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.

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.

Sermon, Sunday May 24, 2020 Do You Know How Much God Loves You?

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Ephesians 3:14-21
Do you know how much you are loved?

Truthfully, we simply have no ability to grasp the love of God for us.

The Apostle Paul prays two prayers in the first three chapters of the letter to the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays for the church to live out the knowledge of their position in Christ.

The church has incredible amounts of knowledge and teaching available to us, yet we don’t live from the position of that knowledge, and our position as followers of Jesus and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

There are three key things we can learn from this prayer by the apostle for the early church.

1: Paul Prays with Humility.
He begins with, “for this reason”. Paul is referring to chapters 1 and 2, and the facts that we are chosen by God, saved by grace, and all called as the body of Christ, being built up as members of the church.

It is crucial that prayer is always from a posture of worship and humility. Prayer begins and ends in worship (See Psalm 95:6-7).
Prayer must begin with worship. If you launch into prayer requests, you are treating God like a vending machine, while He wants a relationship.

But more than humility, Paul approached God with desperation, because he recognized that only God could act on his behalf. Paul knew that believers needed something that only God could give, His power. I don’t think we are aware of how helpless and powerless we are without God. Jesus himself said this in John 15:5.
This should make us humble and desperate, but not only that, it should encourage us, because we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors, to be used by him for his glory by His power.

We can pray with confidence in our position before the throne of God as beloved children (Ephesians 2:18).
In Christ, we have unlimited access to the Father. We can call Him Father and He is unimaginably rich and powerful.

2: Praying for the Fullness of God’s Power and Love.
Paul presents his requests to God in these verses. They seem to flow together and we lose some of the impact of them, but they are like a staircase that climbs to a crescendo, each one separated by the conjunction, “that” (See Ephesians 3:16-19)
Paul begins by praying for strength in the inner man. Strength to stand firm against temptation, strength to courageously proclaim the Gospel, strength to love our neighbor the way Jesus loves them, and strength for many more areas of our life.

Our culture places so much emphasis on the outer man, whether it is Instagram filters, or a supplement to develop ripped muscles overnight. In our culture, image is such an idol.
But the inner person, the soul, is the only eternal part of our being. Everything else is fading away (Proverbs 31:30).

Paul prays in verse 17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…”
When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, he is transforming us to reflect the character of Jesus Christ. This is the process of sanctification that we are all living out.

In the next verses, Paul moves from praying for power, to praying for them to know how much they are loved by God. How much we need this revelation of God’s love today.

When we understand the love of God for us, we easily submit to his perfect will and our lives will become lives of radical obedience, because we know that whatever He asks us to do, He is asking out of love (Galatians 2:20).

There is a huge difference between knowledge of love and experience of love.
I can tell Debbie and my children that I love them all day long, but if I never show affection or care, it will be knowledge that remains intellectual.
This is more than simply reading about the love of Jesus, but experiencing it because of the Gospel and the power of God living in us and through us as we submit to his perfect plan for our lives.

Have you moved from intellectual knowledge of the love of God to the experiential knowledge of God’s love? (See Romans 8:31-39).
Paul knew his readers wouldn’t get it. He knew this understanding of God’s love only comes by a supernatural revelation of God.

Try as we might to comprehend the love of God, we need God to show us how much He loves us and I contend that even then, we still only have scratched the surface of understanding how much we are loved by the creator of the universe.
We are never meant to experience and grow in this knowledge on our own. We need to share stories of His love. We need to encourage one another with miracles and experiences that we share together. God intends us to live in community with other believers as we reflect on the love of Christ in and through the Gospel message.

Paul ends this long sentence in verse 19, with the why of God’s love, “…that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Simply stated, being filed with the fullness of God is to be all that God has called us to be to be spiritually mature. We become spiritually mature, as we know and experience the love of God for us.

Do you know how much you are loved? (see Romans 5:8).

3: Praying with Expectation.
Finally, we come to the doxology in the middle of the letter. But it is a dividing section in the letter and it is an overflow of praise and worship.

This revelation of God’s love is the most important bedrock and foundation for all our Christian life. It begins with God’s love, and if God doesn’t reveal His love to us, everything else is striving to please God.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Mother’s Day May 10, 2020

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THE UNCONDITIONAL LOVE OF GOD

By: Debbie Barnes

Motherhood looks different for everyone. Different seasons, different roles, difficult seasons, difficult roles, less challenging seasons, less challenging roles…

Let me start at the beginning of motherhood for me.  Athol and I had tried to fall pregnant for many years, and this was a difficult and painful season for both of us.  Then the Lord blessed us with 2 children through adoption, and with Christie, we were literally thrust into parenthood overnight!

In the business of trying to be the perfect wife and mother, of trying to prove that I had this motherhood thing under control, I began to neglect my personal walk with the Lord.  I was so consumed with the gift of the child, that I neglected the giver of the child, the giver of that life itself.  I was looking for something, yearning for something in my relationship with my children.  And no matter how hard I tried, that sense of complete and utter fulfillment was always just beyond my reach.  I didn’t understand it.  And then one morning it dawned on me.  Motherhood is completely selfless.  My children were not there to meet my needs, I was there to meet theirs.    

This brings me to my first point: 

  1. God is enough, He is sufficient to meet all my needs. (Philippians 4:19)

God was there to meet my needs, and I had walked away from Him.  It was only after I rekindled my relationship with the Lord that I found that true fulfillment. 

And only once I found all I needed in my relationship with God did I stop looking for God in my relationship with my children! How liberating! 

Only then did I find my joy in motherhood and could enjoy my children for who they were.  This not only applies to motherhood, but to all relationships, whether it be between a husband and wife, siblings, other family members and friends.  It is only once you find everything you need in your relationship with God that will you stop looking for God in all your relationships with others.

2)    God’s love is unconditional. (1 John 4: 19 and Ephesians 3: 17-19).

As most of you know, Athol and I became licensed foster parents in 2016, and this opened our eyes to a whole new world.  With Joshie’s autism and other special needs, we feel that the Lord has equipped us and called us to fostering children with autism and other special needs. 

Now it’s easy to love your own children but not so easy to love someone else’s, especially when they come from a background of trauma, abuse, and neglect.   BUT GOD!  He gives us a supernatural love for every child that comes into our home.  He gives us the ability to put aside the bruises from kicking, biting, scratching, screaming etc.,  and the ability to tuck this child into bed, kiss him or her on the cheek, and say “I love you.”  To see each child through His lens, as His beautiful creation.

I get really frustrated when I share that I am a foster mom, and people respond with “Oh, I could never do that, I would become too attached.”  Does that mean they assume that I don’t get attached?  If, as a foster parent, you don’t get attached, then there is something seriously wrong. When we have a foster child in our home, we love them as deeply as our own children, with the supernatural love that comes from the Father Himself. 

How much does God love us?  So much so that he gave us His only begotten Son so that we may enjoy an eternity with Him if we believe in Him as our Lord and Savior.

3)    God equips us when He calls us.

When God calls you, He will equip and prepare you to effectively complete that which He is calling you to do. He knows us and will use everything about us to bring Glory to his name. ( see Hebrews 13: 21  and 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

The first day of our first foster placement did not go well.  We were this child’s 4th foster home in 6 weeks, and he was severely autistic, non-verbal, and aggressive. By that evening, I was full of bruises and bite marks.  I remember crying after getting everyone in bed that night, and Athol put his arms around me and kept saying that things would get better.  I turned to Athol and remember saying, ” I’m not crying for me, I’m crying for him. How can we expect him to change when no-one is prepared to invest in his life or give him the tools to change?”

 We decided that night to stand in the gap for this child, to fight for him and his needs, just as Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us.  Athol and I went to weekly therapy with him, and reinforced positive behavior daily.  Slowly but surely, we started to notice change.  He didn’t like being touched, but by the end of his time with us before he was reunified with his biological mom, he was crawling onto my lap, putting my hand on top of his head to ruffle his hair, and putting my hand on his back for me to tickle his back whenever he could.  Christie was even able to teach him to say, “I love you”. His aggressive behavior decreased the more he saw us as a family model loving behavior toward one another and underwent a total transformation as he started to mimic the same loving behavior at home and at school.

4)  It’s not about us. 

Everything we do should point right back to Jesus and glorify the Father. I have not shared these stories with you to get a pat on the back.  I share them because I am nothing without God.  He doesn’t need me, yet I get to walk with Him and follow His leading every day.  And every time I am with Him, He fills me and equips me for the day ahead.  He is the source of the unconditional love I can pour out daily, and He can do the same for you.

Just as being a mother and foster mom is not about me, it’s about my children, and it’s my relationship with the Lord that enables me to pour into my children out of the abundance of love and joy that the Father pours into me through my relationship with Him.  So too, Christianity is not about us either.  It is about bringing glory to the Father through everything we say and do.

Sermon, Sunday October 6, 2016 – God Loves You

Malachi 1:1-5

If you are a parent, you know that you don’t simply want a child to follow the rules in order to get what they want. You want a close, loving relationship with your child, a relationship where love is the motivation for obedience.

We know this to be true in our relationships with each other, but we miss this in our relationship with God our Father. If we are honest, many of us obey God out of fear or tradition. God loves us more than we could ever understand, and He wants us to respond out of a relationship with Him rather than duty.

The Hebrew name for Malachi means “My Messenger”. This book may be short, but it carries some powerful truths. Even though this prophetic book was written more than four hundred years before Christ, we will find that it is extremely relevant to our culture and in particular, to the Western church.

During the time of Malachi, the people of Israel had returned from exile and had rebuilt the city and the temple as we read in Ezra and Nehemiah. It was a season of blessing and peace for Israel, but not all was going well. The people were being led by corrupt priests, and the people had turned away from the law of Moses. They had lost sight of the destiny that God had for them and they abandoned hope for personal growth and change.

The book is a call by God for the people to set aside traditionalism and return to relationship. Isn’t that the call of God on the church today? Traditions and religious activity will never be able to replace a personal relationship in Jesus Christ.

Malachi speaks of the coming Messiah as this is the last time God speaks through His Prophets before a period of 400 years where God is silent until John the Baptist arrives.  

The book begins with Malachi stating that this is an oracle of the word of the Lord. Malachi was stating he was carrying a heavy burden that the Lord had called him to deliver. It was not an easy message, it was a message of judgment against the people of Israel (see Hebrews 12:5-6 & 11).

Verse 2 begins with, ““I have loved you,” says the Lord”. The Hebrew word for love is in the perfect continuous tense, it shows a completed action, but with ongoing ramifications. God is referring to His covenant love for the people of Israel. Before the prophecy begins, God is reminding them of His commitment and relationship.

They never earned God’s love, they never deserved God’s love, God loved them because of His covenant with Abraham. Throughout history, there were many times when God saved His people even when they didn’t want saving. The classic example is when God called Moses to lead them out of slavery, but when times got hard, the children of Israel wanted to go back to Egypt. God loved His people even before they knew Him, even when they rejected Him.

We are no different than the children of Israel (see Romans 5:8). When Jesus went to the cross, he knew your name and it was because of his love for you that he suffered and died.

Yet the people of Malachi’s day replied with a childlike whine: “How have You loved us?” They behaved like spoilt children who complain when they are denied some new toy. With all the evidence of history and with all their present prosperity, Judah could still claim to be uncertain of God’s love!

God could have taken them on a history tour of 2000 years of His faithfulness to them, but God’s answer is to point to the fact that He chose their ancestor Jacob over his twin Esau (who was the ancestor of the people who even then surrounded Judah).

The phrase, “Esau I have hated” (v. 3), bothers us. It seems best to understand this expression not as a statement of feeling or attitude, but as a legal term based on the covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A better way to understand the terms love and hate would be “chosen” or not chosen” (See Romans 8:10-13).

God never seems to give grace based on merit, although obedience is crucial. If our own righteousness was a condition for God’s grace, no one would ever be saved. God chose the nation of Israel to display His glory and to bless all the nations of the world through the Messiah, the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

God’s rejection of Edom, the descendants of Esau, was in response to their wickedness, pride and arrogance. God chooses Jacob and rejects Esau.

So, we have two opposing peoples, God chooses one and rejects the other. The Bible is full of texts that indicate God chooses us without our knowledge or even input (see Ephesians 1:4-5).

I wrestle with this in my mind but what we often lose in the wrestling over doctrine is that God chooses because of love. And the greatest declaration of God’s love for us is the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the pinnacle of history and the pinnacle of God’s display of His love for us.

If we were to really think about it, is it not better to be called chosen by a personal God than for us to choose a distant God.

The doctrine of election is a mystery, God does choose His children, but it seems to me from personal experience that the more we share the Good news of Jesus Christ, the more people are chosen! This is the mystery (see 1 John 4:9)

Do you know God’s love for you? Are you living out your Christian walk based on a love relationship with the Creator?

Or, are you like the children of Israel, living a life of routine and tradition, but you don’t really know how much God loves you? Following a set of rules does not produce a life transforming relationship with God. He desires a relationship with you.

Philippians – Paul’s letter of Joy – Philippians 2:1-4 – Sermon December 2, 2018

Philippians 2:1-4

Whenever there is disunity in the church, danger is on the horizon. Disunity is very seldom because of external forces or persecution, rather disunity comes because of a personal agenda by one or more persons in the body of the Christ. Disunity happens because we take our eyes off the primary mission of the church.

Paul was concerned about a lack of unity creeping into the Philippian church and he starts by writing, “if there is any encouragement – In Christ…” remember being in Christ is our position as Christians, this is our standing before God and being In Christ is one of the primary ways Paul describes what it means to be a Christian. This is our vertical resource, we experience encouragement because of communion with God through the Holy Spirit. This is the first and primary position for unity – are you In Christ?

Paul continues and says, “if there is any comfort from love…” When you come to know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, your attitude changes towards other people. The fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, the first one mentioned is Love, which is a natural outflow of a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for love used here is a love that is governed by a willful decision to seek the highest good of the other individual.

Verse 1 continues, “any participation in the Spirit…” This is true fellowship that is more than simply sharing a meal together, this is unity because we are united by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we become followers of Jesus we are baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, as we read in 1 Corinthians 12:13,

Verse 1 ends with, “any affection and sympathy”. The bottom line is that because of the tenderness, mercy and compassion that we have received from Christ, we should be displaying this to one another. To not have concern for others, is a very clear indication that a person is not in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.

So, what is the result of unity? In verse 2 we read that the first result of unity is joy. Paul was overjoyed by their response because he knew that as the Philippian church grew in unity, they would become more effective as a church, being used by God to proclaim the good news of Jesus.

Paul was joyful because he knew that they would be like-minded. Unity is not a temporal goal, where we have a great meeting and then we experience some warm and fuzzies and then we hope to remain in unity. Not at all, we remain in unity, because the message of the Gospel is what binds us. We have a common message, we have the same Holy Spirit, thus we have unity.

This does not mean that we will never have disagreements. It is quite normal to expect differences of opinion on certain methods of church activity, but we never compromise on the essentials of our faith and the truth of the Word of God. And when we do have differences of opinion, the governing rule must be love, the preferential love that always seeks the highest good of others.

Verse 2 ends with two more descriptions of unity, “being in full accord and of one mind”.

These two descriptions are not simply tagged on by Paul, to be in full accord and of one mind means that the church knows their purpose and mission. At Grace Point we have the 4 pillars that we talk about; Worship, Word, Evangelism and Compassion, this is what we exist to do. The mission of the church always superseded our personal preferences, that is Holy Spirit unity.

As we come to verse 3, it seems that Paul really gets down to the heart of the matter, and he begins by launching into a list of things that they cannot do if they are to experience unity.

The first sin he attacks is selfish ambition, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit”, conceit is vain glory, this is the person who makes amazing claims about themselves and their ability, while at the same time putting others down (see Proverbs 27:2). Our culture teaches people to promote themselves, but this does little to create a platform for unity.

The verse continues, “but in Humility count others more significant than yourselves.” This is the culture of the Kingdom, Jesus put others first when he died on the cross for our sins. If we would display humility, we would see unity and love flourish in every relationship in our lives. Johnny Hunt said, “the Christian in right relationship with the Lord treats others as if they were his superiors” that is the key to this verse and the key to living as a part of the body of Christ (see Matthew 20:26-28).

In the final verse Paul explains humility, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” A follower of Jesus must be counter culture, they should stop looking at themselves, their comforts and their own self-interest and look out for the interest of others. This is the normal Christian life. Our social media culture has created a generation of people who only look at themselves. But the Kingdom of God tells us to look out for the interests of others, to have genuine concern for others, even promoting the interests of others (see John 13:35).

This is so much bigger than simply getting along in the church. This is spiritual warfare, we need to fight to prefer others, we need to wrestle with our flesh to look out for the interests of others.

Why is this spiritual warfare? Looking back to the original fall of Satan, his primary sin was pride. The sin of pride and self-seeking is the root of all sins. So, to walk in the opposite spirit of humility goes against the spirit of this world. But it is worth it, for the unity of the church and for the glory of God.

Sermon November 18, 2018 The Gift of Reconciliation

Text: Acts 17:22-31

In Acts 17 we read about Paul speaking to the people of Athens in the Areopagus, while he was on his second missionary journey. Seeing their many idols, Paul addresses them regarding their idol named for the “Unknown God”, and he proceeds to tell them about the God who created all things and sustains all things, the one true God.

In verse 26 he says, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place”.

Paul made it clear to the Greeks that we are all descendants of one man. It is the lack of understanding of this fact that still creates untold pain and suffering in the world. God is the God of all people groups. The Greek word for nation that Paul uses is ethnos, that is people group and not national boundaries. In Genesis 1:27 we read that God created man and woman in His own image. That means that every human being is eternal and valuable because we are all created in the image of God. Every human being has an immortal soul in the image of God, everyone has a mind with unique reasoning abilities and everyone has the potential for a relationship with their creator God.

With that in mind, we must be so careful to avoid the sin of prejudice, we have no right to hate someone that Jesus died for, who was created uniquely in the image of God. Jesus came to the earth, he suffered and died to redeem people from every people group, and one day we will all sing together in his presence (see Revelation 5:9).

Then why is there so much hatred and strife in the world? The FBI recently announced that reported hate crimes in the United States increased by 17 percent in 2017. That marks the third consecutive year the number has gone up, and as you are well aware, it seems that our nation is becoming angrier and more divided every year. Hatred and racism is nothing new in the world, it has been around since the beginning of time. In 1 John 3:15 we read, Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” Which begs the question, who is my brother? In Luke 10, the expert of the law asked Jesus this question, and Jesus tells a parable about a good Samaritan, that was so provocative at the time it must have made the Jews cringe. We are supposed to love all people groups, even those who despise and hate us. Because of what Jesus has done on the cross for us, we have no right to hate anyone else.

In this regard, sadly we know all too well that the church has been guilty of some of the worst racism. Christians today should be more aware than ever before that if we allow hate to remain in our hearts, it will eventually find its way out. Where all of this becomes most critical for Christians today is when we come to hate a culture that increasingly appears to hate us. We are told daily in our news media and culture, exactly who we are supposed to hate, but this is not a Biblical worldview.

As our culture turns further and further away from a Biblical worldview, we will find it harder and harder to love the lost the way Our Heavenly Father does. Do you have a love for the lost? Do you love those who hate you? That is tough. In a recent article, Anne Lamott wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Hate is a real part of being human beings, but that does not make it less sinful, we hate because of sin in the world and because Satan has devised a way to divide humanity.

Here is a simple question to ask ourselves, “Does God hate the people you hate–or will you love the people he loves?” How you answer that question will go a long way toward determining your impact for the Kingdom of God and the culture today.

How do we see reconciliation in the nations? How is it possible for hatred to be overcome? It starts by realizing that as a human race, God has put a piece of His nature into all the various people groups, as we come together we see and experience more of the character of God.

At a recent conference I attended in Kosovo, Pastor Venco Nakov from Macedonia encouraged the attendees to pray for the nations on their borders. I was struck by this and wondered how often we as the American church pray for God to bless our neighbors? Pastor Venco said, “Blessing your neighbors doesn’t mean you don’t love your country, it means that you are more of a patriot than anyone else.” He went on to say that no one asks you where you would like to be born, rather God has chosen you and I to be born when and where He divinely appoints.

As Americans, God has chosen you and I to live in this land at this time, to be His representatives, to pray for peace, to bring reconciliation to point the way to Jesus by proclaiming the Gospel. May we be a people who are known for loving our neighbors irrespective of their race and national identity to the glory of God.

June 17, 2018 – Fathers Day

 Father’s Day – Genesis 18:1-19

Fathers-day is a day of mixed emotions and quite often it is a day of pain for those who have lost fathers or who had abusive fathers. I was blessed to have a father who loved his family and who set an example for his family. My father was not perfect, but he was steadfast in his, love for God, and his love for his family.

The Bible has so many examples of good fathers and poor fathers, but one of the best examples we have of a father in the Bible is Abraham. God called this mighty man of faith to be the father of a great nation. Abraham was a man of exceptional faith who had a unique relationship with God. In Genesis 18 we have the account of God speaking to Abraham about the birth of Isaac, and the reaction of Sarah to the good news.

After the declaration of Isaac, the two angels prepare to leave and go to Sodom where they will rescue Lot and his family, but the Lord stays with Abraham. The Lord stays behind and discloses to Abraham what he is about to do in punishing Sodom and Gomorrah. God has a special role for Abraham, to raise up God’s chosen people and to be the father of the nation of Israel which will bless all the nations of the earth.

In verse 19 we read,For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

In this verse we see four characteristics of a good father that we need to develop in our own lives.

1: A godly father teaches…”that he may command his children…” Genesis 18:19a

The Greatest Command in the Bible is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the Shema is the very first scripture a Hebrew boy would learn, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

But the Scripture doesn’t stop there, verses 6 and 7 continue, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

God tells the Hebrew fathers that they have a responsibility to teach their children to love Him with all their hearts. He tells them how to impress this command on the children by talking about it when you sit down or walk along the road, when you lie down to sleep and when you get up first thing in the morning. The teaching continues all day and every day. Teaching happens all the time, even when we aren’t intending to teach, but right teaching does not happen by accident. You have to teach on purpose the things of the Lord.

Fathers teach your children to love God. This is your first and primary discipleship role as a Christian parent. Our children have a much better chance to grow up to love God, if they see the love for God in our lives (see Proverbs 22:6 and Ephesians 6:4).

2: A Father is to lead his children,For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord…” Genesis 18:19a.

God told Abraham to command his children and his household, the people who were under his sphere of influence. Abraham was to lead his family.

You can lead by rule, or force, but a good father leads primarily by example (Joshua 24:15).

Fathers are you leading your families well? Are we leading those in our sphere of influence to know and love the Lord?

3: A father disciplines his children, “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord… Genesis 18:19a

 Keeping the way requires discipline, it requires intentional correction in order to maintain a life that walks along the pathway that God has for us.

Discipline is not beating a child into submission, it can be affected without the rod, although sometimes a child may need to feel correction.

But discipline is correction, guidance, keeping the child in the pathway that is right. A fathers’ discipline is always done in love (Hebrews 12:6-11, Proverbs 3:11-12).

True discipline is an act of love. We need to know the difference between discipline and punishment.

Punishment causes rebellion, but Discipline builds relationships.

Punishment is spoken harshly in anger, but Discipline is usually spoken kindly and lovingly.

Punishment produces a bitter, poisonous fruit, but Discipline produces the fruit of acting in the right way, which is righteousness.

4: A father loves his children.

In Matthew 22, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6, when he was asked about the greatest commandment, and he responds by saying what we read in verse 37, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…” and the second, Jesus said is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Fathers, your children need to know that you love them (see 1 Corinthians 13:1). Parents tell your children they are loved and show them that they are loved. Bringing a paycheck home is not loving your children.

God blesses good fathers.

The last part of verse 19 contains a promise, “so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”

Those two little words, “so that”, introduce the promise.

If you want to see all that God has in store for you, follow these four principles in your homes. You will be overwhelmed by the goodness of God and his blessings to you and your family.

It all stems from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Jesus, that is the place to start. Only then can you teach your children by example to love God and you can introduce them to Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life.

May 13, 2018 Mothers Day

Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to celebrate mothers. But what about spiritual mothers?

In the world today, there is a huge need for spiritual mothers. Some people have the tendency to think that after their own children are out of the home, their role as a mother is minimized. But the church needs spiritual mothers.

The Apostle Paul had spiritual mothers, in Romans 16, he sends greetings to a list of people, and in verse 13 he says, “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.”

Most mother’s days, the pastor tends to focus a message towards mothers in the church. But Mother’s Day is not a pleasant day for everyone. For those who long to be mothers and are not able to have children, Mother’s Day is extremely painful. For young women who want to be married and have children, it can also be painful and disconnected from where they are in life.

But today I want to change our focus. While not everyone is a mother – we all have mothers. We all are here today because someone carried us for nine months and gave birth to us. The Bible says that we are to honor our mothers (See Ephesians 6:1-3).  Here Paul quotes the ten commandments, and he adds a little commentary by saying, this is the first commandment with a promise.

This passage from Ephesians 6, is in the middle of an extended portion where Paul is addressing all our human relationships. Wives and husbands, children and parents, slaves and masters, or our modern work relationships, and then he ends with section with an exhortation to put on the full armor of God, because our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but rather against all the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6v12).

Why does he end this whole section with this seemingly disconnected challenge to spiritual warfare?

Because, Satan is constantly out to destroy relationships, to tear down the bond of families, to destroy our love and respect for each other. God ordained families to be the place where children are raised up to know and love Him, to learn the truth about love, respect, and the Gospel. Our families are under attack daily and we need to be aware of this. The best way for families to be strong, is to pray together, it is no small thing for families to pray together, and often it is the mother who must take the initiative and lead this.

What does it mean to “honor” your mother? If you’re a child, then it means to obey, to submit to her authority. And not just to do what she says, but to yield graciously, willingly and cheerfully. Simply doing what you are told, with a bad attitude it not honoring. True obedience flows from a heart attitude that freely accepts the mother’s rightful authority.

Parental authority is given by God, and so the attitude the child develops toward the parent’s authority will be the attitude they develop towards God’s authority. Parents, if you allow your children to ignore and despise your authority over them, then they will learn to ignore and despise God’s authority over them as well.

What about children who are out of the home? An adult child is no longer obligated to comply with the desires and wishes of their parent, you and I have a choice to listen, evaluate the request and to choose whether or not to comply with the request of our parent. Sometimes, parents can be quite overbearing and use this scripture verse to manipulate and control their adult child. but this is not what God intended with this commandment.

Honoring is not blind obedience, it is respect and courtesy, taking time to hear their opinion, treating our mothers with honor is as simple as giving them time.

Honoring your mother also includes how you speak to her, and about her. This applies both to young people and to adults. Pay attention to your tone of voice when you’re talking with your mother, is it kind, gentle, gracious? Or is it impatient, angry or bitter?  Your tone of voice reflects your heart attitude.

Another thing we can do to honor our mothers is to praise them, to verbally acknowledge their virtues and accomplishments, to give thanks for all the things they do for us.

Husbands, acknowledge and praise your wives, this is a crucial way to develop an honoring culture in your home. Children will learn how to treat their mother by watching how you treat her, and if you are regularly praising and thanking her, then they will too.

Our mothers are a gift from God, the blessings that we receive from our mothers are from God (James 1:17). The good characteristics that we see in our mothers, the creativity, the strength, the wisdom, the love and so much more come from God. Let us remember as we honor mothers, to praise God for mothers.

But we can talk about honoring mothers, respecting them and obeying them, however as followers of Jesus Christ our ultimate loyalty must be Christ. Jesus is the one who paid for our sins by dying on the cross for us, Jesus was raised from the dead by God and Jesus is the one who paid for our eternal life. As well-meaning and wonderful as our mothers may be, as followers of Jesus Christ, our lives belong to him. As we seek to live our lives as followers of Jesus, ultimately, we answer to him as Lord of our lives (Matthew 10:37-39).

We are to love and honor our mothers, because there is blessing in that as the commandment says, but even more than that, we need to love and honor Christ. Are you doing that?

Mothers and fathers, are you pointing your children to the savior, are you encouraging them to love Christ even more than they love you?

Sermon February 4, 2018 – The Pillar of Compassion of the Church

In Luke 10, we read the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. This well-known parable has become a part of our culture, even past presidents have referred to it in speeches. The parable was told by Jesus in response to a challenge, a question posed by an expert in the Mosaic Law. His question was interesting, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He was obviously trying to trick Jesus, because he knew exactly the requirements of the law. Jesus answers the question with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26). Jesus immediately directs the man to an authority that they both can accept, the Law of Moses.

The scribe answers Jesus’ question by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

This is the correct answer, but the learned man is not satisfied, he knows that that he is not perfectly loving towards his fellow man, so he is looking for a lower standard. He tries to limit the law’s command by limiting its parameters and asked the question “who is my neighbor?” One of the meanings of the word “neighbor” in the Greek could be translated as someone of the same race or tribe. But this makes the goal attainable, so Jesus tells this parable of the Good Samaritan to correct the false understanding that the scribe had of who his neighbor was.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan tells the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, Jesus doesn’t mention anything about the man, we don’t know his nationality or race, and while on the way he is robbed of everything he had, including his clothing, and is beaten to within an inch of his life. Both a priest and a Levite pass by the man and refuse to offer assistance to him. The next person to come by is the Samaritan, the one least likely to have shown compassion for the man, due to the racial prejudice between the Jews and the Samaritans.

We do not know if the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion, he only saw a person in need of assistance, and he assists him by going above and beyond what would have been expected.

He pays for the man’s care and essentially gave the innkeeper a blank check. He seemed to be very trusting, but I don’t think the lesson is trust, I think the lesson is abundance, he was not concerned because he knew that his supply was from God, and that God never will run out of money. So even if the innkeeper took advantage of him, it would be okay, because it wasn’t his money anyway, it was God’s money and He will pay the bill (see Proverbs 19:17). God’s kingdom is not a kingdom of lack or a miserly mindset, God’s kingdom is a kingdom of excessive abundance, of extravagant generosity, of joyful giving, because that is what our Heavenly father gives to us (see Luke 6:38). Let us be extravagant in our generosity because we serve an extravagant God.

The Samaritan saw his neighbor as anyone who was in need, and we are to follow the Samaritan’s example in our own conduct by showing compassion and love for those we encounter in our everyday activities regardless of their race or religion; the criterion is need.

However, there is no person on earth who can meet this standard, our desires are mostly selfish. When left to our own, we do the wrong thing, we see the person in need and justify why we don’t need to help them. What about the drug addict, the homeless person or what about the Muslim refugee? One could go on listing examples of modern-day needy people who make us look far worse than priest or the Levite.

Even if we do right by the Lord, and those in need,  we must realize that no amount of good works will ever meet the standard set by Jesus. We will never be able to do enough good things to inherit eternal life. The question of the legal expert, is the question of the ages, “what must I do….to inherit eternal life?”

We don’t need a list of tasks, we need a savior. To inherit eternal life, we must put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and allow the Holy Spirit’s transforming power to enable us to love our neighbor. We cannot love our neighbor without the Holy Spirit in us, leading us and giving us the love of God for those around us. If you find it difficult to love that person who annoys you at work, who offends you or who hurt you, you don’t need patience or more strength; you need Jesus Christ in you, transforming you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Compassion is a pillar of the church but does not stand alone, there needs to be a strong connection between compassion and mission, between compassion and worship and between compassion and the Word. James chapter 2 explains to us that faith without works is dead; rather we show our faith in God through our works of good deeds.

The compassion of the church must always bring glory to the name above all names. Acts of social justice done for the Glory of God are in themselves acts of worship. However, compassion without the foundation of the Word of God lacks true empathy because it lacks true power to change lives. Only the word of God coupled with the revelation of the Holy Spirit has the power to change lives.

Compassion is essential in the church, not because it is what good people do to help one another, compassion is essential because it is the way the church points people to Jesus. As Jared Wilson wrote in his book, “the story telling God”, “Economic justice is temporal justice…the Gospel’s justice is eternal.”

Just like the work of the church is not done until the Great Commission is completed, so too the opportunities for the church to be a compassionate example of Christ will not go away until Jesus comes again. Let us be a church that proclaims the Gospel loud and clear, intentionally helping those in need with an eternal perspective.