Thankfulness a Spiritual Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Praise and thanksgiving make all the difference in life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge is Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if every Christian voted Democrat?

I have tried this question on a few people and got similar responses each time, quizzical looks and sometimes a laugh. This email is not intended to be a political endorsement or a discussion on politics. On the contrary, it is much more important than that. So let me explain why I would ask such a provocative question. This past week we had another mid-term election in America and the outcome has still not been decided. As we await the results, we must remember that God Himself is the decider of the outcome.

I am currently reading the book of Daniel and love the way God reveals Himself to pagan kings and rulers. Daniel was a man of worship, serving the one true God even in the land of his exile and slavery. As Daniel was preparing to deliver the revelation of king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he broke out in a song of praise and in verse 20 and 21 of chapter 2 he said, ““Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;”

As Christians around the country pray for their political party or candidate to win the election, I often wonder what our motivation is in praying for election outcomes. I am not saying that we should not pray, certainly we are to pray for God to move and install leaders who would bless the land. But how are we praying?

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy and encouraged him to pray for the leaders of the land in 1 Timothy 2:1-2, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We must remember that Paul and Timothy were church leaders during the reign of Emperor Nero. He was a despicable ruler who mercilessly persecuted Christians, far worse than any of our twenty first century leaders in America.

 Many evangelical Christians were praying for and hoping for a “red wave”, that would see the Republican party making significant gains in both the House and the Senate, but the outcome has not been as expected. Reflecting on this outcome, I wonder what the church would have done if the “red wave” had been realized. I am sure that if that had been the outcome, many Christians would have been happy, they would have felt at ease and they would have stopped praying! That alone would reveal that our worldview is not Biblical.

I firmly believe that God is calling us to something much bigger than simply praying for a political party to gain some seats. The salvation of America is never going to be found in a political leader or a majority government. I firmly believe that God is calling us to pray for an awakening in this land. A sustained move of God that will transform the nation through repentance and alignment with the plumbline of God’s Word.

Getting back to my provocative title. What if we saw such a move of God, that our leaders began to rule from a Biblical worldview. What if we could vote for leaders based on their leadership qualities alone, because it didn’t matter which political party they represented because the parties in our country would be leading with Biblical principles.

Sound far-fetched? I don’t think so. Let us join together in praying for our leaders as the Bible instructs us to do, praying for them to encounter the living God and repent of their sins. May we see God move in power in America, calling the nation to a humble repentance, so that God may have mercy on us and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Three ways to bless your Pastor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kisses from Heaven

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It is so good to be back, thank you so much for the prayers. For those who don’t know, our family has been away in South Africa on a Sabbatical for the month of July.

I didn’t know how much I needed the time off. Honestly, everyone around me, mostly my family could see that I was emotionally and spiritually spent. The last few years have been particularly challenging with a global pandemic and family health concerns.

This month 8 years ago I began pastoring here at Grace Point, and it has been the best and most challenging assignment of my life. I want to say that I am grateful. Grateful to you as a church for the gracious time off, grateful to Debbie and my kids for their love and support. And I am most grateful to the Lord for His faithfulness and His goodness.  

When we left on July 3, we decided to be on the lookout for what we began calling, “Kisses from Heaven”. Unforeseen gifts and blessings from the Lord.

It would take weeks to share all of them with you but one overarching kiss from heaven was the way God orchestrated the beauty of His creation to minister to us.

I love mountains and the ocean. I love speaking with the Lord while gazing upon the beauty of creation. I quickly realized that God was refreshing my soul through nature. I wasn’t simply looking at a vista, I was drinking in the beauty of creation into my very soul.

It was winter, and chilly, but when we decided to go up Table Mountain for instance, it was a perfect near windless day. When we visited Cape Point, it was a howling north easterly wind that whipped up the ocean. We were in awe of the power of creation as the mighty waves crashed on the rocks.

From long prayer walks on the beach, standing on mountain tops, gazing at the majestic milky way and the southern sky, seeing multiple rainbows after a storm, seeing the incredible beauty of the birds and the majestic big five animals, God was restoring and filling our souls. He was so good to us.

Over the last week, the Lord has highlighted a certain text and it is found in Lamentations 3:19-26

The context for this book is the judgment of God on Judah. In 587 BC, the Lord used the Babylonian empire to destroy and take into exile most of the nation of Judah. Most scholars agree that the book was written by Jeremiah and it is a sad outpouring of grief. But right in the middle of the book, it seems like Jeremiah has a change of heart, he sees God in the midst of the grief and he begins to pour out his worship and appreciation.

Amid anguish and suffering, Jeremiah declares one of the greatest confessions of faith in the Bible. In the midst of his sorrow, he remembers the mercy of God.

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

In the world around us, there is much that can cause us to grieve and become anxious. If we look to our finances or personal security as a foundation for hope and peace, we will always be discouraged. But if we build on Christ, the faithful one, he will never fail us.

Lamentations is a call to repentance, as we see in verses 39 and 40,  

“Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?

Let us examine our ways and test them,
    and let us return to the Lord.

Under the New Covenant we have the incredible promise of 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

God is faithful to forgive.

He is faithful to carry our burdens (Hebrews 2:17).

He is faithful to deliver us from temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).

God is Faithful to keep us in this life and for eternity.

Do you trust God to be faithful?

One of the things the Lord impressed on me during the last month, was that the path ahead for us individually, as a church, and as a nation, is treacherous. This is not a word we often hear today, and it is defined as, “hazardous because of presenting hidden or unpredictable dangers.Sounds like the world we live in.

How are we to respond?

We can become discouraged, and retreat into escapism. Hiding from reality by numbing our senses with addictions, whether it is drugs, pornography, social media, accumulating things, entertainment, sport, or any number of other distractions. How do we face the treacherous future?

The answer is clearly given in Lamentations 3:24-26,

24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.”

Notice the underlined words, “wait and seek”

Waiting and seeking is prayer, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2).

Truthfully it is difficult to wait on the Lord, our human nature craves activity, we want to fix things.

As you wait on the Lord, you will see the fulfilment of another prophet, Isaiah 40:31. During our time in South Africa, the Lord slowed me down, he taught me to wait on Him, and he renewed my strength.

What about you? Are you experiencing kisses from heaven?

Are you waiting on the Lord? Are you seeking Him? What do you need to bring to the Lord today, that only He can solve?

As a church, do we know what it means to wait on the Lord?

Are we a praying church? I would say we have begun to scratch the surface of all that God has for us in the place of prayer.

We still have so much more that God wants to show us and power that He would release as we wait on Him.

Are you prepared to seek Him? Are you prepared to wait on the Lord?

To Know and Obey Jesus.

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Is it possible to know God and to live like the Devil? Is it possible to truly know God and have no life change?

Obedience follows relationship. If there is no obedience – is there relationship at all?

Adrian Rogers wrote, “Study the Bible to know about God. Obey the Bible to really know God.”

This is the theme of 1 John 2. John’s goal is for the reader to know God rightly and have assurance of salvation, which leads to a life of joy in Jesus. To know God is to love God and to love God is to obey God.

Obedience to God reveals the genuineness of our faith. There is a huge difference between saying and doing. The true Gospel transforms us and leads to obedience. 1 John 2:3 reads, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments”.

The word “Keep”, means to guard, or protect like we would treat a precious treasure. And as we keep this treasure, our assurance in our salvation grows and we enjoy Jesus more. To obey His commands is never a burden, it is a blessing and a natural response to what He has done for me.

However we see in verse 4 that if we do not guard or keep the commands of the Lord, we are spiritual deceivers. We really don’t have a relationship with God.

Verse 5 gives is such a great promise, “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him.”

Keeping the commands of God is not a condition of knowing God, but it is a clear sign and indication that we do know God.

The phrase, “the love of God”, refers to our love for God, and it is true that the more I know Him, the more I love Him, and the more I love Him, the more I know Him.

The same thing happens in a godly marriage. It should be that the more a husband and wife grow to know one another, the more they love one another. And the more love they share with each other, the more they will desire to know each other.

There is a tradition that on one occasion the apostle John, near the end of his life, was brought to the church on a pallet. All he said to the believing community was, “Love one another.” When he was asked why that was all he had to say, he responded, “Because it is enough.” (Matthew 22:37-40).

So how do we walk in the love of Christ? When we were saved it was so that we might be conformed in the image of His son (Romans 8:29). He saved us that we might “walk just as He walked.”

We have a moral obligation for our walk to match our talk. To truly abide in Christ means I will walk like Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1, 1 Peter 2:21).

Like Father, like Son. Like Savior, like saint. Christ’s life becomes my life, my example, my goal, and my pattern. And we must note that it is abiding in Him that enables me to live like Him. I don’t do it in my strength. I do it in His!

Looking back to verse 3, how can we tell if we “know” him?

What then does it mean to “know” Jesus? The Greek word used here, “ginosko”, means basically “grasping the full reality and nature of an object under consideration.”

John was writing to people who knew about Jesus but didn’t really know him personally. Today there are millions of people who know about Jesus, but don’t know him as Lord of their lives.

Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me”. Those who belong to Jesus are responsive to His voice.

John does not suggest that relationship with God is established by obedience; rather, that relationship is demonstrated by obedience.

Sometimes people claim to know God but are unresponsive to His Word and His way of life. Such a person may possess accurate information about God and may be able to debate the finer points of theology. I have met people who have a deep grasp of the Bible and doctrine, but their lives do not match their words. Relationship is demonstrated by walking “as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).

Jesus addressed this as he was speaking to the Jews, the scribes and the pharisees in John 8:44a, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”

The religious leaders, knew about God, they knew the Torah, they knew a lot of theology, but they didn’t know God Himself or else they would have recognized His son, Jesus. They were worshipping the law of Moses, but they weren’t hearing the word of God. Jesus continued in verse 47, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

So, my question today is, who are you listening to?

I always get discouraged when I talk to people who have not been in church for a long time and they say, “well, I am not in church, but I listen to Charles Stanley (or their favorite radio or TV teacher) each Sunday morning.” What they fail to realize is that they are neglecting to gather with his body, disobeying the word of God that calls us to commit to a fellowship of believers to grow together in love and unity.

Listening to good teaching is excellent, but the question is, are you listening to the words of God? Why do we run after the words of the created being, when we can sit at the feet of the creator?

Many Christians wrestle with decisions and they often say the same thing. “I am not getting a clear word from God.” My friends, it’s not that God doesn’t speak clearly, it’s that we don’t listen. It’s time to turn off the TV, YouTube, the cell phone and all the other noise surrounding us and open the Word of God. Make time to listen to the God who created you with the ability to hear His voice.

Are you abiding in Him, keeping his commandments?

Do you know Jesus?

Sunday May 1, 2022 Volunteering in the Church

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Today we recognized volunteers, the people that make everything run smoothly. As we called each volunteer forward, we asked them to put a crayon in a vase. Each one of the crayons represents a task that needs to be done in the church. It was evident that it took a lot of people to do all that needs to be done in the church.  

But let’s think about the church, why do we come to church?

I think one of the failures of the church in the past fifty years is the advent of the mega church and the multiple campus church models. One of the primary motivators of the seeker friendly church is to make the church as welcoming and inviting as possible in order to get people through the doors.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we absolutely need to be welcoming and inviting. And there is nothing wrong with large numbers. But what has happened is that the church has gone from being a sending agent and become a Christian entertainment venue.

Feeding peoples wants and desires by programs, features, and entertainment. Instead of people coming to church to be equipped for the work of the ministry, people are coming to church to be entertained, and they are dictating to the leadership what they want in order to stay.

If we are honest, who has become the object of attention? It is the attendees, and if we are focusing on the attendees, who are we worshipping?

The church is not a professional organization, it is a body. We are all members of the body and as such we all serve alongside one another, for one purpose – for the glory of God.

We are saved for more than simply getting a ticket to heaven – there is so much more for us.

God delivered us so that we would have a relationship with him, through which He calls us to be a part of His mission to bring the Gospel message to the lost. What a privilege. Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 2:8-10.

We are saved in order to do good works. Now, the church is not the only place where we can do these works, but it is an essential part of serving the Lord. Every volunteer that we recognized this morning has a motivation to serve.

As I was thinking about it, there are many different reasons why people serve as a volunteer, but only one right reason.

Some people serve for recognition, others for the applause of man or to earn favor with God, and some serve out of guilt. But the true motivation to serve the Lord comes from a genuine experience of joy. When you genuinely serve the Lord out of love for the Lord and understanding the call of God on your life, you experience joy, deep seated contentment, and it is not a burden or hardship at all.

One of the keys to contentment is serving in the place of obscurity. Doing things that no one sees other than the Lord. Genuine contentment and joy is knowing that the only person who really notices is the only one who really matters.

The truth is that the church would not exist without volunteers, so how do we get people to volunteer? The normal way is to make a good promo video and beg people to sign up to serve. Failing that we could offer them free donuts and coffee!

But I propose that there is a purer motivation that comes from a move of God. We don’t need more manipulation; we need more of the power of God. As God begins to move on peoples’ hearts, they are compelled by a sense of calling and purpose. Doing what God has called them to do. In Psalm 110:3 we read, “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.”

This Psalm is speaking about Jesus coming in glory and his followers offering themselves to serve him. What we need in the church is not more calls for volunteers or pleading videos, what we need is revival. Throughout the history of revivals, there has never been a shortage of workers who give themselves to the work of the Lord.

Henry Blackaby wrote, “Only the power of God can free us from our natural self-centeredness and reorient us toward the mission of God”

And finally, we have the privilege to serve the Lord because we gain an eternal reward. Revelation 19:7-8 reads, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.”

At the marriage feast, the church, the Bride of Christ, will be clothed in fine linen, bright and pure, but the linen is made up of the righteous deeds that we do. Now we know that we are not made righteous by what we do. Rather, we work from a position of righteousness because of the blood of Jesus.

The good works that we do, are righteous deeds that have an eternal value. Christ will reward us for our faithfulness. And the rewards we receive will make up the wedding gown.

Dr. Lehman Strauss writes, “Has it ever occurred to you … that at the marriage of the Bride to the Lamb, each of us will be wearing the wedding garment of our own making?”

That is a tremendous paradigm shift; we don’t serve out of duty, we serve as an act of worship.

How is your heart? What is the response of your heart today? Is your heart so filled with gratitude and worship that you are waiting for the opportunity to say like Isaiah, “here I am, send me.”

Sermon, Sunday February 13, 2022 – The Question of Suffering

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2 Corinthians 12:1-7

How do you handle pain?

How do you respond when God doesn’t answer your prayers and remove painful situations in your life?

In the last few chapters of 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes a case for his apostleship. In chapter 12 he outlines some of the incredible experiences he has had with the Lord. As a result of these incredible confirmations from God, Paul could easily have become proud. But God was gracious to him, keeping his life in balance.

God allowed Paul a thorn in the flesh, “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited” 2 Corinthians 12:7.

God allowed Paul to experience a form of suffering, something that caused him physical pain to keep him weak and humble. We don’t know what the thorn in the flesh was, and we don’t need to know. The mystery of suffering will not be understood by us in this life.

We see throughout the scriptures that while we don’t fully understand the origins of evil, we do know that Satan and his demons do not have free reign, they can only act with the permission of God. This is not easy for us to grasp, or to counsel someone with when they have been a victim of some horrible trauma. But I firmly believe that the Bible teaches us that God is in control.

Paul pleaded with the Lord to remove the “thorn” on three occasions, and probably with extended seasons of prayer and fasting. But the Lord allowed Paul to model for us how to suffer well, how to endure when God doesn’t give us the answer that we want.

As Paul prayed, God was not silent, and in verse 9 we read the Lord’s response, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

God promised Paul something better than instant healing, it was God’s power in Paul’s life. What we see is that the grace of God is a gift that enabled Paul to endure well, it was strengthening grace.

The paradox is that the weaker Paul became, the stronger the power of Christ would rest on him. That is something that we must wrestle with in our first world culture where strength is celebrated, and weakness is demeaned. The Kingdom of Heaven is very different to the kingdom of the world where the overarching theme is pride and self-sufficiency.

Paul’s suffering doesn’t go away, but he is changed through it.

Warren Wiersbe wrote, “In the Christian life, we get many of our blessings through transformation, not substitution.”

We ask God to substitute the pain, to make it go away, but sometimes God gives us transformation, changing us by His grace.

It is a greater thing to pray for pain’s conversion than its removal,” wrote P.T. Forsyth

When God answered Paul, He gave Paul a promise,” My Grace is sufficient for you.”

As Christians, we are not people who live on explanations from God. Rather we live on the promises of His word. As we meditate on the promises, our faith grows and so does our hope.

As we are transformed by the grace of God, we can display peace and joy during suffering to the world around us. At the end of verse 9, Paul writes, “so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The Greek word used for “rest” is a complex word that means to shelter or to cover over like spreading a tent over someone. What a beautiful picture of the power of Christ resting over you when you are going through the trial of suffering.  

On January 25, 1736, John Wesley was sailing in a wooden vessel across the Atlantic, and they sailed into what can best be described as a hurricane. The vessel was being torn to shreds by the vicious winds and the huge waves. If you don’t know John Wesley’s story, at this point he didn’t know that salvation was by grace through faith in Jesus. He was terrified of dying and along with him, everyone else onboard including the captain and the sailors.

However, on the ship at the time was a small group of Moravian Christians, and they displayed a supernatural calm. In fact, they were singing praises in the bottom of the ship. Wesley quizzed them because he was so puzzled by their calm demeanor.

After speaking to them Wesley wrote this, “from them I went to the crying, trembling sailors, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God and him that feareth him not.”

Wesley was so moved by their peace that eventually he was led to true faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

How we respond during suffering can be the most powerful testimony of our lives.

One of the greatest promises in the Bible is Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” We long for that day, but the same one who will wipe away every tear said these words in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

If you are going through a trial of pain right now, you know that the pain and the tears are very real. Our Heavenly Father is not removed from the pain, He hears the cries, and he feels the pain. God is deeply moved by the pain an suffering in this world. When the Father turned his back on His son on the cross, it cost Him everything.

But we have the incredible promises of God that nothing He brings us through will ever destroy us, rather it is preparing us for glory! (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Sermon, Sunday February 6, 2022 – ASK specifically

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“Lord bless everyone”, “Lord please heal all the sick people”. How often have we prayed similar broad and general prayers? Is it possible that we pray generally because we don’t have the faith that God will actually do what we ask if we pray a specific prayer?

I believe that a specific prayer request is something that draws God in. As we get specific in our prayers, our relationship with our Heavenly Father grows more personal.

God will answer specific prayers directed to His throne, linked with the authority of the name of Jesus. It has been said that “Prayer is the key to unlocking God’s prevailing power in your life”.

In James 5:13-16, we see four categories of people who are encouraged to pray.

1: The first person is the person in trouble, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray” James 5:13a.

The word “trouble” used here could also mean suffering or hardship. Any form of emotional, mental, spiritual, or physical hardship.

James tells the troubled person to pray. We must realize that this is not a promise of immediate relief from the suffering, but there is a promise of strength and peace from the Lord during suffering. When we choose not to pray, we are compounding the problem and heading towards even further distress. Prayerless people cut themselves off from God’s power, and this leads to emotional defeat and the feeling of being overwhelmed.

The key is persisting in prayer even when we don’t see a solution or outcome.

2: The second person is the happy person, “Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.” James 5:13b.

Singing worship songs with lyrics that declare the attributes and glory of God, is singing a prayer.  When we are happy and at peace, we want to thank God for His blessing and goodness. What better way to do this than to sing out His attributes, praising Him for who He is.

Sadly, there are too many modern songs and old hymns that speak about the emotions and feelings of the singer. These songs are not bad, but simply are not worship songs, because the Lord is not the object of our focus. The sad reality is that we live in a church culture that thinks that the worship service must be designed to cater to our needs and desires. However the Lord needs to be the object of our focus and our affection (Mark 12:29-30).  

It doesn’t matter if we have plenty or are struggling, whether we are doing well or just getting by, whether we are emotionally drained or emotionally strong; we have the privilege to declare the praises of the One who is sovereign over all.  

What if we had a paradigm shift and worshipped because it blesses God. Who cares if we don’t sound good or don’t feel like it, it’s a privilege to bless our Father in Heaven.

3: The third person is the desperately sick person, “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord” James 5:14.

The Greek word used here for sick, is a debilitating illness, leading to death. James gives a prescription for how to pray for the sick person.

  • Call the elders. The church elders are spiritual leaders in the church.
  • Pray with faith. This is the faith of the one (s) offering the prayer. Remembering that faith is not something we muster up in our own will. Faith comes from God. 

Prayer offered in faith is circular, beginning and ending in Heaven.

I have prayed for many people; some have been healed and some have not.  We cannot muster up faith and expect God to heal when a certain level has been reached. He gives us faith and we return that faith in the form of prayer for the sick person, God then uses the faith we have, to heal the person.

  • Anoint with oil. In the first century, anointing oil was widely regarded as best medical practice at the time (Luke 10:34). The practice of anointing with oil today during prayer is different, but no less powerful in its application. It is a symbolic act, much like washing each other’s feet.
  • Pray in the name of Jesus. Or praying with the will of the Lord” (1 John 5:14-15). This is where the asking specifically is key.

We have all prayed the prayer that goes something like, “Lord if it is your will then please…” While this sounds good and Biblical, we are forgetting that the Lord has invited us to ask for what we need.

Why don’t we pray specifically, and ask the Lord for what is on our heart? If you have a sick loved one, or any other need, we have the permission to come before the throne of the almighty God and ask. Why not ask specifically for what we want and leave the results up to Him.

4: The fourth category is the person who is sinning, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5:16

As followers of Jesus, we are called to a lifestyle of holiness (James 4:1-10). Righteousness is a free gift from God, when we confess our sins and are washed by the blood of Jesus. There is power and healing in the confession of our sins to one another, and this is a necessary discipline in the Body of Christ. However, confessing to each other does not bring righteousness, only Jesus can do that (1 John 1:9).

Righteousness is not something we do, it’s something we receive. That is why, when we pray in the name of Jesus, and we are covered in his righteousness, our prayers are powerful and effective.

How is your prayer life? Is it effective?

As your prayer life goes, so goes your spiritual life, as your spiritual life goes, so goes the rest of your life.” Ronnie Floyd.

Sermon, Sunday January 30 2021, Ask Big

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2 Kings 4:1-7

What are you asking God for today? Is it big?

Are you boldly asking for a miracle from God? Many people don’t ask big, because they simply don’t believe that God can or will answer their prayers.

In 2 Kings 4, we read the account of a widow in desperate need, who reaches out to the prophet Elisha for help, knowing that he will have the answer. This poor widow had great confidence that reaching out to Elisha would save her family. She had no backup plan, she knew that she needed to speak to Elisha, he was the man of God who could help.

When you have a need, who do you turn to? Do you try to ask your social media “friends”? How quick are you to turn to prayer?

I have noticed that strangely many Christians ask for prayer, but they themselves are not praying for a miracle. Maybe the feeling is that God hears others who are perhaps more “holy” than me. We must remember that we all have equal access to the throne of grace.

Elisha asks the widow, “what shall I do for you?”  in verse 2.The need is obvious, but she must articulate it, and there is an act of faith in speaking out the need. Jesus required the same from Bartimaeus in Mark 10:51, “what do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus asked big, and he received his sight because he believed in the one who was standing in front of him.

Sometimes we are praying for crumbs when Jesus is inviting us to ask for a feast. Do you believe in the one who can supply all your needs?

Our needs are more than physical, our greatest need is spiritual. How desperate are you for God to intervene in power in your life? Jesus said in Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

We don’t thirst for righteousness because we are lulled into comfort by the entertainment of the world, and we don’t realize our deepest need. Remember in all this, God is for you, and He is generous.

Elisha continues and asks the widow, “What have you in the house?” She had nothing left, only a small amount of oil, and she was ready to give that to the Lord.

What do you have that you can bring to Jesus? Sometimes all we have is a little faith. God can use that.

Elisha then gives her an unusual instruction, but it was the step of faith that she needed to take, “Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few.”

This was another test of her faith because the size of the miracle was dependent on the size of her faith; how many vessels she borrowed. There are times when we have to take a step in faith even before we see the miracle we are praying for.

I am certain if the family had known what would happen, they would have rented the local warehouse and brought in vessels from every city in the nation, but how could they have known. They acted in faith.  

In verse 6 we read how the miraculous flow of the oil ended when the vessels were all full. The miracle ended, not because God could not provide anymore, but because the capacity to receive had been exceeded.

The limiting factor is never God’s ability to give, it is our capacity to receive. What it boils down to, is how much of our lives are we willing to give over to the control of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 11:13).

Another lesson we can learn from this is that the oil was multiplied in the pouring out from the little she had. The way to increase what we have is to use it, sometimes to give it away.  It is not hoarding the talents, but trading with them, that doubles them (see Luke 19).

It takes faith to use what God has given you, especially when the world says, “hold on to what you have, you never know when a rainy day will come”. What talent is God inviting you to invest in the kingdom today?

Finally, notice that this miracle took place in the private place, the prophet told the widow to go into her room and close the door. Her need was met when she met certain conditions. One of the acts of obedience was to close the door, to be alone with her sons and the presence of God.

It was a personal miracle and she had to be the one doing the pouring, not Elisha or anyone else. When God tells you to do something, don’t look over your shoulder and see who might be a more qualified person to do it. What God has blessed you with will increase best in your own hands as you are obedient to God.

This miracle not only meets the widow’s needs, but she was blessed with abundance. God performed a powerful creative miracle and it all started with the level of expectation of the widow. She sent for Elisha because she had absolute confidence that a miracle would happen.

What are you praying for today? What is the level of your expectation?

Maybe if your heart was fully exposed, you don’t believe that God is going to give you what you are asking for? Deep down, you don’t believe he is able or that he is generous.

Another word for expectation is faith. Do you pray, believing in the God of the impossible? We read about men and women of faith in Hebrews 11, they all had an expectation in the power of God.

Duncan Campbell wrote, “there is a place beyond consecration, there is a place beyond sanctification, and that is the place of implicit confidence in God”

The level of your confidence in the power of God determines the size of your ask.

What are you asking for?