Thanksgiving part 1 – November 12, 2017

Psalm 107

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday what are you thankful for? As Christians we have been given something that is so immeasurably good and wonderful, that it should be the very first thing we share around the dinner table. Psalm 107 is a Psalm of thanksgiving and praise to God for deliverance and freedom, it starts with an exhortation to give God thanks (Psalm 107:2). To be redeemed means to have one’s debts paid for and to be set free. As Christians this is you and me, Jesus bought and paid for our freedom on the cross.

But, to be thankful, we need to be aware of what have you been saved from. Do you remember the day you gave your life to the Lordship of Jesus, the redeemer? Do you remember the hopelessness you felt before you encountered Jesus? For many of us, we need to be reminded of our lives before we met Jesus to awaken a heart of thanksgiving in us.

Continuing in verse 3 as the Psalmist paints a picture for us of the exiles returning to Jerusalem from the four corners of the earth and beginning in verse 4 we have four different examples of people being set free. Each of these four represent distinct characteristics of lostness.

The Wanderer (v 4).

The picture we have is of a group of people who have been banished from the promised land, they are lost and wandering in the desert, possibly the Sinai desert. These people were hungry and thirsty, but worse than their physical condition we read that their spirits failed them, they had given into the hopelessness of their situation.

People who do not know Jesus as their lord and savior, wander aimlessly, without the hope of eternity for them life is a hopeless gathering of possessions and wealth to lose it all when you die, what a miserable existence! However, in verse 6 they cried out to God and he rescued them, and led them to a city where they could live. It is a beautiful picture of a people being restored to their God and His Promised Land.

The Rebel Prisoner (v10).

Here the Psalmist paints a picture of someone in chains, in prison because they intentionally went against God’s perfect plan and will. Many of us have experienced the prison of intentionally going against the will and plan of God for our lives. There are many forms of imprisonment; addiction to drugs, pornography, alcohol, and pleasure. And then there is the prison of fear of man, the of fear of failure or guilt and shame from our past. Are you in prison today because of your rebellion to God? He can set you free as he did these prisoners in verses 14 and 15.

The Sick (v17).

This group of people are suffering affliction as a result of their sins, in the form of sickness as we see in verse 18.  This is a group similar to the previous one, whereas the previous group are in prison because of their rebellion, this group suffers sickness because of rebellion.

I want to make clear that not every sickness is because of sin, however, there are times when sickness is the result of our rebellion against God. The fact is that sin separates us from God, it separates us from the peace and joy of the Lord, as a result we suffer from stress, which is a known contributor to many kinds of ailments. Anxiety and hypertension are just two of the symptoms of stress that may be as a result of not walking in the way and the peace of the Lord. In many people’s lives, God has used the desperation of sickness to draw them back to himself, and through his healing power they are redeemed. In verse 19 and 20, the sick people cry out to God and he healed them. Is that your story? Do you remember being healed and set free by the healing power of the cross?

The Sea Traveler (v23).

This is such an interesting picture, because during this time in the history of the nation of Judah, they were not seafarers like the Philistines. But the picture here rather is of someone on a ship consumed by the wind and the waves, it is a picture of someone consumed by a busy life. In verse 27 we read that they were at their wits end, desperate and overwhelmed.  The ocean traveler on a small vessel during a storm is constantly looking at the storm and the waves, just trying to survive. If your life is so busy that all you are doing is simply trying to stay alive, that is not God’s plan for you. Business is not a sin, but business that consumes you and takes your eyes off the plan and purposes of God for your life, can leave you desperately in need of redemption.

So, we have four pictures of desperation, four groups of people who are lost and in need of a touch from God.

Each of these 4 pictures ends with the person, or group of people crying out to God during their troubles. And the psalmist says that God rescued them, he brought them out of their distress. Verses 8 is a verse that is repeated at the end of each of these pictures like a chorus, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind”. These verses echo verse 2, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—  those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,”

We can all relate to being in one or more of these categories at one time or another in our lives, maybe you are there now, and you are crying out for freedom. God will hear your cry and he is waiting to set you free.

During this season of thanksgiving, I want to challenge you to think back and remember what Jesus saved you from. If you know what you have been saved from, you will never hold back praising God and declaring His wonderful works.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…” (Psalm 107:2a).

The Normal Christian Life – Part 2 – 10/8/17

John 20:19-31

Do you need a miracle?  Any area of your life that needs a touch from God.

In John’s Gospel chapter 20, John records for us how Jesus rose from the dead, and revealed himself first to Mary, then the Disciples, and finally to Thomas.

This revelation of the risen Messiah was foundational to the early church and it is the truth and the power of the resurrection of Jesus which is the essence of our faith.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples and to Thomas, the first words he says are,” peace be with you”. More than calming the disciples, whenever Jesus enters a situation he brings peace. We as followers of Christ and his ambassadors bring the presence of the risen Lord into everyday situations. Remember that as you go about your daily life.

Jesus goes on to commission them for the ministry and he breathes over them as a promise of the Holy Spirit which was to be given them at Pentecost.

Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus first revealed himself, and because of his reaction to the other disciples, he is known as doubting Thomas. But a week later, Thomas is with them behind locked doors and Jesus appears to them and says, “peace be with you.”

Immediately Thomas believed and makes a powerful declaration of faith in Jesus; “My Lord and My God

That is all John records for us, and it is enough, Thomas saw the risen Lord Jesus and became a believer.

 The confession My Lord and my God in verse 28 is remarkable for its theological grasp.  Thomas saw the risen Lord and in five words stated that Jesus was the Messiah, fully God and fully man.

Thomas gets a bad reputation as the one who doubted, but the truth is that Thomas is you and me.

We are no different from Thomas, we depend upon secure evidence. We have the Bible, the inspired word of God, we have the witness of the church through the ages, we have the ministry of the Holy Spirit and we have our own personal testimony that all leads us to believe that Jesus is Lord. Jesus is not with us in person and in verse 29 Jesus makes that wonderful statement, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

 So how do we who have never seen believe? The Bible is primarily how God has revealed himself to us, Jesus is the Word made flesh, and the Bible is the Word pointing us to Jesus from cover to cover. As we read it, the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us, brings conviction, encouragement, guidance and so much more.

If you struggle with foundational faith, believing that Jesus is the risen Lord, read the Word of God. It is not just a religious duty as a Christian, it is the life blood of your Christian walk. It is impossible to life a lifestyle of faith without daily being fed by reading the Word of God, you might get by, but you will never reach the full potential of all that God has in store for you.

Thomas had faith because he saw the risen Lord, it transformed his life and he probably travelled further than any of the other apostles, and he was eventually martyred in India. Thomas the doubter became a man of extraordinary faith, because he saw the risen Lord.

Anyone who truly encounters Jesus, the risen Lord, will have faith in Him. Many people will state, “I believe in God”, and this in itself is not wrong. One of my favorite verses Hebrews 11:6. Do you want to please God? Live a lifestyle of faith, but for faith to grow in us, we need to start with believing that He exists.

But sadly today, many people believe in God, but do not believe in the Gospel. There are teachers today who claim to believe in the God who created all things, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they are teaching that Jesus didn’t need to come to earth and be our atoning sacrifice. Please beware of any teacher who does not believe in salvation through Jesus Christ alone (read John 14:6).

In light of this, what if we changed our language, when people asked us if we believe in God, we would say, “I believe in Jesus Christ the risen Lord”. That statement will clearly define what you stand for. If you respond in that way, people will either agree with you or reject you.

The revelation of the risen Lord, transformed Thomas’ life and the foundation of our faith is in the power that raised Jesus from the dead and the fact that he is interceding for us (read Romans 8:34).

An encounter with the resurrected Lord will change your life, it will enable you to abandon all and pursue a lifestyle of faith. As I think about our church, I am thrilled to see so many people who have abandoned all to follow Jesus and God’s plan for their lives. What a joy to be surrounded by people who truly believe in the resurrected Lord.

True faith is demonstrated in obedience. The title of Hebrews chapter 11 in the NIV translation is, “Faith in Action”. Hebrews 11, is a record of Biblical heroes who obeyed God and trusted him in faith for the outcome.

James 2:14 encourages us to do likewise and step out in faith in our lives, faith in the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

How is God asking you to step out in faith today?

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us— 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

The Normal Christian Life – Part 1 – 10/1/17

The Webster dictionary defines a Christian as “one who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ

What a terrible definition! How does the Bible define Christianity, after all, isn’t the Bible our authority as Christians?

You may have heard it said, that Christianity is not a religion, but it is a relationship. That is somewhat true, but also falls far short of what the Bible defines Christianity. A true relationship with my Creator only begins when I completely submit to Him and lay aside my own desires, wills, passions and preferences. Dying to my will and self is the beginning of what it means to be a Christian.

Galatians 2:20 reads; “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Beginning with the first phrase; “I have been crucified with Christ”.

Even though our sins that we have committed in the past have been forgiven (1 John 1:7), what about our sinful nature? That old nature that desires to do what is contrary to the will of God. We have peace with God, but we don’t have peace in ourselves because we wrestle with sin and temptation. This is where the cross of Jesus Christ provides an answer for us. Obviously, Paul was not on the cross with Jesus, and neither were you and I, but here is the profound miracle. When Jesus died on the cross, it was once for all. The death of Jesus on the cross included all who put their faith and trust in him. This is where those two beautiful words apply, “IN CHRIST” (see Romans 6:6-7, 11).

Do you want to be free from sin? You must realize your old self crucified with Christ, this is powerful, and it is absolutely crucial to being a Christian. The blood deals with what we have done, but the cross deals with what we are, the cross strikes at the root of our capacity to sin.

But do we apply the cross to our lives?

Satan will point to our struggle with sin and bring to mind our weakness in areas in our lives, but that is when we can point to the cross, and quote Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ…”. You see it is a declaration of faith, the essence of Christianity is faith.

So, if we are in Christ, does that make us perfect? Absolutely not, but we will be deeply troubled by sin in our lives. We will not have peace in our lives, because we know that we have fallen short of the Glory of God.

If you are not troubled by sin in your life or have no desire for holiness, I would seriously examine your heart to see if you truly are in Christ – if you have truly given your life wholly to Him and are saved

Galatians 2:20; “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

So how do we live this life, this crucified life? We live by faith in the Son of God. Daily asking the Holy Spirit to lead us and direct us. Our life goals are radically different, our aspirations change, instead of trying to build our own kingdom, we live to make the name of Jesus known.

The trouble with many people is that they think that when they become a Christian, God wants to take them and make them a better version of themselves. But we have it all wrong, there is nothing good, nothing worthwhile, nothing redemptive in my old self. God is not out to reform our life, he sent his son so that we can be born again.

This is where Christianity is completely different to any other religion. I cannot save myself, I cannot gradually get better until I am saved, I have to die, and then be reborn of the Spirit of God (John 3:3).

Coming to the final phrase of Galatians 2:20; “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Jesus loves you more than you will ever know, the cross is deeply personal for you and for me. When Jesus went to the cross, it was because he loved you so much, his love compelled him to give his life for you (see Ephesians 1:4).

1 Peter 2:9 tells us that we have been chosen by God, you are royalty, you are God’s special possession!

Have you ever heard of a royal prince cowering in the corner and begging for scraps from the King’s table?

But that is what we do, we don’t realize the value that God has placed on us, we are his special possession. He loves you far more than you will ever know.

When Jesus ascended into heaven he sent his indwelling Spirit. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, lives inside every true believer in Jesus Christ. The very same God who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you.

I know that we don’t come close to understanding the reality of the presence of God in our lives.

But what is the purpose of the Gospel? Why did God send his son? Why did God choose you and me and then fill us with his presence?  We have a natural tendency to see things from our perspective and say that God saved us so that we wouldn’t go to hell. Yes, that is true, but there is more, there is a greater and more glorious purpose for our salvation. God saved us so that we might bring Glory and praise to His name for eternity. This is what we were created to do. As we live by the Spirit and our lives become a living testimony of His presence we bring glory to His name.

Are you a Christian? If you don’t want to love and follow Christ, you are not a Christian. You may believe in Jesus, but is Jesus Lord of your life? Stop what you are doing right now, get on your knees, and make sure that you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

Journey to Jerusalem part 1 March 6, 2016

Journey to Jerusalem part 1 newsletter

Mark 10:32-34

This account we read in Mark’s Gospel describes the journey that Jesus began towards Jerusalem. Jesus had spent most of his time in and around Galilee, but at a certain time, he set out for Jerusalem. He and his disciples and usually a large crowd, went from Galilee to Samaria, then through the area called Perea, and then finally on to Judea and Jerusalem. Up until this point, the disciples had enjoyed their time with Jesus, it was good to be walking with the amazing miracle worker. I am sure if they had facebook back then, they would have posted pictures and selfies of their time with him. They were on an emotional high, things were going well, but then the mood shifted. Jesus got serious and began to stride a little more purposefully. Is seems like Jesus changed gears and began to lock in on a goal that was over the horizon.

Jesus

Luke 12:51 says; “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus was on a timeline, history was about to change. The creator was about to sacrifice himself for the creation.

Up until this time we see many occasions when Jesus had held back because the timing was not yet right.

The Gospel of John frequently refers to the fact that Jesus was on a timeline. (see, John 7:6, John 7:30 and John 8:20). Jesus was listening to His Father and the schedule was to be kept.

So the time was now, Jesus knew his purpose and he set his face to Jerusalem. In Isaiah 50:7 we see the remarkably accurate picture of Jesus at this moment; “Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” Jesus is the one who sets his face like a flint, knowing that he will not be put to shame, knowing that he has a task to perform.

Flint is a very hard sedimentary rock, that when it is hit against steel it produces a spark. The picture of setting one’s face like a flint is focusing on the goal, knowing that you are going to encounter opposition. Taking the adversity and challenges in stride, knowing that there is a bigger purpose and goal. Jesus knew that he was going to Jerusalem to encounter incredible suffering and shame, so he literally steeled himself and with eyes on the horizon, he gritted his teeth and moved forward.

In Mark 10:32 we see one moment they are walking through the hills of Galilee and Samaria, and the next Jesus begins walking out in front. The disciples were “astonished” as they observed Jesus. And the crowd following were “afraid”. The Greek words used here seem to indicate a fear that something bad was about to happen. The disciples who had walked with Jesus for three years, had never seen him like this before. Jesus seemed different, his demeanor had changed, and he became extremely serious and focused.

And the crowd was afraid, they began to fear that something bad was about to happen in Jerusalem. Why was Jesus suddenly so solemn? Suddenly it must have dawned on the crowd, that there was a cost involved in following Jesus – it might cost them their lives.

And today there is a cost involved in following Jesus, and it does involve you losing your life. You have to be prepared to give up everything for him. Dying to ourselves and our own selfish ambitions is the only way to live as a Christian.

The crowd and the disciples were faced with a choice; “am I in or out?” We too are faced with that decision, there is no middle ground – either we follow Jesus to the cross or we may as well turn around and go back home.

But this is not the walk of a man who is walking to his death, it is not the walk of a man who is consigned to the fact that he has to go and suffer a cruel death. Not at all, this was the march of a warrior heading into battle, it was the march of our warrior King about to head into the decisive battle in all of history. Jesus knew that this was his purpose, he was going to destroy death and sin by going to Jerusalem.

When Jesus turned his face like a flint towards Jerusalem, he knew that it meant his death was coming soon. He knew that he was about to have his flesh torn off his back by whips, he knew that he was going to be mocked, spat on, treated shamefully, and then die on the cross, the most cruel form of execution. Jesus also knew that he would face the wrath of God, his father as he paid the price for your sin and mine.

The disciples noticed the shift in the atmosphere, the crowd sensed something big was about to happen, and yet they followed. Some followed out of curiosity, some followed out of love for Jesus, some followed because Jesus had healed them.

Are you following? Have you made a decision to follow Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and savior? Jesus took this journey for you, so that you and I would not have to face an eternity in hell being separated from God. When Jesus began this journey, he was thinking about you.

You may have made a decision to follow Jesus a long time ago, but the distractions and temptations of the world have slowed you down. Jesus calls us to daily take that walk to Jerusalem with him, to walk with purpose and determination. Is your mind set like a flint on following Jesus? Or are you wavering?

Are you following at a distance, not sure if you are going to be able to continue the journey? Maybe the cost seems to be too high. Maybe the challenges and temptations of this world are becoming too strong.

I want to encourage you today to recommit to walking with determination.

O you redeemed ones, on whose behalf this strong resolve was made—you who have been bought by the precious blood of this steadfast, resolute Redeemer—come and think awhile of Him, that your hearts may burn within you and that your faces may be set like flints to live and die for Him who lived and died for you!”

— C.H. Spurgeon