Thankfulness a Spiritual Discipline

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As we celebrated another thanksgiving, we were grateful to spend time with some of our church family. I am so glad we live in a country that celebrates a day of gratitude.

I think Thanksgiving means so much to Debbie and I because like the Pilgrims, we are immigrants and have been blessed by God in these United States. The word “Pilgrim” means, “a person on a sacred journey in a foreign land.” We must remember that we who are followers of Jesus are all pilgrims and foreigners in this world.

Thanksgiving is all about God and recognizing all the blessings He has freely given us. In a world that has all but pushed God away in every sphere of society, it is amazing that we still celebrate thanksgiving.

Dante Rossetti once said; “The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank”.

The Psalms are full of wonderful anthems of praise and thanksgiving, and Psalm 103 is one of them.

It is interesting to see what David focuses on as he thanks God. Not once in that entire Psalm does he give thanks for his family, his home, his possessions, or even his throne. David doesn’t give thanks for many of the things most people would mention. Instead, he praises God for forgiving his sins, healing all his diseases, redeeming his life from the pit, crowning him with love & compassion, and satisfying his desires with good things so that his youth was renewed. David couldn’t lose those things.

Jesus emphasized the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 6:19-21). How thankful are we for the things we can never lose?

Psalm 103:2 says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,”

This is such a crucial verse. If we forget the blessings of the Lord, we will quickly become ungrateful, take things for granted, and maybe even begin to feel entitled. The danger of this is that we become focused on what we don’t have, rather than on the many things we receive from the Lord that we don’t deserve.

Psychologists will tell you that there is tremendous benefit in being thankful. It is needed for our physical health and for developing healthy relationships. I would like to suggest that thankfulness becomes a spiritual discipline that we can and must develop, and it will produce enduring fruit.

The Bible is full of commands, and it encourages us to be thankful (see Ephesians 5:19-20).

We know that the Bible is practical and recognizes the pain and suffering that we encounter on life’s journey. The command to be joyful and give thanks is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to pain and suffering. Rather it reveals to us that are unable to be continually thankful without the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Real thankfulness is not dependent on our circumstances, it is a response to the goodness of God and the Gospel message.

The Psalms are full of examples of thanksgiving during pain. Several the Psalms of David begin with him crying out in pain, but by the end of the Psalm, as he recognizes the hand of God, he thanks and praises the Lord.

Our lives are fragile, and we easily forget how dependent we are on God for everything we have (see Psalm 103:13-16). Our lives may be fragile and fleeting, but to God we are precious in His eyes, and He will never forget us.

Our Father provided a way to redeem us and bring us into relationship with Himself. Our sins and prideful nature separate us from God, and unless our sins are atoned for, we will never enter into eternal life in relationship with God. Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” That is something to be thankful for!

Tim Keller observed: “The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself or less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”

Isn’t it amazing that two people who live in similar situations can have such a different outlook on life. One person is negative and complaining, while the other is optimistic and joyful.  The difference is gratitude.

Praise and thanksgiving make all the difference in life.

Each moment that we’re given is a precious gift from God. We can choose to have a thankful attitude and live each moment full of joy.

Being thankful is an act of worship because it reminds us of our provider, our Heavenly Father.

My challenge to you this week is that as you go about your day, make a point of being grateful for the little things, and if you struggle with identifying them, ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see the blessings all around you.

As you do that, you will be praying without ceasing!

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing,” we repeat that verse but often overlook the full sentence starting in verse 16, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

We are called by God to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances.

Why? Because it is the will of God in Christ Jesus. God knows that this is the best for you and me. A spiritual discipline that will produce a harvest of righteousness.

Knowledge is Power

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As we come to the end of John’s first letter, we must remember his purpose in writing was to dispel false teachers who had begun to deceive the first century church.

John makes 22 statements of truth that he wants the readers to grasp throughout the letter, and in these final verses he makes five more claims of truth.  

1: We can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

If there was one verse that sums up the entire letter, this is it.

John tells his readers that you do not have to doubt your salvation.

The whole book revolves around belief, obedience and the love of God. Our feelings can deceive us, but faith in the truth of God’s word is what will sustain us. (See John 10:28–29).   

2: We can know that God answers prayer (1 John 5:14-15).

We often turn to prayer when we have exhausted every available option and solution. But prayer should be the very first thing we should do when faced with life’s challenges.

R. A. Torrey said, “Prayer is the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God’s infinite grace and power. All that God is and all that God has is at the disposal of prayer. But we must use the key. Prayer can do anything that God can do and since God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent.”

John says, we come to God because we have confidence. Confidence ultimately stems from relationship.

Sadly, too many Christians are practical atheists. Let me explain, I often hear statements to the effect, “I know God can do anything”, and then they say, “but the reality is…”

It doesn’t matter what you say after that, that is the talk of a practical atheist. God is the ultimate reality and as we grow in our relationship with Him, we trust Him with our prayers.

Verse 14 continues, “…that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us”.  This is not an excuse for not persisting in prayer, rather we persist in prayer until we discern God’s will, and then we pray His will.

George Mueller said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.”

So how can we know God’s will? Romans 8:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayers and intercedes with us and for us. We can discern God’s will by reading God’s word and listening to the Spirit. Frequently we don’t know because we don’t wait on the Lord, we rush in and out of His presence before we let Him speak.

We need to know our position before God as we pray (see Ephesians 2:6 and Hebrews 4:16). As God’s children, do we come before the throne and approach Him as our perfect and loving Heavenly Father?

Prayer is the spiritual thermometer of our lives. It is an indicator of our relationship and trust of our Heavenly Father. It has been said that prayer to the Christian is like breathing for our physical bodies.

(For a detailed explanation of verse 16 and 17 please watch the sermon video)

3: We can know victory over sin (1 John 5:18).

There are three incredible statements in this verse, explaining how we can have victory over sin.

  1. As we know from 1 John 3, a Christian does not habitually sin. Unconfessed and ongoing sin is not a part of the life of a believer. If you sin habitually and don’t have a problem with it, are you born again?
  2. We have the promise of the protection from sin by Jesus the son of God. Jesus paid for our salvation, now in heaven, he maintains our salvation (see Jude 24).
  3. The final phrase of the verse, “and the evil one does not touch him.” Satan wants nothing more than to destroy the followers of Jesus, to grab us and do us harm, but because we are covered by the blood of Jesus, he cannot touch us.

4: We know we belong to God (1 John 5:19).

As followers of Jesus, we are not of this world. The world is under the power of Satan, and he for a time has the world tied in slavery. Satan is the one who deceives and blinds unbelievers. The war for the souls of mankind is very real. We must be alert and pray with a wartime mentality. Remember we have the amazing promise of 1 John 4:4.

5: We can know what is true (1 John 5:20).  

John ends his letter the way he began, that Jesus is the Son of God. He uses the word, “true” three times. Jesus is really God and in him we have eternal life.

As Christians we live in reality, not the reality of the news media, education systems, science, or what people think to be true. Ultimate reality is found in the supernatural God who holds every atom in place.

A miracle is God breaking into the natural world and changing reality (see Matthew 6:10).

Then John adds a final sentence, almost a postscript, in verse 21 it can easily get glossed over, but it is crucial. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”.

An idol is anything that you love, pursue, or enjoy more than God. We can easily make idols of things in our daily lives.  It could be money, sport, relationships, education, or desire for recognition, the list is endless of things we can value more than God.

Warren Wiersbe writes, “The thing we serve is the thing we worship! Whatever controls our lives and “calls the signals” is our god.”

Idolatry is a subtle way that Satan uses to control us, and we find ourselves living for the unreal instead of the real.

What lie are you believing today? If God is speaking to you today about any of these truths that you have not believed, repent and allow the Holy Spirit to impress these truths into your heart.

What if every Christian voted Democrat?

I have tried this question on a few people and got similar responses each time, quizzical looks and sometimes a laugh. This email is not intended to be a political endorsement or a discussion on politics. On the contrary, it is much more important than that. So let me explain why I would ask such a provocative question. This past week we had another mid-term election in America and the outcome has still not been decided. As we await the results, we must remember that God Himself is the decider of the outcome.

I am currently reading the book of Daniel and love the way God reveals Himself to pagan kings and rulers. Daniel was a man of worship, serving the one true God even in the land of his exile and slavery. As Daniel was preparing to deliver the revelation of king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he broke out in a song of praise and in verse 20 and 21 of chapter 2 he said, ““Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;”

As Christians around the country pray for their political party or candidate to win the election, I often wonder what our motivation is in praying for election outcomes. I am not saying that we should not pray, certainly we are to pray for God to move and install leaders who would bless the land. But how are we praying?

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and encouraged him to pray for the leaders of the land in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We must remember that Paul and Timothy were church leaders during the reign of Emperor Nero. He was a despicable ruler who mercilessly persecuted Christians, far worse than any of our twenty first century leaders in America.

 Many evangelical Christians were praying for and hoping for a “red wave”, that would see the Republican party making significant gains in both the House and the Senate, but the outcome has not been as expected. Reflecting on this outcome, I wonder what the church would have done if the “red wave” had been realized. I am sure that if that had been the outcome, many Christians would have been happy, they would have felt at ease and they would have stopped praying! That alone would reveal that our worldview is not Biblical.

I firmly believe that God is calling us to something much bigger than simply praying for a political party to gain some seats. The salvation of America is never going to be found in a political leader or a majority government. I firmly believe that God is calling us to pray for an awakening in this land. A sustained move of God that will transform the nation through repentance and alignment with the plumbline of God’s Word.

Getting back to my provocative title. What if we saw such a move of God, that our leaders began to rule from a Biblical worldview. What if we could vote for leaders based on their leadership qualities alone, because it didn’t matter which political party they represented because the parties in our country would be leading with Biblical principles.

Sound far-fetched? I don’t think so. Let us join together in praying for our leaders as the Bible instructs us to do, praying for them to encounter the living God and repent of their sins. May we see God move in power in America, calling the nation to a humble repentance, so that God may have mercy on us and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Irrefutable Evidence.

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Can you know anything for certain? We all have a deep desire to know things for certain.

As the church, we have the truth, but sadly people even within the church do not know and believe the truth for themselves.

Today, truth is under attack. Truth has been relegated to opinion and feelings. Truth is found in God alone; He is the ultimate reality.

John wrote this letter with the primary purpose of refuting the false teachers of the day. The people to whom John was writing were exposed to a popular false teacher named Cerinthus. He claimed that Jesus was merely a man on whom “the Christ” had come when Jesus was baptized and then left him on the cross, so Jesus died an ordinary human being.

How do we know that Jesus Christ is God?

Some of the people who lived during the time of Jesus called him a liar and a deceiver. Others today call him a good teacher of life principles, maybe even a great prophet.

To refute the false teaching John needed proof, he needed witnesses who would make the case that Jesus was indeed God in the flesh. The Mosaic Law required that two or three witnesses were needed to confirm a matter (Deut. 19:15). In the case of Jesus, we have six witnesses.

John begins his defence in verse 6, “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.”

1: Witness of Baptism

The water refers to Jesus being baptized by John in Matthew 3. It was a declaration and a witness to who he was. When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. At his Baptism and beginning of his ministry, the entire Trinity was present as a witness.

2: Witness of Crucifixion

The second witness is the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. There were multitudes of people who witnessed the supernatural events of that day. In Matthew 27 we read that there was a long period of darkness, an earthquake, people came back to life and walked into Jerusalem, the temple veil was torn by God and the centurion and those who witnessed these events testified, “Truly this was the Sonof God!” Matthew 27:54b.

The crucifixion of Jesus was not a mistake or the death of a martyr. It was the divine plan of the trinity before the beginning of time to provide salvation by means of a perfect willing sacrifice and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were present and witnessing to who Jesus was.

3: Witness of the Holy Spirit

The third witness is the Holy Spirit. Verse 6 continues, “And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”

The primary role of the Holy Spirit is to testify about who Jesus is (John 15:26). Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth, a reliable witness. The Holy Spirit is the only person who is active on the earth today who was present when Jesus was ministering on the earth.

4: Witness of the Father

In verse 9 and 10, John steps up the level of argument saying that if you believe the testimony of men, God’s testimony regarding His son is infinitely greater.

God gave testimony to the person of Jesus multiple times during and before his life on the earth. Jesus himself said in John 5:37a, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.”

As a result of this, we are forced to decide, accept that Jesus is the son of God or reject him, there is no third option. John writes in verse 10 that to reject these testimonies about Jesus, is to make God out to be a liar.

There is so much evidence of who Jesus is and what he has done, it is not that people are ignorant, it is that people willingly choose to rebel against God.

5: Witness of our own conversion

The first sentence of verse 10, John turns the spotlight of the witness box on us. “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself”. (1 John 5:10a)

We have these outward testimonies, and witnesses, but what about the testimony of the believer? (See Romans 8:15-16). His witness is our inner confidence that we belong to Christ, a confidence that God gives us.

Many people can point back to a moment when they decided to follow Christ, but our testimony is daily walking in the knowledge of our savior. Having that daily walk and personal relationship with Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life. our lives are marked by daily encounters, “God moments”, as you walk out your God given calling.

6: Witness of Eternal Life

The final witness is one that many people don’t realize that we can already experience. Verse 11 reads, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

Our eternal life is our testimony. Eternal life is not endless life. Eternal life is true life, beginning from conversion in relationship with God. Eternal life is sharing the very life of God, through the power of the indwelling presence of God (See John 17:3).

Do you have this eternal life today?

If you choose to reject all these witnesses and reject the offer of salvation, you will not have life. You will be a walking dead person. Sadly, there are people in the church today who are not living an eternal life. It is possible to have a belief in the historic facts about Jesus, even say the right words, but without faith in Jesus Christ you are not living the eternal life that God is offering you.

Jesus is God; this is foundational to everything else.

Faith that Overcomes

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It is quite normal for children to have the same passions and interests as their parents. When we are born again, we begin to take on the identity of our spiritual birth. In 1 John 5, we see that there are traits that we display which indicates that we are born from above, that we are Christians.

Verse 1 begins, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.”

This passage is all about belief and faith, and the word used for belief refers to an ongoing action. In other words, our salvation is not based on a one-time decision to trust in Christ, but rather it is an ongoing trust and belief in his completed work that saves us.

The primary evidence of this new birth is that we love God the Father and obey His commands of loving others and loving God (1 John 5:2). John is referring to what Jesus said in Matthew 22:36-40.

What is ultimately the best way to show love towards others?

We can meet peoples’ felt needs like, clothing, food, education and the likes, but none of these meet the eternal need of every human being, the need to be made right with God (Mark 8:36).

Our love for others in the form of missions and evangelism must strive to meet felt needs, but we must lovingly declare the Gospel, the only way to salvation.

As we have seen throughout John’s letter, he frequently comes back to the theme of obedience. Loving God and obeying God are inseparable. But this obedience is not a chore, it is not burdensome (1 John 5:3).

Does this mean that I will never get tired in doing what God calls me to do? No, we will get tired, but it won’t be a burden, because of our love for God (Matthew 11:29-30).

John Piper said, “What you desire to do with your whole heart is not burdensome to do.

Loving God is not simply right behavior, it is a longing to do His will, stemming from the desire that He places in our hearts. People who are not saved kick against obedience to God, but when we are born again, we are changed, and it is our delight to serve the Lord.

1 John 5:4 says, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

Is there a difference between faith and belief? This is a hotly debated topic in some theological circles. In the original language, both words have the same root, but faith has a deeper meaning. Belief often means and intellectual acceptance of a reality, whereas faith in our modern English, means to trust or to commit to someone. For example, I can look at a rope swing and believe it could hold me, but I don’t really have faith in it unless I climb on it and swing out over a river.

In the same way, many people have a belief in the facts about God, even an intellectual belief in the Gospel, but they have never fully put their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior.

True faith changes our behavior, true faith changes the way we live out our belief.

“…And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4b. Our victory over the world is the result of our faith. We have faith in God because we know He loves us, and we love Him.

John uses the phrase, “overcome the world” three times in this passage. As overcomers, John is not referring to “super-Christians”, he is referring to every true follower of Jesus. Everyone who has been born again, is called to be an overcomer. Through faith we can overcome; fear of man, fear of failure, addictions, temptations and the lies of Satan.

We are overcomers, not by our own strength and willpower, no we are overcomers because of the completed work of Jesus on the cross.

John Piper wrote, “Faith sees that Jesus is better. That is why faith conquers the world. The world held us in bondage by the power of its desires. But now our eyes have been opened by the new birth to see the superior desirability of Jesus. Jesus is better than the desires of the flesh, and better then the desires of the eyes, and better than the riches that strangle us with greed and pride.”

1 John 5:5 is the bookend that takes us back to believing in Jesus, the Messiah. We can be overcomers because of our position in Christ. We struggle to grasp this, but it is vital for our Christians walk. Our understanding of our position is everything (Ephesians 2:4-6).

The victory in life comes from knowing our position, when we claim our position in faith, we share in the victory that Jesus has won. As Christs ambassadors, we have a position far above all the enemies of Christ.

The key, of course, is faith, this has always been God’s key to victory. The great men and women named in Hebrews 11 all won their victories by faith. They simply took God at His word and acted on it, and He honored their faith and gave them victory.

Faith is not simply saying that what God says is true, it is acting on what God says because it is true.

“Faith is not so much believing in spite of evidence but obeying in spite of consequence,Clarence Jordan.

Victorious faith is the result of maturing love. The better we come to know and love Jesus Christ, the easier it is to trust Him with the needs and battles of life.

How is your faith today?

Supernatural Love

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If you confess to be a Christian, how do people know?

It’s not because you wear a t-shirt, have a bumper sticker on your car or post encouraging words on Facebook.

The one defining aspect of a true Christian is love. And not the easy kind of love, loving those who love you in return. The defining mark of a follower of Jesus is to do what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

That is a great memory verse, easy to say…until someone begins to persecute you.

I have heard dozens of people, claiming to be followers of Jesus, who say, “well I just can’t love that person, that’s just the way it is.”

The Bible says if you can’t love your enemies, you are not saved. But, the good news is that being filled with the Holy Spirit, we have the power to love our worst enemy.

Our actions are determined by our identity.

Loving as Jesus commands can seem impossible. Even loving our brothers and sisters in the church can be challenging at times. But we can love by the power of God living in us.

We need to remember our identity in Christ.

Abiding in Christ forms our identity, and as a result, abiding empowers love.

How do we know if we are abiding in Christ?

1 John 4:13 is the answer, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

Abiding in Christ is only possible because God fills us with His presence in the Holy Spirit. And notice the verse says, “we abide in Him and He in us”. We don’t even begin to fully grasp that. We don’t know what we have. We who have confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, and submitted to his lordship in our lives, have the presence of God abiding in us by the Holy Spirit. And this abiding presence of God leads to love.

1 John 4:16 states that love is a product of abiding in God. As followers of Jesus, we are the temple that God chooses to dwell in and reveal His love to the world.

You and I are witnesses of the presence of God, it is an awesome privilege and responsibility. Are we displaying the Love of God to the world around us?

This is the way we grow as Christians. As we abide in Christ, spend time with his Word and in communion with him, we grow to love God more, we grow to love other believers more and we grow to love those who don’t know Jesus more, even our enemies. As we share the love of the Father with others, we experience more of His love, it is a blessed exchange.

“God is love,” is not simply a statement in the Bible about the nature of God, it is the very foundation of our relationship with God and our neighbor. Loving one another isn’t simply a command to be obeyed, it is a privilege that flows from our relationship with God.

As we move to verse 17 and 18, we see another response to our abiding in Christ and he in us. Abiding produces love and love leads to confidence (1 John 4:17).

The Love of God has a goal, an intended completion and when it is perfected, we can face our final judgment before Christ with confidence.

Many churches today don’t like to mention the day of judgment. Judgment and Hell are more real than Satan would like us to believe. Jesus came to set us free from the fear of judgment (1 John 4:18).

Our world is controlled by fear. The word that John uses here to describe the fear of the coming judgment is “krisisphobia”. The Bible says that God has put eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Whether we face it or not, every human being knows that there is an eternity outside of time here on earth and the one who created it all is going to hold us accountable for how we lived. Without Jesus and his perfect love, that is terrifying.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This is the incredible gift of God’s grace, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and John can write in verse 17 that we can have confidence before God. Boldly coming before his throne of Grace as His beloved Children. There is no situation, no sickness, no difficulty, that we could possibly face that is beyond the power of God to carry us through it (Romans 8:35-39).  

In Matthew 22, Jesus gave the two greatest commands, “Love God and Love others”.

Love is a command. 1 John 4:19, is one of the simplest verses in the Bible to understand, “We love because He first loved us.God took the initiative and His love overflows from us to others.

But verse 20 states, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar…

If we do not love those around us as we are commanded to do, then we do not know the love of God, and it should cause us to live in fear and anxiety.

 “It is obviously easier to love and serve a visible man than an invisible God, and if we fail in the easier task, it is absurd to claim success in the harder” John Stott.

Verse 21 sums it all up, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother”

When Jesus said we must love our enemies, it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command. If we love God wholeheartedly, we will love our brother, including those who slander us and persecute us.  

Going back to my original question, if you confess to be a Christian, how does the unsaved world know?

It is hard, in fact it is impossible without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives empowering us to love as Jesus loved. Do you know the love of Jesus?

Why you need to be baptized.

The Church has two ordinances that Jesus commanded us to do until he comes again. The first is the Lord’s Supper that Jesus instituted at the Last Supper in Luke 22. Jesus took the bread and broke it, portraying the way his body would be broken for us on the cross. Then he took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood,” Luke 22:20b. The blood of Jesus is the only way for our sins to be forgiven. Communion is the picture of the Gospel, the good news that Jesus died for our sins, for us to be made right with God through repentance of our sins.

The second ordinance is Baptism, and just like communion, it is only for those who truly know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Baptism is often confused and misunderstood.

Why should someone be baptized?

Because your pastor tells you? Because your parents tell you? Get baptized to be saved? None of these are reasons to be baptized.

Baptism must take place after someone has given their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord. We get baptized because the Lord Jesus instructed his followers to be baptized. As Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples, he gave them the Great Commission.  Matthew 28: 19 to 20 reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus told his followers before he ascended into heaven, that they must go, keep on going and make followers of Jesus, proclaiming the good news of the Gospel. As people all over the world respond to the Gospel and become followers of Jesus, they are to be baptized. We baptize them, teach them, and send them to go and win others for Christ.

Baptism is a public testimony of what has taken place in your life.

Some people wait to be baptized until they feel “ready enough,” some people wait until they are a “better Christian.” These are both lies from the enemy to prevent us from moving forward in obedience to Christ.

Baptism is dipping a person under water in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to symbolize on the outside a spiritual change on the inside. It is a declaration of dying to our old life, being buried with Christ and being raised to new life in Christ. Romans 6:3-4 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Colossians 2:12 declares, “Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Baptism is not when you are saved, it is a testimony, a witness to others of what has already happened through faith in Jesus Christ.

Baptism is a step of commitment, publicly testifying to faith in Christ, a commitment to walk in newness of life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, what will Baptism do for Me?

Water baptism will not cleanse me from sin, make me a new person, or give me eternal life without faith in Christ.

Water baptism is a symbol and a beautiful picture. As we are baptized, we are publicly testifying to a faith in Jesus. In Luke 9:26 Jesus said, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Baptism is the picture of Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

I believe that Baptism places a special seal of God’s hand on your life. As you walk in obedience, God begins to lead you in ways you have not experienced before.

We read in Joshua chapter 4 that God had the children of Israel place large stones as memorial stones to the faithfulness of God. In a similar way, the day we are baptized is a memorial stone, it is a day we can look back and be reminded of the commitment and public declaration we made of the faithfulness of God and our faith in Jesus.

Baptism doesn’t make people perfect; we still struggle and wrestle against the flesh and fight the battle that we are reminded of in Ephesians 6. However, baptism is a giant step in our walk with the Lord and the process of becoming more like Christ.

Have you publicly testified to your faith in Christ?

God is Love

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“God is Love” is a fundamental statement about the nature of God.

AB Simpson on God is love, “God is not justice. God is not wisdom. God is not power. God has all these attributes but none of them is great enough to constitute His essence. But love is His very nature and in love all other attributes find their completeness.”

Satan will constantly attempt to twist the world’s understanding of the nature of God. The Bible says “God is love,” the world says, “love is love.” The world defines love as something that we possess and usually this is a selfish desire and sexual in nature. The world ignores the pure and essential nature of God as being the source of love.

This does not mean that only Christians are capable of love.  We must remember that we are created in the image of God and have His nature of love within us.  However, Satan has perverted it and twisted it into something selfish.

See what Jesus said in John 15:12-13. Love is a commandment, it is a commitment, it is not an optional extra driven by feelings.

1 John 4:7 reads, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Real, authentic love has its source in God and gives evidence that we have been born again. This is not only loving people who love us in return, but also the ability to love those who are hurting us and annoying us, loving our enemies. This is the supernatural love of God that He displays on our behalf.

Verse 8 is a verse that should make us very uncomfortable, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The verse doesn’t say, “anyone who does not love his friends…does not know God.”  No, anyone who doesn’t love, including those not displaying love to those who are unlovely, those who are oppressing us, those who might reject us and hurt us, does not know God.

The great news of the Gospel is that God made the first move simply because we are not capable of loving this way. Verse 9 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”

This is something we need to be reminded of. Do you know how much you are loved?

God loves you so much that He sent His only son to free us from the bondage and penalty of separation from God. We don’t even begin to understand the magnitude of the phrase, “God sent His son.

1 John 4:10 reads, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Jesus, the eternally existing, creator God, was sent to the earth by the Father. The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect eternal communion and love. God doesn’t need us, but He loves us and made a way for us to be reconciled with Him. The only possible way to accomplish this was the spotless Lamb of God had to be sacrificed to atone for our sins. We were not looking for God, He reached out towards us. God took the initiative. God sent His son to die (Romans 5:8).

This was God’s plan from the beginning of time, and it was not a martyr dying in some horrible, cosmic mistake. Jesus willingly laid down his life, taking our place, and bearing the punishment that we deserved.

The word “propitiation” is a rich word that means, “An offering that turns away the wrath of God.

The holiness of God required that for us to be reconciled with Him, there needed to be a sacrifice for the penalty of our sins. We deserved punishment, but Jesus took the punishment that we deserved so that we can be saved.

Christian love is based on this. It is not simply excusing sin or allowing someone to do whatever they want. Christian love is standing in the gap, and it is in the shape of a cross.

Considering this great truth, we have been forgiven and set free, so how are we to respond?

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11.

Sadly, Christians are not known for their love of others. Many people outside the church only know the church for what we condemn, and not for our love for them. These may be people who oppose our message and even try to harm us and the church. What did Jesus say about these people? (See Matthew 5:44-45).

God does not show partiality in His love for people, and as children of God, neither can we.

Loving others is not simply an obligation that we have to perform out of duty. Rather, as we grow in our walk with the Lord and the Holy Spirit transforms us, we naturally begin to display the love of God for those around us.

Why does God call us to love others?  1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”

By living out the love of God, we display the nature of God for others to see. This becomes a practical display of the Gospel. This will always cost us something, but this is the normal Christian life (see Romans 5:5).

Everyone faces crisis and loss in their lives, and pain has a way of cutting through the fluff of life and the image we want to portray. When the crisis comes, how do we love?

Will we love sacrificially and with endurance? It is usually in times of crisis that community is born and strengthened.

We need to remember that as we display the love of God, we display the nature of God. There are few things in life that can possibly be more rewarding or more important.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God…”

Who are you listening to?

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Who are you Listening to?

In the first few verses of 1 John 4, we have a warning against false prophets, who are deceiving the church. Satan is the master liar and manipulator.

John says in verse 1, “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Satan is constantly sending out evil spirits to deceive and spread a false message, influencing false teachers to teach a false Gospel.

We need to be alert, ready and praying for discernment, especially in our world of mass media where we can view thousands of hours of teaching on any subject we choose.

A prophet is a person who declares the truth of God and seldom is it in the context of foretelling the future.

The Bible warns us that not everyone who claims to be speaking for God is actually a prophet of God (Matthew 7:15 and Matthew 24:11). With the advent of the internet, we have seen a rise in false prophets.

In this passage, six times John uses the term “from God”, and six times he uses the term, “the World”. We must not be so naïve as to think that those who are from the world, are not in the church. Satan’s greatest attack against the church has always been from inside the church.

John gives us four tests we can use to avoid being led astray.

1: Am I being deceived? (1 John 4:1).

The problem is that we are theologically lazy. The vast majority of the church is Biblically illiterate or weak at best. How can we know if someone is speaking God’s truth or not if we don’t know the Word of God. Satan and his demons know the Bible and how to twist the word and make it sound true when it is not. Satan is still casting doubt in people’s minds as he did in Genesis 3:1.

Behind every prophet there is an empowering spirit, and their message will let us know if they are from God are not. We don’t have to look further than the recent history of high-profile church leaders who had incredible ministries, but behind the scenes there was manipulation, control, and sexual sin. These sins were often excused by the incredible “fruit” from their ministry. But God is not mocked, and hundreds and thousands of people are hurt in the end.

2: Are they proclaiming the true Jesus? (1 John 4:2).

Christianity is about Jesus. What do you believe about Jesus.

Is he simply a great religious leader? Is he just one option amongst many? Or Is he God in the flesh, fully God and fully man, the only way the truth and the life.

The best way to test the spirits is to ask the Jesus question. The Holy Spirit of God will always honor Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 16:14).

The alternative is in verse 3, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

John writes that false prophets will not confess that Jesus is the Christ. Many false teachers today, even in some mainline denominations refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist. As we looked at in 1 John 2:22 on June 26, http://atholbarnes.com/2022/06/26/sermon-sunday-june-26-2022-who-is-jesus/

The spirit of Antichrist always diminishes the person and work of Jesus. Rejecting that he is fully God and fully man, rejecting the fact that his blood atones for our sins.

3: Who are you trusting? (1 John 4:4).

What an incredible promise, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Are you trusting in the greater spirit?

Satan and his demons have a large following, the world seems to be powerfully opposed to the things of God. The daily attacks are sometimes overwhelming. But all of Satan’s plans are divinely destined to fail (Matthew 16:18).

Notice the tense of verse 4, “you are of God, and have overcome them…”

We have the misconception that spiritual warfare is about swinging the sword of the spirit and slaying demons. However, the victory has already been won. Spiritual Warfare is about standing firm and declaring the promises of God’s word, as Watchman Nee writes in his book, “Sit, Walk, Stand”.  

As we commit our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, his victory becomes our victory and God’s Spirit lives in us. The Holy Spirit is the one who glorifies Christ through our lives as we stand firm on the promises of God.

As believers we need to be reminded of this, we hide and don’t speak up in the public square. We pray for Jesus to come again so that we can put all this messy world behind us. But Jesus calls us to live victoriously with a supernatural assurance that the victory is already won. Are we living daily from that victory, boldly living for Christ?

4: Are you listening to the right teachers? (1 John 4:5-6).

False teachers are not of God, but from the world and the domain of Satan and his demons. False teachers have a secular worldview.  

If you have a Biblical worldview, based on the promises and the truths of God’s word, then you will have an eternal perspective on everything, marriage, sexuality, abortion, death, war, finances, and even the pain and challenges of life (1 Corinthians 4:16-18).

A secular worldview proclaims that this is all there is, grab as much as you can, pursue pleasure, make a name for yourself, leave a legacy. A secular world view leads to hopelessness.

Who are you listening to?

Boldness Through Faith

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How bold are your prayers?

What are you praying for right now that requires a supernatural move of God?

Prayer is an outflow of our relationship and a declaration of faith.

The boldness of our prayers must come from our faith in the statement, “God is love”, and that we are abiding, or are rooted in the promises of God’s Word.

The Bible frequently talks about the human heart. Our innermost being that is vulnerable, complex, and if properly aligned with God, our hearts are a blessing.

The world around us frequently tells us, “Trust your heart”, “go with what your gut is telling you”. But the Bible tells us in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Many people struggle with their heart and the feelings of self-condemnation. The apostle John recognized that as followers of Jesus, we still struggle with emotions, condemnation, and guilt. He also knew that the truth of God’s word provides healing and a re-alignment of our hearts.

Thus, the question, “How bold is your prayer life” might be preceded by the question, “How is your heart?”

1 John 3:19 says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.”

And as children of God, we have confidence in His presence.

1 John 3:20 may seem confusing at first, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

Even though we know the scriptures and have heard the Gospel hundreds of times, sometimes we experience condemnation and guilt as Satan brings back to mind past sins. When we experience condemnation, we must go back to the promises of 1 John 1:9 and Romans 8:1.

We must remember who we are, “in Christ”. We stand before the all-knowing God, our Father, covered in the righteousness of Christ. It is a heart issue, we can be misled by our emotions and feelings. That is why King David wrote this in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts”.

Ask God to expose the lies in your life and begin to live by God’s promises.

Like the promises of verses 21-22, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

When we have confidence in our standing before God, we can have confidence in our prayers.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, He who has a clear conscience comes to God with confidence, and that confidence of faith ensures to him the answer of his prayer. Childlike confidence makes us pray as none else can. It makes a man pray for great things, which he would never have asked for if he had not learned this confidence; and makes him pray for little things which a great many are afraid to ask for, because they have not yet felt towards God the confidence of children.… The man of obedience is the man whom God will hear, because his obedient heart leads him to pray humbly, and with submission, for he feels it to be his highest desire that the Lord’s will should be done. Hence it is that the man or obedient heart prays like an oracle; his prayers are prophecies. Is he not one with God? Doth he not desire and ask for exactly what God intends? How can a prayer shot from such a bow ever fail to reach its target?”

Sadly, many Christians are living command oriented Christian lives. We know God’s holy requirements and we are so committed to do the right thing, so that God will approve of us and answer our prayers.

God wants us to live by His promises, from a heart of pure relationship with Him, then we will live every day in the power of His spirit, leading us in obedience, out of relationship.

How are you living today? In fear and law or love and relationship?

Verse 23 says, there is one thing that we need to begin with. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

It all begins and ends with belief in Jesus Christ as Lord. A personal relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Believing that Jesus is the son of God, the eternal God, who became like one of his creation 2000 years ago. He lived a perfect sinless life and was crucified and died as a willing sacrifice for our sins. This same Jesus rose from the dead three days later and lives forever today, interceding for us at the Father’s right hand. Believing that Jesus is preparing a place for us and that he will one day return to take the Church to be with him in glory.

Finally looking at verse 24, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

King David knew his purpose in life, found in Psalm 27:4. David knew that the greatest goal in life was to abide in God’s presence.

The Spirit of God is given to us and by the Holy Spirit, we know that God abides with us and we with Him. There is an assurance that comes from abiding.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is not something that we can earn or merit by obedience.  As we abide in Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us the strength and the passion for obeying God. As we abide in God and He in us, we come to know God as our perfect Heavenly Father.

Prayer is an outflow of our relationship with God.

The more we abide in Him and He in us, the bolder our prayers will become, because we will know Him as a good and perfect heavenly Father, who is generous in His gifts.

How Bold is your prayer life?

Are you praying like a child who has absolute confidence in your father?