Sermon Sunday December 20, 2020 The Hope of Christmas

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Luke 1:67-80

Are you in a season of hopelessness?

2020 has been a year that has caused anxiety, loneliness, and despair. We have experienced an erosion of our trust in so many spheres of society.  Hopelessness seems to prevail.

2000 years ago, Israel was in a hopeless situation. They had been promised a messiah, someone who would set them free and establish his throne, making the nation greater than it had ever been.

However, it had been seven hundred years since the prophet Isaiah had penned Isaiah 9:6 & 7.

The nation had been destroyed and taken into exile. Now they were under the oppressive rulership of the Roman Empire. For the past four hundred years, God had been silent.

Had God forgotten His promises?

But as hopeless as the situation was, God was at work. God was orchestrating all human history to this one pivotal moment in time (Galatians 4:4).

In Luke 1 God begins to speak. Zachariah, a priest in the temple, and his wife Elizabeth were chosen by God to be the parents of John the Baptist. A miraculous birth to a couple who were beyond childbearing age and had probably given up hope of having children of their own.

John was miraculously conceived, and the Bible says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit even in Elizabeth’s womb.

When the child was to be named, Zachariah confirmed that his name was to be John and God gave him back his ability to speak. Immediately Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and sang this incredible prophetic song. But the song is not about his son John, he is primarily singing about the Messiah, who is yet to come. The hope of the promised Messiah.

This prophetic song gives us four pictures of what the birth of Jesus will mean.

1. The first picture is The Redeemer (Luke 1:68).

A redeemer is a liberator, someone who sets the captives free. This echoes Isaiah 61, which Jesus read in the temple in Luke 4.  This picture makes it clear that we cannot free ourselves from the penalty of our sins and we need Jesus to be our redeemer (Ephesians 1:7)

2. The Victorious Warrior (Luke 1:69).

A Horn in scripture symbolizes strength and power (Luke 1:71). In these verses we have a picture of an army that is about to be defeated, until a redeemer comes to free them. But more than that, the enemy is completely defeated so that he cannot take any more captives.

This redeemer is from the house of David. David was a mighty warrior and ruthless conqueror. God had promised in Micah 5:2 that this redeemer would be of the tribe of Judah.

We as follower of Jesus know What we have been saved from. But do we know what we have been saved for? We are saved for so much more than simply getting to heaven. We get to serve Jesus in this life, to bring glory to the Father (Luke 1:74-75).

3. The Debt is Cancelled (Luke 1:76).

In verse 76, Zachariah turns to his new-born son and declares that this child will be a prophet of the Most-High. He will be someone who goes before to let people know that someone is coming who can forgive sins.

All of us are sinners and owe a debt that we cannot repay, and we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Only by the blood of Jesus can we be set free from the debt of our sin (Romans 3:23).

4. The Dawning of a New Day (Luke 1:78-79).

The Messiah was prophesied to be the light of the world (Isaiah 9:2). This was the dawning of a new day.

Have you ever gone through a season of hopelessness? Everything seems to be heavy and dark, with no end in sight. But suddenly your prayers are answered, and God breaks through. The next morning it is as if everything is new, the weight has been lifted from your shoulders. This is what the priest saw, the lifting of the burden off the shoulders of the nation and the world.

Looking back to the earlier verses of Luke 1, nine months earlier, Zachariah had a visit from the Angel Gabriel. Zachariah was in the temple and faithfully going about tending to the candle of incense. Zachariah and Elizabeth were both faithful and righteous people (Luke 1:6).

Zachariah was faithful and even after all the years of God’s silence he was still burning the incense and obeying the law. God heard their prayers of the nation, and at the appointed time, the light of the world was revealed, their hope was fulfilled.

Where is your hope today?

Are you hoping in the government, the economy, your bank balance, or some prophetic word that you were watching on YouTube?

We are living in a time where everyone is desperate for hope. Something tangible we can cling to. But there is only one definite promise, this same Jesus who came as a baby 2000 years ago is coming again. That is where we place our hope, not in temporary goals or comforts.

As Jesus was talking to his disciples about the promise of his return in Matthew 24, he said this in verse 14, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

The previous verses speak about the terrible things that will come on the world before Jesus comes again. But we have the certain promise that this gospel message WILL be proclaimed to all people groups. That is the hope that we can count on.

Has your hope in the things of this world been shattered?

Only God knows what you are really going through and only God can guarantee His promises over your life.

Repent of the things in which you have been placing your hope and place your absolute trust and faith in Jesus.

He is the only one who has the power to guarantee your future salvation!

Sermon, Sunday October 18, 2020 Abiding in the Vine part 2

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John 15:1-17

Fruit that Lasts

We know that as followers of Jesus, we are called to produce fruit for the glory of God, but what does that mean practically?

Here is a quick look at six different types of fruit.

  • Soul winning

A follower of Jesus will have a passion to tell others about Jesus. When Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew in Mark 1:17, he said, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. The Apostle Paul was passionate about winning souls for Jesus fruit (Romans 1:13).

This can be as easy as inviting your neighbor to church or beginning a Gospel conversation with your co-worker. It begins with praying for the people that God has placed in our sphere of influence.

  • Holiness

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, we become more like him. We grow in behavior that brings glory to God (Romans 6:22). As we grow in holiness, we change the way we think, speak and react in situations. Holiness cannot be manufactured; it comes from abiding in the vine. Holiness focuses the attention on Jesus, the source of holiness.

  • Generosity

Followers of Jesus should be known for their generosity, remembering that everything we have comes from our Heavenly Father and that He never runs out (1 John 3:17).

This principle of giving is that it is impossible to outgive God.

Worshiping God in giving begins with giving 10% to your local church, but that is just the beginning. Once we take the 10% off the table, the Lord asks us how are we stewarding the other 90%. That is where the fruit of generosity is truly displayed.

  • Fruit of the Spirit

In Galatians 5:22-23 we have a list called the fruit of the Spirit. These are all produced in our lives as we die to ourselves and submit our lives to the control of the Holy Spirit.

Being able to display these fruit of the Spirit when the world around us seems to be falling apart, is the work of the Holy Spirit. This will draw the attention to the source of your peace and bring glory to God.  

  • Service

We are saved to serve by giving our time and energy (Colossians 1:10 and Matthew 5:16).

This is not doing things out of duty, guilt or to trying to earn points with God, rather as abiding branches in the vine we will produce as we were designed to do (Ephesians 2:10).

When you are serving the Lord, doing what you were created to do, it will bring life and bring glory to God.

  • Praise

Living a lifestyle of praise is a by-product of abiding in the vine. If you are getting your strength from Jesus, living in a close walk with him, you will be filled with praise (Hebrews 13:15). This is the praise that comes from the heart, singing out of the abundance of the blessings of God on our lives.   Praising God even in the painful situations of life, brings glory to God.

These are just six examples of fruit, but for the vine to be fruitful, there needs to be a vinedresser who tends to the vine.

Jesus said in John 15:1 that His Father is the vinedresser. God the Father is the one who is in charge of caring for the vine and ensuring that it produces fruit.

Part of the job of any vinedresser is pruning. Often Christians pray that God will make them more fruitful, but they do not enjoy the pruning process that follows.

A vinedresser prunes by cutting away dead wood and also by cutting away living branches that are taking away nutrients from the branches that are bearing more fruit. God wants an abundant harvest and sometimes that requires a painful process.

However, the greatest judgement God could bring to a believer is to leave him or her alone. In a garden the vinedresser is never closer to the vine than when he is pruning. If you think that you are going through a tough time and God is pruning you, remember that He is close and He is preparing you for more fruit.

This happens in our churches as well. Sometimes God prunes ministries and programs that we have become comfortable with, God prunes them not because they aren’t producing fruit, but God prunes them and directs our attention to another opportunity that produces much more fruit.

God prunes in different ways, often it is through the reading and application of the Word of God. Sometimes, as we read and hear the Word of God, we are convicted, and God cuts to our heart bringing us to repentance (John 15:3)

Many times, the pruning process comes from difficult situations around us, hardship, sickness, and loss. It is a fact of life that we seldom grow without pain James 1:2-4).

I believe this applies to the church as well as individuals. We have been praying for revival in the church, and we can see God pruning His church in answer to our prayers.

But the reality is that the church in America was not producing fruit. The church as a whole has compromised with culture rather than influencing culture.

God is refining and pruning the church and only the church that is being refined by the whole Word of God will produce fruit.

In verses 7 and 16, we have two promises from Jesus to answer prayers. Both these verses are in the context of producing fruit for the kingdom of God. When we are abiding in the vine, our desire will be to produce fruit.

What are you praying for?

Abiding in the Vine – Some thoughts on John 15 and 2020

In the last six months, how many times have you heard someone wishing that things would just get back to normal? Even believers who attend church regularly are wishing that things would return to the way they were in January of 2020.

But what was normal?

For many normal was couched in passivity and many of us didn’t have to face the real problems in society because we were pacified by sport and entertainment.

Even in the church, many were attending a worship service once or twice a month out of tradition, or simply for a sense of wellbeing. The church was a segment of culture that was simply another part of “normal”.

But since March, many things have changed. Many of society’s challenges have been exposed and everyone has had to make some difficult choices.

In John 15, we read some of the most powerful teachings of Jesus. Jesus uses the analogy of the vine and the branches. Jesus is the vine the Father is the vinedresser, and the true followers of Jesus are the branches. But branches are not simply for show, they have a role to play and that role is to produce fruit. The true followers of Jesus will produce fruit. In fact, verse 8 says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

In January 2020, I would suggest that the majority of church attendees had no desire to bear any fruit. As we read the words of Jesus in John 15, we see that the key to producing fruit is abiding in Jesus.

But what does it mean to abide? The dictionary says that to abide is to remain firm, fixed, or unwavering. Another dictionary explanation says, “to endure without wavering”. When we learn how to abide in Jesus, we will know unshakable peace.

Psalm 91 has come to mean so much in this season, where again we read about the security of abiding in Him.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust
.”

Psalm 91:1-2

In John 15 we have some incredible promises and terrifying warnings in the words of Jesus.

The promise that we quickly grab hold of is found in verse 7, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

But I would encourage you to read this promise in the context of the entire chapter. The desire of every believer (branch) should be to bear fruit as we read in the very next verse, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”

If we pray that the Lord would allow us to bear fruit, he will surely answer that prayer, for the glory of God the Father. So, are we praying that God would bless us with lasting fruit, for His glory?

This promise is repeated by Jesus in verse 16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

The challenge facing the church today is, what are we praying for? Are we praying for peace and comfort? Are we praying for a return to “normal”? Are we praying for peace and prosperity? All the while, God invites us to pray for fruit, fruit that will last.

The terrible warning of this passage is found in verse 6, “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

These branches that are thrown into the fire, were at one time attached to the vine. They were attached to the vine because there was promise of peace and comfort. They were attached to the vine because there was promise of personal blessing and cultural acceptance. However, these branches never had a desire to produce fruit, because they were never abiding in the vine. There was attachment without abiding.

I believe that we are beginning to see the pruning process in the Church. The Father, the Vinedresser, is removing the branches that are not abiding in the vine, the branches that are not producing fruit.

What does it mean to produce fruit? The Bible is clear that the followers of Jesus are called to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18). We are called to love one another as Jesus has loved us (John 13:34), a sacrificial and selfless love.

Abiding in Jesus, being used by him to produce fruit is what we are created for. It is the essence of worship. The natural by-product of living a life committed to being used by God, is joy. John 15:11 says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

How about praying a prayer that God will always answer affirmatively? Join me in praying for opportunities to bear fruit for the Kingdom of Heaven. Join me in praying for opportunities to share the Good News of Jesus in these uncertain times.

Are you abiding in the vine?

Sermon, Sunday August 9, 2020. Walk in Love

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Walk in Love

Ephesians 5:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ephesians 4:25-32

What are you wearing part 2

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

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

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

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

The behavior choices that Paul addresses are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ephesians 4:17-24

Who are you Wearing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. A Place of Education.

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

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

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

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

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

2. There is a clothing change.  

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

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

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

3. Our Renewed Mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you wearing?

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 3, 2020 What are You Building?

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Ephesians 2:11-22

What are you building?

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus who were Gentiles that became followers of Jesus. The admission of the Gentiles into the early church was an important time in church history as we read in Acts 15.

Paul continues in verses 11 and 12, writing about the desperate plight of those who are outside of the promises of God. This is the former condition of all who have not put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord. Before you and I trusted in Jesus as Lord; before God reached down and drew us in, we were spiritually dead and without hope.

I think the reason we see weak churches filled with believers who are more interested in their own welfare than the commission that God has given us, is because we have forgotten how desperate we were before Jesus. If we remember where we came from, we will never have a problem praising God and being grateful for what He has done in our lives.

But then we have verse 13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”

But now in Christ! Everything changed when Jesus died and rose again. The blood of Jesus is the full and final payment for our sins and we have been brought near.

The Gentiles were not allowed to come into the temple. They were restricted to what was called the “court of the Gentiles”. But when Jesus died on the cross, the temple veil inside the holy place was torn by the hand of God, signifying that now all people had access to the throne of God. Jesus tore down the barriers of religion and race by his death on the cross (Ephesians 2:14). Jesus removed the barriers between races and he ushered in the new covenant (verses 15 and 16).

When Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, he said in Matthew 5:17, “…I have not come to abolish them (the Law) but to fulfill them”. The Law of Moses was for the Jewish people, but it pointed to Jesus and the need for a perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of Sins.

This does not mean that the moral requirements of God’s law do not apply to us, rather, the the blood of Jesus atones for our sins as we confess and repent of our sins.  

But more than the fulfilling of the law, verse 15 says, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two”

The purpose of God was to create in Jesus one new humanity, that is the body of Christ, the church. JB Philipps in his paraphrase, uses the term “fused together”, meaning God has taken all ethnic people groups and fused us together in Christ. Welded together into one body.

This is incredible but also a warning that in the church there is absolutely no place for racism.

In verse 19, Paul writes that we all were once foreigners and strangers, but through Christ we are made fellow citizens of one new nation (1 Peter 2:9).

But Paul takes it one step further, we are not simply citizens; we are members of the family, adopted into God’s family. There is a huge difference between being a citizen and being family. Many believers are citizens, but don’t know what it means to be family.

The church is not a building or a place we go to attend an event, the church is family, living life and being on mission together.

In verses 20-22, Paul uses the analogy of a building being built. Verse 22 gives the indication of an ongoing work which is not yet completed. Paul writes that the foundation of this building is found in the Bible. All the Word of God points towards God’s redemption story in Jesus Christ.

Sadly, many churches have moved away from the Bible as being the central foundation and authority of the church. But the church will cease to exist if we discard the authority of God’s Word.

Remember the parable of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7. The wise man built his house on the rock and the foolish man built his house on the sand. The storms of life came up and destroyed the house built on a weak foundation, but not the one built on the rock. The church is a spiritual building that needs to be built on the solid foundation of God’s word.

Churches that are built on weak teaching and saying feel-good platitudes, will fall when the real tests come. The body of Christ needs to be built up on the sure foundation of God’s word.

These verses are all about construction, the building up of the body of Christ as a temple for God to dwell by the Holy Spirit. This is the purpose of everything, the glory of God and the presence of God with man.

As part of the family, the Body of Christ, we get to be a part of the construction team, working with God’s power to see the Kingdom of God grow and expand as we invite others from the outside in.  We get invited to spend our time building things that have eternal value and impact, not focusing on things that have temporary value that will eventually be consumed by fire.

Be a part of what God is doing through the church. That may mean going to your neighbor or going to the ends of the earth.

When the pandemic restrictions are lifted, let us be careful not to get trapped back into the craziness of building temporary temples. Too many people are happy just to be in the building,  but the real joy of being a follower of Jesus comes from being on the construction team.

You may be an accountant, lawyer, waiter, cash register attendant, teacher, medical professional, custodian, painter or any other role in life, you are equally positioned to be a part of the building of the Kingdom of God. Never look at your days as being insignificant.

Choose today to live with passion and purpose, living a life of eternal significance, don’t waste a moment of the time God has given you.  

Do You Know Why You Are Here? Sunday March 1, 2020

Ephesians 1:3-6

Do you know your purpose in life?

These are two fundamental questions everyone should ask themselves at some point in their lives.

Who am I? And why am I here?

You don’t hear much about this anymore, but a few years ago, people were always trying to find themselves, by going on vacations or pilgrimages. Ultimately, we will never know ourselves unless we know the One who created us. The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to the exiled children of Israel, who had lost their identity and in Jeremiah 29:13 we read, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Worship is the foundation of our lives and the beginning foundation for this letter. We worship many things, whatever we value, we worship at some level. Idolatry is when we worship something else above God. Idolatry is not having the right view of God.

What we do with our time, how we spend our money, how we use the talents that God has given us, all these things reveal who or what we worship.

Verse 3 of our passage begin with a declaration of worship, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The verse continues that we praise God because He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. This indicates that we are blessed today, and in eternity, blessings that we cannot even begin to imagine.

But notice the foundation of these blessings, they are in Christ. We have everything only because of who we are in Christ and what he has done for us. Now it is true that we are blessed by walking in the will of God. We cannot expect God’s blessing on our lives if we are knowingly walking in sin.

But the blessing that Paul is writing about here is the free gift of God, blessings that we do not deserve and cannot earn. This is the grace of God. Getting something that we do not deserve. Verse 6 says, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved”

In verses 4 and 5 we encounter the truth that God chooses us, more than that he predestined us for adoption. The idea that God chooses a people for himself to reveal His glory is found throughout the Bible:

  • God chose to create the World for His glory.
  • He chose Abraham to be a great nation to bless the world.
  • He chose the nation of Israel to bless the world.
  • Jesus chose his 12 disciples.

In many Bible passages we read that God has chosen people for salvation for His glory, for His worship.

For centuries, theologians have wrestled with the doctrine of election and sadly it often leads to division and conflict. In very simple terms, one opinion states that God chooses us for salvation, and we don’t have a say in the matter. The other opinion is that we choose God, but He knows in advance who will choose Him.

That is really simplified, but the Bible is full of texts that indicate God chooses us without our knowledge or even input. Verse 4 says, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…”

In the eternal purposes of God, He planned your days, before He created the world. That is a mystery that should make your head hurt, but we should be comfortable with mystery (see Deuteronomy 29:29).

If we were to really think about it, is it not better to be called chosen by a loving God than for us to choose a distant God.

Election is a mystery, because it seems to me from personal experience that the more we share the Good news of Jesus Christ, the more people are chosen! And we as the church, are called to be a part of this mystery by being a faithful witness of the Gospel to the world around us.

In all the debates, the nature of God cannot be dismissed, God is perfectly loving.

Verse 5, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will”. Election is an expression of the love of God.

The mystery deepens as we read in John 3:16, And Romans 10:9. There is obviously a choosing and then on our part there is a belief or faith component.

We need to keep calling people to Jesus, and then when they put their faith in him as Lord, we can say together, “thank you God for drawing me to you”

Our ultimate response to election is humility, humbled that the Creator of the universe would call us by name, and this should put us on our faces in worship of the Almighty God.

As we look again at verse 5, we see the purpose of election, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

We were chosen for adoption. Adoption is a beautiful picture of what God has done for us. Roman law placed a very high standard on adoption and an adopted child was under legal protection and permanently part of the family. The adopted child had every right to inheritance and received a new identity (see Romans 8:15).  

In our minds we love the fact that we are adopted, but we don’t like the fact that we are chosen.

But we must understand that adoption is choosing one who is helpless. This is the same as what God has done for us (see Romans 5:8).

So why did God adopt us? What is our purpose?

The answer is found in verse 6, “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved”

Adoption magnifies the greatness of God the Father.

When we are adopted, we get brought into the family business, and we are given a mission.

The mission is to see the glory of God made known in all the world so that God is worshipped in all the world.

We are made to praise, and we are the most fulfilled in life when we are praising God.

We are the most useful when we are praising God and worshipping His holy name.

Do you know God as Father? Have you been adopted?

What’s the Big Deal about Christmas? Part 2. Sermon Sunday December 22, 2019

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Isaiah 9:6-7

When Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had some idea who he was, but didn’t begin to grasp the full potential of the baby they were called to care for. Why did God choose for Jesus to be born as a baby? Why didn’t he simply appear as a full-grown man and begin to perform miraculous signs and wonders?

When speaking of the promised Messiah, the teachers of the day would have described someone who had the wisdom of Solomon, the charisma and authority of David, the leadership ability of Moses and the military genius of Joshua. But, instead, Jesus came into the world as a little baby, weak, needy, and humble. It was, and still is hard for us to fully understand how the second person of the trinity would enter the world in the form of an infant.

But Jesus was both fully God and fully man. The virgin birth is proof that he was divine, but being born as an infant shows that he was also human in every way (see Hebrews 4:15). If Jesus did not take on the form of a man, his sacrifice would have been unconvincing, because he would have been aloof and separated from the common man. If Jesus had been a mere man and not God, he would have died a martyr’s death. We can trust this same Jesus with our lives, because he knows what we are going through, he overcame the world and all its temptations.

In the first chapter of Matthew, we read that the angel told Joseph that the child born to Mary was to be called Jesus. The name Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Joshua”, which means, “God Saves”. The Hebrew name Joshua, and the Greek equivalent, Jesus, were common names at the time of Jesus’ birth and life. But after Jesus died and rose again, historians have found that the name Jesus was no longer used in the region. The simple reason is that the name Jesus took on a much more controversial meaning. For early Christians, they felt that no child was worthy to carry the same name as the messiah. For those who did not believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah, they did not want their child to be associated with such a controversial character.

But now the name of Jesus means so much more to us.  We call on the name of Jesus for our salvation and we pray in the name of Jesus (see John 14:13-14 and Acts 4:12).  

The Prophet Isaiah calls Jesus, “…Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6b)

If you are struggling to lead your family in the ways of the Lord, or you are struggling with a difficult situation in life and need wisdom to make tough decisions, remember that Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor.

If you are facing spiritual warfare and opposition in your Christian walk, and if you seem to be facing impossible mountains, always wrestling with temptation, remember that Jesus is the Mighty God.

If you simply need to cry in the loving embrace of One who understands when everyone seems to have abandoned you, remember that Jesus is the Everlasting Father. – He is the uncreated creator of all things.

If all around you seem to be facing personal conflict, and it seems that your world is in a state of perpetual conflict, remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace

Jesus wasn’t simply a baby born with potential, he is the one who was born so that every child born could have unlimited potential. A personal relationship with Jesus begins the unleashing of that potential (see Acts 4:12).

This time of the year many people who don’t even know Jesus, are celebrating Christmas. Sadly, many people who attend churches every Sunday, may believe in the existence of the historical person of Jesus, but that is not enough (see James 2:19). James wrote that belief in God is not enough unless it is accompanied by a life of faith and action.

Merely giving mental agreement to the virgin birth, even believing that he came to be a sacrifice for our sins is not enough. Someone who is truly saved is someone who takes the truth of the Gospel, believes it and then acts accordingly.  The Gospel message must change our lives, as we make Jesus lord of our lives. Belief doesn’t change lives, lordship does.

Jesus told Nicodemus that he must be born again in John 3:3. The term Jesus used, “Born again”, is better translated, “Born from above”.

So, what does it mean to be born from above? We say; “I was saved”, “I became a Christian”, “I decided to follow Christ”, and other phrases. For many people what this translates to is a decision to raise your hand in a meeting or walk down the aisle for prayer. But the truth is that there are many people who claim to be Christians, who show no evidence of a transformed life, they show no evidence of being born from above.

Jesus made it clear that to follow him is not a simple decision to raise your hand or saying a prayer; to follow Jesus means to die to your old self, to take on a new name, to completely give everything you have to God.

When we are born again, we take on the name of Jesus, we become so closely identified with him, that we are his ambassadors, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20.

As we are born again, the Holy Spirit works in our lives to produce faith and change the way in which we live our lives. We grow in a Biblical worldview, seeing everything through a different lens with an eternal perspective.

In Isaiah 9:7, the prophet speaks of a time yet to come. The final outworking of this prophesy is not fully realized, and we wait for the day when Justice and righteousness will be established and continue forever.

The first coming of Jesus was a mission of humility and sacrifice where he came to deal with the problem of sin and conquer death. But the next time Jesus comes, he will come on a mission of triumph and justice. Only those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and savior will celebrate with him when he comes again.

Can you say today that you will be part of that celebration?