Gift of Salvation

The date was July 17, 2001. Up until this date, I had always thought I was a person who followed Jesus Christ. This day, something changed my life, for the better. Six to eight months beforehand, I had been having lunch with a friend of mine and his pastor. This lunch turned into a weekly Bible study. During this study, I began to sense a desire to say “Yes” to Jesus Christ and have him save me from my sin. What I have later learned is there have been people God has placed in my path my entire life to show me and teach me about God. I have also had people show me what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Many people have their own story of how they came to faith. I have learned, though, it is not the “coming to faith” that is the crucial thing. I have learned it is what happens after we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ because of the movement of the Holy Spirit.
When a person speaks about being saved, they are communicating they have been set free from sin and have been given life everlasting by the grace of God. It is the hope, desire, and longing of every person to live for something greater than themselves in this physical life. When John Wesley died, “His last words served to not only capture the quality of life he lived but also the kind of life he wished for others. He died saying, ‘The best of all is, God is with us.’” (Harper 13) Wesley was considered a practical theologian. As Wesley was teaching and preaching and organizing new converts into groups, he learned a process for salvation. This is not something new, but he did organize the thinking into what we know as the order of salvation.
How does a person come to be saved and receive life everlasting? Why would a person desire to be saved? Oden writes, “The benefits of salvation are summarized as justification (receiving the pardon of God), regeneration (receiving new life in the Spirit and participation in the family of God), and sanctification (receiving the growth-enabling, completing, maturing, perfecting grace of God that leads toward holiness of heart and life).” (Oden 607) The Apostle Paul writes in the letter to Titus, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4-7 NIV) Salvation is a gift of God, it is because of God’s grace we have been saved. (Ephesians 2:8)
The first step in the order of salvation is “realizing that something is wrong with the human race.” (Harper 21) In the beginning, God created male and female in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). Then, in Genesis 1:31, it says “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31 NIV) But then, a brief time later, the humans decided to listen to the voice of the serpent and evil/sin entered the heart and lives of the people from that point forward. Humanity was more interested in themselves, from then on, than they were/are about listening to God.
When a person realizes there is something inherently wrong, there is nothing we can do on our own. “We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Grace is essential.” (Harper 28) One can look back on their life and see that God has been working and moving in many ways. Even before people have an idea about God, God is pouring out his grace. Wesley called this “prevenient grace.” This is the act and movement of God to work in our lives to bring us out of a place of hopelessness. Prevenient grace is seeking ways to break through into peoples’ lives to show God has been there all along. Romans 1 demonstrates this, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen.” (Romans 1:20 NIV) The Apostle Paul is showing that God is making himself known even before the people realize it.
A person comes to the realization God has been working in their life and has felt a strong sense of conviction about their life in sin. For some, this realization can happen at an instant. For others, it can occur over time. This is the point of justification. “Justification is the acceptance of the sinner, united in Christ by faith, precisely while it remains clear that he or she has done wrong…openly declaring his guilt that acquittal is announced.” (Oden 588) The person has been set free from the slavery of sin and has been given new life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ has justified. Christ has made right the person through grace by faith. The person now belongs to Jesus Christ. Repentance has taken place, and a new life begins to unfold for the new believer. “When the New Testament speaks of repentance, it uses the basic idea of change. Wesley called it, ‘a change of heart from all sin to all holiness.’” (Harper 44) The idea is the person now desires to live for Christ and has forsaken all sin. A new way of life is now beginning. John Wesley called this converting grace.
The work of the Spirit is not done in the life of the person. The process of being made holy, of being made into the likeness of Jesus Christ is beginning. At this point, the person is being made new. We call this new birth. Wesley called this process sanctifying grace because this is the process of being sanctified, being made holy, and it takes time. We also know this as regeneration. “Wesley called it God’s activity of ‘renewing our fallen nature.’” (Harper 56) Oden says, “Regeneration is the work of the Spirit by which new life in Christ is imparted to one dead in sin. It implies a change in the inward person by which a disposition to the holy life is originated, and in which life begins. It is the acts of God by which the governing disposition of the person begins to be responsive to the reconciling God.” (Oden 612) The person is in the process of being made new, living into a new will, receiving a new heart.
God’s grace has done incredible work in the person and is working to change the person from the inside out. Oden helps to define grace. “Grace means unmerited favor. To affirm that God is gracious is to affirm that God does not deal with creatures on the basis of their works, merit, or deserving but rather out of abundant divine compassion. It is through grace that God’s mercy is free given precisely to repentant sinners.” (Oden 73) Salvation is God’s gift because of his grace.
The gift of salvation means the person has the opportunity to live in the presence of God, here and now and in the life to come. “[T]he kingdom of God is here now. We do not have to put emphasis on some future climatic event outside the bounds of time and space as we know it. As Christians, we affirm and look to the existence of eternity, but we live in the present.” (Harper 95) We have been given the opportunity, here and now, to live in the presence of God and allow God’s grace, through the working of the Holy Spirit to refine us from the inside out. “
The final aspect of the salvation process occurs when this earthly life is complete. Wesley called this glorification. This is when we enter, fully, into the life to come and live in life everlasting with God in paradise. This is the benefit of living knowing and following Christ here and now. The goal of salvation is to save us from ourselves (sin nature) and to align our lives with the ever living God who desires to be in relationship with all people. The goal of the Christian life is to become perfect in love.
The order of salvation is not as cut and dry as it may seem. People take their own path, the path God’s grace leads them. The point is so one can experience incredible love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and live in God’s presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever a person is going through the salvation process, God desires we bring people along with us. We were meant to be in community with one another and what better way to live out God’s love than with others. We are saved from ourselves (sin nature) and we are saved so we can work with God for the redemption and transformation of the world.

Bibliography

Harper, Steve. (2003). The Way to Heaven: The Gospel According to John Wesley. Grand Rapids: Zondervan

Oden, T. C. (2009). Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology. New York: HarperOne.

Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

And Then…Everything Changed

CHRIST IS RISEN!

HE IS RISEN INDEED!

Five-year-old Brian had a pivotal verse to recite in an Easter program: “He is not here, he is risen” (Luke 24:6). Unfortunately, he could not remember what to say, and the director had to quietly remind him of his line. He then confidently grabbed the microphone and triumphantly shouted, “He’s not here; He’s in prison!”

What brought us to this day? During the season of Lent, we took time for self-examination and reflection, hopefully drawing us closer to the throne of Grace. The week before Easter, Holy Week, traced the final week of Jesus’ earthly life from 

Palm Sunday’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting “Hosanna”, which means, “Save us!”, 

to the Upper Room where Jesus, with His disciples shared their Last Supper together.

We then, on Good Friday, went from the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal from Judas Iscariot, the mock trials, the humiliation, the torture, the crucifixion, the burial.

This looked like the end. Evil seemed to have won. Hope seemed lost.

READ MARK 16:1-8

This seems like such an abrupt ending to the greatest story of the greatest life ever told. Jesus is alive, the women had been told, and they went away and “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”

This can’t be the ending to the story.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s not! Christ rose from the grave. Christ is alive. Christ in the world, changes everything. Because of this, his disciples went into the world proclaiming the gospel, AND we can go into the world with this confidence.

The passage we read today is the traditional ending to this gospel. Out of no where, Mark begins the gospel with Jesus being baptized. he ends it with quickly and with no real explanation with the women being afraid and not saying anything.

Now, we know from the other synoptic Gospels (Matthew and Luke), and the Gospel of John and the longer ending to the Gospel of Mark, the disciples reaction to Jesus raising from the dead and their proclamation to the world.

Doesn’t it often seems like things go bad or we cannot get out of the situation we’re in. It seems like everything goes so wrong at times. It seems that nothing can get us out of the pit of despair and fear. It seems like we have to stop what we’re doing because we’re too afraid to keep going. But fear should never stop us in our tracks.[1]

Because Jesus has risen from the grave, there is so much more to the story, to our story, than we can even see at times.

Because Jesus Christ is alive…

EVERYTHING CHANGES!

The women who went to the tomb to perform the burial rituals, became the first preachers of the gospel:

CHRIST IS RISEN!

We proclaim with Christians around the world and throughout history:

CHRIST IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! ALLELULIA!

Nothing has been the same since Jesus Christ came to us, as a human being, born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Nothing has been the same since he showed the disciples, and many of the people of Israel, what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like (and is like on earth here and now).

Nothing has been the same since Jesus died.

Nothing has been or will be the same since God raised Him up from the grave!

Now is the time to unwrap the gift that came to us that first Christmas, when Christ was born. We get to unwrap and live into the joy and new life that God offers the world through Jesus Christ.

Everything has been changed. Christ has won (Christus Victor)!

Jesus Christ is alive and is showing us how he is redeeming the world. 

Through His Love.

I never what joy was, or how much joy there really is in the world. They suddenly seemed to appear in my life. It is amazing how much love a person can have and give. We spent some time together and I knew they were an answer to many years of praying. I knew Amanda was the one for me…I found someone I want to share life with. Then, at Sea World, I got to meet them. Their smile, their sense of fun and adventure was encouraging to my soul and I knew my older kids were special people, now I have the privilege to call them my kids.

For some time, I thought my joy was complete. I have an incredible wife and two amazing kids. On a November afternoon, a couple years ago, the world was introduced to my youngest daughter, and I fell in love once again.

Love is an incredible thing. Because of the love of God that was and is experienced through Amanda, Sage and Solomon, and now Samarah, I can see Jesus working in and through them to share His love and grace to the world, which ultimately changes the world and makes this world see, experience, and live into God’s Kingdom here and now AND in the life to come.

JESUS HAS COME TO REDEEM AND TRANSFORM ALL OF CREATION.

He starts with us, as individuals, who bring others into the community of faith, working in the world to show the world Jesus Christ changes everything.

Scholar NT Wright puts it this way, “The call of the gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world through suffering love. The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out, put into practice.”[2]

In John 20, we see Jesus, who seems like a gardener to Mary Magdalene, working on tilling the soil. He is doing this to demonstrate he has come, not just to change individual people’s lives, but to change the world as a whole. So, Jesus is working in the dirt…what Genesis 2 says humans were made out of…what Genesis 3 says people will return to be…and what is also cursed. He is working to redeem and transform all of creation.

In the book, “Give them Christ”, Asbury professor, scholar, and author, Stephen Seamonds, writes, “The resurrection of Jesus was therefore not only one miracle—extraordinary no doubt—among others; nor was it simply the final guarantee of life after death. Rather it was the decisive start of the general resurrection, God’s final redemption of all things!”[3]

See, it is not enough to just say Jesus “changed my personal life.” That is only a small part of the real story. We get to be instruments of his grace, that are transformed into his new creations [4]that go into the world to work with God to transform the world by making disciples of Jesus Christ wherever we go.[5]

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave also demonstrates God’s incredible power.

WITH GOD NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE.

The stone has been rolled away. The stone would have been too large and heavy for people to roll back on their own. Remember, the women at the tomb would have been perplexed because they had seen the stone rolled in place and knew how heavy it was.

When the stone was put in place, it rolled down an incline to make sure the tomb would stay closed. Moving the stone away, then, was no simple feat.

But, no matter what seems to be blocking the path. No matter what seems to be interfering with God’s work in the world (natural disasters, terminal illnesses, famine, poverty, hungry, people in prison), nothing is too great for God to handle. Nothing is beyond the reach and scope of God’s power.[6]

God raising Jesus from the grave, rolling the stone away shows that everything is different now. Nothing is impossible with God. We can have sure and certain hope of God’s incredible power, presence, and love flowing through our lives and in the world.

The love and power of God and His word, can transform any human, break any addictions, free people from internal prisons of self-doubt, hatred, cancer, illnesses, comas, you name it.

I visited a person in the nursing home. This person had been unresponsive for awhile. I started reading Psalm 23, “walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” “the Lord is my shepherd, I am in need of nothing else.” When I began reading Revelation 21 about a new heaven and a new earth, she suddenly became (more) alert and was reaching for her “mama”, trying to sit up. This was the first time she had really moved in awhile.

God through His word, through His son Jesus Christ, brings people to a new sense of alertness and “wakes them up.”

Paul declares, in Ephesians 5:17, “Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

If God can raise Jesus Christ from the dead, He sure can wake up those who are asleep to His word, those who are passed away and will be part of the final resurrection.

With God, nothing is impossible.

Jesus being raised from the grave shows this. Because of our knowledge and faith in the resurrection, because we know Jesus is still alive and with us always, everything changes with how we view the world. We live as people of the victory of the resurrection because God has won!

Philosopher Stephen Davis sums up Jesus’ resurrection well:

“[The resurrection] assures us that God will win and that accordingly the world is not mad. Events do happen that we cannot explain. Irrational tragedies and horrible outrages do occur. But because God raised Jesus from the dead after the catastrophe of the cross, we can be sure that God will one day overcome all catastrophes…The resurrection is proof that no matter how bad things get, we can trust in God. God loves us. God has our interests at heart. God works to achieve what is beneficial to us. And in the end God will win.”[7]

Friends, I not only believe this, I’m counting on it!


[1]1 John 4:18

[2]NT Wright, “Evil and the Justice of God” Page 98

[3]Stephens Seamands, “Give Them Christ” Page 106

[4]2 Corinthians 5:17

[5]Matthew 28:19-20

[6]Romans 8:38-39

[7]Stephens Seamands, “Give Them Christ” Page 119

“Doing More” & Church Growth

If you ever wanted to know the strategies about how to grow a church, there are many resources available to help pastors and church leaders. These resources will tell exactly what you should do to grow your church.

On the other hand, I hear many people with a similar question presented, and also a statement which says what we should do in order to gain more members. The statement was simply that we, church members need to “do more.” And the question was, is the church doing anything wrong because visitors do not seem to be coming?

WHO’S CHURCH?

I have an idea to help answer to the question and the statement; but we have to look at something very important first. We have to settle the notion of who the church belongs to. If we continue to use “my church” or something similar, we can be caught into the trap of not allowing new ideas or people to come in because it is not “their” church. Think about that for a minute.

The church actually does not belong to us. The church is God’s. The building we worship in is simply that, a building that is set apart for holy use. The church is the people that make up that particular community of faith. Since the church is God’s, we are always being called to step out of our comfort zone to “seek the lost” and bring them into the fold. We are also supposed to see people as God sees them. This is challenging work, but Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so we could be filled with his power and presence to do the impossible tasks we are called to do.

The church belongs to God. Since the church is not ours, the power of God will sustain and keep the church existing, even in the roughest times.

JUST DO MORE

Now, to the statement above, “we have to do more.” My thought on this is “Yes, kinda.” By that I mean, I think God is calling us to have the same kind of zeal and charisma we had when we first became believers. We had incredible passion for stepping out in faith and telling people how Jesus has come into the world to redeem the people. We have incredible energy for doing mission and outreach work as well. Somewhere along the way, many Christians have just run out of energy to continue the work they had done before.

I think a large part of this is we have not been refilled and refueled with the Holy Spirit and have allowed our zeal to dwindle down. So, we stopped doing the good works God called us to simply because we allowed our life to get in the way. This statement may sound a little harsh, but think about it.

When was the last time you remember being involved in work that was doing good for the Kingdom of Heaven, outside of the church building walls (volunteer at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter, local pregnancy center, etc.)? I know many people still do incredible work, but I am thinking about those who have become sideline Christians and pew potatoes. This can happen to any of us. So, the answer is YES, we do have to do more. But, we also have to ask who is the “we”. It is too easy to say “we have to do more,” and still assume someone else will do the work.

So, what did God call you to do when you first became a believer in Christ? Are you continuing that work? If you are not, why did you stop? Maybe God is calling you and I back to the work we were doing when we first became followers of Christ? Pray about it.

GROWING A CHURCH

Now, to a question that many people are seeking answers to, “how do you grow a church?” The reality is, we can have every gimmick in the book and do everything exactly right, but we could still be missing something. We could be missing out on what the community of faith is supposed to be involved in: relationship building.

This is much more than just inviting people to worship with us. This involves spending time with them in their messy, every day life so they can see the value God has for them. When was the last time you looked at someone and Sid something like this:

“I love you. Why? Because God loves you. I want you to hear how much value you have in the sight of God Almighty, the One who created every part of you. I know your life is not easy. I, too, have scars from life. But Jesus has helped to heal me. He has healed me through his power and presence (through the Holy Spirit) by bringing people alongside me to help me experience his love and grace in incredible ways. I would love for you to join us in worship this coming Sunday and we can talk more about how God may be working in your life.”

This is what we are called to do: share life with each other, especially the messy parts.

Another side to the question of church growth is thinking about what it is we are praying for. What do I mean by this? I mean, are we truly asking God for, and seeking, a real movement of the Holy Spirit? Or do we ask for a band aid fix by asking God to just fill the pews and the plates? Take time to assess what it is you’re praying for.

We should also see what we are controlling that is preventing a movement of the Spirit to occur. In other words, where do our preferences matter more than the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit?

I hear many people say the church is in trouble now. I think they are right, when we focus on just finding warm bodies instead of seeking to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Unless we take the time to revive and use the power of Christ, then everything we do will disappoint us and we will not see the desired results.

If we, however, seek the movement of the Holy Spirit, expect something powerful to happen. Also be patient becasue the Spirit may just be doing a powerful work in the people who may be blocking any movements God wants to do.

I firmly believe the best days of the church are still ahead of us. Let us hold firm and fast to the prompting and leading of the Spirit who will accomplish more than we could ever imagine. You just might see incredible miracles you never dreamed possible.

Let us pray Ephesians 3:20-21, everyday and watch God move:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Experience the Power of the Holy Spirit

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us. This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

FOR ALL ORDERS DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, I WILL BE DONATING ALL OF THE PROCEEDS.

Seeking & Saving the Lost

Jesus is so much more than we realize he is. Even those of us who profess his name and seek to follow him still do not get or give a full picture of who he is.

Over the last few weeks, we have talked about various aspects of who Jesus is:

Jesus is God in flesh. This is so much more than a story we need to hear just at Christmas time. God coming to earth shows how personal he is and how great his love for the world is.

He has been tempted in all ways we are. This shows us he knows what we are going through and he is the One who is constantly with us reminding us of the life and light that is available to ALL people. We do not have to live with the guilt and shame of giving into sin anymore because Christ has set us free from the slavery of sin and death. NOTE: This not does not give us the freedom to live however we want. This does give us opportunities for repentance and experiencing grace.

Jesus brings healing and hope. Through this, he also brings forgiveness of sins. His mission is to bring people into the life of God by working to make the people whole again.

Today, we’re focusing on Jesus’ mission to “seek and to save the lost.” [1]

How am I defining “lost”?

Lost as we’re going to talk about today deals with two types of people:

  • Those who do not know or have never met Jesus Christ. Those who are living a life far away from Christ.
  • Those who profess Christ with their lips but do not live as Christ desires them to live (i.e. purposefully gives into sin with no regret, guilt, shame, etc.) So, a person who acts as part of a church family but not following Christ.

Before we go much further, we have to understand a few things:

  • All people were created in the image of God. Some live into this image while others repress it so much they do not resemble any part of the image of God. Some people do not know the image within them and just need it to come forth.
  • Everyone needs grace. All people are welcomed to experience the grace of God in their lives.
  • We are put on this earth, given this life we have, for “such a time as this” [2]to share and show the love of God through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit for ALL people. We get to live out and work with God in his desire “ALL people be saved AND come to a knowledge of the truth.”[3]

This is the mission of Christ: to proclaim the Kingdom of God that is at hand by living his life to “seek AND save the lost.” We’ll talk about what it means to be saved in a little bit.

READ SCRIPTURE LUKE 15:1-2 (back up to 14:35b)

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

When we read those verses, what stands out to you? Take just a moment and write down what you heard.

 

LET THOSE WITH EARS, HEAR

This was something that was piercing my heart and soul as I kept reading the scripture.

Listening is important. Listening gives people value. Listen helps us understand what is going on.

Many times, we’ll come to people with our own assumptions as to why they are the way they are and do not take the time to really get to know them. We’ll already know what people need and seek to give that to them without really finding out the cause of their situation.

When Jesus says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear,” he is talking about listing beyond the words he is saying and allow the Spirit of God to speak to you. Jesus is talking about truly hearing what is being said and allow the truths he is bringing to impact and transform your life.

Jesus wants us to be so in tune with his voice, that is still speaking, in the world that we will truly hear and follow him. That is why I do my best to cling tight to Hebrews 3:15, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

Now, Jesus is also saying, that only those willing to hear his message and allow the words to change lives are the one who will do what he desires. Only the people who truly desire to hear him will be the ones who actually do. Everyone else is going to do what they want to do and makes them feel good.

Which of these groups of people are you?

Before you say you are in the group that really hears the message of Christ and live according to what he says, think about how you and I treat those around us. Do we ever feel like we are better than other people? Do we ever feel like people deserve what they got and do our best to help teach them a lesson? Do we feel like we’ve already tried to help people and they just don’t get it so we stopped seeking to help?

Jesus wants us to hear him, to have the ears to hear the souls and hearts of the people around us and always seek to be in mission with him at our homes, our community, state/nation, and around the world.

Jesus’ heart is for those who do not try to hide behind a religious lifestyle. Jesus’ heart is for those who do not know God and those who have gone astray from following him.

How many people do you know that are not Christian? It is so easy for us to remain in our Holy Huddles and keep those different than us at arm length and not get to know them. After all, those people are the demise of society, right? No. It is the spirit in the person. Whatever we choose to worship (give precedence to) will become our master. This is where the problems arise.

So how many people do you know that are not Christian? If we say, “no one,” then we really need to expand our circle of influence and love. We also need to remember that even though people profess to be a believer in Christ and profess to be a Christian, doesn’t mean they actually are.

We can think about the lost in terms of being poor.

Someone who is financially poor seems to be the easiest type of person we can help because we can do something for them. This type of person may not know Christ because of many different reasons. They may be in it for the handouts. They are most likely seeking something more: people to show them they still have value and worth in the sight of God. Yet, the financially poor may know Christ deeply because they find themselves truly dependent on him.

Another type of poor is spiritually speaking. There could be people who have everything they want materially but are living so far from Christ it’s not even funny. How can you help this kind of person?

We continue with the scripture today:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus.“

What we’re going to see is

HEAVEN REJOICES OVER SINNERS WHO REPENT

Have you ever been to a worship service where there were lower classes (socially speaking) of people than you? How about a different ethnic group? There is something incredible that happens when all different types and groups of people come to hear and experience Jesus Christ.

I have learned more and have experienced God’s grace and mercy so much more powerfully when I have taken the time to worship with people different than me. I love to be part of the congregation and hear desperate calls for God in their lives. The people were part of the worship experience rather than being simply an audience and just trying to listen. Jesus is seeking to be with the people who desire to be part of his mission rather than those who sit on the sidelines.

Not only that, but he “rejoices over the salvation of every lost person”.[4]When someone repents (changes their mind and heart toward God) and turns their life over to Christ, there is so much rejoicing and partying in heaven.

Jesus sits with the people who need grace. This is why I asked, how many non-Christians do you know? Would you be willing to be seen with the “worst” people in our society? Would you be willing to be seen with people who could ruin your reputation?

This past week, I was in the Rocky Mountains for a spiritual sabbath retreat with 13 other pastors and friends. We had a great time. We spent time hiking, talking theology, praying, goofing off. It was a great time of renewal for me spiritually.

Tuesday we went on an eleven-mile hike up a mountain. As we were hiking up, there were many people who passed us. One of the reasons I love going to the mountains in Colorado is all the different types of people, nationalities, accents that are present. We have the opportunity to talk with many different types of people.

But I did have the thoughts of how many of the people we came in contact with knew Christ, how many of them lived a lifestyle that was far from Christ? Would I be willing to sit down, have dinner with them and listen?

I think many of us, and I battle this at times, do not welcome the outcasts of society into our homes because we do not want to be associated with them. We don’t want to ruin our reputation. This made me think of a quote from a guy named Joshua Harris, “Be like Jesus: Spend enough times with sinners to ruin your reputation with religious people.”

ALWAYS REMEMBER, GOD’S HEART IS FOR THE WORLD

Jesus was “ruining” his reputation with the Pharisees. This group of leaders had to be careful not interact with people beneath them. Pharisee means “set apart” meaning that they were not supposed to do anything that would tarnish their reputation with the people. They had to live in such a way as to be the “perfect” example of what it meant to follow God’s law. Never mind many of them had been corrupted in the heart because they felt they were better than others, enjoyed the money, fame, attention, etc.

So which group would we be better to associate with? The leaders who were corrupt, or the people Jesus came for? I think the answer is both. Remember, everyone needs to experience God through Jesus Christ no matter the lifestyle.

A couple weeks ago we talked about asking God to give you his heart for the people around you, for the world. How do you respond when someone comes along who is different than you? How do you respond when people are constantly trying to get stuff from you? I know my heart is not as soft as I hope it would be. I am not always compassionately patient, but God is constantly working on me daily. He gives me chance after chance because I keep getting to be around people who are different than me and have a different lifestyle than me.

God’s heart for the last, the least, and the lost is incredible. Just take time to read through the scriptures and see what is said. Even read the verses and passages that you do not want to or like to read because it goes against what you think should be done. (You’d find these types of passages all the way through and you would know what they are by how they cause uneasiness to your spirit when you read them.)

GOD DOES WHATEVER IS NECESSARY TO SEEK OUT AND FIND THE LOST:

Ezekiel 34:11

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and find them.”

Ezekiel 34:16

“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…”

Luke 19:10

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 18:12

The parable of the lost sheep.

Luke 15

The parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son.

And many more..

This is what God does. Jesus sought after the people who were far away from God, especially those who had been cast out by the people of God.

God would do anything it takes to bring people into his light and grace.

A friend of mine told me a story of when he was on a vacation several years ago, he and his family (including a toddler and an infant) were going to the beach. The sand was hot and they were looking for a place to play when the toddler needed to go to the bathroom, so the mom took her. My friend was waiting for his wife and daughter to come back from the restroom. When his wife came back by herself, he asked where their toddler daughter was. She said she sent her back to him (he was within sight of the restroom).

The daughter could not be found. For forty minutes the family was searching. They sought assistance from the police, lifeguards, you name it. Finally, they did find her, sitting in the sand playing.

God uses every method possible to seek the lost, find them and bring them into his grace. How do I know? God used all of heaven’s resources to find you and me. He sent us Jesus Christ.

HOW DO YOU VIEW PEOPLE?

Do you “see” the people around you? Don’t assume that if it seems they have their life together they actually do. Do you really see them, the hurts, struggles, sin?

How far would you go to rescue someone from the clutches of sin to bring them to the throne of grace and love?

Jesus’ mission is to seek and to save the lost. Save them from a life of not having knowledge of the love of God and save them from living in a hell. His mission is to bring the true light of the world to all people.

Jesus’ mission is for people to be saved, set free, from the enslavement of sin and death. To know the great love of God. To live in the perfect relationship in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

His plan for accomplishing this mission?

You and me.

Would you search for a lost person here and show them Christ?

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How about here?

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How about here?

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And finally, how about here?

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We never know who God is seeking and asking us to reach out to. As you leave this place today, remember you are being sent into the mission field. Ask God for the eyes to see those who are lost. Ask God for the ears to hear the cry of those who are in search of the God who is already pursuing them.

Remember, God pursued you and me. Let’s go into the world, with him, to seek the lost and walk with them to the throne of grace.

Do you ever feel lost or far from God and his incredible grace? God has never left or forgotten you. Come to know and remember God’s grace and heart for you. Come all you who are seeking life and hope. Jesus is here. He has never left you. Place your trust in him know you have never been lost from his sight.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Works Cited:

[1]Luke 19:10

[2]Esther 4:4

[3]1 Timothy 2:4 emphasis mine

[4]The New Interpreters Bible, Volume 9, Page 295

Free From the Power of Temptations

Knowing who Jesus Christ is, this is the core of who we are becoming. A couple of weeks ago, we began a series on the life of Christ. We started with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Why would we start with that? How we answer that question determines how we view the life we have been given and how we’ll live our life.

Last week, we discussed Jesus is “God in flesh.” Remember, his birth and incarnation (becoming a real human being) are much more than a story we need to hear at Christmas. This is much more than the cute plays we watch. God coming down to earth is HUGE and changes everything. God, himself, is showing he is willing to do what it takes to bring people into a place of salvation, the place of being in his presence here and now AND in the life to come. God coming down to earth is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Day of the Lord (for us Second Coming of Christ) where everything will be set straight, and earth, as well as humanity,  will return to the paradise state of Eden.

What we want to look at today are the temptations Jesus experienced.

First of all, let us remember what the writer of the book of Hebrews said,“we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”[1]

This really should be all we would need to say, but the truth is (especially for our culture and mindsets today) we need to unpack the meaning of that verse. It is challenging for many people (believers and non-believers) to fully believe Jesus did not sin, let alone be tempted in “every” way we are. Yes, Jesus did live in a different culture and time period from us, but we should always remember human nature, desires, and temptations are still the same. How they manifest themselves may look different than what people experienced, even 100 years ago, but we all live through these same temptations even today.

To understand why Jesus was tempted, we have to first begin with his baptism. Luke does not say much about the baptism of Jesus, but what is said is very important to what happens later, and how Jesus lives his life and does his ministry. Here is what Luke says:

LUKE 3:21-22 NIV

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

One of the important things we can often miss when we get into the story of Jesus’ baptism is the Trinity is at work and is noticeably visible. Jesus, the Son, goes into the water. As he comes up, the Holy Spirit comes in bodily form. Then we hear the voice of God the Father.

This is crucial to understanding what happens when we are baptized. It is not a saving act, but rather a relational act. Through baptism, we are acknowledging the work God has been doing within us, and we are publically declaring we now know we are part of the family of God. Baptism brings us into God’s family, and we are living in a new relationship. Just as the Trinity is the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the world, when we are baptized we witness the relational work of the Trinity within our own lives.

We go to the waters, as Jesus (who is with us), as we are baptized, the Holy Spirit seals and anoints you to a position in the Kingdom of Heaven and makes you a prince or princess. Can you sense the Father’s voice speaking to you saying, “You are mine. With you I am pleased.”?

THROUGH BAPTISM WE ARE BROUGHT INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD

But this also means we are brought into the mission of God here on earth. Jesus’ ministry began at his baptism, the public declaration of his mission and purpose. The same is true for us.

Jesus understands all that we go through in this life. He was/is God in flesh, Emmanuel, God with us; but he is also fully human (Jesus was fully divine AND fully human at the same time). He has a deep understanding that he does not live or work without the relationship of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He does not do everything himself.

Do we feel like we need to do everything, at times? Yes. Especially when beginning a new business or mission venture. But the truth is, the mission and business we are in are not ours. It is Christ’s, and we are his people, his representatives in the world. Everything we do in the mission and business has the great possibility to bring people to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is setting the example of what it means to be in a relationship with God, the Father. He is also setting the standard for not working on his own but in conjunction with what the Father is doing through the Holy Spirit. It is all about relationships. The relationship with God, his people, and his creation.

Jesus knows we have a need to be in a relationship with others. But he knows we have a deeper need to be understood, loved, and have a relationship with God, the Father, the Creator of the universe.

Here’s something we can miss. Just because we have entered into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, does not mean everything will be perfect in our lives. Remember Jesus came to our world, this world. Why do we insist on our own comfort and safety, all the time, when Jesus was homeless and was humiliated, mocked, beaten, even crucified? Jesus knows that for our relationship with God to be strong, we will be going through trials and temptations that test our resolve to follow God and his word.

After his baptism, he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted and tested by Satan, the devil purposefully. Why is this important?

JESUS RELEASES US FROM THE POWER OF TEMPTATION AND SIN

Let’s read the temptations and hear what they might say to us today.

READ LUKE 4:1-12

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was temptedby the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Notice what happens here. Satan comes to Jesus after Jesus had fasted (not eaten anything) for 40 days. Why didn’t the temptations come right after the baptism?

WE ARE TEMPTED/TESTED WHEN WE ARE AT OUR WEAKEST MOMENTS

Have you ever been around anyone who needs to eat, but hasn’t eaten? Have you met or encountered people who get “hangry” (the emotion of anger when you are hungry)?

Of course, we all have! This is why the snickers commercials are so appealing because they show us what happens if we do not get fed physically. Truthfully, if I forget to eat, or do not eat enough, I will get the same way.

If we have not gotten the proper nourishment for an extended period of time (food, love, affection, attention), we find we become “hangry.” In those moments, we are likely to do things we would not normally do or say things we would not normally say. It is in these times when we will be tempted the most to take charge and forget (not live into) God’s presence and Word that is with us always. The promise of Jeremiah is true, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”[2] There comes a time when we know (with our mind) that we belong to God; but when the physical, emotional, mental, relational needs are not met, then a new ruler of our hearts tries to take the throne and rule our lives in place of God.

Imagine the scene. You have just come through an incredible experience. You just got the job. You have found your mate for life. You have just become a parent. You have just experienced God for the first time in your life and have just realized he has been pursuing you all your life. Everything is great. For a time.

The high from the excitement will wear off and the reality of this world, this life comes back into focus. We have not been seeing the world as the rest of the world sees themselves. Instead, we have had the rose-colored glasses on that God had given us. There comes a time when we stop putting the glasses on and experience a time of feeling down (after the high has worn off).

This is when you can begin to feel the grip of Satan, the accuser, the devil, grasp your shoulders and pull you in close. You can hear the words, “If you truly trust and believe in God, then __________.” (Basically “prove it” by doing ________.) This is what is happening. It happens to all people.

We may not see a slithering serpent (as in Genesis 3) trying to lead us astray. We may not be whisked off to a distant land, not able to eat anything, and physically see Satan. But I bet we all hear the sound of his voice whispering in our ears trying to lead us against what God is doing in our lives. We all battle which thoughts to go with. We all listen to our own voice over God’s.

Do not be fooled into thinking we can “master” the tempter, the temptations we face all the time. Temptations have more power than we understand. Unless our minds can meditate on God and his word, we will think we can handle this on our own. If anyone says, “I am not tempted anymore,” that person has either succumbed to the temptations and have become so numb they cannot see the power the temptations hold. Or that person is dead. Remember 1 John 1:8 (NIV), “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus knew he could not stand strong without God, the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit. He paid close attention to the words being twisted from scripture. He knew the only weapon to defeat the lies and temptations was to give truth through the scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at what he said:

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”(Luke 4:4)

“It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:8)

“It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12)

The temptations do not stop when we know and proclaim what the scripture says. We’ll keep hearing whispers of ideas that sound good, at first. But this is why we continue to rely on the power of God working in and through our lives.

A scripture that often gets misinterpreted is 1 Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV translation)

Notice, the verse does NOT say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Rather the verse says that God will provide a way to endure the temptation. It says, “When you are tempted…”

Jesus knows we will all be tempted to be led astray from the movement of God in our lives. He knows that without the word of God, we cannot do the mission God has entrusted to us. Jesus knows how important relationships are for people and he desires us to live in the healthy relationships that will give us life, not suck the life or energy out of us.

We can be tempted to think that Jesus did not truly face the same temptations we face today. After all, it was a different time period. But the reality is, he did face the same temptations we face. We are just presented different manifestations of the temptations based on our context today.

We are always tempted to rely on our own hands, our own ability, our own work ethic, etc. to make things happen to make our life easier. This is what Jesus faced in the first temptation of hearing he could make stones turn into bread.

We all can be put in places and situations where we are going to have the desire to test God’s love for us. After all, IF he loves us, then he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us, right? Jesus faced this as a temptation.

Side note: We can be freed from the grip the temptations have on us, but this doesn’t mean the consequences of following through the temptations will not still be present. If we’re not careful, we will live with the consequences of the sin for the rest of our lives. Broken relationships, loss of job, loss of self-worth, illnesses that could have been prevented. All because we decided to put things into our own hands, and “test” the chances of anything happening.

Jesus also knows we have the temptation to be famous, to rule over things and people. The real ruler of the world is Jesus, himself. Fame, power, greed, prestige, all come with a cost if we are not giving glory to the One who has given us life. When we place ourselves above God, then we think and believe we are God. For us, this is dangerous and leads us to a way of life that actually causes destruction instead of building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth because we can become complacent and indifferent to the suffering world around us by trying to keep things as they are instead of working with God toward transformation and redemption.

What do we do when we succumb and give in to the temptations? Understand,

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE FOR GRACE, REDEMPTION, AND TRANSFORMATION.

Hebrews 4:16 NIV says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us out in our time of need.”

We are never too far off from God that we cannot be restored and redeemed (made right). We will all give in to the temptations we face in this life, but we do not have to let them continue holding a tight grip on us. We can be truly free from the temptations we face, and God is the source of our freedom, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

James 4:7-8 (NIV) says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” We see Jesus do this in Matthew 4 when he said, “Away from me, Satan!”[3]

Jesus knows EVERYTHING we go through in this life. He has walked it. He has lived it. So “when we do succumb to temptation, ‘approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy’ from the one who knew temptation.”

Allow God to remove the guilt from your life so we can learn of his great power and forgiveness. Stand firm in who God says you are, his “beloved with whom he is well pleased.” Live into this truth and always remember Jesus is with you because he knows what you go through, and is giving you everything, every power, you need to live this life.

All of this is so we can be part of the incredible mission God has for his family in the world.

Hear these words from the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, “For it is by faith you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[4]

 

Works Cited:

[1]Hebrews 4:15 NIV

[2]Jeremiah 31:33

[3]Matthew 4:10 NIV

[4]Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV