads to sickness in the Body of Christ. See what Jesus said about careless speech in Matthew 12:36.

The Apostle Paul adds in verse 30 that we must not grieve the Holy Spirit. Anything that we say that does not align with the Holy Spirit’s holiness, grieves Him. As we are careless with our speech, we will gradually experience the withdrawal of the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is a good practice to ask the following question, “Will what I am about to say or do please the Spirit or grieve the Spirit”.

It is the renewed life of Christ in us that leads us to affirm, encourage and build one another up. We should make a habit of only saying about people what we would say to them.

5: Replacing bitterness and rage with kindness and forgiveness (v 31-32).

These verses speak directly to our emotional outbursts, the way we behave when we have reached our “limit”. There is never an excuse for such behavior.

In the place of these outbursts, we should “put on” kindness and forgiveness. The Body of Christ should be a people known for kindness and forgiveness, because of the immeasurable kindness and forgiveness that God has shown us (See Romans 2:4 and Psalm 145:8).

One of the most powerful verses on forgiveness in the Bible is verse 32, “…forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We have absolutely no right to harbor unforgiveness towards anyone, because of the infinite debt that we have been forgiven in Christ.

As we go through this week, let us meditate on the love, forgiveness, and kindness of Jesus towards us. It will change the way we speak, behave, and respond. It will make us more like Jesus.

So, are you wearing Christ? Are you living out your identity as a follower of Jesus for the good of others and for the glory of God?

Sermon, Sunday July 5, 2020. What Are You Wearing?

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Ephesians 4:17-24

Who are you Wearing?

One of Hollywood’s silliest oddities occurs during awards ceremonies, when actresses walking the red carpet are asked, “Who are you wearing?”, and they attribute their dress or lack of dress, to the name of some overpaid designer.

However, it really is a relevant question for us today in light of what God’s Word says in Ephesians 4.

In the Old Testament, we frequently see the metaphor of God being clothed in Majesty. The Apostle Paul used the illustration of putting off the old and putting on the new, to describe the Christian experience.

Paul is exhorting his readers to be transformed and no longer live the way they did before making Jesus Lord of their lives (see Ephesians 4:17).

In verses 18-19, Paul reminds the Ephesian Christians of what life was like before they knew Jesus as Lord. the overarching theme of these verses is “futility” (see Ephesians 2:1). These two verses in chapter 4 are hard to absorb and describe an ever-deepening pit of despair and hopelessness for those who deny Christ.

The first century world was a depraved time and people had little or no moral compass. In the twenty-first century, we know that Paul could be describing people in our own cities and neighborhoods, people darkened in their understanding and alienated from God. People are ignorant because they have made the choice to harden their hearts towards God.

Left to our human nature, we are sinful and do not even have a desire for God. The normal human condition, apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ is vile, even though it may seem that some people are less vile than others. We worship ourselves and only think about what will make our lives more pleasurable. Calvinists call this total depravity. We only have a desire to know our creator because He places that desire in us by His Spirit.

But the good news is that the next five verses, beginning with verse 20, describe the wonderful truth that God can transform anyone. In Christ we are new creations, behaving differently to those around us.   

In these few verses the Apostle Paul uses three images to describe the transformation that takes place as we become followers of Jesus.

  1. A Place of Education.

This is not formal education – this is transformational education. Life change more than knowledge transfer.

In verse 20, Paul uses the phrase, “you have learned Christ”. Christ Jesus is the subject matter of the education.

But notice the verse does not say, “you have learned about Christ”. Christianity is not knowing about a person; it is knowing and being taught by the person of Jesus. It is about a personal relationship with the risen Lord Jesus.

When I became a Christian, I did not gain some new knowledge, the creator God spoke truth into my heart, and I began a relationship with him. Have you come to know Jesus? Rather than knowing about Jesus.  Christianity is about knowing the truth and the truth is a person (see John 14:6).

JB Philips in his paraphrase translates the verses 20-21, “But that isn’t the way Christ taught you, if you have really heard his voice and learned from him the truths concerning himself.”

2. There is a clothing change.  

In verses 22, 23 and 24 Paul writes, “take off the old self”, “be renewed in the spirit of your minds”, and “put on the new self”(see also Colossians 3:8-10).

The verb tense in Colossians 3:8-10 indicates a completed work with ongoing action. When you and I submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we put off the old when we turned from our sins and followed Jesus. But there is the daily ongoing practice of saying no to sin and being renewed in the image of our creator.

Ephesians 4:24 describes putting on the new self like a coat of righteousness.  God’s original design for mankind was to walk in perfect relationship with Him, when sin entered the world through the deception of Satan, that design was broken. But now, in Christ, we put on a new garment, we are literally re-created into His image, we put on the righteousness of Christ and have the access to God the Father as originally intended. We who are alive in Christ, filled with the Holy Spirit, have become a new person.

3. Our Renewed Mind.

The Apostle Paul writes in verse 23, “and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”

Again, the verb tense is in the present tense and we are, “being renewed in the spirit of our minds.”

This indicates an ongoing process of daily being renewed and transformed into the image of Christ.

When we become followers of Jesus, we receive all his righteousness. We are made new and washed by his shed blood. And then we grow more like him as we follow him. As we grow into Jesus, we reflect the glory of God by living holy righteous lives as His image bearers.

Practically, this happens as we spend time reading and soaking in God’s word, as we daily allow the Holy Spirit to have more control over our lives. God does the work in us, but we have the practical task of “Setting our minds on heaven” as we read in Colossians 3:1-3 and Romans 12:2.

The renewing of our minds is a miracle as we are daily surrounded by the garbage of the media world. A practical and necessary step we must take every-day is to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew our minds.

We need this more than ever before in history. There is a war for the mind, and we are too easily distracted by the never-ending digital world around us.  

Being renewed is an essential part of being a follower of Jesus because he is the one you are wearing, and along with the cloak of righteousness comes the renewal of the Holy Spirit.

What are you wearing?

Thoughts on the Unexpected June 28, 2020

Unexpected things happen all the time and how we respond sometimes has significant implications. This past Thursday, I received a call from Lynn and the first words out of her mouth were not the words a pastor or any leader likes to hear, “Athol, we have a huge problem…”

Usually when I hear those words, I downplay them and try to minimize my stress response. But something about her tone of voice, indicated that this really was a “huge problem”.

I was on my way down the hill from the church, and I rushed back as quickly as my 2008 Kia could get me up the hill. On my arrival I was greeted by many anxious faces and saw water all down the hallway and flooding into the sanctuary. I headed to the back of the church and found that the backflow valve was expelling as much water as a four-inch line would allow.

I was able to shut it off and then the process of cleanup and calling companies to help began. As usual, Nicole was on top of it and had people there to begin the cleanup within the hour.

It is going to take a few days until we can get the water on, and unfortunately as a result we were unable to hold services today. But in spite of all the drama, God is still in control. We see a setback, but God is following His eternal and perfect plan.

We decided not to use Zoom, or stream a service this morning, but rather we encouraged everyone to spend time alone or in your families with the Word of God, allowing God to speak to you.

Last week, as I was preaching through Ephesians 4:13-16, I spoke on the four attributes of spiritual maturity. The second one was, “spiritual maturity involves doctrinal stability”.

That sounds very much like, “seminary speak”, but the bottom line is that we need to feed on God’s word for ourselves in order to mature. And as we mature we will be able to discern between false doctrine and the truth found in God’s word.

So, on this day, you and I have the wonderful opportunity to feed on the glorious riches of the Word. Allowing the author, the Holy Spirit to give us a feast.

This morning I was reading Deuteronomy 30. Moses is giving his final instructions of the Law of God to the children of Israel. Moses was encouraging them to choose life, to choose to worship God alone and not to be distracted by the false gods and idols of the nations around them.

In Deuteronomy 30:11-15 we read, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”

Notice the emphasis I underlined. If the truth of God’s word was close during the time of Moses, how much more for us under the New Covenant. We have the blessing of the 3rd person of the Trinity, living in us as true followers of Jesus.

Jesus prepared his disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit and in John 14:26-27 we read, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

In June of 2020, we certainly have a lot going on in the world around us. It would be easy for us to be so consumed by the events of the world that we become fearful and lacking peace.

Whether it be a sudden flood in a building, the Corona virus, political chaos or an earthquake in Mexico, our God is still the one who gives us peace. Our Heavenly Father does not react to the events of the world, rather, He is perfectly orchestrating all of the worlds events in preparation for His son, Jesus, to come again in glory.

In this season, if you are not spending time in God’s word, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring you peace and comfort, you will be easily swayed. Let us be a people who discern the season through the lens of God’s word.

Who are you listening to?

Sermon, Sunday June 21, 2020. Are You Grown Up?

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Ephesians 4:13-16

Maturity is not measured in years, rather maturity is a measure of emotional and spiritual health. Maturity is being self-aware and comfortable with who God has made you to be.

Immature people always try to be something they see in someone else.

Depending on our life experiences and trauma, we all have some aspects of our emotions that are not mature and that have not developed the way God intended them to develop and mature.

For the Christian, maturity is Christ likeness. To grow more like Jesus and to die to our flesh daily. Maturity is finding satisfaction in the approval of our heavenly Father alone.

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul encourages the church to be unified, to use their gifts and to mature as a body. We see in verse 12 that maturity comes from doing the work of the ministry.

We make a mistake when we think that we cannot do the work until we are spiritually mature. The truth is that we grow and mature as we exercise our gifts in the body.

In verses 13-16, we see four traits of a spiritually mature person.

1: Mature people are Christlike.

In verse 13, we read that Jesus is our example of spiritual maturity. The fullness of Christ is the expression of completion of our Christian walk, exhibiting the character traits we find in Ephesians 4:2-3.

Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus, as our old way of thinking and acting is replaced by Christ’s through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will only attain Christlikeness when Jesus comes again, but we need to be moving forward. If you are not more like Jesus today than you were a year ago, something is wrong with your walk with the Lord. We grow more like Jesus as we walk with Jesus.

2: Maturity involves doctrinal stability.

Spiritual maturity involves the intellect. We must not think that Christian growth is purely an emotional and spiritual exercise and that we need to check our reasoning skills at the door. Verse 13 encourages us towards knowledge of the Son of God. And in verse 14 he uses the example of children as the opposite end of the spectrum. Children can be gullible and easily swayed by false teaching.

We all begin our relationship with Jesus as children, with childlike faith. But we must not stay as children, we need to grow and be able to feed ourselves as we read and meditate on the Word of God.

The world is full of false teachers and false doctrines, we need to think, pray, and ask God for discernment. We have a very real enemy who will use every tool available to sidetrack us on our spiritual journey of becoming more like Jesus.

Knowing the Word is the best way to avoid being distracted by false doctrines and unbiblical teaching. We can only know God’s word by spending time reading and meditating on it.

Sadly, the statistics show that most churchgoers do not read their Bibles, and this is why the church is prey for false teachers (see Hebrews 5:11-14).

3: Maturity involves Truth Joined with Love

Verse 15 has the often-misquoted text, “speaking the truth in love…” This verse has often been taken out of context and used as a “baseball bat of brotherly love”. One of those Christianese phrases that we like to use before or after we have said something harsh.

This is more than simply speaking; the Greek word is complex here and John Stott describes it as “truthing”. Speaking the truth in love is truthing in love. This includes maintaining, living, and doing the truth. We live out the truth as an example to those around us. It is the equivalent of the phrase; “actions speak louder than words.”

Mature people do not avoid tough conversations, but they speak from of a firm foundation of love and not for selfish gain.

 “Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love, love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth” John Stott

4: Maturity involves Contribution

In verse 16, Paul goes back to the analogy of the body when speaking about the church.

The church is like a body with many different parts and connections, it is not a social club or a convenience. The church is the body of Christ, where each part has an important part to play.

As the church, we are dependent on Christ as the head of the church and we are dependent on each other as working members of the same body. As we grow in Christ individually, we exercise our gifts and the body becomes healthy.

Sadly, many churches in the world have a static view of the church. The members of the body are satisfied if the congregation stays about the same size, with the same familiar faces. They are happy if the programs can all be maintained, and the budget is enough to keep all the familiar programs running. In these churches there is no vision for growth through evangelism or missional engagement. This church has already died.

This is a tragedy and not God’s design for the church. God’s design for the church is to be the salt and the light in our communities, and to be the cultural influence for the glory of God.

As we focus on being a healthy church, the natural by-product is growth. But what is church growth? Is it numeric growth?

I believe church growth is first and foremost spiritual maturity, sacrificial living, healthy evangelistic relationships, and people feeding on the Word of God for themselves. Thereafter the numeric growth will follow.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, who are you feeding?

If you have been in the church for five, ten, or fifty years and you are not feeding others the Word of God, something is wrong, you have not matured.

 “Are you growing?”

Sermon, Sunday June 14, 2020. Are You Using Your Gifts?

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Ephesians 4:7-12

In the previous message from Ephesians 4:1-6, we saw that the first aspect of a healthy church is unity. But we must remember that unity is not sameness. Every member of the church has different roles to play and gifts to bless the church.

Ephesians 4:7 says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Every follower of Jesus has received a gift, or grace as Paul refers to it. This is not saving grace, rather it is grace to serve and build up the body of Christ. The apostle Paul was given the grace to preach to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:8).

We know these to be the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the equipping of the church. These gifts are listed in verse 11, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” These are specific spiritual gifts given to people in the church whose primary mission is to minister the word of God.

Each of these have the same value to God, but they share different roles. This is where we run into trouble, we hold on to labels as if they were badges of honor, rather than areas of responsibility.

 Let us look at each of these gifts briefly.

Apostle: The word Apostle comes from the Greek word Apostolos and means “sent one”.  

John Stott writes that there are three different understandings of the term Apostle used in the Bible.

1: There were the original apostles such as John, Peter, Paul, and the other disciples, obviously those apostles were unique and have not been replicated. Jesus had many disciples, but He selected twelve Apostles. A disciple is a “follower” or a “learner,” but an apostle is a “divinely appointed representative.” We do not have these apostles in the church today. Ephesians 2:20 explains that these apostles are the foundation of the church.  

2: Since we have all been sent, because of the Great Commission (Matthew 2:19-20) applies to us all, we are all apostles of Jesus Christ. We have all be sent by Jesus.

3: And then there is the apostle that Paul refers to here. The Apostolic gift that Christ gives to his church, specifically to certain people in order to advance the Kingdom. They are the church planters, the missionaries, and the ministry pioneers.

Prophets: As we saw in Ephesians 2:20, the Biblical prophets, Jeremiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, and others are the foundation of the church. Those God used to forth-tell, to predict future events such as the coming of Jesus and his second coming.

A New Testament prophet is someone who proclaims the Word of God. In a real sense, preaching is prophesying. Taking God’s word and applying it to people’s lives (see 1 Corinthians 14:3).

The gift of prophecy today must always be confirmed and based on the declaration of the Word of God. Don’t base the direction of your life on what someone feels the Lord is saying to you, be careful to test a prophetic word through the filter of the Bible and then also allow God to bring it to pass.

Evangelists: These are the bearers of Good News, people going from place to place to proclaim the Gospel and win the lost. Everyone who is saved is called to be a witness, to share the message of the gospel, but some people are gifted as evangelists. The fact that a believer may not possess this gift does not excuse him from being burdened for lost souls or witnessing to them.

Shepherd: The titles of Shepherd, Pastor, Elder or Overseer are found in the New Testament and are often misunderstood. Jesus is the head of the church and the pastor serves under his leadership (Hebrews 13:20).

The pastor is not the church CEO, rather he is a gift God has given to the church to equip the church for the work of the ministry. The role of the pastor is to nurture, defend, protect, and sacrifice for the flock.

Teacher: In verse 11, the titles of shepherd and teacher are separated by a definite article in the Greek, and it is likely that this indicates an overlapping in function.

All Pastors teach, by nature of the function of the role, but not all teachers are pastors.

These are the 5 gifts that the Lord has given to the church, and as long as the body of Christ needs to be equipped for works of service, the gifts are still given by Christ to the church (Ephesians 4:12).

This is probably the biggest problem with the modern-day church. Our western church is primarily a consumer driven church and not a mission driven church.

Ephesians 4:12 makes it clear that the work of the ministry of the church is the responsibility of the members of the church.

A church will never mature if we look at the gifts that God has given us as the head, rather than Christ as the head of the church. The gift giver is the head of the church and not the gifts.

As Paul states, disciple making is not the exclusive domain of pastors, rather discipleship is everyone’s job. The members of the early church took their responsibility to make disciples very seriously. The pastor is the equipper, and every member of the church is a minister.

Jesus commands you to look at the people around you and start making disciples. Obviously only God can change a person’s heart, but our responsibility is to be Christ’s ambassadors, his message bearers, in our communities.


God’s plan to reach people with the gospel is not primarily evangelists or apologists. God’s plan to reach people with the gospel is the church. 

Tony Merida writes, “Every member should grow up and use a towel, not wear a bib. They should not be immature consumers but eager servants.”

You have been given a gift by God, what are you doing with that gift?

Sermon, Sunday May 31, 2020 Are You Healthy?

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Ephesians 4:1-6

Is your church healthy?

The first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians address our position as followers of Jesus. The next three chapters speak about the very practical aspects of our Christian walk. We need to know our position before we can look at our walk.

Paul urges the church in verse one to walk worthy of their calling. Being a follower of Jesus is not a religion or becoming a nice person who follows a set of rules, becoming a Christian is about becoming a new person. Walking a different walk.

The term Christian literally means, “little Christs”. The more we walk with him, the more we look like him, daily being changed into his image.

Paul knew who he was. In verse 1 of chapter 4 he begins, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord…”

Paul didn’t say, “I therefore a prisoner of Rome”. He didn’t let his temporary situation define his position. Paul was a prisoner for Jesus and he surrendered his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. His position with Christ had led him to be temporarily imprisoned in Rome.

Paul was not defined by His temporary situation. Are you defined by your current work situation, relationships, or financial status?

If you are defined by your temporary situation, you will never know what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

As followers of Jesus we have a common call, we are all saved by grace alone in Christ alone. We share a common experience of grace. And this is what unites us.

A healthy church is marked by unity.

When a church struggles with a lack of unity, it is often because they have taken their eyes off their common call and identity.

In verses 2 and 3, Paul explains how to practically walk worthy of the calling by listing five characteristics of the follower of Jesus: humility, gentleness, patience, love, and unity.

Jesus exemplified these 5 characteristics in his life on the earth:

Humility (Philippians 2:5-8); Gentleness (Matthew 11:28-29); Patience (1 Timothy 1:16); Love (Romans 5:8); and Unity (Ephesians 2:14).

Jesus is our example of how to walk as Christians. The more we look like Jesus individually, the more we live like Jesus relationally, and the more united the church will be.

Looking at each of these individually:

Humility

Paul constantly refers to humility as an essential characteristic of being a Christian in his letters. Humility was not common in the first century, Greek literature shows us that pride was highly valued and admired. We live in such a similar time. If people a thousand years from now look at our culture, they would see a culture obsessed with our own self-image.  

Our culture screams, “exalt yourself, pamper yourself, think about yourself first”. But being a follower of Jesus calls us to walk in the opposite spirit (Philippians 2:3).

Tim Keller wrote, “the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less”.

Gentleness:

This does not mean weakness or timidity, rather it is self-control.

Moses, arguably the greatest leader in the whole Bible, was the role model of meekness and gentleness (Numbers 12:3).

Moses had a special relationship with the Lord. He knew that God would defend him, and God was the source of his strength.

Galatians 5 tells us that gentleness is a fruit of the spirit and it is the way we are to live as believers.

Patience:

For some of us, no matter how fast the microwave heats up the milk, it will never be fast enough. A lack of patience is a display of a lack of humility and a lack of love. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible says that love is patient.

So how do we cultivate patience? By relying on the Holy Spirit and meditating on the patience that Christ has shown us (2 Peter 3:9).

Accepting one another in love:

Out of relationship comes grace. Unity in the church is impossible without loving acceptance of our differences. The Bible says in 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins”

Diligently keeping unity.

Verse 3 says, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Notice Paul doesn’t write, “work towards unity”. This is an active maintaining, not a passive resting in unity.

We don’t create unity. We have unity because of the Holy Spirit. God unites us as the body of Christ, our role is to keep the unity.

How do we keep unity?

  • By walking in humility and preferring others.
  • By renouncing harshness and walking in gentleness towards others
  • By setting aside our own agenda and walking in patience.
  • By setting aside our own expectations and walking in love.

Anytime the church lacks unity, it is because we have stopped living in Christlike humility, patience, gentleness, and love.

Then in verses 4 to 6, we have what was possibly an early church creed, which includes seven “one” statements.

One body: the church is the body of Christ.

One Spirit: The Holy Spirit is the one who creates unity and then empowers us to maintain it.

One hope: We share a common hope in Jesus Christ. This hope is not wishful thinking, and the Greek word used here is one of trusting in a certain outcome. Jesus is coming again and those who put their trust in him will be saved.

One Lord: The early believers, by stating that Jesus is Lord, they were proclaiming that Caesar is not Lord. This could mean the death penalty. By declaring Jesus is Lord, we are giving him authority and lordship over every decision of our lives.

One faith: These are the essential truths of our faith.

One baptism: This may refer to the act of being baptized in water, but it probably means what John the Baptist was referring to in Luke 3:16.

One God and Father: We have been adopted into the family of God. Regardless of our ethnicity, we are all part of one body.

This creed includes the doctrine of the trinity. The three in one, Father son and Holy Spirit are in perfect unity. The trinity not only creates unity but serves as the ultimate picture of unity.

A healthy church maintains unity.

Sermon, Sunday May 24, 2020 Do You Know How Much God Loves You?

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Ephesians 3:14-21
Do you know how much you are loved?

Truthfully, we simply have no ability to grasp the love of God for us.

The Apostle Paul prays two prayers in the first three chapters of the letter to the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays for the church to live out the knowledge of their position in Christ.

The church has incredible amounts of knowledge and teaching available to us, yet we don’t live from the position of that knowledge, and our position as followers of Jesus and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

There are three key things we can learn from this prayer by the apostle for the early church.

1: Paul Prays with Humility.
He begins with, “for this reason”. Paul is referring to chapters 1 and 2, and the facts that we are chosen by God, saved by grace, and all called as the body of Christ, being built up as members of the church.

It is crucial that prayer is always from a posture of worship and humility. Prayer begins and ends in worship (See Psalm 95:6-7).
Prayer must begin with worship. If you launch into prayer requests, you are treating God like a vending machine, while He wants a relationship.

But more than humility, Paul approached God with desperation, because he recognized that only God could act on his behalf. Paul knew that believers needed something that only God could give, His power. I don’t think we are aware of how helpless and powerless we are without God. Jesus himself said this in John 15:5.
This should make us humble and desperate, but not only that, it should encourage us, because we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors, to be used by him for his glory by His power.

We can pray with confidence in our position before the throne of God as beloved children (Ephesians 2:18).
In Christ, we have unlimited access to the Father. We can call Him Father and He is unimaginably rich and powerful.

2: Praying for the Fullness of God’s Power and Love.
Paul presents his requests to God in these verses. They seem to flow together and we lose some of the impact of them, but they are like a staircase that climbs to a crescendo, each one separated by the conjunction, “that” (See Ephesians 3:16-19)
Paul begins by praying for strength in the inner man. Strength to stand firm against temptation, strength to courageously proclaim the Gospel, strength to love our neighbor the way Jesus loves them, and strength for many more areas of our life.

Our culture places so much emphasis on the outer man, whether it is Instagram filters, or a supplement to develop ripped muscles overnight. In our culture, image is such an idol.
But the inner person, the soul, is the only eternal part of our being. Everything else is fading away (Proverbs 31:30).

Paul prays in verse 17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”
When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, he is transforming us to reflect the character of Jesus Christ. This is the process of sanctification that we are all living out.

In the next verses, Paul moves from praying for power, to praying for them to know how much they are loved by God. How much we need this revelation of God’s love today.

When we understand the love of God for us, we easily submit to his perfect will and our lives will become lives of radical obedience, because we know that whatever He asks us to do, He is asking out of love (Galatians 2:20).

There is a huge difference between knowledge of love and experience of love.
I can tell Debbie and my children that I love them all day long, but if I never show affection or care, it will be knowledge that remains intellectual.
This is more than simply reading about the love of Jesus, but experiencing it because of the Gospel and the power of God living in us and through us as we submit to his perfect plan for our lives.

Have you moved from intellectual knowledge of the love of God to the experiential knowledge of God’s love? (See Romans 8:31-39).
Paul knew his readers wouldn’t get it. He knew this understanding of God’s love only comes by a supernatural revelation of God.

Try as we might to comprehend the love of God, we need God to show us how much He loves us and I contend that even then, we still only have scratched the surface of understanding how much we are loved by the creator of the universe.
We are never meant to experience and grow in this knowledge on our own. We need to share stories of His love. We need to encourage one another with miracles and experiences that we share together. God intends us to live in community with other believers as we reflect on the love of Christ in and through the Gospel message.

Paul ends this long sentence in verse 19, with the why of God’s love, “…that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Simply stated, being filed with the fullness of God is to be all that God has called us to be to be spiritually mature. We become spiritually mature, as we know and experience the love of God for us.

Do you know how much you are loved? (see Romans 5:8).

3: Praying with Expectation.
Finally, we come to the doxology in the middle of the letter. But it is a dividing section in the letter and it is an overflow of praise and worship.

This revelation of God’s love is the most important bedrock and foundation for all our Christian life. It begins with God’s love, and if God doesn’t reveal His love to us, everything else is striving to please God.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Sermon, Sunday May 17, 2020 – You are Being Watched.

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Ephesians 3:1-13  

Do you know that you are being watched?

In 1984, there was a hit song, “I always feel like, somebodies watching me” by Rockwell, and as the church, this is true of us today. We as the church are being watched all the time.

In our society, we have a consumer mindset when it come to the church. The church is there for us, right? We view the church as a place where we gather to encourage, challenge, disciple and mobilize people for missions. These are all good purposes for the church, but they are not the most important function of the church.

Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, lets them know that he has been entrusted to bring them the Gospel message by the grace of God (Ephesians 3:2).

Grace is a gift of God, and an essential key for being a follower of Jesus. We are all called to fulltime ministry in whatever role in society God has given us. But we must remember that we cannot serve the Lord in our own strength. Our very best is never good enough, we need to operate In Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Serving God in your own strength will lead to burnout and disappointment.

Paul was given grace from God to proclaim the mystery that gentiles are now adopted into the family of God to share in the promises of God that were previously only for the Israelites (Ephesians 3:6). Gentiles are all people groups around the world who are not Jews (Romans 9:24-25). Aren’t you glad for the mystery?

In verse 7, Paul writes that he is a minister of the Gospel, but the Greek word also means servant. He doesn’t see being a servant as a negative thing. He sees it as an incredible privilege. Paul was humble and knew that he was not operating in his own strength (Ephesians 3:8).

To be a servant of the Lord, we cannot do what God calls us to do in our own strength. This is not just for pastors and missionaries. We all need God’s grace, because we are all called to serve the Lord in the role He has placed us in life.

If you are able to do what God calls you to do in your own strength, it might not be the call of God on your life.

The call of god on your life will always stretch you beyond your own abilities.

Verses 10 and 11 of Ephesians 3 take the mystery of the church and the call of God to a completely different level. God’s intent, from before the creation of the universe, was that the church would be used to teach the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

Theologians agree that these “rulers and authorities”, are all spiritual beings outside of our visible realm: angels, demons, good and bad heavenly beings. The angels look on and marvel at the grace and wisdom of God (1 Peter 1:12).  Demons look at the church and know that their rule on the earth is coming to an end once and for all.

We know God knows all things and that He is all wise. Wisdom is found in God. God is teaching the universe by taking people from all nations, all ethnic people groups from all backgrounds and bringing them together into one body, the church, the body of Christ.

The church is preaching a cosmic sermon to the universe.

Kent Hughes writes, “the inescapable conclusion is that the angels watch us because we are part of the mystery!… We have a far bigger and more observant audience than any of us realize!”

Never underestimate the glory of God in the church!

The church is not the teacher. God is the revealer of His wisdom, God is the teacher and we are the whiteboard. God uses the church to reveal his wisdom and glory.

The global church is so much more essential than we could ever imagine. there are cosmic realities that we know nothing about.

The church is so much more than meeting together and enjoying each-other’s company.

Getting back to the initial question; do you know that you are being watched?

Does the fact of knowing that you are being watched, change the way you think about being part of the church?

Before you decide not to be a part of a community outreach, remember, you are being watched.

Before you think about gossiping, saying some negative word about a fellow member of the church, remember you are being watched.

Before you dismiss the value of gathering-together, sleeping in rather than preparing your heart to receive from the Lord in worship and hearing His word, remember you are being watched.

This is all said as part of the mystery.

I don’t want to make you feel manipulated or guilted into coming to church rather I want to impress on you the privilege, the absolute honor we have to be used by God to declare His wisdom to the watching universe.

In these uncertain times, God’s mystery is being revealed through the church. You are part of God revealing His wisdom to the universe of heavenly powers.

Be encouraged. Lift your eyes and see the glory of God being revealed as the church gathers to worship.