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

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?

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.

A Case for Suffering

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Everybody who has ever lived has experienced some kind of suffering.

The Bible speaks a great deal about suffering. In James 1, the half-brother of Jesus is writing to the tribes of Israel who have been dispersed from the promised land because of persecution. He was writing to a suffering people.

One would think he would be commiserating with them and consoling them, but rather he says, “consider it pure joy”. In our culture this seems insincere and even uncaring. However, James knows something that we so easily forget, life is temporal.

As children of God, those who have submitted to the Lordship of Jesus over our lives, we also submit to the refining and the testing of God in our lives.

James 1:4 is a wonderful promise, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

God is not satisfied with baby Christians. He wants so much more for us. God wants us to grow in faith, spiritual maturity, and in our relationship with him. The maturity described in James 1:4, comes through trials and testing.

You might be amid the fire right now, crying out to God for relief for the suffering you are going through. The Bible encourages us to persevere and not to give up (James 1:12).  

Suffering exists in the world because sin exists. When Adam and Eve sinned, death and suffering became the common human condition. The introduction of sin into creation, gave Satan a limited rule as the god of this age.

There are various sources of suffering.

  • Our own poor choices cause suffering. Making choices that are detrimental to our health and wellbeing. This includes alcohol, drug abuse, and reckless behavior.
  • We also suffer because of fallen human nature. People are sinful by nature and do things that hurt others.
  • Many times, suffering is as a result of Satan and his demons (John 10:10 and Job 2:4-6). Sometimes we give the enemy a foothold by the choices we make. Living with sinful behaviors, we experience the suffering that Satan inflicts, simply because we have stepped out of the covering of God over our lives.

If you are experiencing suffering today because of sinful choices, repent, get back to your first love and put on the full armor of God as we read in Ephesians 6.

  • Sometimes God causes suffering, ultimately, He is sovereign. God is not mocked and when people persist in sin, God causes suffering as judgement. God does not inflict suffering out of sadistic pleasure, but out of a desire to draw people to Himself. When people refuse to repent, the suffering serves as part of the due penalty for sin (Romans 6:23).  
  • Then we have the suffering that God uses to train, refine, and test His children. In Hebrews 12, the author encourages us to submit to discipline for our good (Hebrews 12:7 and 11).

Whether God intentionally causes suffering or allows it in our lives, He uses it for our good.

As we grow in faith and confidence in the goodness of God, no matter how hard the journey, when we see our Heavenly Father face to face, our eyes will be opened and we will be eternally grateful (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).

Sometimes the suffering seems too much to bear, and we wonder why God allows a person to suffer so much pain through no apparent fault of his or her own. In time like this, it is okay to cry out to God and be real with our emotions. This is developing our relationship with God, the tension of growing and trusting.

Sometimes, it takes suffering to enlarge our view of God.

The apostle Paul knew about suffering. In 2 Corinthians 12 we read that to keep him from being conceited, God gave him a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him.

Paul pleaded with God for it to be removed. We have no details about his suffering but God responded to his plea in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul goes on…” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It is a good thing we don’t know what his “thorn” was, because no matter what our sufferings may be, we are able to apply the lessons Paul learned and gain encouragement.

We may not know what the “thorn in the flesh” was, but we must never forget that God allowed it. God is in control and allowing your thorn in the flesh for His purposes and His glory.

CS Lewis writes, “we can ignore even pleasure, but pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

God used Paul’s thorn in the flesh to focus his attention on Christ.

If God has allowed you to suffer, some kind of painful emotional, physical or spiritual struggle, pray that God uses this to draw you into a place of greater dependence on Him. And ultimately towards being mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4).

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?