Sermon, Sunday October 11 2020 – Abiding in the Vine part 1

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John 15

Abiding in Jesus

Immediately after Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples, he led them out of the room and on a walk up towards the mount of Olives. Little did they know that this was the most significant night in all of human history.

Jesus was walking to his arrest and was preparing himself to be crucified. But even in this incredibly stressful time, Jesus was teaching his disciples. He used the backdrop of the grapevines to teach them about the importance of bearing fruit by abiding in the vine.

Jesus opens the dialogue with the powerful statement, “I am the true vine…” (John 15:1)

Jesus is the vine the Father is the vinedresser, and the true followers of Jesus are the branches. But branches are not simply for show, they have a role to play and that role is to produce fruit. The true followers of Jesus will produce fruit.

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

We love the promise of answered prayer in verse 7 and verse 16, but these promises must be read in the context of the teaching of Jesus. In verse 8 we read that the purpose of producing fruit is to bring glory to God the Father. If we pray that the Lord would allow us to bear fruit, he will surely answer that prayer.

Are we praying that God would bless us with lasting fruit, for His glory?

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

DR. G.  Campbell Morgan writes, “any prayer which does not react upon my life and make it a more fruit-bearing life, is not a prayer at all”

The terrible warning of this passage is found in verse 6. These branches that are thrown into the fire were at one time attached to the vine. They were possibly attached to the vine because there was promise of peace, comfort, personal blessing, and cultural acceptance.  

However, these branches never had a desire to produce fruit, because they were never abiding in the vine.

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

One of the fruit that comes from abiding is peace, we know this from Galatians 5:22-23.

If you listen to Christians today there is a lot of fear being expressed. Fear of the pandemic, the financial state of the world, the political state of our nation. Sadly, this is fear being expressed by people who claim to be abiding in the vine. Oh, they will say they are just being realistic, but they are walking in fear.

Fear is not a fruit of the Spirit. Fear is not a result of abiding in the vine. Walking in fear is evidence that you are not abiding in the vine.

One of the evidences of abiding in the vine is getting our sustenance from the word of God (see Psalm 91:1-2, Habakkuk 3:17-19, Psalm 23:4, 1 John 4:18)

The reward for not looking to the world for sustenance and trusting Jesus is life and peace.

Jesus is the true vine and we who know Jesus as Lord of our lives are the branches. In John 15:16 Jesus makes a dramatic statement, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

We must never make the mistake of thinking that we had any part in our own salvation – we are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8).

The branch is weak and useless if it is not connected to the vine. It is only good for being thrown into the fire. The branch is only as good as it is abiding in the vine.  

As Christians we are only going to be producing fruit if we are abiding in Jesus. Getting our daily sustenance and feeding on the vine, getting our life from Jesus.

Abiding in Christ is a cultivated discipline that takes time and effort.  Abiding comes from spending time feeding on God’s word, reading the Bible, praying and staying connected with other Christians.

There is a significant difference between simply being a part of the church by coming to the church when it is convenient and abiding in the vine, getting your life from Jesus through the word and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Where are you today?

Are you abiding or, are you walking in fear?

Are you simply attached to the vine, but you know that you are not really abiding in Christ?

Now more than ever we need to know the lifestyle of abiding in Christ.

Sermon, Sunday September 20, 2020 – Walking in the Spirit

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Ephesians 5:18-21

2020 has been a year that has challenged us all in many areas of life, but the area of relationships has been under the most stress as we look at society. People have begun to appreciate the value of being connected and living in community.

When we become followers of Jesus, we take on a new identity as we have seen in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. One of the most important results of this new identity is that we have new relationships, we have become part of a new family that is an eternal family (Ephesians 1:5). Our relationships within the Body of Christ is eternal, any relationship outside of the fellowship of believers is temporary. 

But sin is the great separator; it separates us from God and separates us from other people. One of the first signs that someone is struggling with sin in their lives, is that they separate themselves from family fellowship.

In Ephesians 5:18-21, the Apostle Paul exhorts his readers to be filled with the Holy Spirit in order to live in healthy relationships. These verses are all about how we are to relate to one another within the Body of Christ. How we speak to one another in verse 19 and how we submit to one another in verse 21. A Spirit filled believer is someone who lives in a right relationship with God and fellow Christians.

Paul uses the example of a person under the influence of alcohol as the opposite of what it means to be filled with the Spirit of God. Drunkenness leads to a diminished ability to control one’s behavior, whereas one of the fruit of the spirit is self-control.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not an experience that is reserved for a select few followers of Jesus. This is the normal Christian life and it is a command from the Word of God. While every true follower of Jesus is sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), we all need a constant filling to be able to live a life of joy, thanksgiving, and love.

So how are we daily filled with the Holy Spirit? It is an ongoing discipline of prayer and spending time meditating on God’s Word. The Word and the Spirit are connected, as He is the author of the Word (Compare Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-19). Daily asking God for a fresh sense of His Spirit, knowing that the Father loves to give His children good gifts (Luke 11:13).

As we walk in the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit we experience results, effects of the overflow of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We see this in verses 19 to 21.

1: The first effect of being filled with the Spirit is joy. This overflows in a heart that is constantly singing. Notice in verse 19 that we sing to one another and to the Lord. There is a vertical and a horizontal dimension to our expression of joy. As we sing corporately, we also encourage one another through worship, that is why the active participation and gathering is so vital for the spiritual health of the believers in the church. We have all discovered that sitting and watching a sermon on the internet is not the same as experiencing the presence of the Lord in a gathering of believers.

The Spirit-filled believer has a song in their heart. In spite of the circumstances, the believer knows a deep sense of joy, this is singing from the heart.

2: The second result of being filled with the Spirit is thankfulness (Ephesians 5:20). The words gratitude and grace share the same root, and the Spirit-filled believer who has experienced the grace of God understands that every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). As a result, the thankful heart is a humble heart.

Paul commands his readers to be thankful at all times, this is impossible to do in our own strength, hence our daily need to be filled with the Spirit of God. When we face challenges in life, we should turn to the Lord with thanksgiving by the power of the Spirit to keep our heart from complaining and anxiety. The Devil creates chaos in our minds when we start complaining and feeding the fire of anxiety. Thanksgiving, by the power of the Spirit of God, defeats the enemy of our souls (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

3: The third effect of living the Spirit-filled life is submission (Ephesians 5:21).

In our sinful nature, we balk at the idea of submission, but submission simply means to prefer others, not always getting what we want. Submission is essential for healthy Christian community and it is only possible as one is filled with the Spirit of God.

The word submit has military roots and means “to arrange under”. Any soldier serving in the military knows that in order to defeat the enemy, he needs to submit his own desires to the orders of the commanding officer. So, it is with the Christian, we submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit as we together serve one another and the mission of the church.

This does not come naturally, anyone who acts brash or arrogant is not walking in the Spirit. As we walk Spirit-filled we will display the meekness and the gentleness of Christ.

These three effects of being filled with the Spirit are not simply ideals for us to experience, rather they are essential for living in a Christian community. The fountain of healthy relationships within the Body of Christ is the Holy Spirit in our lives.

As we look at the church today, do we see evidence of Spirit-filled lives?

As the Holy Spirit convicts, repent and invite the Holy Spirit into your life to fill you and control you for the glory of God and for the health of the church.

Sermon Sunday September 13, 2020 – Walking in Wisdom

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Ephesians 5:15-17

Walking in Wisdom

If we are all honest, we want to make our lives count. We would like our time on earth to make a positive impact on those around us, and we want to leave a mark. This desire does not mean we have a problem with pride, rather it is the direct result of the fact that we were created in the image of God and designed for a purpose (See Psalm 139:16-17).

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul wrote two sentences that give us three keys to living a life that will make a difference.

Paul encourages his readers to walk carefully. The Greek phrase means to walk with precision and accuracy. The cry of the previous verse is to wake up! Paul is encouraging his readers not to drift through life as sleepwalkers. Sadly, many professing Christians are drifting aimlessly through life as if sleepwalking.

There is a vast difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is available to anyone; it is knowing facts that are available to anyone who is willing to learn about a particular subject.

However, wisdom is the ability to make sound judgments based on the knowledge you have. Wisdom is a gift of God and something that God encourages us to ask for (James 1:5, Proverbs 2:6).

Walking in wisdom, is not simply knowing where to go or what to do in a particular situation. Walking in wisdom is taking the knowledge we have and then asking the Lord to direct our path, to lead us.

The ultimate mark of walking in wisdom is to walk with an eternal perspective, knowing that we are living for so much more than the temporal goals and rewards of this world.

Every moment we have is a gift from God, and the older we get, the more we realize that life is short. Another translation of this verse is, “redeeming the time”. The Greek word is the same word that is used to pay the price to free a slave. As the Apostle notes, these days are evil and under the control of Satan. We must make every effort to redeem every moment from the grip of the enemy of our souls. Satan loves for us to waste time playing games and watching TV, all the while we are missing out on the purpose and calling on our lives.

Do not miss this, we are in a war and Satan and his demons are constantly working to distract us with temporal things, even good things. As followers of Jesus, those who have been bought by the blood of Jesus, we should constantly war against those things that fritter away our limited time.

Our calling is to shine as light in the dark world, so that when the King of Kings comes, we will not regret the way we spent our time.

Verse 17 begins with the statement, “therefore do not be foolish…”. Foolishness is the opposite of wisdom. Foolishness is acting or speaking without thinking. Foolishness is not employing our understanding with wisdom. God has blessed us with the ability to think and to reason.

But that is not the complete verse, the rest of verse 17 states, “…but understand what the will of the Lord is.” I have heard it said many times in Christian circles, “God expects us to use our brains”, however, if we rely solely on our own intellect, many times we will miss the will of God for our lives.

Many times, we will miss God’s best for our lives, because to live by faith as a follower of Jesus will often require us to do things or go places that go against common sense. In the eyes of those around us, we are throwing out common sense and being reckless. But the safest and most rewarding way to live is to trust in the Lord and to pray daily for His leadership and guidance in our lives. Proverbs 3:5-6 could not be a more direct instruction in this regard:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

How do we discern the will of God for our lives? The will of God is not a mystery to be discovered, it is a lifestyle to be walked. As we walk with God, we grow in our knowledge of Him and we are transformed in our minds.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I have always prayed that God would direct my path along the lines of Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…”.

There is active participation on our part. We must be walking. Discerning the will of God requires us to step forward in prayerful faith and allow God to direct us as we move.

Ephesians 2:10 shows us that God has a plan for our lives. We were saved for a purpose. God reveals His will to us as we read His word (Psalm 119:105), as we spend time in prayer and as we seek the counsel of wise brothers and sisters in Christ. Frequently God uses circumstances to direct our path (See Romans 8:28).

We can move forward without fear and anxiety knowing that our Father in Heaven is the source of wisdom and the one who saved us for His perfect purposes.

Are you walking in wisdom?

Sermon, Sunday August 9, 2020. Walk in Love

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Walk in Love

Ephesians 5:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missions in a Covid Era

The city of Cincinnati

July 27, 2020

As I write this email, I am hurriedly preparing for our mission trip to Cincinnati. The day is filled with doing laundry, checking packing lists, finding air mattresses, picking up a rental van and making sure all the vehicles are gassed up. With all the scurrying around, it seems like a normal summer mission trip, but every now and then, I realize that this summer is anything but normal. We have the cloud of a pandemic over us all and we have had to take that into consideration in the midst of planning our trip.

For those who are new to Grace Point, this is the 4th year we are taking a team to Cincinnati with the express purpose of supporting Brandon and Brooke Long with their church plant in Cincinnati. Each year has looked a bit different, but the main thrust of the mission is to meet people, pray with them, share the Gospel and introduce them to the new church plant. The primary method of meeting people is door to door evangelism and walking along busy streets and starting up conversations.

With that in mind, we are still going to be following the same methodology, while at the same time, wearing masks and following safety guidelines.

Some would say that we are being foolish for going on a mission trip while we are advised to stay in place and not leave our homes. Why don’t we wait until this is all over, and then go out to the mission field?

Let me assure you, this has not been an easy decision, along with just about every decision I have had to make in the past four months as a pastor. There is no seminary course on guiding a church through a pandemic, and if there was, it would probably not be very helpful.

“But God!” I love those two words that we find scattered throughout the Bible. When we don’t know what to do, we turn to the reality and the authority of the Word of God. He has the plan to lead His church, using pastors and leaders who would simply walk in faith and listen to the Holy Spirit.

The Bible has hundreds of promises of God’s protection over His people:

Psalm 91:4-6, “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”

Psalm 121:7, “The Lord will keep you from all harm- he will watch over your life;”

Nahum 1:7, “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him,”

Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

Isaiah 41:10, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

There are many more, and it is so encouraging to meditate on the truths of God’s Word as we pray for wisdom and direction.

One of the key factors in hearing from the Lord and discerning His purposes, is to see where the Holy Spirit is leading. We should always be looking to see what the Spirit is doing and run in that direction.

For example, we have extraordinary things happening at Grace Point over the last few months. We have prayerfully opened the doors as often as we can and faithfully proclaimed the Word and worshipped together. We have seen numbers grow exponentially as more and more people from the community come for the first time to the church in search of a community that believes and acts on the Word of God.

Two weeks ago, we held our first Kids Camp in many years and impacted over 150 people from the community. It was overwhelming to see the joy and sense of relief as families gathered in the parking lot, to share a meal and be challenged by the team of performers from GX International. The fruit of the Kids Camp was immediate, and we celebrated the baptism of 12 people the following Sunday!

Getting back to the mission trip, we have a large group of twenty people all hungry to share the Gospel message on the streets of Cincinnati. I have been reading through the Gospel of Luke in my devotions this week and came to Luke 11:33, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.”

Being the reflection of Jesus in our community is what sharing the Gospel is all about. Sadly, churches and ministries who have decided to close their doors and “hibernate”, until it all goes away (whatever that means), are missing one of the greatest opportunities for us to be the light for our communities.

This is a season of tremendous opportunity for the church to boldly declare our trust and hope in Jesus as the only way of salvation for the world. Are we being reckless? Not if we are following the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Please join me in prayer for our mission team, for our church family and for wisdom for our leadership team. I believe we have an unprecedented opportunity to reach people with the Gospel in this season of unprecedented fear and uncertainty.

In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul exhorts young Timothy to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

This is definitely an “out of season” moment in history, and we need to continue to do what God has called us to do as the Body of Christ.

Thoughts on the Unexpected June 28, 2020

Unexpected things happen all the time and how we respond sometimes has significant implications. This past Thursday, I received a call from Lynn and the first words out of her mouth were not the words a pastor or any leader likes to hear, “Athol, we have a huge problem…”

Usually when I hear those words, I downplay them and try to minimize my stress response. But something about her tone of voice, indicated that this really was a “huge problem”.

I was on my way down the hill from the church, and I rushed back as quickly as my 2008 Kia could get me up the hill. On my arrival I was greeted by many anxious faces and saw water all down the hallway and flooding into the sanctuary. I headed to the back of the church and found that the backflow valve was expelling as much water as a four-inch line would allow.

I was able to shut it off and then the process of cleanup and calling companies to help began. As usual, Nicole was on top of it and had people there to begin the cleanup within the hour.

It is going to take a few days until we can get the water on, and unfortunately as a result we were unable to hold services today. But in spite of all the drama, God is still in control. We see a setback, but God is following His eternal and perfect plan.

We decided not to use Zoom, or stream a service this morning, but rather we encouraged everyone to spend time alone or in your families with the Word of God, allowing God to speak to you.

Last week, as I was preaching through Ephesians 4:13-16, I spoke on the four attributes of spiritual maturity. The second one was, “spiritual maturity involves doctrinal stability”.

That sounds very much like, “seminary speak”, but the bottom line is that we need to feed on God’s word for ourselves in order to mature. And as we mature we will be able to discern between false doctrine and the truth found in God’s word.

So, on this day, you and I have the wonderful opportunity to feed on the glorious riches of the Word. Allowing the author, the Holy Spirit to give us a feast.

This morning I was reading Deuteronomy 30. Moses is giving his final instructions of the Law of God to the children of Israel. Moses was encouraging them to choose life, to choose to worship God alone and not to be distracted by the false gods and idols of the nations around them.

In Deuteronomy 30:11-15 we read, “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”

Notice the emphasis I underlined. If the truth of God’s word was close during the time of Moses, how much more for us under the New Covenant. We have the blessing of the 3rd person of the Trinity, living in us as true followers of Jesus.

Jesus prepared his disciples for the coming of the Holy Spirit and in John 14:26-27 we read, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

In June of 2020, we certainly have a lot going on in the world around us. It would be easy for us to be so consumed by the events of the world that we become fearful and lacking peace.

Whether it be a sudden flood in a building, the Corona virus, political chaos or an earthquake in Mexico, our God is still the one who gives us peace. Our Heavenly Father does not react to the events of the world, rather, He is perfectly orchestrating all of the worlds events in preparation for His son, Jesus, to come again in glory.

In this season, if you are not spending time in God’s word, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring you peace and comfort, you will be easily swayed. Let us be a people who discern the season through the lens of God’s word.

Who are you listening to?

Sermon, Sunday June 21, 2020. Are You Grown Up?

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Ephesians 4:13-16

Maturity is not measured in years, rather maturity is a measure of emotional and spiritual health. Maturity is being self-aware and comfortable with who God has made you to be.

Immature people always try to be something they see in someone else.

Depending on our life experiences and trauma, we all have some aspects of our emotions that are not mature and that have not developed the way God intended them to develop and mature.

For the Christian, maturity is Christ likeness. To grow more like Jesus and to die to our flesh daily. Maturity is finding satisfaction in the approval of our heavenly Father alone.

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul encourages the church to be unified, to use their gifts and to mature as a body. We see in verse 12 that maturity comes from doing the work of the ministry.

We make a mistake when we think that we cannot do the work until we are spiritually mature. The truth is that we grow and mature as we exercise our gifts in the body.

In verses 13-16, we see four traits of a spiritually mature person.

1: Mature people are Christlike.

In verse 13, we read that Jesus is our example of spiritual maturity. The fullness of Christ is the expression of completion of our Christian walk, exhibiting the character traits we find in Ephesians 4:2-3.

Sanctification is the process of becoming more like Jesus, as our old way of thinking and acting is replaced by Christ’s through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will only attain Christlikeness when Jesus comes again, but we need to be moving forward. If you are not more like Jesus today than you were a year ago, something is wrong with your walk with the Lord. We grow more like Jesus as we walk with Jesus.

2: Maturity involves doctrinal stability.

Spiritual maturity involves the intellect. We must not think that Christian growth is purely an emotional and spiritual exercise and that we need to check our reasoning skills at the door. Verse 13 encourages us towards knowledge of the Son of God. And in verse 14 he uses the example of children as the opposite end of the spectrum. Children can be gullible and easily swayed by false teaching.

We all begin our relationship with Jesus as children, with childlike faith. But we must not stay as children, we need to grow and be able to feed ourselves as we read and meditate on the Word of God.

The world is full of false teachers and false doctrines, we need to think, pray, and ask God for discernment. We have a very real enemy who will use every tool available to sidetrack us on our spiritual journey of becoming more like Jesus.

Knowing the Word is the best way to avoid being distracted by false doctrines and unbiblical teaching. We can only know God’s word by spending time reading and meditating on it.

Sadly, the statistics show that most churchgoers do not read their Bibles, and this is why the church is prey for false teachers (see Hebrews 5:11-14).

3: Maturity involves Truth Joined with Love

Verse 15 has the often-misquoted text, “speaking the truth in love…” This verse has often been taken out of context and used as a “baseball bat of brotherly love”. One of those Christianese phrases that we like to use before or after we have said something harsh.

This is more than simply speaking; the Greek word is complex here and John Stott describes it as “truthing”. Speaking the truth in love is truthing in love. This includes maintaining, living, and doing the truth. We live out the truth as an example to those around us. It is the equivalent of the phrase; “actions speak louder than words.”

Mature people do not avoid tough conversations, but they speak from of a firm foundation of love and not for selfish gain.

 “Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love, love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth” John Stott

4: Maturity involves Contribution

In verse 16, Paul goes back to the analogy of the body when speaking about the church.

The church is like a body with many different parts and connections, it is not a social club or a convenience. The church is the body of Christ, where each part has an important part to play.

As the church, we are dependent on Christ as the head of the church and we are dependent on each other as working members of the same body. As we grow in Christ individually, we exercise our gifts and the body becomes healthy.

Sadly, many churches in the world have a static view of the church. The members of the body are satisfied if the congregation stays about the same size, with the same familiar faces. They are happy if the programs can all be maintained, and the budget is enough to keep all the familiar programs running. In these churches there is no vision for growth through evangelism or missional engagement. This church has already died.

This is a tragedy and not God’s design for the church. God’s design for the church is to be the salt and the light in our communities, and to be the cultural influence for the glory of God.

As we focus on being a healthy church, the natural by-product is growth. But what is church growth? Is it numeric growth?

I believe church growth is first and foremost spiritual maturity, sacrificial living, healthy evangelistic relationships, and people feeding on the Word of God for themselves. Thereafter the numeric growth will follow.

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, who are you feeding?

If you have been in the church for five, ten, or fifty years and you are not feeding others the Word of God, something is wrong, you have not matured.

 “Are you growing?”

Sermon, Sunday June 14, 2020. Are You Using Your Gifts?

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Ephesians 4:7-12

In the previous message from Ephesians 4:1-6, we saw that the first aspect of a healthy church is unity. But we must remember that unity is not sameness. Every member of the church has different roles to play and gifts to bless the church.

Ephesians 4:7 says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Every follower of Jesus has received a gift, or grace as Paul refers to it. This is not saving grace, rather it is grace to serve and build up the body of Christ. The apostle Paul was given the grace to preach to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:8).

We know these to be the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the equipping of the church. These gifts are listed in verse 11, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” These are specific spiritual gifts given to people in the church whose primary mission is to minister the word of God.

Each of these have the same value to God, but they share different roles. This is where we run into trouble, we hold on to labels as if they were badges of honor, rather than areas of responsibility.

 Let us look at each of these gifts briefly.

Apostle: The word Apostle comes from the Greek word Apostolos and means “sent one”.  

John Stott writes that there are three different understandings of the term Apostle used in the Bible.

1: There were the original apostles such as John, Peter, Paul, and the other disciples, obviously those apostles were unique and have not been replicated. Jesus had many disciples, but He selected twelve Apostles. A disciple is a “follower” or a “learner,” but an apostle is a “divinely appointed representative.” We do not have these apostles in the church today. Ephesians 2:20 explains that these apostles are the foundation of the church.  

2: Since we have all been sent, because of the Great Commission (Matthew 2:19-20) applies to us all, we are all apostles of Jesus Christ. We have all be sent by Jesus.

3: And then there is the apostle that Paul refers to here. The Apostolic gift that Christ gives to his church, specifically to certain people in order to advance the Kingdom. They are the church planters, the missionaries, and the ministry pioneers.

Prophets: As we saw in Ephesians 2:20, the Biblical prophets, Jeremiah, Elijah, Ezekiel, and others are the foundation of the church. Those God used to forth-tell, to predict future events such as the coming of Jesus and his second coming.

A New Testament prophet is someone who proclaims the Word of God. In a real sense, preaching is prophesying. Taking God’s word and applying it to people’s lives (see 1 Corinthians 14:3).

The gift of prophecy today must always be confirmed and based on the declaration of the Word of God. Don’t base the direction of your life on what someone feels the Lord is saying to you, be careful to test a prophetic word through the filter of the Bible and then also allow God to bring it to pass.

Evangelists: These are the bearers of Good News, people going from place to place to proclaim the Gospel and win the lost. Everyone who is saved is called to be a witness, to share the message of the gospel, but some people are gifted as evangelists. The fact that a believer may not possess this gift does not excuse him from being burdened for lost souls or witnessing to them.

Shepherd: The titles of Shepherd, Pastor, Elder or Overseer are found in the New Testament and are often misunderstood. Jesus is the head of the church and the pastor serves under his leadership (Hebrews 13:20).

The pastor is not the church CEO, rather he is a gift God has given to the church to equip the church for the work of the ministry. The role of the pastor is to nurture, defend, protect, and sacrifice for the flock.

Teacher: In verse 11, the titles of shepherd and teacher are separated by a definite article in the Greek, and it is likely that this indicates an overlapping in function.

All Pastors teach, by nature of the function of the role, but not all teachers are pastors.

These are the 5 gifts that the Lord has given to the church, and as long as the body of Christ needs to be equipped for works of service, the gifts are still given by Christ to the church (Ephesians 4:12).

This is probably the biggest problem with the modern-day church. Our western church is primarily a consumer driven church and not a mission driven church.

Ephesians 4:12 makes it clear that the work of the ministry of the church is the responsibility of the members of the church.

A church will never mature if we look at the gifts that God has given us as the head, rather than Christ as the head of the church. The gift giver is the head of the church and not the gifts.

As Paul states, disciple making is not the exclusive domain of pastors, rather discipleship is everyone’s job. The members of the early church took their responsibility to make disciples very seriously. The pastor is the equipper, and every member of the church is a minister.

Jesus commands you to look at the people around you and start making disciples. Obviously only God can change a person’s heart, but our responsibility is to be Christ’s ambassadors, his message bearers, in our communities.


God’s plan to reach people with the gospel is not primarily evangelists or apologists. God’s plan to reach people with the gospel is the church. 

Tony Merida writes, “Every member should grow up and use a towel, not wear a bib. They should not be immature consumers but eager servants.”

You have been given a gift by God, what are you doing with that gift?

Sermon, Sunday May 31, 2020 Are You Healthy?

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Ephesians 4:1-6

Is your church healthy?

The first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians address our position as followers of Jesus. The next three chapters speak about the very practical aspects of our Christian walk. We need to know our position before we can look at our walk.

Paul urges the church in verse one to walk worthy of their calling. Being a follower of Jesus is not a religion or becoming a nice person who follows a set of rules, becoming a Christian is about becoming a new person. Walking a different walk.

The term Christian literally means, “little Christs”. The more we walk with him, the more we look like him, daily being changed into his image.

Paul knew who he was. In verse 1 of chapter 4 he begins, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord…”

Paul didn’t say, “I therefore a prisoner of Rome”. He didn’t let his temporary situation define his position. Paul was a prisoner for Jesus and he surrendered his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. His position with Christ had led him to be temporarily imprisoned in Rome.

Paul was not defined by His temporary situation. Are you defined by your current work situation, relationships, or financial status?

If you are defined by your temporary situation, you will never know what it means to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

As followers of Jesus we have a common call, we are all saved by grace alone in Christ alone. We share a common experience of grace. And this is what unites us.

A healthy church is marked by unity.

When a church struggles with a lack of unity, it is often because they have taken their eyes off their common call and identity.

In verses 2 and 3, Paul explains how to practically walk worthy of the calling by listing five characteristics of the follower of Jesus: humility, gentleness, patience, love, and unity.

Jesus exemplified these 5 characteristics in his life on the earth:

Humility (Philippians 2:5-8); Gentleness (Matthew 11:28-29); Patience (1 Timothy 1:16); Love (Romans 5:8); and Unity (Ephesians 2:14).

Jesus is our example of how to walk as Christians. The more we look like Jesus individually, the more we live like Jesus relationally, and the more united the church will be.

Looking at each of these individually:

Humility

Paul constantly refers to humility as an essential characteristic of being a Christian in his letters. Humility was not common in the first century, Greek literature shows us that pride was highly valued and admired. We live in such a similar time. If people a thousand years from now look at our culture, they would see a culture obsessed with our own self-image.  

Our culture screams, “exalt yourself, pamper yourself, think about yourself first”. But being a follower of Jesus calls us to walk in the opposite spirit (Philippians 2:3).

Tim Keller wrote, “the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less”.

Gentleness:

This does not mean weakness or timidity, rather it is self-control.

Moses, arguably the greatest leader in the whole Bible, was the role model of meekness and gentleness (Numbers 12:3).

Moses had a special relationship with the Lord. He knew that God would defend him, and God was the source of his strength.

Galatians 5 tells us that gentleness is a fruit of the spirit and it is the way we are to live as believers.

Patience:

For some of us, no matter how fast the microwave heats up the milk, it will never be fast enough. A lack of patience is a display of a lack of humility and a lack of love. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible says that love is patient.

So how do we cultivate patience? By relying on the Holy Spirit and meditating on the patience that Christ has shown us (2 Peter 3:9).

Accepting one another in love:

Out of relationship comes grace. Unity in the church is impossible without loving acceptance of our differences. The Bible says in 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins”

Diligently keeping unity.

Verse 3 says, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Notice Paul doesn’t write, “work towards unity”. This is an active maintaining, not a passive resting in unity.

We don’t create unity. We have unity because of the Holy Spirit. God unites us as the body of Christ, our role is to keep the unity.

How do we keep unity?

  • By walking in humility and preferring others.
  • By renouncing harshness and walking in gentleness towards others
  • By setting aside our own agenda and walking in patience.
  • By setting aside our own expectations and walking in love.

Anytime the church lacks unity, it is because we have stopped living in Christlike humility, patience, gentleness, and love.

Then in verses 4 to 6, we have what was possibly an early church creed, which includes seven “one” statements.

One body: the church is the body of Christ.

One Spirit: The Holy Spirit is the one who creates unity and then empowers us to maintain it.

One hope: We share a common hope in Jesus Christ. This hope is not wishful thinking, and the Greek word used here is one of trusting in a certain outcome. Jesus is coming again and those who put their trust in him will be saved.

One Lord: The early believers, by stating that Jesus is Lord, they were proclaiming that Caesar is not Lord. This could mean the death penalty. By declaring Jesus is Lord, we are giving him authority and lordship over every decision of our lives.

One faith: These are the essential truths of our faith.

One baptism: This may refer to the act of being baptized in water, but it probably means what John the Baptist was referring to in Luke 3:16.

One God and Father: We have been adopted into the family of God. Regardless of our ethnicity, we are all part of one body.

This creed includes the doctrine of the trinity. The three in one, Father son and Holy Spirit are in perfect unity. The trinity not only creates unity but serves as the ultimate picture of unity.

A healthy church maintains unity.

Once Dead Now Alive Sunday April 19, 2020

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Ephesians 2:1-7

Are you alive?

The first seven verses of Ephesians 2 are made up of two sentences. The first sentence is a morbid description of being spiritually dead, and the second sentence proclaims the hope that we have in the power of God to raise us up with Christ to new life.

Paul begins by very direct statement in verse 1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins”

We are all sinners and have a desperate heart condition as we see in Romans 5:12.

But we often hear the statement, “aren’t we all basically good?”

The Bible makes it clear that fallen human beings are not morally good. Some are able to make good moral choices and actions, but all too often these choices are motivated by our selfish condition and pride. Apart from Christ, we are spiritually dead.

In Luke 15 we read of the parable of the prodigal son. Remember what the father said when his son came back home, “this son of mine was dead, and is alive again”. That is the normal human condition.

As people, we are all followers; as Christians, we are followers of Jesus.

If we are not following Jesus, we are following the influences of the sinful world or we are following Satan himself.

Satan has been displaced from heaven, and he works his evil schemes on the earth influencing people to do horrific things. This does not mean people are necessarily demon possessed; but living in sin is the mark of following Satan’s evil schemes. Paul calls these “passions of the flesh” in verse 3. These sins are not only sins of action, they are also sins of thought.  Sin is conceived in the mind and the heart of man (see Jeremiah 17:9).

The problem with the sickness of sin is that we are so accustomed to sinful thoughts that we don’t even know we are sick. Our culture encourages selfish pride and we have no idea how desperately sinful we are in our human nature. Humanism in our culture tells us that people are basically good, but the Bible makes it clear that every inclination of the human heart is to rebel against God.

Even the good things that we do, our attempts at righteousness are utterly hopeless before the all-holy God.

God is holy, and pure, He must be true to His character and cannot overlook any sin.

What Paul is describing here is what is called the doctrine of total depravity. We are desperately ill and are unable to even reach out to God apart from His grace. The truth is that in our human nature, we do not want to reach out to God, He reaches out to us.

The good news is that God poured out His wrath on Jesus as we remembered last weekend. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath and we get to drink from the fountain of the grace of God.

Paul uses the first sentence of chapter 2 to paint an awful picture. It is horrifying to dwell on the depravity of mankind. But the reason he does this is because it makes the good news so amazingly beautiful.

If we stopped today at verse 3, we would be all despairing. Thankfully Paul begins verse 4 with two incredible words of hope; “But God…”.

We were hopeless, lifeless and under condemnation, but God came to our rescue. We cannot fully understand the grace of God if we don’t understand His justice.

Romans 5:8 states this so clearly. “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is the ultimate display of God’s mercy, love and grace.  

Verse 5 is the key to the passage; we were dead before becoming followers of Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit in our lives. We were dead, but now we are alive “with Christ

Becoming a Christian is not about becoming a nicer person, or a better-behaved person, you don’t become a Christian by adopting a set of religious activities or rituals. Becoming a Christian, means becoming alive in Christ; moving from death to life.

In John 3 we meet Nicodemus, he knew a lot of theology and did a lot of good things in the eyes of the establishment. But Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Ephesians 1:6 continues the good news, “and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” The Greek verb used for “seated us with him” is the word that we get the word synchronize from. Paul uses this word to show that “in Christ” we are synchronized with him. When we pray, Jesus advocating for us, Jesus is our Great High Priest.

Being seated with Christ, does not mean that we are divine, but we have access to power in order to resist the devil and his schemes. Seated with Christ is our positional salvation, we are in Christ.

The struggle with many Christians is that we don’t know our identity, so we continue to wallow in sin, fighting against Satan in our own strength.

The reason for all this grace and mercy is found in verse 7, it is for His glory.

God is showing off His grace and kindness to us for all the universe to see. The purpose of our salvation is the eternal purpose of God, that He is to be glorified and worshipped for eternity.

God pours out His immeasurable riches of grace and kindness on us. There is no quantifying the power of God, and there is no quantifying the kindness of God. Because we are in Christ, God the Father lavishes his love on us. We come as children to a loving Father with an open hand, because we are alive in Christ.

Are you experiencing life, being alive in Christ?

God’s grace and kindness is available to you today to become fully alive.