Salvation for Sinners and Sufferers

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As we celebrate this Christmas season, we celebrate our savior who took on flesh to free us from sin. But more than freeing us from the bonds of sin, Jesus also came to bring healing and restoration. Healing for the sick, the broken hearted, and the abused.

God sent His son to provide a way for sinners to be forgiven and for those who have been sinned against to be healed.

During our lives, we find that we are sinners in need of forgiveness and at times we need Jesus to heal our brokenness because of sin.

Have you ever considered that the salvation that Jesus offers is wholeness? Eternal life is glorious and starts when you give your life to Jesus, but there is more that Jesus offers, wholeness, healing, and restoration.

The account of king David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is a story of brokenness and pain because of sin. David tries to cover up his sin and he has Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle. Once Uriah is killed, David takes Bathsheba into his palace as one of his wives (2 Samuel 11:26-27).

David, one of the most celebrated heroes in the Bible, the second king of Israel, a war hero, and author of most of the Psalms, sins terribly.

As the account continues in 2 Samuel 12, we see that the prophet Nathan confronts David about his sin. Showing him that what he thought was hidden, was not hidden from God. David’s repentance is immediate, and it is proposed that the great repentance Psalm, Psalm 51 is penned as David cries out to God for forgiveness.

In response, Nathan declares that God has forgiven him and he will not die, but there will be terrible consequences for his sin. Multiple children died and a long list of pain and suffering followed David’s “private sin”. David realizes that his sin is a personal afront to God and he humbles himself in repentance.

The truth is that there are no secret sins and all sins lead to suffering. There are no private or hidden sins. Even if no-one knows about it, God sees, and it affects the body of Christ. The sins that we commit during the week, even if we think they are concealed, affect the entire church family.

As we gather to pursue the presence of God on a Sunday morning, we must come prepared and expectant. If we come in haphazardly or without any thought that we are gathering as the body of Christ to come and worship the Great I AM, not only will we miss out on a blessing, but we will impact the engagement of the church family.

Let us prepare our hearts and minds. Spend time on a Sunday morning in prayer and repentance, with the expectation that we will encounter the living God.

I guess the question is, how seriously do we take the privilege we have of gathering in God’s presence. How grateful are we for the truth of this season? Emmanuel, God with us!

David repents of his sins, and he is forgiven, but what about Bathsheba?

David needed forgiveness. Bathsheba was sinned against; her life was turned upside down. Her husband was killed, and she was taken against her will into the king’s palace as one of his wives. She experienced incredible trauma, and she needed healing.

The salvation that Jesus offers, not only offers forgiveness, but it also offers healing. Jesus came to bring healing and restoration. Healing for the sick, the broken hearted, and the abused.

God sent His son to provide a way for sinners to be forgiven and for those who have been sinned against to be healed. The Gospel is for sinners and sufferers alike.

The apostle Paul used the Greek word, “sozo” 29 times in the New Testament to define salvation. Like most Greek words, it has multiple deeper meanings, and it includes, salvation, saved, to be made well, cured, recover, and restored. “Sozo”, means wholeness.

When we hear the word salvation, we primarily think of forgiveness, but the Gospel also deals with the problem of suffering and restoring to wholeness.

The wholeness of salvation can be hard to measure. When we look at broken items, it is easy to see if they are repaired, put back together. Like a car that was in a wreck or a broken chair that is repaired. But wholeness in a person is much more difficult to measure.

The beauty of Christmas is that Jesus came as a baby, to live a perfect sinless life, he suffered a cruel death on a Roman cross as the spotless sacrifice for our sins, to pay the price that we could never pay. This same Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd day and now is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, praying for us, interceding for us. Jesus paid the price for us to be reconciled with God and to be made whole. Physical and spiritual wholeness is available to us because of what Jesus has done for us.

When Jesus walked the earth, he experienced suffering, rejection, abuse, and pain. He identifies with our pain when we are called to endure suffering at the hands of others. He is not removed from pain. By identifying with pain, he provided a way for healing. He provides healing for brokenness, for the pain of Bathsheba and for you and me.

What are you dealing with that needs the power of the Gospel to heal today?

We are a People of Hope

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Do you remember a time in your life when God felt distant. A season when you were tempted to wonder if God was even concerned about the things that you were struggling with. Maybe you are there right now.

The Bible frequently deals with the theme of God’s perceived absence. Many times, in the Bible, people wondered if God’s promises to them were still valid. Perhaps God had forgotten them.   

The beauty of the biblical narrative is that the Bible not only acknowledges this soul ache, it also provides an answer. Christmas is one of God’s clearest reminders that He intends to come and live with us. Christmas, the incarnation, is a reminder of God with us, the ultimate longing fulfilled.

Abraham was given an incredible promise by God. Abraham was to have a son and he would be the father of a nation that would bless all the nations of the world (Genesis 12:1-3).  God visited Abraham at least four times and reiterated this promise and Abraham believed God (Genesis 15:6).

But the fruition of the promise took years and even decades. As the years ticked by, doubt may have begun to set in, had God forgotten His promise?

Many of us have felt the same way, when we have received a promise from God, or we have been praying for a miracle, but it seemed that maybe God has forgotten us.

Abraham and Sarah were keenly aware of their age and what seemed to be impossible, could God really deliver on His promise? Had He forgotten them?

Finally, when Abraham was almost 100 years old and Sarah was over 90 years old, God blessed them with a miraculous baby boy, and they named him Isaac. God fulfilled His promise and the family line that would lead to Jesus coming as the Messiah had begun.

Isaac was not only a joy for Abraham and Sarah, he was an integral part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world through Jesus who would be born 2000 years later as a fulfillment of many promises.  When God answers our prayers, we thank the Lord for the blessing, but we don’t always see the greater implications of God’s provision. When God blesses us, it is with a plan to bless others as well through that blessing.

When our daughter was born and miraculously given to us, we rightly thought that she was a blessing to our family, but little did we know how much of a blessing she would be to so many other people. God’s blessings are not for us to keep and hold on to, but they are to be given back to the Lord for His purposes so that others can be blessed.

Isaac, the son of the promise was dedicated to God, and through Isaac God would bless the whole earth. Generations later, through another miraculous son in this line, God would keep another promise. That child, Jesus Christ, would forever and finally prove that however slow God seems, his “slowness” is not a sign of his absence (2 Peter 3:9).

God is not slow; He is patient, and His timing is always perfect. That distinction gives us the ability to be patient too, waiting on him to fulfill his promises.

Sometimes, God will act immediately in answer to our prayers, healing an illness, reconciling a broken relationship, or ending an addiction as an example. But on many occasions, God may ask us to wait. Some people are called to carry the cross of pain and heartache for much longer than they anticipated.  

Either way, do we trust God for the outcome? Do we praise God in the waiting and the hoping? If we don’t walk in hope and trust in God, the waiting will discourage us, eating at us, destroying us if we lose hope.

The first candle of the Advent wreath is the hope candle. As we focus on the birth of Jesus in this season, we can look back and see hundreds of promises that God has fulfilled. And we can look forward with assurance, that God will fulfill His promises in the future in His perfect timing. We are a people of hope (Ephesians 2:12-13). And as His children, we have the promise of eternal life with Christ, a promise that is secure by the word of God.

But what about today?

This Advent, do you feel like God is moving too slowly, or not moving at all? Maybe you are in a season where God feels distant, He seems far off, and you wonder if God has heard your prayers. Does God really see you?

The promises of God’s word inform us that He does see you. If you have given submitted your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, He is intimately involved in working out the perfect plans that He has for your life.  

And as we trust and wait, we must avoid trying to do what only God can do. Our natural tendency is to run ahead of God and not trust Him in the waiting.

We are a people of hope, and we can trust in the immeasurable power and love of God over our lives.

Be Thankful in all Circumstances

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Several years ago, I read a book that really challenged me regarding experiencing joy in life. According to the author, Andy Andrews, a grateful spirit is a powerful deterrent against self-pity, writing, “the seeds of depression cannot take root in a grateful heart.”

Often, we find ourselves complaining about seemingly mundane aspects of life when we should really be grateful. For instance, instead of complaining about a sink piled high with dishes, we should be thankful for the shared meal with dear friends. Likewise, household chores and the physical strain of a hard day’s work should be seen as reasons for gratitude, acknowledging the privilege of having a home and the ability to work.

When we really think about it, we have much to be thankful for.

This past summer we were able to go to South Africa. And once again I was challenged by the children. I have been to some of the poorest places in the world. Despite having nothing, the children in these places radiate unparalleled joy. It is humbling to see the depth of true joy and gratefulness.

In our society today, thanksgiving is treated as an interfaith holiday or perhaps even a faith-optional holiday. But looking back to the pages of History, we know that the original thanksgiving celebration was dedicated to thanking God for his provision and protection.

Thanksgiving is all about God, and recognizing who he is and all the blessings he has freely given us (see James 1:17)

“The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank”.

Dante Rossetti.

Psalm 105 begins with the line, “O Give thanks to the Lord…”

But true gratitude is more than simply thankfulness, it is acknowledging and praising God for His attributes. The Psalmist is not simply thankful for the blessings, he is thankful for the attributes of the Giver Himself. Spending time thanking God should always lead to worship.

Not only does thanksgiving lead to worship, it also leads to making the works of the Lord known as we read in the second parts of verse 1 and 2. If we are thankful to God for what He has done for us, we will be compelled to share the Good news of salvation with those around us. A heart for missions is driven by a heart of gratitude.

Verses 3 and 4 emphasize that thanksgiving will lead to worship and declaring the attributes of God. We as His children can become so wrapped up in what we need from God and we become so focused on the mighty hand of God that we seldom seek the face of God. James 4:3 is a clear reminder that we need to check our motives before coming to God in prayer.

As we seek the face of God, we see his attributes. To be truly thankful, we need to meditate on the nature and character of God.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remember what the hand of God has provided for us and in so doing we begin to praise him and declare his attributes.

God has made a way through the death and resurrection of Jesus for us to know Him. To have a close relationship with Him. The Psalmist encourages us to seek the Lord.

The Psalm continues in verse 5, with a call to remember the works of God. This is not simply remembering the facts of what happened, but it is a call to meditate on the wonders that God has done. The Psalmist is saying to the people, slow down, stop what you are doing and hit the pause button and dwell on what God has done.

Then in verse 6 the Psalmist reminds the people of their identity, as the chosen people of God. And we are included in this reminder. We as followers of Jesus Christ, sometimes forget who’s we are. We have so much to be thankful for because the creator of the universe calls us his own special possession (see 1 Peter 2:9).  

Everything that we have on this earth, all the many material blessings will one day pass away. Only one blessing from God is infinitely more valuable than any other, the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to suffer and die on the cross, in order that whoever believes in the risen Lord Jesus Christ will have eternal life. That is something we are grateful for today.

But what if you are suffering today? You might be enduring financial, emotional or physical trials.  How do we live with thanksgiving through hardship?

George Matheson was a well-known Scottish preacher in the mid to late 1800’s. He suffered terribly from poor eyesight and eventually total blindness at a young age. He once wrote the following in response to his suffering. “My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorn. I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorn. I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross; teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.”

What thorn do you have in your life today?

To thank God for the thorn takes faith and an eternal perspective. He is making a rainbow out of your tears.

If we as believers are grateful for the suffering Jesus endured on the cross, then we must pray that we would be grateful for the suffering that God allows in our lives, that brings the beauty of the cross to those who watch us endure with thanksgiving.

“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

Healthy Church Leadership 1

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As the Apostle Paul came near to the end of his life, he traveled around to the churches he had planted on his missionary journeys to encourage them, telling them that they would not see him again (see Acts 20:36-37).

One of these churches was the church in Ephesus in a region that influenced most of Asia Minor. Paul had invested years in this region, and he had a deep love and passion for this church. He called the elders of the church together and gave them a farewell speech.

But who were these men and what was their role in the church in Ephesus?

The Calling of Elders

The early church grew rapidly and so did the need for godly men to lead the churches. They appointed elders to care for the spiritual health of the church. While Jesus is the head of the church— he is the Good shepherd—he calls under-shepherds to tend the flock of the church (see Ephesians 4:11-12 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7).

Paul, speaking to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20:28, says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

Jesus valued his church in Ephesus. And he values the representation of his body here at Grace Point. It is his, bought with his own blood. And it is because the church is precious to Jesus that he calls men to shepherd it.

The Role of Elders

Paul continues, warning the elders in verses 29-30, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

The early church was under constant persecution for the first four hundred years. But there were also internal challenges from false teachers and leaders who sought to manipulate the church for their own profit.  Paul warned the Ephesian elders of “fierce wolves” who would infiltrate the church, as well as those from within who would distort the teachings of Christ. Jesus used the same imagery in Matthew 7:15.

False teaching takes various forms, but Satan’s tactics have remained consistent throughout history. Some common signs of false teaching include denying the divinity of Jesus, rejecting the resurrection, challenging the authority of the Bible, or diminishing the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. These are explicit deceptions. More subtle false teachings might encourage salvation through works, striving to earn God’s favor, or promoting extra-biblical revelations.

Elders play a crucial role in safeguarding the church from false teaching. Their primary responsibility is to nurture and feed the flock with the Word of God. John 6:35 illustrates that Jesus is the “Bread of Life,” and elders are tasked with ensuring the church is nourished by the Word. It’s the Word of God that sustains and grows the church, not marketing or management strategies.

The Plurality of Elders

Elders are also sheep, and as such need accountability and shepherding as well. This is why a church needs more than one elder. Having more than one elder in the church strengthens the church and guards against strong personalities that might slowly begin to introduce false teaching.

Biblical leadership principles emphasize plurality in leadership. While we may use terms like “senior pastor” or “associate pastor,” the New Testament emphasizes a team of elders who pray, study the Word, and provide spiritual guidance together. Plurality ensures a healthy balance of leadership, preventing any one individual from potentially leading the church into false teaching. John MacArthur wisely points out, “their combined counsel and wisdom helps assure that decisions are not self-willed or self-serving to a single individual. In fact, one-man leadership is characteristic of cults, not the church.”

The Nature of Elders

The term “shepherd” might have been perplexing to the first-century church. Shepherds were not held in high esteem; instead, their role was one of humility and sacrifice. Similarly, elders within the church are called to be spiritual shepherds, and by nature, that means three things

1: Shepherding is spiritual work. 

Shepherding sheep was not flashy work; it was humble, sacrificial work with no shortcuts. Similarly, the growth of the church is not driven by worldly methods or quick-fix strategies. It’s a spiritual endeavor that requires spiritual leadership.

2: Shepherding is hard work.

Just as being a shepherd in the ancient world was dangerous and challenging, shepherding the church involves spiritual warfare, discouragement, and many other challenges. The elders of the church must be prepared to commit to pray, fast, and serve the body of Christ.

3: Shepherding is answerable work.

Shepherds answered to the owners of the sheep; they were responsible for the care of the sheep they had been entrusted with. Elders are accountable to the Lord for the health and spiritual growth of the church. The church belongs to God, and they are stewards of His people (see Hebrews 13:17).

The Church and Elders

You might be reading this asking, what does this have to do with me?

I encourage you to commit to the church. Become a member of the church if you haven’t already and be an active member of the Body of Christ by praying and using your gifts to serve. This goes far beyond our gathering on a Sunday morning; that is just a springboard for the impact we can have on one another and our community today and for generations to come. As the elders – shepherd and the sheep commit through serving and praying, the whole church is strengthened.

In this age we live in, being part of a church will require active engagement. The season for passivity is over. Being a follower of Jesus is not for spectators. Jesus is building his church and raising up elders to oversee it; will you engage with him in it?

Will you commit to the church?

Do Not Fear Man

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Fear of man is a weapon that Satan uses to prevent us from doing what God calls us to do. In many parts of the world, there is the very real fear of being martyred for being a follower of Jesus. But in America the fear we most often deal with is the fear of being ridiculed or “cancelled”, for standing for the truth of God’s word.

In Matthew 10, Jesus prepares his disciples to go out and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. From verse 16 his teaching is directed towards all who would be his disciples in the generations to come. Jesus teaches us to be fearless in proclaiming the Gospel boldly (Matthew 10:27).

In this passage we have five reasons to have courage:

1. Jesus experienced it.

Jesus said in Matthew 10:25b, “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.”

By being mistreated for proclaiming the Gospel, we are simply being treated the way Jesus was treated. It is a sign that we belong to him. The insults bind us closer to the Lord. It brings great comfort to know that we are being identified as a child of God.

2. You will be vindicated.

Jesus continued in Matthew 10:26, “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”

When you know you are right, you don’t have to continue to argue, because you know that you will be vindicated. The same way with the truth of the Gospel, even though people may reject it, it is seldom helpful to try to argue with someone. You and I cannot do the work of the Holy Spirit in convicting people of their sins. Jesus said if they ridicule you for the truth, take heart, the truth will be revealed, and you will be vindicated.

3. What’s the worst that can happen?

We read in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The worst the anyone can do to someone who proclaims the Gospel, is to kill the body. This is a very real fear for millions of believers around the world. But as we know, the worst that man can do, God turns around for His glory and for our good. Killing the body of a believer is an upgrade to glory.

The second sentence of this verse has always struck me. Hell is a real place of eternal suffering, and Jesus spoke about it more than anyone else in the Bible. Hell is the penalty of God’s wrath and that is why Jesus said, “fear Him”.

It may seem like Jesus is saying, “stay in line, do what you are commanded to do, or else the One who has the power will destroy you?” But in the following verses, Jesus speaks about how much more valuable we are than the sparrows. Essentially Jesus is saying that we should fear God, but if we believe in him, we do not have to fear the wrath of God, because He is a good Father.

While it is true, the fear of the Lord is reverence and awe of God, but this teaching of Jesus really means, be afraid of God. Be afraid of the wrath of God towards sin. The only way this fear is removed is when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 8:1-2).

Jesus is teaching that we need to see sin as something more serious than we could ever imagine. The real problem is that we don’t see sin for what it really is. We are sinning against the One who is infinitely holy and infinitely worthy of our worship. When we sin, we are displaying that something else is more desirable and worthy than God. When we understand that sin is an afront to and infinitely good, holy, powerful, and worthy God, then we become aware that our sin is infinitely deserving of eternal punishment. God cannot overlook sin; it goes against His character.

However, Jesus not only warns us, but he also rescues us and promises salvation (Luke 12:32).

Do not fear man, the worst that he can do is send your soul to paradise.

4. God sees you.

In Matthew 10:30 Jesus said, “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”

God sees you and He knows everything about you. When we suffer some hardship or persecution for speaking the truth, it is not that God is oblivious, on the contrary, He sees, and He knows the outcome even before we experience the persecution. The creator of the universe is with us, He is close, we can be of good courage and speak the truth.

5. God has a plan for you.

Jesus continued in verse 31, “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

God governs the world, He controls the lives of the sparrows and the smallest flowers, there is nothing that will happen to us that is outside of His perfect will. This truth has encouraged followers of Jesus for centuries. Henry Martyn said, “if God has work for me to do, I cannot die”.

This difficult conversation with Jesus is really an encouragement to live a life of freedom. Freedom from fear, expectations, criticism, and even the persecution of man.

If we succumb to the “cancel culture” of the day, it is because of one of two things; either we don’t believe the words of Jesus that he is the only way (John 14:6), or we don’t believe in Hell.

We need to be people who love the truth and speak the truth.

Are you going to fear man or are you going to fear God?

You Must Be Born Again

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Have you ever noticed that some of the teachings of Jesus are hard to grasp.

Ultimately, what he said led to his crucifixion, and they are still offensive to the world today.

Sometimes we gloss over the hard sayings, or worse yet, we think that they don’t apply to us. But the teachings of Jesus are the Word of God to every generation.

In John 3, we read of a high-ranking Pharisee coming to meet with Jesus.

This well-known account of a senior leader a pharisee coming to Jesus to know more about Jesus. Nicodemus lived sincerely under the law as best as he could. He adhered to the strictest possible religious rules. But he desperately wanted to find out the truth about Jesus.

We see Nicodemus showing up a few times in the Gospel of John, a man who was not afraid to stand against the crowd and be identified with Jesus after his crucifixion. Nicodemus was bold and Jesus took time to meet with him.

Nicodemus doesn’t ask a question, But Jesus jumps right to the heart of the matter in verse 3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”.

Jesus knew his heart and the fact that he was seeking truth and cuts to the chase, he jumps into a difficult conversation.

A better translation of verse 3 could read, “unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God”.

Can you imagine poor Nicodemus, he must have been quite confused. Jesus was using language that we are familiar with because we hear it all the time, but Nicodemus was hearing this for the first time, and it made no sense. The familiarity of what Jesus said can also be lost on us.

Obviously, we are by nature flesh, referring to our ordinary humanity. But we are born spiritually dead. We are not spiritually attuned to the things of God.

Ephesians 2 begins with the shocking statement, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sinsin which you once walked, following the course of this world,” Ephesians 2:1-2a.

Until you are born again, you are spiritually dead, you are unable to see or understand the things of God. The problem with spiritually dead people is that they don’t know they are dead.

Spiritually dead people are unable to hear God speak to them, because they do not have the Spirit of God in them, they have no desire to read God’s word, because it makes no sense without the Spirit’s revealing truth to us.

Tragically, spiritually dead people can raise their hands and come forward in a meeting, saying all the right things, get baptized and become good church members. Spiritually dead people can serve on committees and even teach Sunday School or lead a life group.

Sadly, when it comes to eternal salvation, the church might just be a dangerous place. Because you can put on a clean face, clean up your language, give money, even mouth the right prayers, but unless you are born from above, you are not a child of God, and you are destined for an eternity separated from God in hell.

Becoming a Christian is not becoming a better person or cleaning up your act, becoming a Christian is coming alive! Being born from above.

Nicodemus was spiritually dead, but the Spirit of God was drawing him in. That is what the Holy Spirit does, He makes people aware of their desperate situation and leads them to encounter the risen lord Jesus.  

Nicodemus began to wrestle with the beauty of the Gospel, he asked Jesus in verse 4, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

You see, this leader and rule follower, this man of exceptional discipline and obedience, was looking for something to do, but the new birth does not come by a set of accomplishments. It is a free gift.

Jesus says to Nicodemus in verse 5, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

What does Jesus mean when he says, to be born of water?

Nicodemus would have known Ezekiel 36:25-26. Where God tells the nation of Israel that He will spiritually wash them of their sins, a washing that will come with the new covenant when God puts His spirit inside of believers (see Titus 3:5 and Ephesians 5:26).

Being born of the Spirit means to be filled with the presence of God by the Holy Spirit, it means coming alive spiritually. If you don’t know what it means to be born of the spirit, you will never know what it means to walk in the spirit.

Walking in the spirit affects every aspect of our lives, our decisions and plans are all led by the Spirit of God. How we steward our finances, how we interact with people, where we go and how we spend our time. Being born of the Spirit means that we will begin to display the fruit of the Spirit as described in Galatians 5:22-24.

If someone was to follow you around for the next 7 days, and see everything you do and hear everything you say, would they be able to testify that you are born of the Spirit?

Are you born again? Are you born of the Spirit of God?

Are you daily experiencing the power of the resurrected Christ in your life?

Get Back on Track

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Have you felt that the past three months were a bit of a blur?

It has been a busy summer and we have seen God work in amazing ways in Kansas City, Tahlequah, and South Africa.

The danger of coming to the end of a sprint or a summer of outreach is to look back and to rest on our laurels. However in sports, any winning team knows that the very next day, they need to get back into the gym and get back to the discipline of training in order to achieve the same results.

As we come off a season of spiritual warfare and victories, we need to slow down and get back to the basic disciplines of preparing ourselves for what God has in store for us.

What I am talking about is getting back on track with our spiritual disciplines. Those things that we do that few people see but produce a life of faith and spiritual strength.

Don Whitney said, The spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Sadly many Christians are unfit spiritually, because they are undisciplined. Nobody drifts into discipline. Just as the undisciplined body becomes sluggish and fat, the undisciplined spirit becomes weak (See 1 Timothy 4:7-8).

This is why Paul coaches Timothy (1 Tim 4:7-8).

There are many spiritual disciplines but let’s look at four today:

  1. Prayer:

Prayer is the one thing that you can do, that will have the greatest impact on your life. There is nothing more important, strategic, or more rewarding than prayer.

While Jesus was on earth, he was constantly in prayer. As followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we be a people of prayer, constantly asking God for direction, wisdom, healing, and interceding for those around us.

Personal holiness is not just being a good person, it flows from a powerful and intimate relationship with God through prayer.

I invite you to commit to joining one of the scheduled church prayer times during the week, or one of our bi-monthly nights of prayer.

2. Bible reading/ study:

In John 17 Jesus asked the Father for his disciples, that He would “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Jesus said that the Word of God is the truth that transforms us and brings about our sanctification.

The truth of God’s word does not change, it is our plumb-line and our authority for all aspects of life. However, we are tempted to redefine truth to fit our own personal preferences or desires. Let us be careful not to ignore or discard selected truths, just because we find them hard to receive or difficult to understand. Above all, we must be careful not to become lazy or apathetic with the truth of God’s word because it is not socially acceptable or because the cost of defending or standing on the truth becomes too demanding.

As you read the Bible, you will encounter Jesus, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit will reveal his glory and majesty to you.

Will you get back on track with the daily reading, studying, and Memorizing God’s word.

3. Disciple making

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he left a commission for us (Matthew 28:19-20).

Jesus said, “go and make disciples…”, which means, to win people to Christ.

Disciple-making is a spiritual discipline, it does not happen by accident.

To make disciples, as the Bible commands, we must actively seek out opportunities to share the Gospel, baptize new believers, and teach them how to obey everything that Jesus commanded.

All Christians should practice disciple-making. Sadly, many leave it to just the hired professionals.

Most of us don’t make disciples because we don’t discipline ourselves to do it.

Making disciples will cost you something. It may cost you your reputation or even a promotion. But in many parts of the world, it will cost you your life.

Sharing the Gospel is valuing the message and the person you are speaking to, more than your own comfort, finances and even life. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To value Jesus more than our own lives. Didn’t Jesus value you more than his own life?

Will you determine today to develop this discipline in your life?

4. Fellowship/ Community

Finally, I want to invite us all to get back on track in fellowship.

Fellowship is so much more than a handshake, a hug, or a pat on the back. Fellowship in the church is doing life together, growing together, challenging one another, and picking one another up when we stumble.  

God has put us in community, so that we can build one another up and walk together through the challenges of life.

Fellowship is one of the keys to the effectiveness of the church. A church will never be able to grow beyond its fellowship. If the fellowship is healthy in the church, it will continue to minister and grow in maturity and in number. The early church did this well (Acts 2:42).

Fellowship is also staying in community even after a disagreement. True fellowship is fighting for restoration and unity. That’s hard work, that requires discipline (Hebrews 10:24-25).

One of the first signs of drifting away from fellowship with God is a tendency to pull away from fellowship with each other.

Together the embers of a fire glow red-hot. But scattered, they soon grow cold. That is why the discipline of fellowship is so important. We all need brothers and sisters united in Christ to strengthen our faith.

These are four foundational disciplines. If you are waiting to rekindle a particular discipline when you feel like it, you will never begin the discipline.

Discipline does not come from desire; it comes from decision and determination.

I encourage you to enter into discipline, get back on track, and see how God uses your commitment.

To God be the Glory

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It is good to be back in Kansas City. Our team was an exceptional team of fifteen people from Grace Point. Debbie and I really enjoyed sharing the beauty and culture with our family from Grace Point.

The schedule was demanding, and the team was exhausted, but they approached every day with zeal and optimism. Even as we struggled with sickness and cold early mornings, there was no complaining.

I got regular text messages from our ministry partners asking for the team to return and pray for more people because the Lord was moving so powerfully wherever they went.

There was so much that God did, and still doing in the lives of the people we encountered. Lives were eternally changed, simply because we brought the Gospel message, prayed, and invited the Holy Spirit to do his work.

We served a wonderful ministry called Living Hope in Fishoek, South Africa, near Cape Town. Founded by John and Avril Thomas almost 24 years ago, they serve thousands of people annually. The entire Living Hope team are heroes and some of the most selfless people you could meet.

During our time in Fishoek, we served in many different capacities; we served with after school programs, helped with the sustainable farming, sorted donations, rebuilt and stained a deck, prayer walked, taught and served at a drug and alcohol recovery center, led staff devotions daily, served and prayed for people in their in-patient medical facility and served with their disabled and home health care teams. We prayed for people, served food, shared the Gospel, washed feet, and taught the Bible; it was such a powerful experience for our whole team.

One of the questions often asked about short term missions is, what is the fruit? Can we quantify the “return on investment”?

A lot of money was raised, and many people sacrificed in order to go to South Africa, how can we know if it was worthwhile?

Short team missions is a double edged sword; lives are impacted as we pray and share the Gospel, ministries are encouraged, churches are built up, people are healed and souls are won for the kingdom of Heaven.

But missions is also a tremendous discipleship tool for those who go. They grow in their faith as they rely on the Lord. Being stretched to speak in front of people and lead when they never thought they could. Seeing the faith of others around the world who have little or nothing in the way of material goods, yet they joyfully praise God. Seeing people with absolute faith that God will come through and heal or provide daily bread. This mission team are changed people and they will continue to grow as God leads them to serve and share what they have learned.

I love to invite people into a relationship with Jesus, and I had the opportunity to do that on several occasions.

During the after-school ministry, Bob Strawn had just taught the children the parable of the Good Samaritan. As we closed, we impressed on the children that without Jesus Christ they would not be able to love their neighbor. Many of the children have been abused by their neighbors, how could they love them?

As we spoke about the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to love like Jesus does, we invited them to make Jesus lord of their lives, about twenty of the children responded to the Gospel that day.

A few days later, at the recovery center, we were asked to come and pray with Samuel. Samuel was writhing in pain as he was going through heroin withdrawal. Tim Bardy and I prayed with him to be set free from pain and he prayed to make Jesus Christ lord of his life. A temporal and an eternal miracle. Two days later we saw Samuel again and he was a visibly different person as the Lord had begun to transform his life.

A number of our team spoke at the recovery center, and I was scheduled to close with a Gospel invitation. I took them to Romans 6:1-6 and specifically verse 6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

The clients could all identify with being a slave to sin, and six of them responded to the Gospel invitation. It was a great day, we were seeing a harvest of souls.

Throughout the trip, the Lord would wake me up early, each morning I would look at my watch and it was 4:38am. This happened day after day, each day the exact time I looked at my watch was 4:38am.

As we spoke about it, I wondered if it was maybe a scripture reference that the Lord was calling me to meditate on. I began looking and immediately came across John 4:38, Jesus speaking to his disciples said, For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” The Lord impressed on me that we are simply experiencing the harvesting of the fruit of other peoples’ faithful labors.

There are seasons of sowing, nurturing, and reaping. God moves his servants around and we must always be aware of the season that we are in. The people at Living Hope have sown for years with incredible sacrifice, then God sent a small team from Kansas City to reap the harvest that they had been praying for. What a joy to be used by the Lord to partner with these incredible people thousands of miles away from home.

Kansas City is our mission field, it is the primary area of our sowing and nurturing. There are thousands of people in our community that do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Are we faithfully sowing and praying to the Lord of the harvest?

Thank you to all who sacrificially gave and blessed the people of South Africa.

kuThixo makube luzuko (Xhosa)

Aan God die eer (Afrikaans)

To God be the glory.

In God We Trust

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“In God we Trust”. It is the official national motto, signed into law in 1956.

The sad irony is that in our nation today, few people really trust in God. Many people say that they have faith in God, but their actions and lifestyle show that they do not trust God.

In Psalm 25, David is crying out to God for direction, and in verse 2 he states, “O my God, in You I trust…”. And then in verse 3 he says, “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame…” Waiting on the Lord is the equivalent of trusting in Him. It is actively trusting the Lord, waiting on Him to reveal His plans. Choosing to wait on the Lord and not run ahead of him, that is trusting in the Lord.

In verse 4 and 5, David asks the Lord to show him the way he should go. He is prepared to wait all day for the Lord. David acknowledges that he doesn’t have the ability to move forward, he is pleading with the Lord for direction. How often do we cry out to God like this for our future? Do we know what it is to wait on the Lord? Or do we offer a 30 second prayer and then rush out and make our own plans, hoping that God will bless it.

We read in verse 9, “He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way.”

Now we know that in order to trust God we need come before him humbly and acknowledge our weakness. But the word “humble” in the Hebrew could also mean, afflicted or broken.  

We tend to think of being humble as a posture that we present to God in the way of our attitude, but rather David describes being afflicted and humbled by God. We don’t like the sound of that. David was pleading with God to teach him, and the humbling process was the way God taught David dependence on Him.

By God’s Grace he does that to all of us, when we are brought to the place where we realize we have nothing to offer and are humbled in the presence of the almighty God.

Part of learning to be directed by God, begins with the fear of the Lord (see verses 12,14 and Psalm 111:10). To fear the Lord is a theme throughout the Old Testament.

Fearing the Lord means to be in reverent awe of His holiness, to give Him complete reverence and to honor Him as the God of great glory and majesty. This will bring us into a position of understanding and wisdom, which is knowledge given by God. Only as we truly fear the Lord will we be freed from all destructive and satanic fears.

In verse 15 David declared, “My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.” David trusted God to deliver him when he was in trouble. Do we know how to trust in God when we face trouble? (See Psalm 91:2).

Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead to free us from the power of sin and death. We have a risen savior that rules today at the right hand of the Father. Our struggles today are temporary and fleeting in the light of eternity.

We look around and we see a nation that is very different to the one we knew 20 years ago. However, nothing that is happening today or will happen tomorrow will ever shake God or surprise Him. And along with that, the church, the body of Christ that is built on the foundation of the Word of God will never be shaken.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8.

In order to put our trust in the word of God, we need to know the word of God and meditate on the word of God. What a privilege we must open the Bible and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal truths to us. The Bible is a sure foundation that will not be shaken in an ever-changing world.

When we see the changes taking place around us, we need to be drawn to our knees to pray for our country. We weep and mourn as we see changes that seem to be out of our control, but we are not a people without hope. If you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior, and have a growing relationship with him, you are part of another Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. This kingdom will endure forever (see Psalm 145:13).

Matt Chandler once said, “The Kingdom of God wasn’t born on the Fourth of July.” 

Do you trust in God?

Why Worship?

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We have this misconception that worship is the time of our church gathering when we sing songs.

But worship is not just singing, we worship what we give value to.

We worship by the way we use our money, the way we work, the way we share the Gospel with others and even in the way we spend our free time. When we understand worship, we understand that we have the opportunity to worship God with every aspect of our lives.

Everyone worships, but not everyone worships the one true God.

In John 4, we read an account of a woman who had misplaced worship. Jesus was resting at a well in a town called Sychar and a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus spoke first and asks the woman to give him some water.

The woman who came to the well had been searching for love, fulfillment, and purpose all her life and the only person who could fulfill all her desires was sitting right in front of her. She brings up the question of worship in verse 20 when she says to Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” One of the big issues of distinction between the Jews and the Samaritans was the question of the location of their worship. She soon discovers that Jesus was wanting to speak about worship all along, this is why he was waiting at the well for her. Jesus directs the conversation to a time when worship will no longer be about a physical location (see John 4:23-24).

Jesus is explaining that only those who receive the Holy Spirit can worship God the Father. It is only in the Spirit, by the Spirit and through the Spirit that we can truly worship God in a way that pleases Him. The issue is not that we need to learn how to worship or where to worship, rather we need to learn who to worship and only by the Holy Spirit are we able to worship God the Father.

By the definition of worship, we are all really good worshippers. In our sinful human nature, we are really good idolaters, we give value to things in our lives above God. We all are tempted with idols such as: security, peace, meaning in life, self-esteem, significance, or any good thing that we elevate to a level of importance above God in our lives.

Our hearts are a perpetual idol factory.” John Calvin

The problem is misplaced worship, and the consequences are always tragic (see Jeremiah 2:13).

Jesus offered the Samaritan woman living water, she had been trying to satisfy her longings with marriage after failed marriage. At the core of all failed longings is misdirected worship. Worship of God is what we were made for. We will only find true fulfilment in life as we worship the one true God. That is a meaningful life, that is a life of worship. True worship is recognizing the sovereignty of God in all the aspects of my life.

“Worship is my active, all-of-life response to the worth of who He is and what He does.” Matt Heard

One of the most common misconceptions of worship is that it is a relatively passive event. But in the Bible, the Hebrew and the Greek words for worship involve physical activity involving all of life. Every single activity of my life becomes a way of acknowledging the creator God and His worth in my life, that is worship.

But we live in a world that worships false gods, we are living in an age that is described by David in Psalm 63:1. Are you in a dry and weary land? Or are you experiencing the living water that Jesus invited the Samaritan woman to in John 4:14?

This doesn’t mean that you will never experience pain or hardship (see John 16:33), but when you worship God with all your life, you will know peace, joy and complete fulfilment in the midst of your circumstances. You will be able to worship along with the prophet Habakkuk (See Habakkuk 3:17-18).

In the month of June, we are particularly reminded that the world around us does not worship the God we serve. As we see a month dedicated to the worship of self and immorality.

The world has a sin problem, but the real issue is that the world has a worship problem.  Sin is the result of misplaced worship. Thinking that something other than God will bring joy and peace. In Romans 1:28 we read that God will give people over to the objects of their worship.

We are not dealing with people who are confused or struggling with their identity, we are seeing the result of Satan’s demonic power being unleashed on the earth.

Satan has gone after the very root of God’s relationship with the earth. The pride month uses the rainbow, the rainbow is one of God’s original covenants, not just with the Jews or people but with all living creatures (See Genesis 9:12).

The pinnacle of God’s creation was man and woman created in His image, that was His original design, Satan is attacking that.

In Genesis 1:28 God’s original instruction to man and women was to be fruitful and multiply, something that is impossible with same sex relationships.

And then there is the original sin, Ezekiel 28:17 says that Satan’s original downfall was his pride over his beauty. He grew in pride and defied the one who created him.

Pride is at the very root of Satan’s power. Pride is ultimately worshipping ourselves, saying that we know better than God the Father, the one who created us.

So how do we respond?

Ephesians 6 doesn’t say, go and beat up sinners, it says in Ephesians 6:13 that we should simply stand firm. Stand firm, speak the truth in love and allow the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do.

If you have friends and loved ones caught in this deceptive lifestyle, love them enough to speak the truth to them. The Bible is very clear, they are on a pathway of destruction that leads to hell, because they are worshipping a false religion that may bring fleeting and deceptive pleasure for a moment. We must speak the truth, millions of souls are at stake.

Worship of the one true God is essential in the church.