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.

Knowledge is Power

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As we come to the end of John’s first letter, we must remember his purpose in writing was to dispel false teachers who had begun to deceive the first century church.

John makes 22 statements of truth that he wants the readers to grasp throughout the letter, and in these final verses he makes five more claims of truth.  

1: We can know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

If there was one verse that sums up the entire letter, this is it.

John tells his readers that you do not have to doubt your salvation.

The whole book revolves around belief, obedience and the love of God. Our feelings can deceive us, but faith in the truth of God’s word is what will sustain us. (See John 10:28–29).   

2: We can know that God answers prayer (1 John 5:14-15).

We often turn to prayer when we have exhausted every available option and solution. But prayer should be the very first thing we should do when faced with life’s challenges.

R. A. Torrey said, “Prayer is the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God’s infinite grace and power. All that God is and all that God has is at the disposal of prayer. But we must use the key. Prayer can do anything that God can do and since God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent.”

John says, we come to God because we have confidence. Confidence ultimately stems from relationship.

Sadly, too many Christians are practical atheists. Let me explain, I often hear statements to the effect, “I know God can do anything”, and then they say, “but the reality is…”

It doesn’t matter what you say after that, that is the talk of a practical atheist. God is the ultimate reality and as we grow in our relationship with Him, we trust Him with our prayers.

Verse 14 continues, “…that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us”.  This is not an excuse for not persisting in prayer, rather we persist in prayer until we discern God’s will, and then we pray His will.

George Mueller said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.”

So how can we know God’s will? Romans 8:26 tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us in our prayers and intercedes with us and for us. We can discern God’s will by reading God’s word and listening to the Spirit. Frequently we don’t know because we don’t wait on the Lord, we rush in and out of His presence before we let Him speak.

We need to know our position before God as we pray (see Ephesians 2:6 and Hebrews 4:16). As God’s children, do we come before the throne and approach Him as our perfect and loving Heavenly Father?

Prayer is the spiritual thermometer of our lives. It is an indicator of our relationship and trust of our Heavenly Father. It has been said that prayer to the Christian is like breathing for our physical bodies.

(For a detailed explanation of verse 16 and 17 please watch the sermon video)

3: We can know victory over sin (1 John 5:18).

There are three incredible statements in this verse, explaining how we can have victory over sin.

  1. As we know from 1 John 3, a Christian does not habitually sin. Unconfessed and ongoing sin is not a part of the life of a believer. If you sin habitually and don’t have a problem with it, are you born again?
  2. We have the promise of the protection from sin by Jesus the son of God. Jesus paid for our salvation, now in heaven, he maintains our salvation (see Jude 24).
  3. The final phrase of the verse, “and the evil one does not touch him.” Satan wants nothing more than to destroy the followers of Jesus, to grab us and do us harm, but because we are covered by the blood of Jesus, he cannot touch us.

4: We know we belong to God (1 John 5:19).

As followers of Jesus, we are not of this world. The world is under the power of Satan, and he for a time has the world tied in slavery. Satan is the one who deceives and blinds unbelievers. The war for the souls of mankind is very real. We must be alert and pray with a wartime mentality. Remember we have the amazing promise of 1 John 4:4.

5: We can know what is true (1 John 5:20).  

John ends his letter the way he began, that Jesus is the Son of God. He uses the word, “true” three times. Jesus is really God and in him we have eternal life.

As Christians we live in reality, not the reality of the news media, education systems, science, or what people think to be true. Ultimate reality is found in the supernatural God who holds every atom in place.

A miracle is God breaking into the natural world and changing reality (see Matthew 6:10).

Then John adds a final sentence, almost a postscript, in verse 21 it can easily get glossed over, but it is crucial. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”.

An idol is anything that you love, pursue, or enjoy more than God. We can easily make idols of things in our daily lives.  It could be money, sport, relationships, education, or desire for recognition, the list is endless of things we can value more than God.

Warren Wiersbe writes, “The thing we serve is the thing we worship! Whatever controls our lives and “calls the signals” is our god.”

Idolatry is a subtle way that Satan uses to control us, and we find ourselves living for the unreal instead of the real.

What lie are you believing today? If God is speaking to you today about any of these truths that you have not believed, repent and allow the Holy Spirit to impress these truths into your heart.

Irrefutable Evidence.

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Can you know anything for certain? We all have a deep desire to know things for certain.

As the church, we have the truth, but sadly people even within the church do not know and believe the truth for themselves.

Today, truth is under attack. Truth has been relegated to opinion and feelings. Truth is found in God alone; He is the ultimate reality.

John wrote this letter with the primary purpose of refuting the false teachers of the day. The people to whom John was writing were exposed to a popular false teacher named Cerinthus. He claimed that Jesus was merely a man on whom “the Christ” had come when Jesus was baptized and then left him on the cross, so Jesus died an ordinary human being.

How do we know that Jesus Christ is God?

Some of the people who lived during the time of Jesus called him a liar and a deceiver. Others today call him a good teacher of life principles, maybe even a great prophet.

To refute the false teaching John needed proof, he needed witnesses who would make the case that Jesus was indeed God in the flesh. The Mosaic Law required that two or three witnesses were needed to confirm a matter (Deut. 19:15). In the case of Jesus, we have six witnesses.

John begins his defence in verse 6, “This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood.”

1: Witness of Baptism

The water refers to Jesus being baptized by John in Matthew 3. It was a declaration and a witness to who he was. When Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove and the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. At his Baptism and beginning of his ministry, the entire Trinity was present as a witness.

2: Witness of Crucifixion

The second witness is the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. There were multitudes of people who witnessed the supernatural events of that day. In Matthew 27 we read that there was a long period of darkness, an earthquake, people came back to life and walked into Jerusalem, the temple veil was torn by God and the centurion and those who witnessed these events testified, “Truly this was the Sonof God!” Matthew 27:54b.

The crucifixion of Jesus was not a mistake or the death of a martyr. It was the divine plan of the trinity before the beginning of time to provide salvation by means of a perfect willing sacrifice and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were present and witnessing to who Jesus was.

3: Witness of the Holy Spirit

The third witness is the Holy Spirit. Verse 6 continues, “And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”

The primary role of the Holy Spirit is to testify about who Jesus is (John 15:26). Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth, a reliable witness. The Holy Spirit is the only person who is active on the earth today who was present when Jesus was ministering on the earth.

4: Witness of the Father

In verse 9 and 10, John steps up the level of argument saying that if you believe the testimony of men, God’s testimony regarding His son is infinitely greater.

God gave testimony to the person of Jesus multiple times during and before his life on the earth. Jesus himself said in John 5:37a, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.”

As a result of this, we are forced to decide, accept that Jesus is the son of God or reject him, there is no third option. John writes in verse 10 that to reject these testimonies about Jesus, is to make God out to be a liar.

There is so much evidence of who Jesus is and what he has done, it is not that people are ignorant, it is that people willingly choose to rebel against God.

5: Witness of our own conversion

The first sentence of verse 10, John turns the spotlight of the witness box on us. “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself”. (1 John 5:10a)

We have these outward testimonies, and witnesses, but what about the testimony of the believer? (See Romans 8:15-16). His witness is our inner confidence that we belong to Christ, a confidence that God gives us.

Many people can point back to a moment when they decided to follow Christ, but our testimony is daily walking in the knowledge of our savior. Having that daily walk and personal relationship with Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our life. our lives are marked by daily encounters, “God moments”, as you walk out your God given calling.

6: Witness of Eternal Life

The final witness is one that many people don’t realize that we can already experience. Verse 11 reads, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”

Our eternal life is our testimony. Eternal life is not endless life. Eternal life is true life, beginning from conversion in relationship with God. Eternal life is sharing the very life of God, through the power of the indwelling presence of God (See John 17:3).

Do you have this eternal life today?

If you choose to reject all these witnesses and reject the offer of salvation, you will not have life. You will be a walking dead person. Sadly, there are people in the church today who are not living an eternal life. It is possible to have a belief in the historic facts about Jesus, even say the right words, but without faith in Jesus Christ you are not living the eternal life that God is offering you.

Jesus is God; this is foundational to everything else.

Supernatural Love

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If you confess to be a Christian, how do people know?

It’s not because you wear a t-shirt, have a bumper sticker on your car or post encouraging words on Facebook.

The one defining aspect of a true Christian is love. And not the easy kind of love, loving those who love you in return. The defining mark of a follower of Jesus is to do what Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

That is a great memory verse, easy to say…until someone begins to persecute you.

I have heard dozens of people, claiming to be followers of Jesus, who say, “well I just can’t love that person, that’s just the way it is.”

The Bible says if you can’t love your enemies, you are not saved. But, the good news is that being filled with the Holy Spirit, we have the power to love our worst enemy.

Our actions are determined by our identity.

Loving as Jesus commands can seem impossible. Even loving our brothers and sisters in the church can be challenging at times. But we can love by the power of God living in us.

We need to remember our identity in Christ.

Abiding in Christ forms our identity, and as a result, abiding empowers love.

How do we know if we are abiding in Christ?

1 John 4:13 is the answer, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

Abiding in Christ is only possible because God fills us with His presence in the Holy Spirit. And notice the verse says, “we abide in Him and He in us”. We don’t even begin to fully grasp that. We don’t know what we have. We who have confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, and submitted to his lordship in our lives, have the presence of God abiding in us by the Holy Spirit. And this abiding presence of God leads to love.

1 John 4:16 states that love is a product of abiding in God. As followers of Jesus, we are the temple that God chooses to dwell in and reveal His love to the world.

You and I are witnesses of the presence of God, it is an awesome privilege and responsibility. Are we displaying the Love of God to the world around us?

This is the way we grow as Christians. As we abide in Christ, spend time with his Word and in communion with him, we grow to love God more, we grow to love other believers more and we grow to love those who don’t know Jesus more, even our enemies. As we share the love of the Father with others, we experience more of His love, it is a blessed exchange.

“God is love,” is not simply a statement in the Bible about the nature of God, it is the very foundation of our relationship with God and our neighbor. Loving one another isn’t simply a command to be obeyed, it is a privilege that flows from our relationship with God.

As we move to verse 17 and 18, we see another response to our abiding in Christ and he in us. Abiding produces love and love leads to confidence (1 John 4:17).

The Love of God has a goal, an intended completion and when it is perfected, we can face our final judgment before Christ with confidence.

Many churches today don’t like to mention the day of judgment. Judgment and Hell are more real than Satan would like us to believe. Jesus came to set us free from the fear of judgment (1 John 4:18).

Our world is controlled by fear. The word that John uses here to describe the fear of the coming judgment is “krisisphobia”. The Bible says that God has put eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Whether we face it or not, every human being knows that there is an eternity outside of time here on earth and the one who created it all is going to hold us accountable for how we lived. Without Jesus and his perfect love, that is terrifying.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This is the incredible gift of God’s grace, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ and John can write in verse 17 that we can have confidence before God. Boldly coming before his throne of Grace as His beloved Children. There is no situation, no sickness, no difficulty, that we could possibly face that is beyond the power of God to carry us through it (Romans 8:35-39).  

In Matthew 22, Jesus gave the two greatest commands, “Love God and Love others”.

Love is a command. 1 John 4:19, is one of the simplest verses in the Bible to understand, “We love because He first loved us.God took the initiative and His love overflows from us to others.

But verse 20 states, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar…

If we do not love those around us as we are commanded to do, then we do not know the love of God, and it should cause us to live in fear and anxiety.

 “It is obviously easier to love and serve a visible man than an invisible God, and if we fail in the easier task, it is absurd to claim success in the harder” John Stott.

Verse 21 sums it all up, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother”

When Jesus said we must love our enemies, it wasn’t a suggestion, it was a command. If we love God wholeheartedly, we will love our brother, including those who slander us and persecute us.  

Going back to my original question, if you confess to be a Christian, how does the unsaved world know?

It is hard, in fact it is impossible without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives empowering us to love as Jesus loved. Do you know the love of Jesus?

God is Love

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“God is Love” is a fundamental statement about the nature of God.

AB Simpson on God is love, “God is not justice. God is not wisdom. God is not power. God has all these attributes but none of them is great enough to constitute His essence. But love is His very nature and in love all other attributes find their completeness.”

Satan will constantly attempt to twist the world’s understanding of the nature of God. The Bible says “God is love,” the world says, “love is love.” The world defines love as something that we possess and usually this is a selfish desire and sexual in nature. The world ignores the pure and essential nature of God as being the source of love.

This does not mean that only Christians are capable of love.  We must remember that we are created in the image of God and have His nature of love within us.  However, Satan has perverted it and twisted it into something selfish.

See what Jesus said in John 15:12-13. Love is a commandment, it is a commitment, it is not an optional extra driven by feelings.

1 John 4:7 reads, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”

Real, authentic love has its source in God and gives evidence that we have been born again. This is not only loving people who love us in return, but also the ability to love those who are hurting us and annoying us, loving our enemies. This is the supernatural love of God that He displays on our behalf.

Verse 8 is a verse that should make us very uncomfortable, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The verse doesn’t say, “anyone who does not love his friends…does not know God.”  No, anyone who doesn’t love, including those not displaying love to those who are unlovely, those who are oppressing us, those who might reject us and hurt us, does not know God.

The great news of the Gospel is that God made the first move simply because we are not capable of loving this way. Verse 9 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”

This is something we need to be reminded of. Do you know how much you are loved?

God loves you so much that He sent His only son to free us from the bondage and penalty of separation from God. We don’t even begin to understand the magnitude of the phrase, “God sent His son.

1 John 4:10 reads, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Jesus, the eternally existing, creator God, was sent to the earth by the Father. The Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect eternal communion and love. God doesn’t need us, but He loves us and made a way for us to be reconciled with Him. The only possible way to accomplish this was the spotless Lamb of God had to be sacrificed to atone for our sins. We were not looking for God, He reached out towards us. God took the initiative. God sent His son to die (Romans 5:8).

This was God’s plan from the beginning of time, and it was not a martyr dying in some horrible, cosmic mistake. Jesus willingly laid down his life, taking our place, and bearing the punishment that we deserved.

The word “propitiation” is a rich word that means, “An offering that turns away the wrath of God.

The holiness of God required that for us to be reconciled with Him, there needed to be a sacrifice for the penalty of our sins. We deserved punishment, but Jesus took the punishment that we deserved so that we can be saved.

Christian love is based on this. It is not simply excusing sin or allowing someone to do whatever they want. Christian love is standing in the gap, and it is in the shape of a cross.

Considering this great truth, we have been forgiven and set free, so how are we to respond?

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:11.

Sadly, Christians are not known for their love of others. Many people outside the church only know the church for what we condemn, and not for our love for them. These may be people who oppose our message and even try to harm us and the church. What did Jesus say about these people? (See Matthew 5:44-45).

God does not show partiality in His love for people, and as children of God, neither can we.

Loving others is not simply an obligation that we have to perform out of duty. Rather, as we grow in our walk with the Lord and the Holy Spirit transforms us, we naturally begin to display the love of God for those around us.

Why does God call us to love others?  1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”

By living out the love of God, we display the nature of God for others to see. This becomes a practical display of the Gospel. This will always cost us something, but this is the normal Christian life (see Romans 5:5).

Everyone faces crisis and loss in their lives, and pain has a way of cutting through the fluff of life and the image we want to portray. When the crisis comes, how do we love?

Will we love sacrificially and with endurance? It is usually in times of crisis that community is born and strengthened.

We need to remember that as we display the love of God, we display the nature of God. There are few things in life that can possibly be more rewarding or more important.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God…”

Who are you listening to?

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Who are you Listening to?

In the first few verses of 1 John 4, we have a warning against false prophets, who are deceiving the church. Satan is the master liar and manipulator.

John says in verse 1, “many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Satan is constantly sending out evil spirits to deceive and spread a false message, influencing false teachers to teach a false Gospel.

We need to be alert, ready and praying for discernment, especially in our world of mass media where we can view thousands of hours of teaching on any subject we choose.

A prophet is a person who declares the truth of God and seldom is it in the context of foretelling the future.

The Bible warns us that not everyone who claims to be speaking for God is actually a prophet of God (Matthew 7:15 and Matthew 24:11). With the advent of the internet, we have seen a rise in false prophets.

In this passage, six times John uses the term “from God”, and six times he uses the term, “the World”. We must not be so naïve as to think that those who are from the world, are not in the church. Satan’s greatest attack against the church has always been from inside the church.

John gives us four tests we can use to avoid being led astray.

1: Am I being deceived? (1 John 4:1).

The problem is that we are theologically lazy. The vast majority of the church is Biblically illiterate or weak at best. How can we know if someone is speaking God’s truth or not if we don’t know the Word of God. Satan and his demons know the Bible and how to twist the word and make it sound true when it is not. Satan is still casting doubt in people’s minds as he did in Genesis 3:1.

Behind every prophet there is an empowering spirit, and their message will let us know if they are from God are not. We don’t have to look further than the recent history of high-profile church leaders who had incredible ministries, but behind the scenes there was manipulation, control, and sexual sin. These sins were often excused by the incredible “fruit” from their ministry. But God is not mocked, and hundreds and thousands of people are hurt in the end.

2: Are they proclaiming the true Jesus? (1 John 4:2).

Christianity is about Jesus. What do you believe about Jesus.

Is he simply a great religious leader? Is he just one option amongst many? Or Is he God in the flesh, fully God and fully man, the only way the truth and the life.

The best way to test the spirits is to ask the Jesus question. The Holy Spirit of God will always honor Jesus Christ, the Son of God (John 16:14).

The alternative is in verse 3, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.

John writes that false prophets will not confess that Jesus is the Christ. Many false teachers today, even in some mainline denominations refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist. As we looked at in 1 John 2:22 on June 26, http://atholbarnes.com/2022/06/26/sermon-sunday-june-26-2022-who-is-jesus/

The spirit of Antichrist always diminishes the person and work of Jesus. Rejecting that he is fully God and fully man, rejecting the fact that his blood atones for our sins.

3: Who are you trusting? (1 John 4:4).

What an incredible promise, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Are you trusting in the greater spirit?

Satan and his demons have a large following, the world seems to be powerfully opposed to the things of God. The daily attacks are sometimes overwhelming. But all of Satan’s plans are divinely destined to fail (Matthew 16:18).

Notice the tense of verse 4, “you are of God, and have overcome them…”

We have the misconception that spiritual warfare is about swinging the sword of the spirit and slaying demons. However, the victory has already been won. Spiritual Warfare is about standing firm and declaring the promises of God’s word, as Watchman Nee writes in his book, “Sit, Walk, Stand”.  

As we commit our lives to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, his victory becomes our victory and God’s Spirit lives in us. The Holy Spirit is the one who glorifies Christ through our lives as we stand firm on the promises of God.

As believers we need to be reminded of this, we hide and don’t speak up in the public square. We pray for Jesus to come again so that we can put all this messy world behind us. But Jesus calls us to live victoriously with a supernatural assurance that the victory is already won. Are we living daily from that victory, boldly living for Christ?

4: Are you listening to the right teachers? (1 John 4:5-6).

False teachers are not of God, but from the world and the domain of Satan and his demons. False teachers have a secular worldview.  

If you have a Biblical worldview, based on the promises and the truths of God’s word, then you will have an eternal perspective on everything, marriage, sexuality, abortion, death, war, finances, and even the pain and challenges of life (1 Corinthians 4:16-18).

A secular worldview proclaims that this is all there is, grab as much as you can, pursue pleasure, make a name for yourself, leave a legacy. A secular world view leads to hopelessness.

Who are you listening to?

Boldness Through Faith

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How bold are your prayers?

What are you praying for right now that requires a supernatural move of God?

Prayer is an outflow of our relationship and a declaration of faith.

The boldness of our prayers must come from our faith in the statement, “God is love”, and that we are abiding, or are rooted in the promises of God’s Word.

The Bible frequently talks about the human heart. Our innermost being that is vulnerable, complex, and if properly aligned with God, our hearts are a blessing.

The world around us frequently tells us, “Trust your heart”, “go with what your gut is telling you”. But the Bible tells us in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Many people struggle with their heart and the feelings of self-condemnation. The apostle John recognized that as followers of Jesus, we still struggle with emotions, condemnation, and guilt. He also knew that the truth of God’s word provides healing and a re-alignment of our hearts.

Thus, the question, “How bold is your prayer life” might be preceded by the question, “How is your heart?”

1 John 3:19 says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him.”

And as children of God, we have confidence in His presence.

1 John 3:20 may seem confusing at first, “for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

Even though we know the scriptures and have heard the Gospel hundreds of times, sometimes we experience condemnation and guilt as Satan brings back to mind past sins. When we experience condemnation, we must go back to the promises of 1 John 1:9 and Romans 8:1.

We must remember who we are, “in Christ”. We stand before the all-knowing God, our Father, covered in the righteousness of Christ. It is a heart issue, we can be misled by our emotions and feelings. That is why King David wrote this in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts”.

Ask God to expose the lies in your life and begin to live by God’s promises.

Like the promises of verses 21-22, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”

When we have confidence in our standing before God, we can have confidence in our prayers.

Charles Spurgeon wrote, He who has a clear conscience comes to God with confidence, and that confidence of faith ensures to him the answer of his prayer. Childlike confidence makes us pray as none else can. It makes a man pray for great things, which he would never have asked for if he had not learned this confidence; and makes him pray for little things which a great many are afraid to ask for, because they have not yet felt towards God the confidence of children.… The man of obedience is the man whom God will hear, because his obedient heart leads him to pray humbly, and with submission, for he feels it to be his highest desire that the Lord’s will should be done. Hence it is that the man or obedient heart prays like an oracle; his prayers are prophecies. Is he not one with God? Doth he not desire and ask for exactly what God intends? How can a prayer shot from such a bow ever fail to reach its target?”

Sadly, many Christians are living command oriented Christian lives. We know God’s holy requirements and we are so committed to do the right thing, so that God will approve of us and answer our prayers.

God wants us to live by His promises, from a heart of pure relationship with Him, then we will live every day in the power of His spirit, leading us in obedience, out of relationship.

How are you living today? In fear and law or love and relationship?

Verse 23 says, there is one thing that we need to begin with. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

It all begins and ends with belief in Jesus Christ as Lord. A personal relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Believing that Jesus is the son of God, the eternal God, who became like one of his creation 2000 years ago. He lived a perfect sinless life and was crucified and died as a willing sacrifice for our sins. This same Jesus rose from the dead three days later and lives forever today, interceding for us at the Father’s right hand. Believing that Jesus is preparing a place for us and that he will one day return to take the Church to be with him in glory.

Finally looking at verse 24, “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

King David knew his purpose in life, found in Psalm 27:4. David knew that the greatest goal in life was to abide in God’s presence.

The Spirit of God is given to us and by the Holy Spirit, we know that God abides with us and we with Him. There is an assurance that comes from abiding.

The presence of the Holy Spirit is not something that we can earn or merit by obedience.  As we abide in Christ, the Holy Spirit gives us the strength and the passion for obeying God. As we abide in God and He in us, we come to know God as our perfect Heavenly Father.

Prayer is an outflow of our relationship with God.

The more we abide in Him and He in us, the bolder our prayers will become, because we will know Him as a good and perfect heavenly Father, who is generous in His gifts.

How Bold is your prayer life?

Are you praying like a child who has absolute confidence in your father?

Three ways to bless your Pastor.

This past Sunday I had the blessing of preaching at the Bethel Family worship center at their pastor’s anniversary celebration. It was a tremendous blessing to honor and celebrate with pastor Dennis Lester.

I spoke about the three things that a church member can do to bless their pastor and bless the church.

We all are familiar with the description of the early church family found in Acts 2:42-47. This is a picture of the first church in Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit has come on the believers, and they are transformed by the power of God.

There is so much that we can learn from this text. Many books and church growth seminars have been devoted to this text. But I want to look at three simple words that we can learn from the people at this church in Jerusalem.

1. The first characteristic we can learn from the early church is that they were present. Verse 42 says that the people devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayers. The obvious conclusion is that in order to devote yourself to teaching, fellowship, breaking Bread and prayer, is that you have to be present.

Some people are the backbone of the church, showing up at events, giving generously and supporting the ministry in many other ways. Other people only come on Sunday’s and maybe only once a month, or twice, if the chiefs aren’t playing at noon.

I want to encourage you to be present. Show up, get involved, you will be blessed, and it will bless the church family.

2. The second characteristic is participation. Verse 42 continues, “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need”.

Now let’s be clear, this is not a call to communism, rather it is a call to community. Giving of our tithes is one way to participate, but we are also called to give our time, our energy, and our talents. We as followers of Jesus, have been given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the body as Paul writes in Romans 12 and verse 4, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function,”

Paul goes on to list the spiritual gifts that are distributed amongst the members of the church. God has given all the gifts necessary for the church to be effective to the church body. When you do not participate the church misses out, the church is weakened, because you are not exercising your gift.

You may be present each week, but if you are not participating by utilizing the gifts that you have been given as a follower of Jesus, the body of Christ is not running on all cylinders. Something is missing.

The church will be blessed when you are present and participate.

3. The final characteristic of the early church was prayer. Verse 42 says that the early church devoted themselves to prayer.

During our time in South Africa in July, I spent a lot of time asking the Lord about the future that He has for us as a church. One thing that kept coming back to me over and over again is that the Lord wants us to be a praying church.

You might say that we already pray, we have two weekly prayer meetings, we gather for prayer as a staff, we pray before the services, and monthly we pray for an unreached people group. We do a lot of prayer, but are we saturated with prayer, are we seeking the Lord as a church family in our homes and whenever we gather?

What will it look like for our church to become a house of prayer? The way Jesus called for when he cleansed the temple in John 2. What if we were saturated in prayer?

What if before we gossiped about someone, we prayed for them?

Becoming a church that is a house of prayer will bless our community.

A healthy church is present, participating and praying. Three simple characteristics, but as we do these three simple things, there is tremendous fruit in the kingdom of God.

In the past four or five decades, we have seen the emergence of the mega church in America. These are something like the Home Depots of churches, complete with slick programming, smoke machines and big-name speakers. But I still believe in the community church, I still believe in the growing family church, where people are called to commit and feel like they belong.

I believe that a mega church model is by necessity self-serving, and they can only scratch the surface of what a fully committed, fully present, fully praying community church can do in the kingdom of God.

The first church had results, not by adding numbers from other churches but by winning souls. Acts 2:47 says, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

That’s real church growth, participating by going out and winning people to Christ.

Let’s commit as a church family to be present, to participate and to pray.

Who is Jesus?

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What is the most important question you will ever have to answer? Life is all about questions, asking and answering questions.

The most important question you will ever have to answer is, “Who is Jesus?” There is no other question that comes close.

In 1 John 2, John warns his readers that we are in the last hour and that the world has many Antichrists.

The word, “antichrist”, has a way of stirring up fear and wild speculation. What are these antichrists, and what do they do?

In the text today, John gives us three keys to help us recognize and defeat these enemies of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  1. Antichrists Attack Christ (1 John 2:18).

The word “antichrist” means “against Christ” or “in the place of Christ.”

John writes at the beginning and the end of verse 18, “it is the last hour.” This means the entire period of time between when Jesus walked the earth and when he comes back again (See Acts 2:16-17 and Hebrews 1:1-2).

The phrase, “the last hour”, creates a sense of urgency that this world is temporary. We live in the age when the antichrists are active. This activity opposing Christ will increase until the Antichrist comes; the primary representative of Satan himself. Jesus spoke about the time we live in in Matthew 24:4-5.  

As we see the Gospel going out to the nations, we are seeing incredible things happening on the mission field as millions are coming to know Christ as Lord, at the same time Satan has his missionaries, these antichrists, and they are also going out into the world and into churches.

In 1 John 2:22, he makes plain what the spirit of antichrist is all about: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.”

The strategy of Satan and his demons is deception. They don’t directly oppose Jesus, they redefine him.

  • They will say, “he is good, but he is not God”.
  • They will say, “He may be a son of God, but He is not the Son of God.”
  • They will say, “He may have died on the cross as a martyr, but He did not die as a Savior.”

The spirit of antichrist always diminishes the person and work of Jesus. If Jesus wasn’t God, then his death and resurrection would have no power over sin. The core of Christianity is Jesus, his person and his work as the eternal son of God. If we get this wrong, then everything else in our faith falls apart.

The apostle John makes it clear that there is a difference between the many antichrists who are already here and have been around for centuries, and the one Antichrist who is coming at the very end of the age. This man will have such power and charisma that the whole world will follow him (Revelation 13:2-4).

2: Antichrists Abandon the Church (1 John 2:19).

The greatest threat to the church comes from within the church. Satan plants antichrists in the church and uses them to subtly persuade the church that Jesus is not really who he claims to be. When these antichrists leave the church, they leave a trail of pain and sometimes even take captives with them who have been deceived.

There are some who share [for a while] our earthly company who do not share our heavenly birth” Alistair Begg.

Now let me be clear, not everyone who leaves a church is an antichrist, there are many different reasons why people come and go in the modern church.

But sometimes when people leave it is because they were never really saved. They never had a personal relationship with Jesus as Lord. Breaking fellowship could indicate a defective faith (see 1 John 3:9).

3: Antichrists Assault the Christian

We can easily get discouraged and confused about who to believe. The antichrists, people who teach against the person and work of Jesus are all around us. These people have influence, they are intellectually very strong, and it is hard to even wrap our minds around some of their deceptive arguments. John makes it clear that these antichrists are committed to defeating the church. But we have the promise of 1 John 4:4.

John reminds his readers that we have a two-pronged weapon to defeat Satan’s plans. We have the anointing and the indwelling Holy Spirit, and we have the Word of God (1 John 2:20-21 and 27).

The apostle Paul calls this the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God in Ephesians 6:17.

In verse 20, John emphatically says, “…you have been anointed by the Holy One…”  it is a promise and refers to the promised Holy Spirit.

As followers of Jesus, we are consecrated and set apart by God and for God by the Holy Spirit, we now have an internal and abiding Teacher who will guide us in all knowledge and truth. As we abide in him, we will not be misled by false teaching.

The teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit does not involve revelation of new truth. Rather, it is the revelation of the written Word of God to us. In verse 24, John challenges the believer to simply remain in the teaching of Christ. To abide and remain in this teaching is to abide and remain in both the Son and the Father.

There is not any additional thing you need. Jesus plus something extra equals heresy and the teachings of the antichrist.

Jesus is the center of Christianity. He does not stand and point to a way; he is the way!

This is what the Bible teaches and what the holy spirit affirms.

Do you know the Word? Are you abiding in the Word by the Holy Spirit? If not, you are at risk of being deceived.

Who do you say Jesus is?  Is he Lord of your life?

Love One Another

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Church numerical growth has been a topic of study for decades. Many books have been written and seminars delivered. However, there is a very simple three-word prescription for church growth, “Love One Another”.

It might sound simplistic, but it is one of the most challenging things to do.

The apostle John is a succinct writer who simplifies the Christian life down to the essential elements, know Jesus, obey God, and love others.

John uses the term “beloved” six times in this letter. John makes the case that the love of God is essential for us to be able to love our brothers and sisters. We aren’t called to love out of duty or legalism, that would be hypocritical. What John is writing about is a supernatural love, seen and experienced in those who abide in Jesus. This is the love that is the fruit of the Spirit.

There is way more to this supernatural love than a mushy, warm and fuzzy experience, there is power in this love. As we see in verse 8, perfect love as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has dealt a death blow to darkness. Darkness is on the run, and it cannot outrun the light. How we love one another gives evidence of all of this.

The love of Christ in us is not a shallow sentimental emotion. It is a matter of the will not of feelings. Christlike love is a determined decision to allow the love of God to reach others through you. Christlike love is the essential ingredient of true evangelism.

The best explanation of Christian love is found in 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is not a text for weddings or valentine’s day messages, it is a day-to-day church passage. It is the prescription for how we are to live as the body of Christ.

The love of God is given to the church supernaturally for the building up of the church (Romans 5:5). God has poured his love into the hearts of everyone who has given their lives to the Lordship of Jesus.

John’s life was transformed by this supernatural love. He was not always loving, he and his brother James were known as the “sons of thunder”, because of their emotional outbursts. In Luke 9, James and John asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritan village who rejected Jesus. John was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and he loved as Jesus loved.

And there is good reason why this love is supernatural, because it is a cosmic war between light and darkness. The world of light and love always go together (1 John 2:9-10).

The natural question that follows is, who is my brother? The Greek word used for brother here means a person who lives close by, literally my neighbor. Well, who is my neighbor? Jesus addressed this in Luke 10 by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus explained that our neighbor is the person in front of us right now. The person in need, the person we work with or the person we bump into while walking into the store. Are you aware of your neighbor? Those daily opportunities to love the way Jesus loved.

Verse 11 returns to those who are in darkness, “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

If you hate someone, you are walking blindly in continual darkness. This kind of darkness is spiritual death. Hatred is blinding people today and this happens in the church as little disagreements creep in, and relationships are broken.

This kind of blindness can creep into the church in many ways. It is not necessarily through arguments. Sometimes blindness can creep into the church in the form of doctrine and spiritual elitism. People have their favorite doctrine, theology, or experience and if they are not careful, they become critical of others who do not share the same view or experience. This kind of person thinks he is a spiritual giant, having it all figured out, but really, he is a spiritual babe, lacking the ability to discern what is important, loving one another. Some people are so in love with their doctrine and “rightness”, that they have lost their love for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

In recent years it seems that we have lost the ability to disagree and still love each other.

It is impossible to be in fellowship with the Father and out of fellowship with another Christian at the same time. The Christian life has two relationships: the vertical (Godward) and the horizontal (manward). We need both, which is why gathering for worship and fellowship on a Sunday morning is so vital to our spiritual health.

If you put a group of people in a room long enough, someone is going to get offended. So how do we respond?

The follower of Jesus who has been offended must understand two things;

1) I have no right to be offended. I gave up my rights when I asked Jesus to be Lord of my life.

2) Harboring unforgiveness only harms the offended person.

“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.”

Marianne Williamson

Loving one another in the church is very practical and essential for the health of the church.

Practically we love each other by:

  • Serving one another.  Stepping up and volunteering when there is a need.
  • Love one another through theological differences. Jesus was critical of the pharisees, not because of their doctrine, but because they didn’t care for the flock.
  • Love one another through joy and pain. Carry one another’s burdens, look for practical ways to care when someone is hurting.
  • Love one another on mission. Serving alongside each other as we share the Gospel in our community.  
  • Love one another by confronting sin. Do we love one another enough to call out a brother or sister who is living in sin?
  • Love one another to grow spiritually. Just as the fruits and flowers need sunshine, so God’s people need love if they are going to grow.

How are you loving each other today?