Victory Over Goliath

We all have “giants” in our life that attempt to hold us back from the life God has designed for us. Some of our giants include fear, anger, rejection, comfort, addiction. Join us for this 7-week sermon series as we understand some of the “giants” in our lives and how they can be overcome because of Jesus Christ.

This series takes us through an in-depth study of 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.

“Goliath Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

“Giant of Fear Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:1-11)

“Giant of Rejection Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:26-33)

“Giant of Comfort Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:16,25)

“Giant of Anger Will Fall” (1 Samuel 16:7, 17:28)

“Giant of Addiction Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:33-40)

“Living in Freedom” (Galatians 5:1)

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What’s Holding You Back?

“Why do people get uncomfortable talking about stewardship?” This was a question we talked about last week.

Last week we started a 3-week series on stewardship. We talked about not worrying about what we don’t have, or controlling our resources because everything we have is because of God and really is God’s anyway.

Here is a video that sums this concept up: 

Make sense?

We are all being challenged to look at where and how we utilize the resources (time, talents, gifts, money) God has given us. The topic of tithing was brought up. I know this is a topic most people do not like to hear about, but tithing really is important for our spiritual life. I mentioned that I believe people are more generous, for the most part, with the money given and time/talents used. It is easy to say, “10% is too much to give away,” but I bet if we really looked, we would see we are giving away 20% or more (especially if we count cash given). Now, the challenge is to look at where we are giving the money. We should always be asking, “is this going to help the Kingdom of Heaven? Or will this only be here for a very short time?”

This past week, I asked a group of people online, why don’t people give to the church? What was interesting is how most of the responses were about the people not liking the ministry or mission being done, so they withheld their money and said the church was not using the money wisely even though the church was being the church.

Our giving really does reflect how much we allow Christ to have control over our lives. As we pay attention to and assess our giving (in all areas of our life), let’s see where we are holding on to control.

Our passage today shows an interaction with a rich man and Jesus. He wanted to know how to have eternal life, but on his terms. His life was what was holding him back.

So, now we ask, “what holds us back from fully following Christ?”

READ SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31 NIV

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There are a few things we have to pay attention to here:

First, the rich man called Jesus “Good Teacher” this means he already has respect for Jesus and his teachings.

How many of us have respect for Jesus’ teachings? If we think about it, Jesus never said, “Respect my teachings and live your life.” No, Jesus said the simple words, “Follow me.” This is the calling each of us has on our lives.

Sunday mornings are easy to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and respect what the pastor says in the sermons and during worship. But are our lives truly changed by the message of Jesus we hear on Sunday mornings? Is this reflected in the way we live our lives Monday morning?

We have to keep asking the question:

WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?

In other words, how do we align our lives to reflect what we profess Sunday mornings? I know there are people who would hear these words and say, “I live my life for Jesus each and every day.” Still, others would say, “I live my life how I choose. This is why I don’t like ‘organized religion’. It’s just people trying to tell you how to live.” Have you heard or thought either of those responses?

When we profess Jesus Christ as our Savior, it is so much more than only respecting the words we hear and say each Sunday. It is about having all parts of who we are completely being transformed by the message, person, and Spirit of the Living Christ in the world and in our lives.

When we profess Jesus as our Lord, we make sure that, in everything, we give him the glory and recognition he deserves. We take the time to live our lives as Jesus lived, loving, serving and giving to the exact people who are different than us and whom we do not agree with.

Did you notice the rich man was looking for Jesus to tell him that he was a nice guy and was doing everything “right.” Notice, Jesus did not answer him the way desired. Instead, Jesus did was Jesus does best and asks him a question in return,

“Why do you call me good?”

Now if I were to ask you, what is “good?” I bet we would all hear many different things and the reasons behind them.

Why would we call Jesus “good”? Take a moment and write down, a thought, of why you would call Jesus “good”.

I often wonder if the rich man was trying to butter Jesus up by giving him a compliment, hoping a compliment would be given in return. Do we do this with Jesus? Do we do this with other people?

As we go through and hear the conversation between Jesus and the rich man, we notice the man’s inflated sense of himself and his character traits. What’s holding him back? His pride, in one respect. How many of us have been caught in the trap of not letting our pride get hurt?

Pride can do so much harm to our lives if not properly checked. He was trying to be told he was “good enough” just because he did not break a few of the commandments. Jesus took him deeper than the rich man was willing to go. He challenged the rich man to look at what he was lacking.

I am one of those people who continually reminds us not to focus on what we perceive to be lacking; but, instead, focus on what God is providing.

But this is a perfect example of how we should look at what it is we are lacking. Do we lack the desire to give up the control of our possessions and finances have on us to truly follow Jesus? This is an area I struggle with because the stuff I have makes my life easier in many ways. But dig into the question further.

Jesus is not only asking the rich man to sell everything he has, but he is challenging him to realize that “an unrestrained appetite for wealth or clinging too tightly to what we possess can hold us back and cause us paralysis in our following of Christ.”[1]

Just as the saying goes “you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse;” we understand that Jesus teaches we cannot be weighed down by what we have in order to follow him. We cannot be worried about our stuff so much that we do not fully and faithfully follow Jesus in our day to day lives.

Another way of putting it, “we do not work for the stuff we have, we work to make sure what we have is utilized for the Kingdom of God.”

Following Jesus is not as easy as we would want to make it out to be. It is more than just saying a simple prayer and leaving it at that. Following Jesus means we listen to what he says and follow him with nothing holding us back.

Throughout this entire exchange, we see Jesus speaking in extremes. Do you really think Jesus was asking the man to really sell everything he had? I don’t think so. Jesus was doing a heart assessment and the rich man did not like what Jesus said, so the man went away sad.

So, what is holding you back from fully following Jesus? How can we have the same excitement for a new TV, football game, clothes, etc. as we have for following Christ? What is something you possess (object, a feeling of pride, knowledge, etc) that is grabbing your attention more than Jesus is grabbing your attention?

I would be a big liar if I told you I had all of this together and nothing was holding me back. In many people’s eyes, pastors are supposed to be perfect people and have no issues. But the truth is, we are all human, all in need of grace, all in need of healthy relationships. We are all in this together.

This life is not easy. In fact, when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”[2]He meant it.

But always remember and believe:

JESUS MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE

We cannot try to get our way into God’s graces by “trying our best” or “being better than other people.” We can only get into heaven because of Jesus Christ.

It really is impossible to get into heaven by pleasing God because when we project something (action or person) as good, we are bringing God down to our own level. But instead, we should continually seek the Kingdom of God because God is the only One who can call something good and get it right.

We cannot do enough to get into God’s good graces on our own. But Jesus tells us, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”[3]

When we give, we are demonstrating the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. We are showing to the world, truthfully ourselves, that we are willing to do everything necessary to follow Jesus. We are showing that the only thing that has our complete devotion is, not our stuff or talents or anything like that, but that we only seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.

When we give to the church, we have the opportunity to be part of the work of the collective Body of Christ in our community and around the world. Yes, the Gospel message is free to give; but the transmission and spreading of the Gospel message takes resources. There is a whole world looking to see churches fail. Many people are constantly trying to prove God is not real.

Do we ever wonder how we can show people that God is real? One big way is to give. Give away financial resources. Give away our time. Give away the talents and gifts God has given us. Give everything away possible because God is continually providing and pouring out his blessings and his presence on all of creation, especially his most valuable creations: you and me.

Bishop Robert Schnase puts it this way:

“Giving makes following God real. We can live a God-related life, or we can live without attention to God’s presence and will. The God-related life means our relationship with God influences all we do. When we seek to do the things God would have us do, including giving, our practice intensifies our love for the things God loves. Then the material possessions that can serve as a distraction or impediment to following Christ become an instrument for our serving Christ. Our material good, consecrated to God, nourish our desire to serve God. Generosity feeds our love for God.”[4]

Tom Chapman, in his book, Make All You Can Give All You Can, writes, “When God calls you to a major task, you will always have other options, and His plan is usually the most difficult one. Many times, it’s also the one that makes the least logical sense.”

We all have things that are holding us back from completely and fearlessly following Jesus every day and in every way of our lives. So, what is holding you back? For me, it really depends on the day and what I have going on and how much sleep I got the night before.

Last week we ended with a piece of Psalm 51. Today, let’s read verses 6-12 together as a form of prayer and praise to God for all the ways he is working in and through our life:

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

As we go through this week, let nothing hold you back from following Jesus every day. Let your love for him be evident through your actions, words, and giving.

Seek Christ for the life he offers and pay attention to the people he loves and how he spends his time, energy, and resources. Praise God for how he is continually working in and through our lives for the transformation of the world!

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 61

[2]Mark 10:25 NIV

[3]Mark 10:27b NIV

[4]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 62

Why Are You Worrying?

READ SCRIPTURE: Matthew 6:25-34 NIV

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Today, we are beginning a 3-week series on stewardship. This is an important topic for us to focus on because everything we have is because of God and is God’s. We are really just stewards of the resources we have been given.

When we talk about stewardship, we are talking about the wise utilization of the resources that God has given us.

Many times, people hear stewardship, in the church, and automatically think about money. This is a good part of stewardship. But we also can easily neglect the other aspects of what it means to be a good steward. We ask the question of how we spend our money; but we also ask, where does our time gets spent, how is our energy spent, how do we use our talents God gave us.

Stewardship is much more than just money. It is also about the talents and energy God has given us. It is about the physical materials God has given us. It is about God’s creation we care for.

The truth is, when we talk about stewardship, people tend to get antsy and edgy because the thought is this, “You can’t tell me how to spend my [money, time, talents, etc]!” Why do we tend to default to this kind of thinking? I think some of this feeling is because we are worried that God is not happy with our lives, or other people would not be happy if they found out what we did with the resources God has given us.

This is one of the areas of our life we will try to “earn” God’s favor and the favor of people. We can focus on showing what we are doing because we like to appear generous. The point of all of this is to break free from the worry of how other people view us. The point is to keep striving for the Kingdom of God.

The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is Jesus giving a long sermon about how people live in the Kingdom of God. What it means to break free from the kind of life the world around us offers and live as free, joyful, peaceful people in God’s Kingdom, God’s eternal presence.

The passage on not worrying is good for us to look at and remember this aspect of living so our minds are not clouded and jaded toward the world we live in. If we stay in the mindset of worry, it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophesy: we will see what we are worrying about come to pass.

When we read the word “worry”, in the passage from Matthew 6, it is the Greek word merimnao. This word is much more than just every day, little worries such as. This Greek word talks about being anxious, to brood over the situation.

This is why the passage in Matthew 6 about not worrying is so important. If we can break free from anxiety and brooding over things we don’t really have control over and focus solely on what it is God wants us to do with the resources we have been entrusted with, then

we can be free to be the people God has created us to be.

What do you get anxious about?

Why do you think you get anxious about it?

There are many things I worry, get anxious about. SOME of them are:

  • Not saying what I need to say in the right way
  • Offending people
  • Am I doing enough for my family
  • Not having enough financially to provide for my family

There are always things that get us worked up with worry and anxiety. The key is to always keep in focus the Kingdom of God and the reason behind why we share the faith of Christianity in the world.

God never promises us an easy life, but he does promise to give us everything we need. When we worry, we tend to have our mind clouded with negativity. This can cause our thoughts to go “rogue” on us and begin to think negatively. Then the thoughts we have tend to control how we act.

Think about that. What we watch. What we read. Everything we take in through our senses can cause us to be filled with joy, happiness, life, negativity, despair, worry, etc. So, when we have thoughts that bring worry to our lives, I like to remember specific verses in scripture:

2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV, “We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

 Galatians 2:20 NIV, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

John 1:5 NIV, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Psalm 119:105 NIV, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.”

These are some of the verses I call to mind when I am facing worry or anxiety. They help, me personally, remember the grace that God has bestowed up me, upon the world. Sometimes it takes times for the negativity to leave my mind; but when it does, the light of Christ shines through.

Over the course of these next three weeks, I’m going to challenge us to rethink how we spend the resources we have. We’ll bring up the challenge to fully tithe (giving 10% to the glory of God). Let’s talk about this briefly.

Financial tithing is important. But many people say they cannot give 10% of their income because that is too much. The reality is, I think most people give away 20% or more of their income and not really think about it. So, we do tithe. Just not in the places that will bring about eternal transformation. We instead focus on things that will last only a week or so before it has to be restored, rebuilt, torn down.

Why is tithing important? First of all, we remember that everything we have is because of God. Everything we have is God’s. Psalm 24:1 says “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” The truth? We are really giving back to God what is already God’s.

Tithing (giving God 10%) is also an act of worship and devotion to God. My wife, Amanda, had a great point the other day. We were talking about tithing (which we do) and she said, “The whole point of tithing is to prove money does not control us. It’s about giving to God without reservation and then fully trusting that what remains is enough to provide for your family.”

How many of us go through the month and not worry about money?

What are some other things we tend to worry about?

I have noticed people worry about:

  • Whether they are liked
  • Whether they are getting what they “deserve”
  • Whether they really have what they need
  • How we are going to get to do what we want
  • How we’re going to pay for colleges/weddings
  • We worry our money/time/talents will be spent on things we do not believe so we hold back and try to control where the money goes.

Notice what all of these “worries” point to – SELF!

Behind all of this is a sense of anxiety because we know we are not doing what we need to be doing. But we have to be careful because it is not about “checking the box” to get things done. It is really about Christ coming into our lives and transforming us from the inside out.

What causes us to “worry”?

The underlying cause can be several things: feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, pride.

But the truth is

THERE REALLY IS NO NEED TO WORRY.

Jesus tells his followers, in the Sermon on the Mount, “do not worry…but seek first his kingdom and righteousness.”(Matthew 6:25,33b NIV)

Christ calls us to continually seek the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. We are given the word to seek after Christ, to seek after his Kingdom. Not only is Kingdom; but his righteousness as well. Some of the ways we seek the Kingdom is to call to mind scripture, find the good around us and in us, be kind when we don’t feel like it, thank God for everything (even the hard times because he is with us).

The beauty of it is, it is not us who earns righteousness, or even life everlasting. It is Christ who freely gives. It is by the grace of God that we do not have to let anything, except the Kingdom of Heaven, fill our minds and hearts.

Christ is saying to not let worry or anxiety fill our lives, but instead to allow the Kingdom of God to fill our lives. It is then we will realize everything God is giving us because of his love for us. Because of grace.

If we are worrying and allowing anxiety to rule our lives, we are really looking after ourselves. But, if we are seeking the Kingdom of Heaven, we see there is no need to worry because God is taking care of us.

Think about your life. Maybe you had an easy childhood, maybe now. Maybe things have gone well for you professionally. Maybe not. Maybe your life is exactly like you wanted. Maybe not.

But God has given us everything we need because he has given us talents/gifts to take care of ourselves and family and to work in the world for transformation.

God has given us encouragement through certain people he has placed in our lives.

God has given us wisdom to know how to handle situations and people.

God has given us himself because he loves us so much that he wants to dwell within us through the Holy Spirit.

All of this is because of grace. See, it is grace we have what we have. It is becasue of grace we can do incredible work in the world. It is grace that we are able to breathe.

We know all of this intellectually, but it is not easy to live fully.

The challenge I have for us all is to continually seek the Kingdom of God first in all areas of our life.

Let us all allow God to break us free from the worries/anxieties of earth and help us experience his kingdom more and more each day.

Psalm 51:6-9 NIV is a great starting prayer for us as we begin this journey over the next few weeks. “Yet you have desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me now, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity.”

It is challenging, but let’s let go of the feelings of worry and anxiety. God has given us all we need and is continually with you and me. God is doing great things.

 

Between Two Friends

Click here to read Acts 15:36-41.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, or at least moving in the right direction, another conflict arises. This time it does not come the outside world; but inside the Christian faith. The argument is between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not John Mark should continue to go with them.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, on the surface. Paul was really hurt when John Mark left (deserted) them in Pamphylia. Why did he leave? Acts 13:13 says, “Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John deserted them there and returned to Jerusalem.” We know where he went; but why did he leave? It doesn’t say. Maybe he got scared after “Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) John Mark would have been there when “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” (Acts 13:9-11a) Constantly seeing acts like this and being there when Paul and Barnaba were thrown in prison and treated harshly, would make be nervous as well.

Maybe John Mark left because he needed a break. The point is Paul felt hurt by the desertion on their colleague. They wanted and needed him to be there with them; and he left. He went back home to a safe, familiar place. Paul did not want him to rejoin their group, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul and Barnabas split ways.

This is how it seems to happen, even for us today. We can look at this passage and say that Paul was being too harsh and should have shown more grace. But Paul was too hurt and had a hard time believing John Mark would continue to stay with them even in the difficult times to come. But did he really have to get angry over the situation?

We should remember that anger is a secondary emotion. This means anger is manifested because we are hurt, tired, emotional, or a whole host of possibilities. When someone is angry, the best thing to do is let them calm down. Nothing productive comes to pass when both parties are angry and not listening. Staying in a state of anger can, and does, ruin relationships. So, listen to what is being said, ask questions (without making it worse), and be patient.

Maybe going different directions is what is needed at times. Maybe it is easier to part company than it is to work things out and get to the heart of the matter. But maybe we can allow our pride to get in the way and miss out on even greater things if we continue to pursue tasks out of anger.

Keep in mind, we are all human beings. We all live in this fallen state of humanity. It is when we experience the Holy Spirit living and moving in our lives that we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. It will not always be easy; but the time it takes to develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control will eventually prove to be worth it.

Yes, we will continue to respond in anger; but I hope and pray that we can all learn to get past ourselves and really listen to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn how to better live with each other, developing more and deeper relationships instead of having more division.

NOTE: Paul does let John Mark rejoin him later on. J

Set Apart

Click here to read Acts 13:1-12.

Everything is going great! You have just been called and set apart for a special task, an important mission. You are excited! People have been praying over you and are sending you out to do the work they know you can do. God is with you.

As you go on your way, you are thinking of all the things you want to do or say. You take time each day to praise God and to connect with Him. You enter the town or place you were sent to with excitement. But then…someone begins to oppose you and the mission you’re on. It’s like they are trying to wage a war with God Himself by attempting to dismantle your mission.

Let’s just face it. We have all had times like this in our life. We can be so on fire for the mission we are faced with that when someone begins to challenge or oppose us, it stings and can be discouraging especially if you’re there to share the good news of Jesus Christ. “Who would not want to hear this message?” you might think. But people can be stuck in their old ways of thinking and their way of life.

Look at what’s happening in this passage today in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas are traveling, after being commissioned by the church to go out, and they run into opposition from a sorcerer named Bar-Jesus. He was trying to lead the governor of the city away from Paul and Barnabas. Why? Maybe he felt like he would not have control over the governor anymore. Or his place of power would go away if Jesus’ name and message was spread. So, maybe he was acting out of fear.

This happens all the time. When people are used to being in a certain position of power and control, it is easy to lash out and to try to stop the gospel of Jesus Christ shining bright. But, we have been tasked to go with God to shine light in the dark places. We get to be people who show and share grace.  Living this life may not always be easy but we can be encouraged that when we follow God’s call and God’s steps, His plans and purposes will prevail.

This week, I invite you to look around. Where do you sense God is working around you? Look at the news, can you see God working and inviting people to join Him to redeem the brokenness that is around us?  Anywhere there appears to be backlash to the gospel, trust that God is on the move and is doing incredible work.

Remember the words of Jesus we read in John 16, “I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33 CEB)

When The Spirit Moves

Read Acts 11 here.

Peter had a vision about what God considers clean. Before he had this vision about the animals on the sheet, he was still only focused on “his people.” But he began to understand that God’s Word is truly for all people.

There is a little verse at the end of Romans chapter 2 that I do not hear many people quote. It’s simply says, “God does not have favorites.” The point is God’s blessings and grace is not just for one group of people but for the whole world. Peter has just learned this and has had to gives his testimony to the other apostles who questioned his actions.

Have you had an opportunity to follow the Spirit’s leading, doing the good that he was guiding you to do only to have it questioned later? Sometimes I think people question our motives for doing good works. Why would we do something if it didn’t benefit us? Those who have quenched the Spirit’s voice may not understand that we don’t always do things to improve our reputation, or to move our status up. We talk with people, help, and go places because God’s Spirit is leading us.

One thing we have to be aware of is some people will not understand why we do what we do. This is an incredible opportunity to share grace, to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. Wherever we go, people need to hear about Christ so they can understand they are truly free because Christ has defeated and broken the chains of sin and death forever.

When we allow ourselves to be filled with the joy and grace the Spirit gives, people see there is something different about us. They want to know why you can handle tragic situations with calmness. They want to know how you can remain hopeful and peaceful when a family member is on their death bed. They want to know what is the source of all this.

Our culture has gotten to be more interested in finding the answers to how to “fix” their life through books, thinking all they have to do is read and they’re problems will go away. But we know that the answer to life is Christ. He is the source of our joy, strength, peace.

Knowing and living in that truth will cause people to notice you follow Jesus Christ in your life. What a joy it is to be called “Christian” meaning “little Christ.” Every time we step out and do something others may not understand, we are following the Spirit’s movement, truthfully going where Christ is working, and being his hands and feet in the world.

The Spirit will lead and guide us to do what we may not do if it was left to us. It is much easier to remain comfortable than to go where the hurt and pain is in the world. But, when we trust the prompting of the Spirt, we get to watch incredible things happen, incredible things change, and see the powerful works of God in the world and in the lives of those people the Spirit sent us to.

What great a blessing is it to be joined with God to go into the world to work for redemption, reconciliation, to make disciples of Jesus Christ, and to witness how God is changing the world one step at a time.

Not For Sale

Click here to read Acts 8:5-25.

When you go to a garage sale, one of the first questions asked is “how much is _______?” We want to know how much it is going to cost us to get what we want.

There is a sweet couple who grow produce in their garden. The husband refuses to sell it. Instead, he wants to give it away.

Many people hear about God, the good news of Jesus Christ and the new life he offers, and think, “How can I earn this?” “What do I have to pay?”

We have this mindset to wonder how much something is going to cost us and we begin to figure out if it is worth the asking price.

Here’s the underlying truth about God’s grace. It cost him everything. It costs us nothing. God’s grace is FREE and undeserved. “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” (Ephesians 2:8)

In the passage in Acts today, we look at the story of Simon the sorcerer. He sees all of the incredible acts (done by the Holy Spirit) Philip, and then the apostles Peter and John. He was so enamored at the attention they were receiving and realized he could not do what they could. He wanted what they have. So, he offered money to them to try and buy the “power” they possessed.

Think about how this can translate to us in our society today. There is a person who is peaceful and joyful in every situation. This person is one of the most respectful and respectable people in the community. They are in a position of authority and influence and their generosity is unmatched because business has been good. Then we find out this person is a follower of Jesus Christ.

This person can easily be admired, even to the point of others wanting what they have just to be recognized as a good person. So, this person tries to find a church and begins attending. The motives for joining the church (or really any organization) are impure because the underlying thought is “this will make be a better person so I can get the same respect and attention.”

God’s grace does not work this way. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given because we try to purchase it. The price was paid by God on the cross of Jesus Christ. He paid the price so we don’t have to. When we take the time to follow Jesus Christ, learn about who he is in the scriptures, and see how the whole revelation of God changes the world (read Genesis – Revelation), we can see the gift of grace is all because of God’s great love for us and his desire for us to be in good relationship with him and with other people.

I invite you to carefully consider motivations for being part of a group, organization, even church, to see if you are part of it because you want recognition, prestige, praise, etc. If this is you, take time to repent and turn you mind and heart to the things of God. When our heart is open to live into the grace that God freely gives, our lives are transformed from the inside out and we begin to experience life in an incredible way.

Or are you part of it because you sense a great desire to be truly molded into the image of our Creator and follow Jesus Christ with every step of our lives. If this is you, allow God to continue to keep your focus on him and his direction for your life. It will not always be easy; but true and full life is always ready to be lived in and through you.

This is something my wife and I consider daily. Some days are different than others. I’m sure yours are too.

Beyond Jealousy

Click here to read the passage for today: Acts 5:17-42 CEB.

Jealousy. We all get jealous at times. Sometimes we don’t even want to admit we feel this emotion. Jealousy, when left unchecked, causes us to act in irrational and hurtful ways. Oh, we want to feel excitement for the accomplishments and gifts of other people; but deep down we wish it was us getting that recognition, so we can try to do anything to undermine the work of another.

Often times, when I write a blog about scripture, I can see my own flawed nature. This is hard because I would like to think I am always striving to encourage and develop others; but honestly, this is not always the case. My guess is this same thing happens to you, would you admit it?

So where does jealousy come from? Our flawed humanity seems to be always seeking to acquire and use what we do not have. This is why the 10th Commandment is “do not covet anything of your neighbor’s.” (See Exodus 20:17) Why is this included? I believe this commandment is part of the other nine because if we desire to have what our neighbors (those around us) have then we will never be content with what God has given us and we will seek to be made in the image of the other person rather than being formed and molded into the image of Jesus Christ.

Have you ever thought of that? Why would we want to be a replica of another person who is flawed and imperfect? Why wouldn’t we strive to be made perfect through the grace of God working in and through us? People who are in leadership positions most certainly fall into this way of thinking and of life.

Whenever another person seems to have more success than you do, be careful not to fall into the trap of doing everything exactly the way they do. The other person has different gifts, and a different area to work in. Just because success is happening in a specific way in one area does not mean it will work in your area. Just because another company, organization, church, group has something we don’t have doesn’t mean we have to go out to bash it, to try and stop it, or even try to replicate exactly.

We see this behavior all over the place. Spectators who want to be coaches instead of fully enjoying the nature of the game. Bystanders who want to know they are not getting what they want instead of being part of the activity, ministry, mission to serve other people. Deep down, there is a desire to be better than the person next to us.

Instead of waiting our energy tearing down another person or group because we’re jealous, let’s instead find a way to say “thanks” for the work they’re doing, for how they are using their gifts from God, for the opportunity to work together for the common good and goal of ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Let’s take Gamaliel’s advice to the Jewish Council speak to us today, “Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!”

So let’s praise God for the way he works through many different people and in many different ways. Let’s praise God for the way he works through you and me. Let’s allow more thanks and praise to flow from our lips. We have so much to give praise for because we, along with those around us, have the presence God working in us and through us AND we get to watch his work through other people.

Giving It Up

Lent is coming upon us. No, this is not the lint we find in our pockets or in our dryers. This is a special time within the Christian Church calendar. This is a time of sacrifice, self-denial, repentance, self-reflection, etc. so we can be fully ready to experience the joy that comes on Easter Sunday when we celebrate the truth Christ has defeated our last enemy, death, and we can joyfully proclaim “Christ is risen!”

To get to that place of complete joy, we have to realize there is a time of preparation that should take place. Easter doesn’t just happen. Christ didn’t just rise from the grave. He made preparations. Jesus went with intentionality to Jerusalem, prepared his disciples, went through public humiliation, flogged, died, and was buried. So much happened in the life of Jesus before he rose.

The 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays) is a special time. Many people, around the world, participate in some sort of fasting. Fasting is supposed to be challenging for us. One of the aspects to remember about fasting is that we are removing anything that takes us away from experiencing the joy of God’s presence that is with us always.

One of the practices I have done each year is to add something new to my days. This has been a great practice for me because doing a new spiritual discipline or a new kind of devotion or prayer has taken time away from doing something else. Adding something new each lent has been a powerful way to more fully focus on the life of Christ and how we have the opportunity to experience Christ daily and in new ways, if we’re open to his presence.

My question for you is, “what is part of your life that takes your attention away from God?” This is what we should give up for Lent. When we give up something, it is not supposed to be easy. It is supposed to remind us that, just like we are tempted to partake of what we gave up because we think we need it, Jesus Christ was tempted in the wilderness. He overcame the power of temptation from the evil one and remained focused on his life calling and his life mission.

Now, here is the challenge. Instead of giving up something like chocolate, or similar, I challenge us to give up something more challenging. (Note: If you crave chocolate and have to have chocolate everyday, this might be a good challenge to give up because it might take your attention off Christ.) Some ideas are giving up a certain TV show each day/week, and spending time in a spiritual discipline (prayer, worship, silence, solitude, etc.) either on your own or with your family. We can also fast from food, whether it be one meal a day or only eating in the evening. There are several ways we can cleanse our hearts and lives by giving something up in order to fill our hearts more with heaven. I am including some additional articles, at the bottom of this post, that could prove helpful for you to fully immerse yourself in the season.

Now, after Easter, whatever we gave up, we do not need to begin again. This is where it gets really difficult for many. Giving something up in order to fully experience God should become part of our everyday lives, even after Easter. If what you give up really does take your attention off Jesus Christ, then keep it out of your life so you can more fully have your life devoted to God.

The day that begins the season of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Many people go to worship, go to a church building and get the sign of the cross on their foreheads in (usually) palm ashes. This is to remind us that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.” Just like we are only dirt when we don’t have a physical body; we are truly nothing without the grace of God in our lives. The ashes are supposed to remind us we need Jesus Christ daily.

I pray Lent this year helps you fully prepare for the joy of Easter. May Jesus Christ continue to make himself known to you daily, and may you know more fully the presence of God in your life.

ARTICLES:

“19 Things to Give Up For Lent that Aren’t Chocolate” http://www.dailyworld.com/story/opinion/2017/02/16/19-things-give-up-lent-arent-chocolate/98005614/

“10 Ideas for a More Meaningful Ash Wednesday” http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/10-ideas-for-a-more-meaningful-ash-wednesday

Love Changes the World

 

Every person has a story of how the world is not how everyone else sees it. Every generation tells of how the world is completely different from how “it used to be.” What do we mean by this? I think we are all trying to tell how the world is changing, in our own way. Some say it is worse; and some say the world is better. How we view the world is really dependent on where our faith truly lies.

In the time of Jesus, there is Caesar Augustus who has it in his mind he is the true ruler of the world. He has human power, makes decrees and assignments everyone listens to and obeys out of fear, and sees the world as his play area. We have people like this all around us. People who are truly great because they are living out the grace of God through their lives, and people who are only great in their own eyes simply because they have certain titles, material goods, positions, etc.

When God came down in the form of Jesus Christ, the world was and is changed completely. Nothing is the same since God personally intervened. This is the gift we celebrate at Christmas time. This is the gift we open and fully receive at Easter. It was the power of God’s love that completely changed and is changing the world.

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.

10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child.18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

The first thing we should see is that love changes the world and gives us power.

The decree of Caesar to go to your hometown for a census to be taken is a good way for him to assert his power. He did this so he could know how many people are in the empire. Not so he could see how blessed he was to be able to lead that number of people; but so he could know how many people to tax and line his pockets. When Caesars of the world today get in power, it is usually for their benefit and not for the benefit of the people.

But God does something completely different. When the angels gave the proclamation that Jesus was born, the shepherds, and us today, are invited to partake in the presence of God. Caesar’s goal was to increase taxation and he could create laws for this. God is the only One who has the power to break us free from the law of sin and death. This is where the true power lies, and we get to receive this power within us, to go in the power of God to make a difference in the world because of the love He has for us. We get to go in the world and be instruments of guiding people to receive the power of God as well.

Love not only changes the world by giving us power; but now we are given a new pride and purpose for our life and work.

The work leaders do may or may not have a lasting impact in the world. It all depends on who they are doing the work for.

After the shepherds left the scene of baby Jesus, they not only returned to their work (tending the flocks); but they have greater purpose now. No longer where they simply shepherds doing menial tasks and a lowly job. Now they get to do their work for the glory of God because they had been in the presence of God, Jesus Christ. This is true for us too! After we have an encounter with God, we experience His powerful love, and we are changed forever. Everything we do is done to serve Him and give Him all the glory. No one can take away the work we do with God for showing others the Kingdom of Heaven that is right here among us. But when we do things for our own glory and purpose, we seen the work we do does not last beyond our time allotted.

“C.S. Lewis once wrote about the nature of humility in the Christian life, saying something like this: the Christian life is to play great parts without pride and small parts without shame. The shepherds’ role was not great by human standards, but it mattered little to them. Serving the Lord with pride and purpose in tending the sheep was a source of joy because they were in God’s presence.” The same is true for you and I. The work we do really matters because we are in the presence of God.

Love changes the world and allows us to ponder and think about all God has done, is doing now and will do in the future.

Not only have we been given great power in the love of God, greater pride and purpose for the work we do, we also get to ponder what it is God is leading us to do and praise Him for all he has done.

After the shepherds left, Mary “pondered” the shepherds visit. The shepherds would have also thought about what the angels told them. They had been given a grand message.

Now that same message is entrusted to us. Think about the things of God and we will see this world not as a place that cannot be redeemed and put right. We will, instead, see the world anew. God allows us to be part of this great work He is doing. The world is not too far gone. The world is ready to be changed and recreated. As we look outside, at the world around us, we should not allow the negativity to steal our joy in Christ. Instead, break through the negativity and show the world the incredible love of God through our actions, our words, and even our thoughts.

It is awesome how communities of faith can gather to worship and demonstrate the love of God in their communities which goes out and changes the world.

In the churches my wife and I are blessed to pastor, we have seen awesome things this year and are excited what the next year will bring. Some of the things we have seen happen in our community are:

  • Recovered from a tornado and rebuilt the church building
  • Baptized 6 people this year
  • Restarted Sunday School for children, teens and adults
  • Started young adult Sunday school
  • Impacted 280 children plus adults in our Trunk or Treat
  • Youth mission trip
  • Choir cantata had 175 in attendance plus choir
  • Children’s Christmas program (11 children and adults helping)
  • 31 coats for kids
  • 50+ shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child
  • Helped people this year with utilities and other benevolence
  • families receiving Christmas gifts this year
  • Night in Bethlehem community event saw 175 people plus many volunteers
  • Provided food for backpack lunches to those kids who don’t have food on the weekends
  • Provided lunch for the school personal as appreciation before school started
  • Provided school supplies
  • Countless prayers, visitations, and so much more
  • This does not even include all of the missionary, evangelism, and life saving work around the world by the global United Methodist Church
  • When we let the grace of God grow in us and we stop living for ourselves and our comfort, Imagine how much we’ll see and experience God’s grace, mercy and power through us this next year!

To some, this list may not seem like much; but there have been many lives impacted in our community because of the love of God that shines through these churches.

God’s love through us changes things, changes our world, our community, us. His power is the most powerful force in the world.

This is what we celebrate at Christmas.