Stand Firm in Grace

Click here to read today’s scripture Acts 4:1-22.

Peter and John have been on the move proclaiming the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many lives who have accepted the message and many more that were infuriated with the message they proclaimed. Is this something you can relate to?

How would you do if you were called in front of a ruling class and had to answer for your faith? What would be your reaction if you were told you would have to stop professing faith in Christ? The truth is, many people around the world are still facing this kind of opposition. Whenever we proclaim the truth of Christ, there will be many who are excited and experience his presence and his grace and their life is transformed from the inside out. Still others, when faced with the truth of Christ, get nervous and hard-hearted because their way of life is being challenged. So, the message will fall on deaf ears and hearts.

There will be times when we do need to speak up about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” So now the question becomes not “how would you react if asked to answer to your faith;” but rather, “what will you say when people ask you about your hope in Jesus Christ?” See the difference? It changes from a reaction to being confident with the message you have been entrusted with.

One thing to be sure of is making sure the message you have to tell aligns with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is spoken without grace and causes hostility rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ.

The first thing we should do is be confident with the message. Your life is a message of grace when it is lived with Jesus Christ. God’s grace has been given to you so we do not have to worry or be afraid to speak. It is not about having just the right words; but rather knowing God and just speaking from your experience. All believers in Christ are called to be ministers of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9-10); and this means we have a great message to tell. We have been entrusted to share this message of grace wherever we are. God has entrusted us so we can be bold and be confident.

We do not do this alone. It is the Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us the words to speak when it is necessary. As stated above, as long as our intention is to be authentic and have a message aligned with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, there is a good chance the message will be heard more, especially to those who are knowingly hurting. If we simply have to tell what we know and it doesn’t matter to us what the other person thinks. Then we are most likely speaking from our own guidance and not really listening to the Spirit’s guidance. Please let that sink in. We should always speak to exude grace, building people up and leading them to the throne of Christ, rather than tearing them down and saying what they’re doing wrong (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Finally above all, trust God. Believing in and following Christ does not make our life automatically easier; but we do have more joy, peace, and love within us. If we are lead to be in a particular place or speak with a particular person, trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and will equip you.

Now, I invite you to process this. Ask yourself these questions and speak with God about them.

  1. Where do I rather trust myself and what I want to do instead of leaning on the grace God has given?
  2. What is the story of grace God is telling through my life?
  3. Who do I believe God is leading me to speak with about grace and life transformation?

Rise and Walk

Click here to read today’s scripture: Acts 3.

One of the best lessons I have heard from prayer reminds us to pay attention when we are praying, especially in public. So much of the time, we tend to want to be by ourselves. We’ll have our eyes closed. We’ll try to keep everything quiet. But then, what if the noise is too much to turn off? What if we keep getting interrupted while we’re praying?

There are times, I believe God allows interruptions in our prayer time with him because he is desiring us to connect with other person who is in need. If our prayers are communication with the Creator, should we be surprised when he is asking us to be an answer to another person’s prayers?

Peter and John, in today’s passage, are on their way to pray at the appointed time. They had a schedule. They had things to do. That’s when they got interrupted by someone asking for help.  Granted, this was someone who asks for help all the time by begging for money, for food, etc. We have seen this kind of situation in our day to day lives. The same person asking for assistance. Sometimes we give them the pocket change we have. Sometimes we’ll buy them food. But is this what they are really after?

In the short term, we are all looking for what we need in that moment. We all need food. We all need some sort of currency. But don’t we need relationships even more? Don’t we all have a need, deep down, to know we are valued?

As I am writing this, the day before it’s published, I am convicted. As a husband, as a father, as a father-to-be, as a pastor I am constantly around people who need something from me. Can I give them everything all the time? It is challenging and I would burn out and run out of care quickly. What I can give more generously than anything else is a relationship.

Now, this also means that I can point them to Jesus Christ as much as possible so they have an opportunity to experience grace, to experience his love, to experience being valued. It is through Jesus’ love and grace for me that I am able to go out and share his love with all those I come in contact with.

The apostles had three solid years with Jesus. They had a great relationship with him. It is because of that relationship they were able to go and share the good news of Life. When they came across this man who was begging for food and money, they did not really have any to spare. But they did have something very valuable. The gift of grace. The offered him Christ.

“Rise up and walk.” Go into the world knowing you are loved by the Creator. Get up and realize you have been given gifts and talents to be part of another person’s life. Rise, share God’s love through acts of mercy, yes; but also through compassionate words. Give what you can. Rise up in the strength of Jesus Christ. Go on your way. Since he changed your life, go with him to change the world.

Rise up and walk.

SENT OUT: to Follow

What do you seek? Why are you Christian? Why do you go to the church you attend? When was the last time you thought about the consequences to following Jesus?

Do you really like to be a follower? Or, would we rather be the one(s) in charge and receive the glory and recognition?

Last week we began a new sermon series called SENT OUT. We talked about how our identity as a child of God defines our purpose and gives us greater things to live for instead of our own comfort and our own preferences. This week, our focus is we are SENT OUT in the world to follow Jesus Christ.

I invite you to click on the link and take time to read John 1:29-42.

“Lamb Of God”

Disciples did not know what they were getting into when they said yes to following Jesus. Think about that for a second. Would they have followed a man who would end up at the cross? If we were in their position, would you? It may seem like a pointless endeavor to follow someone who would die just a few years later.

When John calls Jesus the “Lamb of God,” I’m sure the image of lambs in the Old Testament would have come into the minds of the people. Lambs were used for slaughter and sacrifice to “remove” the sin of the people. This is a great foreshadowing of what will occur to Jesus in the next three or so years. So basically John could have been saying “Here comes the dead man walking who will show you what it means to live fully in the presence of God.”

Later on in scripture, Jesus tells his followers they are to “take up their cross and follow him.” This means that he is calling us to be living sacrifices and deny ourselves for the grander purpose of the Kingdom of God. I love the following story of what “take up your cross” means to different cultures.

One market day in their village, two Chwang tribesmen heard a colporteur preach the Gospel. Then he began to sell Gospels, promising blessing to those who not only read but obeyed the precepts contained therein. Both men purchased copies, and taking them home, they read along till they came to the statement, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” In their desire to obey the Word of God, they made two crosses of bamboo, and tied them on their backs. (The Chinese translation of the words, “Take up his cross,” is “Bear his cross on his back.”) They carried these crosses as they visited the market or went about the country, and then carefully hung them on the front of their houses when they were home. Seeing their earnestness of heart, God did not leave them long in the dark. Soon a Chinese worker discovered them, briefly explained the Gospel to them, and advised them to go to Liuchow for further instruction. They did so, and after a week of instruction returned to their village and began to witness for the Lord. Several months later they went back to Liuchow, requesting baptism and further instruction. We were glad to grant both their requests as they exhibited an earnestness seldom seen anywhere. (Alliance Weekly)

“Come and see”

Jesus’ invitation to his new followers was not as gruesome as the death seen of the cross. Neither was it, “get your act together and then follow me.” Disciples asked Jesus,  “Where are you staying?” Jesus answered, “Come and see”

The invitation is to follow…we don’t have to be perfect. How does this make you feel? Aren’t you glad you do not have to be perfect before we accept the invitation of Jesus Christ?

Jesus did not leave the disciples in the place of remaining in their sin. Nor did he allow them to be the same. The imperfect disciples grew in their love and faith as they followed Jesus.

What does all this mean for us today?

S. I. McMillen, in his book None of These Diseases, tells a story of a young woman who wanted to go to college, but her heart sank when she read the question on the application blank that asked, “Are you a leader?” Being both honest and conscientious, she wrote, “No,” and returned the application, expecting the worst. To her surprise, she received this letter from the college: “Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower.”

When we follow Jesus Christ, our actions change and what we have the heart of God for the least, the last, and the lost. We get to follow wherever Jesus is leading us in our lives. Keep in mind, this does not mean we are passive and do not take the lead. There are times, many times, that Christ calls us to lead people. We are able to lead better because we follow Christ.

So, what are some things we can do to tangibly keep our lives and church in line with Christ’s mission for His church? The challenge is that we will look at all of this and say “I don’t have time to do everything!” or “We’ve never done that / we’ve tried that before.” Or “Ok, if I do this, I’ll keep my place in heaven.”

What are some things you can see yourself / your church community doing to reach out into the world in the love of Jesus Christ?

  • Community missions such as food pantry, clothes closet, helping with utilities, etc?
  • Community (off church site) Bible Studies and times of prayer and worship?
  • Form or strengthen care ministries to the community of faith (homebound, nursing homes, hospitals, sick, etc) and to those in the community?
  • What else can you add to this list?

These are just a few ideas that will have lasting impact within the community and the church community which will end up spreading the love of Jesus Christ out into the whole world.

We do not do this alone! We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to go where Christ calls and do the work he calls us to. This is done because we are being leaders in our community (or faithfully being the helpers). We are able to do this because we follow the call mission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8 as examples). It is ALL by God’s grace that we are able to do these acts (Ephesians 2:8-10).

We do not have to do everything; but we can ALL do something!

Are you ready to follow?

  • Bring people to faith in Christ by building authentic relationships and bring them to worship
  • Care for the sick and homebound (widows and orphans)
  • Find out what the community needs (from the community people) and find ways to make it happen)

Carry your cross on your back, check the box that you can follow and not have to lead…

Follow Christ to see where He is leading us in 2017 so we can continue to provide ministry through this church for the future generations (thinking for the next 100 years) to come to follow, know, and love Jesus Christ.

Let’s talk about the vision God is giving you for your life and His church.

21 Daily Questions

Let’s say you and I were sitting down at a coffee shop today and I asked you two questions: “How is it with your soul?” and “How is your walk with Jesus Christ?” Do you think you would have an answer?

How many of us would have an answer we would be comfortable sharing? If we were to talk about the state of our soul, we may have an easier time talking about it in terms of our emotional state at the time. However, if we begin talking about our walk (our relationship) with Jesus Christ, we would most likely begin talking about all the stuff we do for Christ. In a way, we still have a works based idea of salvation and relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was an Anglican priest and was very systematic and methodical about his faith and how he ordered his day. He was constantly on a spiritual journey, as I pray we all are. Part of what he laid out in the small groups he helped to establish, were accountability questions that he encouraged the people to ask each day. The result, if answered honestly showed the people called Methodist was a deeply committed relationship top Jesus Christ, sharing their faith, and growing the church.

This past Sunday, I encouraged our congregation to begin asking these questions (at least 3 each day) so we all can grow more in our personal discipleship as well as help guide those we are discipline.

These questions, at first glance, may seem like a lot; but they are some great accountability questions for us so our faith does not get stagnant and we rely more on the Holy Spirit’s guidance throughout our lives.

The final question, “Is Christ real to me” is definitely one we should ask and I would add, “why is he real to me?” and “how is he real to me?”

Hopefully going through this daily journey does not make us more prideful in our faith, but more humble; especially as we share our faith more through our actions and our words.

Here is the list of 21 questions. You are encouraged to begin asking these questions daily. I would love to hear how these questions and your answers are aiding you in your walk with Jesus Christ and your personal and social faith development.
JOHN WESLEY’S 21 QUESTIONS

1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?

2. Am I honest in all my acts & words, or do I exaggerate?

3. Do I confidentially pass onto another what was told me in confidence?

4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work, or habits?

5. Am I self‐conscious, self‐pitying, or self‐justifying?

6. Did the Bible live in me today?

7. Do I give it time to speak to me everyday?

8. Am I enjoying prayer?

9. When did I last speak to someone about my faith?

10. Do I pray about the money I spend?

11. Do I get to bed on time & get up on time?

12. Do I disobey God in anything?

13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?

14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?

15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?

16. How do I spend my spare time?

17. Am I proud?

18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisee who despised the publican? (Look at the example in Luke 18:9-14)

19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward, or disregard? If so, what am I going to do about it?

20. Do I grumble & complain constantly?

21. Is Christ real to me?

I Believe in the Victory of God

Ancient Creed, Living Faith Blog Series Part 3

I invite you to take time to read the scriptures today.

1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time.  I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

So if the message that is preached says that Christ has been raised from the dead, then how can some of you say, “There’s no resurrection of the dead”? If there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our preaching is useless and your faith is useless. We are found to be false witnesses about God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, when he didn’t raise him if it’s the case that the dead aren’t raised. If the dead aren’t raised, then Christ hasn’t been raised either. If Christ hasn’t been raised, then your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins, and what’s more, those who have died in Christ are gone forever. If we have a hope in Christ only in this life, then we deserve to be pitied more than anyone else.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead. He’s the first crop of the harvest of those who have died. Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead came through one too. In the same way that everyone dies in Adam, so also everyone will be given life in Christ. Each event will happen in the right order: Christ, the first crop of the harvest, then those who belong to Christ at his coming, and then the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he brings every form of rule, every authority and power to an end.  It is necessary for him to rule until he puts all enemies under his feet. Death is the last enemy to be brought to an end, since he has brought everything under control under his feet. When it says that everything has been brought under his control, this clearly means everything except for the one who placed everything under his control. But when all things have been brought under his control, then the Son himself will also be under the control of the one who gave him control over everything so that God may be all in all.

 Psalm 110:1

What the Lord says to my master: “Sit right beside me until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet!”

Suppose I ask you to describe your life with one of these words, which would you choose? Victorious, Defeated, So-so.

So many of us are living lives that simply do not reflect the victory of Jesus Christ. Look at this part of the Apostle’s Creed:

“the third day he rose from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

What do you experience when you read these words? I invite you to read them again, and then read the Scriptures above and see what God may be telling you.

If we look at the words from the Apostle’s Creed, we can see at least three things:

  1. “I have a risen Lord because Jesus rose from the dead.”
  2. “I have a reigning King because Jesus ascended into heaven.”
  3. “I have a righteous Judge because Jesus is coming again to judge.”

If nothing else, when we look at this, we can see how much we have even when we hear the lies our life isn’t worth anything. We have a risen Lord who has defeated our ultimate enemy, death, so we can live life everlasting here and now and in the life to come. We have a reigning King who sits in heaven who makes sure we can have everything we need. We have a righteous Judge who is able to discern and see the truth and bring true justice and reconciliation in the world.

We have so much because of the power and person of Jesus Christ that we should be the most joyful, confident, hopeful people who don’t let the circumstance of our life bring us down. Who don’t become envious of others because they have more or their life seems smoother. We have everything we need and we can live victoriously through the power of Jesus Christ.

The verse we all know, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” should really be thought of in this way, “I can endure all these things through the POWER of the ONE who gives me STRENGTH.” See the difference?

How can you live your life in such a way that people know you have the victorious power of Jesus Christ shining through everything you do? We get to live as people of the resurrection; and as such, show the awesomeness of Jesus Christ daily.

 

You are invited to print this out, place this creed in a spot you’ll see every day and recite daily.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord;
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;*
the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic** church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

 *Adapted from a sermon series idea “Ancient Creed, Living Faith” on www.seedbed.com

Unified Message

Galatians 2:2-5 I went there because of a revelation, and I laid out the gospel that I preach to the Gentiles for them. But I did it privately with the influential leaders to make sure that I wouldn’t be working or that I hadn’t worked for nothing. However, not even Titus, who was with me and who was a Greek, was required to be circumcised. But false brothers and sisters, who were brought in secretly, slipped in to spy on our freedom, which we have in Christ Jesus, and to make us slaves. We didn’t give in and submit to them for a single moment, so that the truth of the gospel would continue to be with you.

IMG_0052

After Paul had spent his time re-learning the Scriptures and preaching across the land, he went back to Peter, James and the other apostles to meet with them to make sure the same message was being preached.

One of the things I enjoy about Bible Study is knowing each time we come to a particular passage we see something new. Likewise, when we discuss these passages with other people we can learn their viewpoint as well. There is value in studying on our own and learning from other people as well.

Since Paul was a representative of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people), he made sure the same gospel was being preached by the original apostles to the Jews. I can imagine that Paul was affirmed when he found out he was preaching the same message as Peter, James, John and the others.

This should still be true for us today. We can study on our own, and we can learn all of these wonderful theological concepts about the scriptures. We can even preach and teach these to other people. But, we should not just rely on what we have learned on our own for the simple reason that we need to be able to back up what we teach when someone comes along and attempts to distort the message into something you and I did not intend.

This is why it is important to have a group of people (whom we agree with and those we do not agree with) to discuss what we have learned. Doing this will help us think things through, and give even more strength to the message when we can say that God is working through these people who are giving the same message.

There will be times when people will come along and try to make you and I change our minds and get us to believe something completely different. It is easy to conform to what the culture around us says and try to place these same viewpoints and opinions in the mind and heart of God. But God asks us to trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, and the true message of good news for all people: grace is available to all, we just need to accept this grace to allow it to transform us.

Many people to do not want to hear they are wrong, but we should be careful not to dilute the incredible, awesome power and truth of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that we are free, not by following rules other people want to place on us to “prove” how much of a Christian and follower of Christ we are. Christ breaks us free and allows us to not be slaves to sin, but rather loving children who do what God asks.

Paul knew the people who were with Jesus while he was still on this earth. My guess is he had great respect for them because they had that opportunity. We all need people in our lives who will hold us accountable and to keep us on the right track. We all need “spiritual parents” who will walk with us as we do the work that God calls us to do. The work Jesus Christ is with us in. The work the Holy Spirit gives us strength, wisdom and all we need to do the work.

#LiveFreeInChrist