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

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Ephesians 4:13-16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1: Mature people are Christlike.

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

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

2: Maturity involves doctrinal stability.

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

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

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

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

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

3: Maturity involves Truth Joined with Love

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

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

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

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

4: Maturity involves Contribution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Are you growing?”

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

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Ephesians 4:7-12

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

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

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

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

 Let us look at each of these gifts briefly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sermon, Sunday May 31, 2020 Are You Healthy?

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Ephesians 4:1-6

Is your church healthy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A healthy church is marked by unity.

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at each of these individually:

Humility

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

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

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

Gentleness:

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

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

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

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

Patience:

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

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

Accepting one another in love:

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

Diligently keeping unity.

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

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

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

How do we keep unity?

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

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

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

One body: the church is the body of Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A healthy church maintains unity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ephesians 3:1-13  

Do you know that you are being watched?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The church is preaching a cosmic sermon to the universe.

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

Never underestimate the glory of God in the church!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is all said as part of the mystery.

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

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

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

Mother’s Day May 10, 2020

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THE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE OF GOD

By: Debbie Barnes

Motherhood looks different for everyone. Different seasons, different roles, difficult seasons, difficult roles, less challenging seasons, less challenging roles…

Let me start at the beginning of motherhood for me.  Athol and I had tried to fall pregnant for many years, and this was a difficult and painful season for both of us.  Then the Lord blessed us with 2 children through adoption, and with Christie, we were literally thrust into parenthood overnight!

In the business of trying to be the perfect wife and mother, of trying to prove that I had this motherhood thing under control, I began to neglect my personal walk with the Lord.  I was so consumed with the gift of the child, that I neglected the giver of the child, the giver of that life itself.  I was looking for something, yearning for something in my relationship with my children.  And no matter how hard I tried, that sense of complete and utter fulfillment was always just beyond my reach.  I didn’t understand it.  And then one morning it dawned on me.  Motherhood is completely selfless.  My children were not there to meet my needs, I was there to meet theirs.    

This brings me to my first point: 

  1. God is enough, He is sufficient to meet all my needs. (Philippians 4:19)

God was there to meet my needs, and I had walked away from Him.  It was only after I rekindled my relationship with the Lord that I found that true fulfillment. 

And only once I found all I needed in my relationship with God did I stop looking for God in my relationship with my children! How liberating! 

Only then did I find my joy in motherhood and could enjoy my children for who they were.  This not only applies to motherhood, but to all relationships, whether it be between a husband and wife, siblings, other family members and friends.  It is only once you find everything you need in your relationship with God that will you stop looking for God in all your relationships with others.

2)    God’s love is unconditional. (1 John 4: 19 and Ephesians 3: 17-19).

As most of you know, Athol and I became licensed foster parents in 2016, and this opened our eyes to a whole new world.  With Joshie’s autism and other special needs, we feel that the Lord has equipped us and called us to fostering children with autism and other special needs. 

Now it’s easy to love your own children but not so easy to love someone else’s, especially when they come from a background of trauma, abuse, and neglect.   BUT GOD!  He gives us a supernatural love for every child that comes into our home.  He gives us the ability to put aside the bruises from kicking, biting, scratching, screaming etc.,  and the ability to tuck this child into bed, kiss him or her on the cheek, and say “I love you.”  To see each child through His lens, as His beautiful creation.

I get really frustrated when I share that I am a foster mom, and people respond with “Oh, I could never do that, I would become too attached.”  Does that mean they assume that I don’t get attached?  If, as a foster parent, you don’t get attached, then there is something seriously wrong. When we have a foster child in our home, we love them as deeply as our own children, with the supernatural love that comes from the Father Himself. 

How much does God love us?  So much so that he gave us His only begotten Son so that we may enjoy an eternity with Him if we believe in Him as our Lord and Savior.

3)    God equips us when He calls us.

When God calls you, He will equip and prepare you to effectively complete that which He is calling you to do. He knows us and will use everything about us to bring Glory to his name. ( see Hebrews 13: 21  and 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The first day of our first foster placement did not go well.  We were this child’s 4th foster home in 6 weeks, and he was severely autistic, non-verbal, and aggressive. By that evening, I was full of bruises and bite marks.  I remember crying after getting everyone in bed that night, and Athol put his arms around me and kept saying that things would get better.  I turned to Athol and remember saying, ” I’m not crying for me, I’m crying for him. How can we expect him to change when no-one is prepared to invest in his life or give him the tools to change?”

 We decided that night to stand in the gap for this child, to fight for him and his needs, just as Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us.  Athol and I went to weekly therapy with him, and reinforced positive behavior daily.  Slowly but surely, we started to notice change.  He didn’t like being touched, but by the end of his time with us before he was reunified with his biological mom, he was crawling onto my lap, putting my hand on top of his head to ruffle his hair, and putting my hand on his back for me to tickle his back whenever he could.  Christie was even able to teach him to say, “I love you”. His aggressive behavior decreased the more he saw us as a family model loving behavior toward one another and underwent a total transformation as he started to mimic the same loving behavior at home and at school.

4)  It’s not about us. 

Everything we do should point right back to Jesus and glorify the Father. I have not shared these stories with you to get a pat on the back.  I share them because I am nothing without God.  He doesn’t need me, yet I get to walk with Him and follow His leading every day.  And every time I am with Him, He fills me and equips me for the day ahead.  He is the source of the unconditional love I can pour out daily, and He can do the same for you.

Just as being a mother and foster mom is not about me, it’s about my children, and it’s my relationship with the Lord that enables me to pour into my children out of the abundance of love and joy that the Father pours into me through my relationship with Him.  So too, Christianity is not about us either.  It is about bringing glory to the Father through everything we say and do.

Sermon, Sunday April 26, 2020 What are You Wearing?

By Grace Alone – Ephesians 2:8-10

What are you wearing? Rather, what are you wearing spiritually?

More about that later.

In Ephesians 2:8 Paul writing to the church in Ephesus says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—”

You may have heard this said:

Justice is getting what you deserve.
Mercy is not getting what you deserve.
And Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

Paul says that this saving grace comes to us through faith, and faith is the instrument that allows us to grab hold of the truth of the Gospel and be saved. But faith itself is a gift from God, we cannot muster up faith. Faith comes from God, for us to believe in God.

Everything is a gift; grace is a gift, faith is a gift and salvation is a gift.

We must never ever think of our salvation as a transaction, whereby I give my life to Jesus and he saves me. Rather God gives me grace, then He gives me faith to believe and He saves me.

Because grace, faith and salvation are divine gifts, we cannot earn them, nor do we deserve them. Every human being is equally lost before God grants them grace. We were dead in our sins, dead people cannot have faith in God.

Ephesians 2:9 continues, “not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Salvation can only be attributed to Jesus and what he did for us on the cross, and he deserves all the glory.

God sent Jesus to live the life we couldn’t live, to die the death we should have died, and rise from the dead on our behalf.

We really struggle with this in our culture, we as a culture loves accolades for doing something noteworthy. But in our salvation the glory goes to God (see 1 Corinthians 1:31).

Paul continues in verse 10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

After saying clearly that we are not saved by anything we do, Paul notes the importance of works. Works are not the root of our salvation, but they are the fruit of our salvation.

The Greek word for handiwork here is poiema, which is where we get the word Poem from. The word refers to a work of art or masterpiece, a piece of art created by a master craftsman.

This word is only used one other time in the New Testament, in Romans 1, referring to the glory of God’s creation.

We, as saved believers in Jesus, are God’s new creation (see 2 Corinthians 5:21)

But God does not create a masterpiece to hide it away, we were created to display the work and the glory of God.

As God’s workmanship people around us should see our works and say, “That is a work of God!” (see Matthew 5:16).

We should never be working out of duty or guilt. We do good works because we are walking in a new nature, and as a result we cannot help ourselves from being used by God to do good works.

But not only are we to do good works, we are told that God has prepared these works for us to do. God, in His sovereignty, had tasks in mind for us when He saved us.

We are not saved by faith plus good works, but by a faith that works

The believer has God working in him, and therefore his works are good. His works are not good because he himself is good, but because he has a new nature and the Holy Spirit works in him and through him to produce these good works.

We do not perform good works to glorify ourselves, but to glorify God. Paul wrote that we should “abound to every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8), and to be “fruitful in every good work” (Colossians 1:10).

Back to the question, what are you wearing?

In John 11 we read the account where Jesus raised Lazarus back to life after he had been dead for four days. Jesus stood in front of the tomb and in a loud voice commanded Lazarus to come out. Notice what Lazarus was wearing, he was wearing grave clothes, the embalming material that was wrapped tightly around his body.

As Lazarus comes out of the tomb, Jesus instructs those standing around to… “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:44).

So, what are you wearing?

Are you wearing “grave clothes” or “grace clothes”?

Are you enjoying the liberty you have in Christ, or are you still bound by the habits of the old life of sin?

Lazarus was freed from the restrictions of the grave clothes and freed to do what he had been raised to do.

We were dead in our sins when God raised us up with Jesus, sadly many of us are wrapped in the grave clothes. Some of us are so comfortable in the grave clothes that we don’t know how to do the good works that God has prepared for us to do.

They are the grave clothes of addiction, anger, jealousy, lust, pride, fear, self-sufficiency and many more. All of these hold us back and restrict us from being and doing what we are created for. All these are clothes that were your grave clothes, and Jesus commands them to be taken off, for you to be set free. Why are you holding on to your grave clothes?

As a Christian, you have been raised and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, you have been clothed in righteousness.

Practice your position in Christ!

You are clothed in righteousness in Christ Jesus.

Once Dead Now Alive Sunday April 19, 2020

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Ephesians 2:1-7

Are you alive?

The first seven verses of Ephesians 2 are made up of two sentences. The first sentence is a morbid description of being spiritually dead, and the second sentence proclaims the hope that we have in the power of God to raise us up with Christ to new life.

Paul begins by very direct statement in verse 1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins”

We are all sinners and have a desperate heart condition as we see in Romans 5:12.

But we often hear the statement, “aren’t we all basically good?”

The Bible makes it clear that fallen human beings are not morally good. Some are able to make good moral choices and actions, but all too often these choices are motivated by our selfish condition and pride. Apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead.

In Luke 15 we read of the parable of the prodigal son. Remember what the father said when his son came back home, “this son of mine was dead, and is alive again”. That is the normal human condition.

As people, we are all followers; as Christians, we are followers of Jesus.

If we are not following Jesus, we are following the influences of the sinful world or we are following Satan himself.

Satan has been displaced from heaven, and he works his evil schemes on the earth influencing people to do horrific things. This does not mean people are necessarily demon possessed; but living in sin is the mark of following Satan’s evil schemes. Paul calls these “passions of the flesh” in verse 3. These sins are not only sins of action, they are also sins of thought.  Sin is conceived in the mind and the heart of man (see Jeremiah 17:9).

The problem with the sickness of sin is that we are so accustomed to sinful thoughts that we don’t even know we are sick. Our culture encourages selfish pride and we have no idea how desperately sinful we are in our human nature. Humanism in our culture tells us that people are basically good, but the Bible makes it clear that every inclination of the human heart is to rebel against God.

Even the good things that we do, our attempts at righteousness are utterly hopeless before the all-holy God.

God is holy, and pure, He must be true to His character and cannot overlook any sin.

What Paul is describing here is what is called the doctrine of total depravity. We are desperately ill and are unable to even reach out to God apart from His grace. The truth is that in our human nature, we do not want to reach out to God, He reaches out to us.

The good news is that God poured out His wrath on Jesus as we remembered last weekend. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath and we get to drink from the fountain of the grace of God.

Paul uses the first sentence of chapter 2 to paint an awful picture. It is horrifying to dwell on the depravity of mankind. But the reason he does this is because it makes the good news so amazingly beautiful.

If we stopped today at verse 3, we would be all despairing. Thankfully Paul begins verse 4 with two incredible words of hope; “But God…”.

We were hopeless, lifeless and under condemnation, but God came to our rescue. We cannot fully understand the grace of God if we don’t understand His justice.

Romans 5:8 states this so clearly. “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the ultimate display of God’s mercy, love and grace.  

Verse 5 is the key to the passage; we were dead before becoming followers of Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit in our lives. We were dead, but now we are alive “with Christ

Becoming a Christian is not about becoming a nicer person, or a better-behaved person, you don’t become a Christian by adopting a set of religious activities or rituals. Becoming a Christian, means becoming alive in Christ; moving from death to life.

In John 3 we meet Nicodemus, he knew a lot of theology and did a lot of good things in the eyes of the establishment. But Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Ephesians 1:6 continues the good news, “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” The Greek verb used for “seated us with him” is the word that we get the word synchronize from. Paul uses this word to show that “in Christ” we are synchronized with him. When we pray, Jesus advocating for us, Jesus is our Great High Priest.

Being seated with Christ, does not mean that we are divine, but we have access to power in order to resist the devil and his schemes. Seated with Christ is our positional salvation, we are in Christ.

The struggle with many Christians is that we don’t know our identity, so we continue to wallow in sin, fighting against Satan in our own strength.

The reason for all this grace and mercy is found in verse 7, it is for His glory.

God is showing off His grace and kindness to us for all the universe to see. The purpose of our salvation is the eternal purpose of God, that He is to be glorified and worshipped for eternity.

God pours out His immeasurable riches of grace and kindness on us. There is no quantifying the power of God, and there is no quantifying the kindness of God. Because we are in Christ, God the Father lavishes his love on us. We come as children to a loving Father with an open hand, because we are alive in Christ.

Are you experiencing life, being alive in Christ?

God’s grace and kindness is available to you today to become fully alive.

Resurrection Sunday, April 12 2020 – The Power of God Displayed

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Matthew 27:62-28:10

He is Risen….!

Last week was Easter, normally a joyous time, but what an unusual and sad season. We celebrate our risen Lord Jesus, with a large shadow over our celebration in 2020.

This year everything is different. The familiar traditions have been set aside, because there is something more pressing. I am not saying that traditions are necessarily bad, but it is good for us to stop and pause and look at the real reason for the celebration, the resurrection of our Lord and savior.

Jesus disrupted traditions all the time, even good ones. The time and season of his crucifixion was the Passover week, one of the most important festivals and traditions on the Jewish calendar. It was a busy time in Jerusalem, as people were gathering and feasting to remember the time when God delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt.

The fact that Jesus was crucified during Passover is obvious and crucial. Jesus the spotless lamb of God who was sacrificed for the sins of the world, so that we who place our faith in him, will be saved for eternity.

The Passover was a huge celebration, and Jesus disrupted it. On Palm Sunday, he came into Jerusalem with tremendous fanfare. The following day he turned over tables in the temple and disrupted the festivities. The trial and subsequent crucifixion of Jesus caused a major disruption to life in Jerusalem.  Then there were the earthquakes, the temple veil being torn, sudden darkness and even dead people coming alive and walking through the streets (Matthew 27).

Jesus was disrupting traditions; he was establishing the New Covenant.

Jesus is still upsetting traditions and challenging authority today.

The chief priests and the pharisees wanted Jesus dead because he was a threat to their power.

Satan wanted Jesus dead because he was a threat to his domain and influence on the earth.

But Jesus did the unexpected. He rose from the dead and defeated Satan’s plan!

The primary message of the early church was the resurrection, which became the hope and foundation for the church.

A few weeks ago we looked at Ephesians 1:18-21, and the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus:  “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”

Someone being raised from the dead is pretty significant,  and there is certainly a lot of power involved in raising someone from the dead. But Jesus raised people from the dead and it didn’t seem like a tremendous display of cosmic power. He raised Jairus’ daughter by speaking two words, “Talitha koumi”, which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5).  

Jesus raised Lazarus by calling into the tomb for him to come out (John 11).

But Jesus was no ordinary resurrection, if there is such a thing. When Jesus died, Satan and his demonic legions, celebrated their assumed victory. The messiah, the second person of the Trinity had failed in his quest to come and establish the kingdom of God on the earth.

Satan thought he had won the victory and he was going to use every ounce of power at his disposal to ensure that Jesus remained in that tomb. Satan planned to hold Jesus captive.

This was the battle for the ages, the culmination of all of Satan’s evil plans and God’s redemptive plan.

God destroyed Satan’s plans with a never before seen display of His matchless power. Jesus was raised back to life by the greatest display of power in all of History. And all of creation felt the impact. There was an earthquake when Jesus died and an earthquake when Jesus rose from the dead. All of creation participated in the war that took place in the spiritual realm when Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead.

More than that, everyone who has ever been raised from the dead, has died again. But Jesus was raised in an imperishable and eternal body, the eternal body that we will all get one day

Jesus was raised to life; he took on a resurrected body and has been given all authority as he said in Matthew 28:18.

Ephesians 1 says that this power is working in us, do we fully grasp and experience this power?

As followers of Jesus, we have aligned ourselves with Christ, we have been born again, into a new life with new power as we read in Colossians 2:12, “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.”

In 1 Peter 1:3-5, we read that this salvation power is also the power that keeps us until Jesus comes again. This is the power of the resurrection working in those who follow Jesus.

Do you know the power of the resurrection in your life?

I am not asking if you are a Christian. I want to know, if you know the power of the resurrection in your life, the saving power of God in your life on a daily basis.

In these unprecedented days, you cannot go about life as usual. As followers of Jesus we need to know and experience the power of the resurrected Lord in our lives.

This is the kind of power that will enable you to thrive in this season, overcoming fear and doubt. Power to help you make the right decisions, and to display God’s glory to those you encounter.

Do you know the power of the resurrection in your life?

Spend time in prayer asking God to reveal Ephesians 1:18-21 in your life.

Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020 Do You Know the Season?

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Luke 19:28-44

What a season to be living in this world! Who would have thought that the world would be so different four short months ago.

This Sunday we remember Palm Sunday and a week that began like any other week, but within seven days the world was completely changed forever.

In Luke 19, we read the account of the disciples who “stole” a colt for Jesus. Not only did Jesus know exactly what was going to happen, he even tells them the conversation that they were about to have with the owner of the colt.

But I know that the colt recognized his creator, and the reason for his existence. Jesus the creator God put all the pieces together for this moment. Jesus grew the thorn tree that was used to make his crown, and he nurtured the tree that was used to make his cross. Jesus had prepared for this moment.

If Jesus knew that a donkey was waiting for him in the next town, he certainly knows what’s down the road for you and me. Jesus knows how this global pandemic is going to play out. Jesus knows how you are going to be provided for. Though Satan would have us believe otherwise, living by Jesus’ words will never send you on a fool’s errand.

We as followers of Jesus can take tremendous encouragement in this. Do not let doubt and fear paralyze you today.  

As the crowd saw what is happening, their excitement began to boil over. Some of them had probably memorized the prophet Zechariah and what was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9.

Can you imagine the excitement? They were seeing prophecy fulfilled and Jesus was coming to establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. The promised messiah was here, and he was going to throw off the oppressive Roman rulers. But Jesus was focused on a much bigger battle, he was focused on defeating Satan, sin and death.

Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people praising him, and many of them had been healed and touched by this amazing man. Initially Herod and Pilate did not take him seriously, otherwise they would have sent a garrison of troops to prevent him from entering the city.

The fact that the people were waving palm branches showed that they didn’t grasp who Jesus was, and why he was coming to Jerusalem. Waving palm branches was symbolic of the Maccabean rebellion that took place two generations before, against the Syrian oppressors. They were showing that they expected Jesus to be another warlord who would lead them to overthrow the Romans.

There are many times in our lives when we don’t accurately perceive the moment. We miss what is going on for lack of knowledge, understanding or simply because we have an unmet expectation.

But then the mood shifts, Jesus abruptly stops and bursts into tears.

As Jesus looks at Jerusalem and sees the eager faces of those around him, he was overcome by the awareness of their emptiness. They were empty because they had not heard the truth of his message and they did not understand the true purpose of his coming to earth.

Wherever Jesus looked he found a reason to weep.

As he looked back; he saw a nation that had missed his coming and had wasted its opportunities.

As he looked within the hearts of the people, he saw spiritual blindness and a hardness in their hearts. They had all the signs and the prophets to convince them, yet they still rejected him.

As Jesus looked around, he saw a lot of dead religious activity that was not accomplishing anything. The city was full of people celebrating the Passover but with little understanding of its true meaning.

As Jesus looks at our churches today, he sees a lot of dead religion. People going through the motions with no real knowledge of our savior. People who are content with going to a building once a week, when in fact Jesus offers a relationship and eternal life.

Finally, as Jesus looks ahead, he sees the City of David that was soon about to come under attack and judgment. Jesus knew that in 40 years, the city would be under siege by the Romans, and the total destruction of the city and the Temple, leaving about 600 000 Jews dead.

And all of this because the people did not recognize the time of Jesus’ coming. The tragedy of the national disaster could have been averted. But Jesus knew that judgment must come and that rejection of the Word of God, who is Jesus, ultimately leads to punishment.

But it grieved Jesus because of his great love for the lost, the people he came to save (see John 1:11).

God’s chosen nation did not recognize the messiah when he came into their lives, and because of that Jesus wept and mourned.

Jesus did not simply come to set the nation of Israel free from the Roman oppression. He came to die on a Roman cross, seemingly defeated by Satan. But God’s plan was to raise Jesus from the dead and in so doing, defeat Satan, defeat death, and provide a way for eternal life for all who would place their faith and trust in Jesus.

What about us today? Do we know the season?

We are living in a season that is unprecedented. There are predictions from every corner about the infection rates, death tolls and eventual end of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

But only God knows the end, and the purpose of this season.

The role of the Body of Christ is extremely significant in this season.  

This is the time for the church to rise up boldly and to be a place of prayer, truth and compassion.

How we respond in this season will determine the eternal destination of the people all around us. If we act as people who have no hope, then people will not listen to us when we tell them about our faith in Jesus.

To discern the season, we need to pray and ask God for wisdom and insight.

Through the Holy Spirit we will be able to see this season through spiritual eyes, with the lens (perspective) of Christ.