Salvation for Sinners and Sufferers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Thankful in all Circumstances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dante Rossetti.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What thorn do you have in your life today?

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

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

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Pray for the Persecuted Church

In the book of Acts, we read about the beginning of the church. The Holy Spirit had filled the early church with power and there was favor and great expansion as the church began revolutionizing the first century world.

In Acts 2:47 we read: “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

This past week, I was reading Acts 7, and the account of the sermon that Stephen preached before the Jewish religious leaders leading to his death by stoning. The death of Stephen began a tremendous persecution aimed at  the early church as we read in Acts 8:1, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

The history of the church since that day shows us that persecution has always been a part of the church. This should not surprise us. In John 15, where Jesus speaks about him being the vine and his followers being the branches, he also says that his followers will experience persecution, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also,” John 15:20.

The Bible teaches us that testifying to the truth of the Gospel will not always be well received and may even result in physical harm, even death. In fact, we should be concerned when we don’t experience persecution of some sort as we live for Jesus as our Lord. And by persecution, I am not talking about being unfriended on social media or some trivial discomfort.

But God has a purpose for allowing this persecution, it always spreads the Gospel. People throughout the ages have always wondered what it is about the message of the Gospel that someone would be willing to give their lives for it? The early church was scattered, and took their message with them, the Gospel spread, and the church expanded rapidly throughout the known world.

Isn’t it interesting that in Acts 1:8, Jesus tells his followers, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And a few chapters later we read the account of the dispersion in Acts 8:1. Could it be that Jesus was prophesying of the coming persecution that would force the church out beyond Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth. Ultimately persecution is part of God’s plan to see His name glorified throughout the nations of the world.

So, this week, as we pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are being persecuted, let’s pray for them to remain strong and unwavering in their testimony. As we heard today from Dr Pam Arlund, the word “testimony” is another word for “martyr”.

As we pray for the churches around the world who are experiencing persecution, let us pray for our churches that when the day comes for us to experience persecution, we will remain faithful. Firmly grounded in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

You Must Be Born Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Back on Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Prayer:

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

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

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

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

2. Bible reading/ study:

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

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

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

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

3. Disciple making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Fellowship/ Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Awesome Word of God

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The Bible, the Word of God, is one of the foundational pillars of the church.

The opening verses of John’s Gospel is one of the most profound pieces of scripture and probably the greatest introduction to a book in the Bible. He goes back to Genesis 1 and uses the same language that was in the Torah, “in the Beginning, God…”. And then he uses the term “Word” for Jesus.

He writes that the Word was with God, and then he makes a bold statement, “the Word was God”. In fact, in the Greek, the order of the sentence reads, “and God was the Word”. But the definite article makes the “Word” the subject of the sentence.

If that wasn’t enough, he declares that this God/man is the one who spoke all of creation into existence by the power of his word.

This is Jesus, the creator God, and the revelation of Jesus in the Word of God carries more power than we could possibly imagine. It is not a collection of ancient texts that offer some wisdom.

God has been speaking to His creation from the beginning. Psalm 19 is a picture of God speaking through His creation, His general revelation. God spoke directly to Abraham, Moses, Samuel, and then through the prophets. God ultimately revealed himself through Jesus (see John 14:9).

In verse 4 of John 1 we read, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Life is a key theme in the Gospel of John, the word is used 36 times in the book. One of the essential requirements for life is light.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit fills the followers of Jesus and enables them to be the light of the world. The Holy Spirit is the one who reveals truth, gives wisdom and understanding, as we feed on the Word of God.
And then in verse 5 we read, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This is the ultimate spoiler, John hints at the beginning of the book, “hey, I want you to know how this ends, the light wins!”

The light always shines, and the church is now the carrier of the light. In the world in which we live, this is not a losing battle, there will always be opposition as long as there is darkness, but light always dispels darkness, it is a law of God’s creation established in Genesis 1:3. The church that has the Bible as its foundation, will always be the light in the darkness.

And there is a promise in this verse, it is not written in the past tense, it is a present aorist continuous sense, simply meaning, “the light has overcome, will overcome and will keep overcoming the darkness.”

We are living in an age of fear with all the information that we are exposed to from the media and entertainment world. Fear controls, fear paralyses. What are you afraid of today?

  • What about the economy and the predicted financial collapse?  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    • What about the LGBTQ agenda for our children and grandchildren? “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    • What about the seemingly endless reports of murder and violence in our city? “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    • What about the war in Ukraine and Chinese saber rattling, what about a third world war? “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

    • What about churches closing? It seems that we are losing ground in an increasingly secular world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The light of the Word of God will never fail. Isaiah 25:3 reads, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Keep your eyes on the Word of God (Jesus) and keep your eyes in the Word and you will know peace, because the darkness has not overcome it.

The Bible is by far the most printed book in all history, with somewhere between 6 and 9 billion copies printed. The next most printed book is the “Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong”, with about 900 million copies in print. The Qur’an has approximately 800 million copies printed. In the 21st century, Bibles are being printed at a rate of around 80 million per year.

The Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-316) boasted, “I have completely exterminated the Christian writings from the face of the earth!” The very next emperor, Constantine, became a Christian and ensured that all churches received Bibles immediately. Every dictator who has been controlled by Satan throughout history has sought to eradicate the Bible, yet it stands (see 1 Peter 1:23-24).

The Bible is by far the most published, most read, most sold, most attacked, most offensive, most critiqued, most studied, most ignored, most influential, and most powerful book in all human history. So why do we not consume it every day?

Why do we think we can resist temptation, raise children, be the light, and live as overcoming Christians, by ignoring the reading and memorizing of the Word of God.

The church has the word of God as a foundation and pillar. Any church that removes or contradicts one part of scripture to satisfy a secular worldview, has ceased to exist as the Body of Christ. If the word cannot be trusted, then it cannot be foundational. If the Bible is not our authority, then what authority do we have?

We must remember that Jesus, the Word of God, is the head of the church and the bridegroom of the church.

Are you feeding on the Word? Allowing the Word to shine brightly in the darkness?

The Power in us.

This morning I was reading Ephesians 1 and the Holy Spirit began speaking to me through verse 19.

Verse 19 is part of a long sentence written by the apostle Paul beginning in verse 15.

Ephesians 1:15-21, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 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, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 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.”

Verse 19 speaks to the incredible power of God, and the amazing blessings available to us as followers of Jesus. This verse tells us that by the Holy Spirit we have access to the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

As Christians, it is easy to become complacent, to forget the incredible power that is available to us. We may feel powerless in the face of the challenges that we face in our lives, struggling to find hope and strength in the midst of difficult circumstances. But verse 19 tells us that we have access to a power that is greater than anything we could ever face.

This power is not something that we can earn or achieve on our own, like the Gospel it is a gift from God, made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death, and made a way for us to be reconciled to God. This is the power that we have access to through the Holy Spirit, a power that is available to us every moment of every day.

But what does this mean in practical terms?

Firstly, it gives us hope. No matter what we are facing, we can trust that God is with us, that He is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). We can face the challenges of life with confidence and courage, knowing that we are not alone.

Secondly, it gives us strength. When we are weak, God is strong. He empowers us to do things that we could never do on our own (Philippians 4:13). We can face challenges with perseverance and courage, knowing that we have the power of God within us.

Thirdly, it gives us purpose. When we recognize the power of God within us, we begin to see the world in a new way. We see the needs of those around us and see that God has positioned us to be used by Him. We are called to use our gifts and talents to serve others, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

So, how can we access this power? It starts with prayer. We must come to God with open hearts, ready to receive His power and guidance. We must ask for His wisdom and discernment, being willing to follow wherever He leads us.

It also requires faith. We must believe that God is who He says He is (Hebrews 11:6), and that He is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine. We must trust in His goodness and His love for us, even when we cannot see the way forward.

Finally, it requires obedience. We must be willing to follow where God leads us, even when it is difficult or uncomfortable. We must be willing to step out in faith, knowing that God is with us every step of the way.

As we pray, trust, and obey, may we see the power of God unleashed in our lives for His glory.

Mistaken Identity

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Palm Sunday is the day we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey and being hailed as king. For the Jews it was a great day. Their King had come, and they expected that he was going to finally free them from the Roman empire.

But they were suffering from a case of mistaken identity, they didn’t realize who Jesus was. Who could blame them, we all have blind spots based on our education, culture and expectations.

It was a great day for the disciples of Jesus, they must have thought that it was the greatest day, this was their graduation day. How they missed it, and how the world missed it. It was a case of mistaken identity.

The most famous person in all of history never sought the limelight or the praise of men. But not this day, Jesus received the praises due to him, the people were singing and exalting him as lord.

Jesus rode towards Jerusalem on a colt that had never been ridden. The fact that the colt had never been ridden and yet submitted to Jesus demonstrates his sovereignty over his creation.

In times of war a conquering king would ride on a chariot or a stallion, but Jesus rode on a colt to declare that he is a king proclaiming peace.

This was Passover week and Jerusalem had other dignitaries arriving and staying there. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, and Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch or King of the region of Galilee had arrived in town.

Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people praising him (Luke 19:38). Probably in the crowd were Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and maybe even Zacchaeus. Many others whom Jesus had touched and whose lives were never the same.

Herod and Pilate did not take Jesus seriously, otherwise they would have sent a garrison of troops to prevent him from entering into 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. By waving palm branches they were showing that they expected Jesus to be another warlord, another general of the armies and one who would lead them to overthrow the Romans (see the Maccabean revolt in 160BC). They were saying that they were ready to pick up their swords & shields & go to war if He would lead them!

But then the mood shifts and something dramatic takes place. Jesus abruptly stops and begins to cry out loud. The Greek word used here indicates that Jesus burst into tears; this was not a silent control of emotion. It must have been awkward; I am sure Jesus’ disciples began trying to figure out how to save the day and get the celebration going again. Why was Jesus crying?

As Jesus looked at Jerusalem and he saw 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; they did not understand the true purpose of his coming to earth. They had eyes, but they did not see, and ears but they did not hear. They were blinded by tradition and expectation. It was a case of Mistaken Identity

As Jesus looked around, he saw a lot of dead religious activity that was not accomplishing anything. The temple had become a den of thieves, and the city was full of people celebrating Passover with little understanding of its true meaning, or that it pointed to his own impending crucifixion.

Jesus looked at the City of David that was shortly about to come under attack and judgment. Jesus knew that in 40 years’ time the city would be under siege by the Romans for 143 days (Luke 19:43-44). The ancient historian Josephus estimated that between 600 thousand and 1.1 million Jews died in this Roman siege.

And all this because the people did not recognize the time of Jesus’ coming. It grieved Jesus because of his great love for the lost, the people he came to save (John 1:11).  

Are we guilty of not seeing Jesus for who he really is? What does Jesus see as he looks at our hearts? Is he grieved because we are going about the motions of church?

Is he grieved because we are so weighed down by the weight of the problems of the world that we have no time for a relationship with him? Does He see people who are so busy doing things, so busy that they never bother to consider those things that are eternally important?

As Jesus looks at us, does he weep, because of the lost opportunities for a deeper relationship with him.

Jesus calls out to us today just the same way as he did over the city of Jerusalem, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace.” Luke 19:42.

If only you would see and acknowledge the true risen Lord, and stop living a life of performance and dead religion. If only you would stop trying to be good enough for God. You cannot be good enough. You don’t need to be perfect either.  Jesus died so that you are forgiven, there is nothing you can do to earn the grace of God.

Do you just follow Jesus because of what you can get from him? Or do you truly have a relationship with the King of Kings, and it brings you peace that is beyond understanding.

Do you follow Jesus because it is your tradition? Do you follow Jesus because that is what you have always been taught to do?

Identify Jesus today.

Khayelitsha, South Africa – Report Back

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Last December, I was invited to join a ministry called Team Xtreme International, on an outreach to South Africa. I prayed about it and felt the Lord leading me to go. Little did I know how significant it would be.

We were primarily proclaiming the Gospel in a city of 2.4 million people called Khayelitsha, which is on the outskirts of Cape Town. It is an area that has suffered from unimaginably high unemployment rates and crime. The name Khayelitsha means, “New Home” in Xhosa and was established about 40 years ago during the height of Apartheid.

Many people warned us not to go into Khayelitsha and even locals told us to leave because they were afraid for our safety. But the Lord had His angels protecting us every day.

We spent most mornings touring schools and ministering during their assemblies. We also did after school programs and evening ministry from a truck bed stage.

The school assemblies were the most effective ministry. As we shared the Gospel, 90% of children responded. We were able to spend time praying with students and pointing them to freedom in Christ. It is hard to put into words the amount of pain that these children experience, including sexual abuse, violence, absent parents and rampant drug use.

For me this outreach was probably the most impactful of my life. I wrestled with feelings of shame and guilt from the years of apartheid and feeling that I did not have a right to speak in my own country.

The words of Jesus about a prophet not being welcomed in his own hometown rang in my ears (Matthew 13:57). But the Lord redeemed that and set me free as a wife of one of the pastors we served with, welcomed me, and released me of the burden of guilt. She reminded me that it has been thirty years and that I should stop carrying an unnecessary burden. After that I felt tremendous freedom to declare the hope of the Gospel to the people of Khayelitsha.

In the course of the 18 days of ministry and working with other organizations, over 23,000 people heard the Gospel and almost 18,000 responded to the message. In addition to the proclamation, partner churches were connected, and many discipleship groups are already under way. God moved powerfully and we saw many miraculous healings and powerful conversion encounters.

One school was even shut down for the day after the time of ministry because all the students were so impacted that they couldn’t get back to their work.

But what about us? These are amazing stories, but we need the power of the Gospel in our schools and streets in America.

In Matthew 10, Jesus called his twelve disciples and then sends them out on a mission trip. He throws them into the deep end and warns them that they will experience persecution as they go out and proclaim the kingdom.

Jesus sent his disciples out as his witnesses, witnesses of himself. They were the forerunners in missions, going and telling others about Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.

We know from the Great Commission in Matthew 28, that Jesus sent all his followers to go and be his witnesses, ambassadors.

The disciples were ordinary men, tradesmen, humble and broken, but Jesus gave them authority and sent them out.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how long they went for, it was probably a short-term campaign. In Luke 9 verse 10 we read that they returned and reported back to Jesus all that had happened.

Now it is true, that the message they carried and the message that we have today is different. Jesus hadn’t gone to the cross or risen from the dead. The victory and the power of the cross hadn’t been accomplished yet.

We have a different and far more glorious message; our message is far more powerful.

In one of the school assemblies I noticed the kids not paying attention, so I said to them, “what I am about to tell you is the most important thing you will ever hear in your life.”  That got their attention.  Do you believe that? It will be reflected in how much we are willing to be obedient to the Great Commission.

If you read Matthew 10 carefully it is clear that Jesus is speaking to his disciples, but he is also speaking to all future ambassadors for the Gospel. He is speaking to us and to future generations of believers.

In fact, the language Jesus is using seems to parallel what he says later, on the mount of olives in Matthew 24 about the coming persecution before his return. In our current age, the emphasis on “fear not” in verse 26 onwards is particularly helpful.

We are surrounded by people telling us what we can and cannot say in the public square.

The principle of one of the schools we visited had put Bible verses all around the school on the pillars and notice boards – I asked her, if she would get into trouble with the administrators, she said, “probably, but our school needs Jesus”.

Yesterday in our men’s breakfast, we heard several examples of some of our men who boldly stood up for the truth of God’s word in spite of threats. And God was powerful to deliver.

You see, we are all missionaries; some get on a plane, others go to the office or workshop. A missionary is someone sent by the Spirit of God to a particular place, to be an ambassador for Christ. Where you are is your mission field.

Jesus ends his challenge to his disciples in Matthew 10:32-33,  “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.”

Being a Christian is not like being a secret agent in the CIA, it is public, we are called to be bold witnesses (see Romans 10:14).

How are you doing in being an ambassador for Christ?

Thankfulness a Spiritual Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise and thanksgiving make all the difference in life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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