God’s Story, Your Story: The New Testament

If you could sum up the Bible in one word, what would it be?

This may be tricky for some. Some may be thinking we can’t sum up the Bible in one word.

I think we can sum up the Bible with the word, JESUS. After all, in Luke 24, Jesus tells the disciples on the way to Emmaus that all of scripture points to him. Paul, in Colossians, says that all things are held together in him. So as we read scripture, even the Old Testament, we should be able to see Jesus in everything.

As we take the time to talk through the New Testament, remember how the storyline of the Biblical narrative goes:

Act 1: Creation, Fall, Israel

Act 2: Jesus, Church, New Creation

Last week, we saw the 39 books of the Old Testament are divided up into categories:

Pentateuch (Torah), History, Writings/Poetry/Wisdom, Major Prophets, Minor Prophets

The New Testament is divided up into categories as well:

Gospels of Jesus, History (Acts), Paul’s letters (longest to shortest), General letters (longest to shortest), Apocalyptic

So the way to think about the layout of the New Testament is like this:

Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension 

The spread of the message (Acts)

Living out the Christian life through the empowerment and presence of the Holy Spirit (the letters and Revelation)

Now, if the whole Bible could be summed up with JESUS, can we think of key passages that help explain the gospel and the way the Christian is supposed to live in the world?

Many know John 3:16 (For God so loved the world the he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.)

Unfortunately, this is where many people stop—at the point of gaining their own salvation. But the Christian life and faith is so much richer and deeper than simply personal salvation—it’s about being in community, sharing life together, and laying down our lives for the sake of others.

The second part of the gospel we need to hear, and live out, is 1 John 3:16 (This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.) This is why we follow the command, and example, of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him. We follow him even though we, as believers, will have challenges and suffering in this life. We follow him because he is the only source of hope and life.

So many people think the Christian life is just for them—it’s become what can Jesus do for me here and now? How can my life get better? But see how we miss out on the power of the gospel? The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives in community, when we seek to bring new people into the family of God (this is kingdom growth not just numerical growth). The power of the gospel is found when we live our lives for others instead of ourselves.

This is why there is so much emphasis on not judging, gossiping, slandering, anything that destroys or devalues another human life. The emphasis is on love—a word that has honestly lost it’s meaning because we over use it. (I love hamburgers, I love my spouse, I love (pick your favorite sports team).) Love in the Bible is not a feeling, or even how we feel in the moment. Love is the way of life. Love is at the core of who God designed us to be.

A little pastoral care moment: When we “speak truth in love” our goal is never to belittle the person but to build them up and encourage them. So often we attempt to speak, what we call, truth and end up having anger in our hearts towards the person. This is not the example of Jesus at all.

Christ followers are to emulate and imitate Jesus in their everyday lives. This is the point of the epistles (letters) from Paul, Peter, John, Jude, James, the author of Hebrews. What’s incredible is how the Spirit continues to speak through these words today—with the intention of building up the community and growing the kingdom of God (God’s rule and reign in the world).

Then we come to the book of Revelation. This is a book that has been misunderstood and misapplied for the last 200 or so years. We’ve said it before, the point of Revelation is to show how God’s people can and should stand firm in their faith even when everything is going to pot. 

The ancient readers would have understood this was a letter, written in code, so they could understand what’s happening in the world to them at that time. We do know that Christ will come again and set things right (true justice not revenge). That is why we can live in hope and joy—we know the end of the story.

This is the New Testament, in a brief nutshell. 

One more thing to consider. There really is nothing new in the New Testament that is not in the Old Testament. In fact, what we see is an expansion of the thoughts and teachings from the Old Testament. (Think Sermon on the Mount which we’ll begin next week.)

This is why it is so important to study and read through the Old Testament. There are many resources available to help us study to learn the history, traditions, and context of the Old Testament. When we better understand the OT, we will begin to see more of the beauty found in the New Testament.

Jesus is the point of the Bible. Jesus is the point of the Christian life. How we live, in this life, matters and it has eternal consequences. I challenge you to read through at least one Gospel, a few letters, and Revelation this week. Ask God to reveal himself to you. The best picture of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Then, ask God to mold you into the likeness and image of his Son and give you the grace to live out the Christian life in community and help you be a person to build people up and work with God to grow the kingdom of Heaven.

Who is YHWH?

The Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) begins with a land that is fertile and ready for humanity and ends with the people of Israel on the cusp of moving into the land of promise. Beginning in Genesis 12 through Deuteronomy 34, the promise of land is a key theme for the people of Israel. This is what they continue to move toward and keep their minds on—home. This may be a common destination throughout these five books, but what holds the Pentateuch together is the nature and character of YHWH, the One God with any significance. The Pentateuch is answering the question, as Pharaoh asked Moses, “Who is [YHWH] that I should obey His voice…?” (Exodus 5:2b NASB) Not only this, the Pentateuch is also answering the, implied, question of how God’s people should act and live in this world and this life.

YHWH is the only God that is above all of creation. This is made clear, in Genesis 1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2 NASB) This transcendence means that YHWH can be involved, but not necessarily impacted, by the actions of the people. He is able to act and move in the best interest of what needs to be done. The Pentateuch is making the case that YHWH is not made by humans so he is not manipulated by any spells or incantations other cultures and peoples might do to get the god(s) to do their bidding. YHWH stands alone above all the other gods. Holiness, love, just, true (promise keeper and fulfiller) are some of the attributes that the Pentateuch teaches about the nature and character of YHWH. Because YHWH is transcendent, he is able to be all of this, and more, and expect his people Israel to be holy as well. The Pentateuch is held together by the character of YHWH that the people are supposed to demonstrate to the world and live as.

The phrase “I am the LORD” (אני יהוה) is one of the recurrences that helps to make the case God is the only God with any significance and is above all others. This recurrence is used throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, especially when YHWH is making a statement about what he has done. Most of the time, “I am the LORD” (אני יהוה) is combined with his action of delivering the people of Israel from Egypt (הוֹצאתין מארץ מצרימ) “brought you out of the land of Egypt.” This recurrence comes at key points within the Pentateuch and serves as a reminder of who did the delivering for Israel. This is one of the major characteristics of YHWH—redeemer and deliverer. YHWH does not desire his people to be held captive by anyone or anything, except for his covenant. His name implies he is able to be and provide anything the people need. YHWH’s provision is shown through the storehouses of grain in Genesis when the famine struck the land, deliverance from Egypt, water from rocks, manna, quail, new life in the wilderness journey, guiding with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, giving of the covenant, and even bringing the people to the border of the promised land. YHWH is able

How can the people of Israel live up to the holiness YHWH requires? The covenant is what makes the people of Israel unique. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the people are constantly being called back to the covenant life taught in the Pentateuch. The people are called to be holy because YHWH is holy. The covenant is central to demonstrating the faithfulness of YHWH and how the people are supposed to live. This brings up a contrast in the way other people live versus the way YHWH expects his people to live. “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine: and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6a NASB) If the people of Israel followed the guidance and kept the covenant of YHWH they would be set apart and be different from the rest of the nations and people groups. Because YHWH is transcendent, above all other gods, he is able to say he own everything and can set the people of Israel apart from everyone else. “There is only one being in the universe who can rightly be called ‘holy.’ Thus it becomes possible for the first time to describe ‘holy’ behavior: it is the behavior of the Holy One.” (Alexander, 850) This makes the covenant vital to the way of life for Israel.

Covenants were not new to Israel at YHWH’s revelation on Mount Sinai. Covenants have been part of the people of God from the very beginning. When YHWH makes covenants he is showing his faithfulness and love to and for his people. Other deities would have expected something from the subjects, YHWH gave himself (Genesis 17) and said Israel needed to follow him and they would be his own people (Exodus 19). This was done so YHWH could show his love for the world through the people of Israel. Not only this, but YHWH is demonstrating his loyalty to the people of Israel, something different from other cultures who worshipping other deities.

At the core of the character of YHWH is his hesed (חסד), his holy love, his unfailing love. YHWH’s hesed is highlighted over fourteen times in the Pentateuch (Gen 19:19, 24:12, 24:24, 24:27, 32:10, Ex 15:13, 20:6, 34:6, 34:7, Numb 14:18, 14:19, Deut 5:10, 7:9, 7:12) which shows that YHWH is acting out of his love and mercy for Israel, for the purpose of the nations knowing who YHWH is. “…the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” (Exodus 14:4c NASB) The biggest revelation about the hesed of YHWH is found in his own self-revelation in Exodus 34:6-7, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness [hesed] and truth; who keeps lovingkindness [hesed] for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…” (NASB) This is a key verse that is found throughout the Old Testament and recurs in the Pentateuch (Ex 20:5,6, Numb 14:18, Deut 4:31, 5:10, 7:9) This is another example of contrast between YHWH and the other deities other people worship. However, this could also be a climax of the Pentateuch because this describes the nature of YHWH, by his own words, the people of Israel know how their God will be with them, treat them, even offer opportunities to forgive their sins against him and their fellow Israelites.

Because the hesed of YHWH is so prevalently known and shown (through the acts of deliverance, giving of the law/covenant, people of Israel growing and thriving, providing food in wilderness, not destroying the people when he had the chance) we can also get a glimpse of how just YHWH is. He is not a God who acts on a whim. YHWH acts for justice (setting things right) in the world. The plagues of Egypt were judgements on the gods of Egypt, the deaths of Aaron’s sons in Leviticus 10, Moses and Aaron not able to enter the land, and many more examples happened because YHWH cannot allow sin to remain and go unpunished. This can also be one of the most loving things YHWH could do. He is not punishing for the sake of his own amusement or “just because”. The punishment comes into motion because of the effects of sin. Through the law/covenant, YHWH has already stipulated how to live. Moses, in Deuteronomy 30:19 says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” (NASB) This is an act of hesed, and the justness of YHWH because he gives the people a chance to choose life, to choose the way of life he is telling them to live, in order for them to thrive and live a long time in the land. 

In Exodus 32, the people of Israel were waiting for Moses to come back down the mountain after he had already been up there 40 days and 40 nights. The people became anxious and pleaded with Aaron to make them a golden idol so they could worship it. So Aaron made a golden calf from the gold the people took from Egypt when they left. This is where the hesed of YHWH is shown as well as justice. “In simple justice, God was obligated to destroy them. But in fact he invited Moses to intercede for them by saying that he would destroy them if Moses would ‘let me alone’ (Ex 32:10).” (Alexander, 851) Justice was still played out because the sin damage had been done so the Levites killed many people by the sword for bowing down to an idol. Justice needed to happen because of who YHWH is. YHWH always acts in consistently “right behavior” because of his holy character. (Alexander, 851)

Because YHWH does the right thing, all the time, he can be counted on to keep his promises. This is shown throughout the Pentateuch in the covenants he makes with Noah, Abraham, and Moses. YHWH also demonstrates he is trustworthy to Abraham and Sarah who received the child of promise, Isaac. He also tells Abraham his descendants will be slaves to another nation for four hundred years. This also comes to reality when the Exodus story begins. His promise of land to Abraham and the Israelites is mentioned many times throughout the Pentateuch. Ironically, this is the only promise that was not fulfilled in the course of these books. But we can be assured the people will receive the promise because of this important inclusio.

What is consistent throughout the Pentateuch is this is the same God who creates, who delivers, who guide, who provides for the people. The inclusion deals with the Spirit (רוחּ) of God. In the beginning, Genesis 1:1, the Spirit (רוחּ) of God is over the waters of creation. In Deuteronomy 34:9, Joshua son of Nun is filled with the Spirit (רוחּ) of wisdom to become the leader the people need to carry them into the promised land. It is the Spirit (רוחּ) of God that holds the people together, this is the presence of God that is with the people.

Even though the Pentateuch is made up of five individual books that tell the narrative history and story of the people of Israel and how YHWH redeemed and delivered them. The consistency of YHWH’s character throughout demonstrates he is the one God with any significance and he is the same. When Pharaoh asked, “Who is [YHWH]…?” He got displays of power and saw how fiercely loyal he is to Israel. The God of Israel desires to make himself know to the world through the people of Israel. Because YHWH is holy and just and loving in his character, the people of Israel know how they should live and act in the world to be living, tangible examples of the God who is above all.

Bibliography

Alexander, T. D., & Baker, D. W. (2003). Dictionary of the Old Testament : Pentateuch. InterVarsity Press.

Arnold, Bill T., and Choi, J.H. (2003). A guide to biblical Hebrew syntax. Cambridge University Press.

Dozeman, Thomas B. “Deuteronomy,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995 (pp 271-538)

Noah: Nobody’s Perfect

There are movies and books and stories that we allow to speak to our hearts. We fall in love with the characters and root for them, or want what’s coming to them to happen. The stories we seem to pay more attention to add to our notion that life is all about us.

One of the things I love about the Bible, and there are a lot of things, is how the scriptures are full of stories and people we can fall in love with, even dislike. But it doesn’t go there. When we take the time to read through the scriptures, we see the people are just like us. Humanity and human nature have not changed, though our culture and lifestyle may have changed. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow!

Noah and the flood is one of those stories many people love from the Bible. But, is there more to it than just Noah, his family, and the animals getting saved from the water?

As with any good story, we have to know and understand the back story:

Before there was anything, God was. The waters we read about in Genesis 1 represented chaos to the ancient people, so, God created order from the chaos. His Spirit was hovering and realigning the chaos to fit his plan, fit his design.

God created the heavens, the stars, the sun, the moon, the plants and animals. His crowning moment of creation was humanity, his image-bearers whom he hand crafted and placed in paradise to care for, till, and even extend paradise to the rest of the earth.

God is the God of goodness, perfection (holiness), and order—there is nothing he is not part of.

Then, the trip into what became the fall of humanity took place. We talked about this last week—Adam and Eve ate from the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the tree they were supposed to steer clear from. They got banished from paradise, yet still allowed to live (that’s grace).

What happens next is horrific. When we allow sin into our lives (in any shape or form) things go bad really quickly. Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, kills his brother Abel because he was jealous. Things got worse from there.

One of the worst parts of the Bible is when God says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen 6:5 NIV)

And then the worst part, “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” (Gen 6:6 NIV)

But remember, there is always grace in the pages of scripture. Genesis 6:8 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” This is hopeful. There is someone willing to listen and obey God, even in the midst of all the selfishness, greed, murder, crime, sin, Noah was willing to stand out and follow God.

When a person decides to follow God, they will most certainly stand out and be noticed, even if they are not drawing attention to themselves. So, a question right off the bat is “will you live the kind of life that is completely different from everyone else, for God? Or will we continue to cater to our own comfort and preferences?”

One thing we have to remember is fewer people than we realize live the kind of life they say they live. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (NIV)

Even when everyone else was trying to get Noah to do what they wanted, or do the things they wanted, Noah stood out and found “favor in the eyes of the Lord.”

Side Note: People will do anything to make you look bad, make you look evil, lazy, etc. when you’re following Christ. Don’t give in to it, take the road that leads to life, always.

Genesis 6:9 says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” (NIV) This is a pretty cool picture of God’s grace shining through. Even though no one else was not following God, Noah did, and he did so in a way that people saw there was something about him different from them. The truth is, it is only by the grace of God we are able to live this life and follow God. Without God’s grace we cannot and we will be lost. Noah lived his life in the grace of God.

Now, the life we live for God will look odd to the rest of the people. The text doesn’t say this, but Noah was really an evangelist trying to teach and show the people what will happen if they don’t turn from their way of life. How do I know this? Noah faithfully kept building ark.

This would have been a huge undertaking and hard to miss. People would have been making fun of Noah for doing this, but he kept building away. He kept being faithful to what God laid out before him instead of giving in to the taunting and desires of the people around him.

The people were probably taunting him and trying to get him to stop what God called him to do because they did not understand. They must have thought because he was not living up to their expectations that he was in the wrong. But Noah kept building away.

Imagine the heartache Noah felt during this time.

Then, the rains came. This was something the people had never experienced before. When the rains came, and did not stop, I’m sure the people began to panic. But God chose to close Noah, his family, and the animals in the safety and security of the ark.

One of the things we don’t really hear much about in this story, except when non-Christians bring it up, is the death toll surrounding Noah and his family. Realize that only Noah and his family were saved from the destruction. Everyone else perished. This is not a children’s fairy tale story.

But Noah stayed the course and trusted God to guide and direct the ark during this time. Noah and his family cared for what they were entrusted with on the ark and kept their trust in God through the storm.

The waters and damage from the rains and flooding did not quickly go away. The rains came for 40 days, but the waters stayed, Noah and his family stayed on the ark for over a year. Imagine the patience and trust, in God, that was required to sustain their faith. Noah faithfully trusted God, especially in the storm, and the recovery period.

When they were finally able to exit the ark, Noah was given the command God gave Adam and Eve, to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. The people of God were starting over in a small number. But Noah faithfully trusted in and followed God.

Then when it was time to plant the seeds for a new beginning, Noah planted and grew grapes. The grapes he grew became fermented and he drank the liquid and became drunk and passed out. Know this, too much of anything puts us in a place of vulnerability and susceptible to sin.

Sin creeps in, and is more tempting, when we are at our weaker points (hungry, hurt, tired, lonely, etc.). This is why the devil came to tempt and to test Jesus after Jesus had fated for 40 days and nights.

Noah’s son found him and basically made fun of him to the other brothers. The scripture could imply other things, but basically Ham did not honor or respect his father. Because of this, Noah’s anger burned and said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” (Gen 9:25 NIV)

Noah allowed his vulnerability, he placed himself him, to cause himself emotional hurt and embarrassment from what Ham did, and then came out in anger.

We’ve said it before: anger is always a secondary emotion. If our needs are not met (whether we say what they are or not), if we get embarrassed, jealous, hungry, lonely, tired, etc., then anger is what is manifested. Not only that, anger is manifested outward instead of inward where the work needs to begin.

At first, Noah found favor in the eyes of God. At the end, Noah still found favor in the eyes of God because of his faithfulness. The covenant, promise, blessing, sign of the rainbow was given to Noah simply because he found the way to faith.

Church, the way to faith is not in anything we can find on our own. It is not something or anything we can do. It is not trying to please people or do things to try and please God. The way to faith is a person. The way to faith, and true salvation (here and now) is in the person of Jesus Christ. John 14:6 reminds us of this truth, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (NIV)

Jesus also said that he is the gate (John 10:7). Not only is he the way, he is also the door to enter into the salvation promised by God, the rest that God promises.

Church, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, trying to make sense of the world and events happening. Stop trying to please people, yourself, God. Seek the person and presence of Jesus Christ because he has already found you and is working to give you peace.

Nobody is perfect. We will all make mistakes and will fail others constantly. But God is faithful when we are not and that’s who’s working in us and through us to reach a world hurting to know God.

He has given you a task, an ark to build. Are you building for the Kingdom glory?

Let’s pray…

Gracious God, so often we seek to find our security in people and we miss out on the opportunities you provide all around us. Lead us to complete fulfillment. Guide us to the person and presence of Jesus Christ. We know we cannot live this life without your grace. Thank you for pouring your grace out upon us. Now, O God, we need your strength and courage to live out this life you have called us to live. This, and so much more, we pray in the powerful name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

RESPONDING TO CHRIST AND THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT HERE AND NOW

NOW IF YOU have never said YES to Jesus by answering his call on you life, now is the time. I pray you get to live into the joy. If you say YES to Christ’s call, let us know and we can help you live your response out. If you say YES again, let us know and we can help equip you for God’s purpose in life.

God’s Love Prevails

While I was sitting in the airport recently, I observed the people around. Some were in the hustle and bustle of their day. Some were very irate when their flight was missed or delayed. Some were very worried about not making connecting flights. The tension in airports is very high.

The airport is also one of the places where we will see people really only caring about them. I mean, people will run over you, or treat people bad if they do not get what they want. It is as if we have forgotten who we are and who we belong to.

This attitude is not only at the airports, it is all throughout our culture. I have this attitude, “it’s all about me and my schedule”, at times. You do too. We live in a world that makes us believe we are the central focus. We go for our preferences and say this is what God desires for me. We’ll look down on people because they do not have the same lifestyle as us, or their sin has caused more harm to them than our sin has caused us. We can get to the point we end up blaming God for what’s wrong in this world and can easily forget to thank and praise him for all the good and joy in this world. We can forget that God is ultimately sovereign over this world.

WHERE WE HAVE BEEN

A couple weeks ago, we talked about why there is suffering in this world. We looked at the phrase, “everything happens for a reason” and noted that many times the reason we have suffering is because 1) we live in a fallen world, 2) our personal sin does have consequences in our lives, and 3) we humans make decisions that impact more than we realize.

Last week, we talked about finding and knowing God’s will for our lives. The first thing to do is to seek God. God’s general will for all of humanity is to 1) love God and 2) love people. Everything else falls into place. There are times God will speak to you and guide you (call you) to do more; that’s why it’s important to keep a listening ear toward what God is saying.

This week, our point is simply this: God Wins.

Now, there is so much to this statement that we have to take time to look at it closely.

To us, WE LIVE IN THIS WORLD EVERYDAY. TO US THIS IS REALITY.

If we are constantly seeing all of the wicked, negative, and evil news all around us, we will actually miss God’s work in this world. 

One of the places I like to sit and write is at Starbucks and McDonalds. I was at McDonalds one morning and saw many people coming into get their food and just pay attention to themselves. When, all of a sudden, a man walks in and sits down at a table with two other men. He has a concerned looked on his face. After he sits down, he hands over a letter and apologizes for his attitude and behavior and asks for forgiveness.

The other men vented their frustrations with him and told him why he was wrong. NO THEY DIDN’T. They listened to his request for forgiveness and sat there calmly talking things through. The conversation even got around to talking about faith in Jesus Christ.

Many people do not have opportunities to see this kind of behavior in the world because we get so caught up in what’s going on in our lives and what we perceive to be “news.” With all of this information being captured in our minds through our eyes and our ears, we can be filled with the knowledge that keeps us from seeing God work. We become numb to all the brokenness that we actually become indifferent to things working out for God’s glory or not.

I invite you to continually seek God and seek His heart in and for this world. See the world as God sees it: His creation that He loves so much that He will do whatever it takes to transform, redeem, recreate. He’ll do this work in and through His people more often than not.

But how can we see God working in this world through His church when there is so much negativity about the Christian church in America? How can we see God working through churches that are divided? 

Statistically speaking, less and less people are believing in the power of God through His Holy Spirit, and there are less people going to worship in a community of faith. As the body of Christ, we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit to do great work and witness in this world. 

Think about when this particular community faith was started in the late 1800s. There was a great desire to reach people for Jesus Christ by verbal witnessing and by acts of service. We can rekindle that desire to seek the least, the last, the lost (of all socio-economic levels).

Why do I mention this? If we lose our true heart for following God through Jesus Christ, it really all becomes about us and about our own desires and preferences. But God has given us His heart to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world because of the life changing relationships we develop.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, warned his followers:

‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.’[1]

So, here is our challenge today: are there times when our zeal for following Christ less important than what we want to accomplish and do in this world, in our life? Do we lose the use of the power through the Holy Spirit in doing the work He has called us to?

The truth is we get so caught up with the negative news and junk that we lose our heart for the mission God is leading us to do. We can get so caught up with what we think is “wrong” that we forget to keep moving toward what is “right.” We get so caught up in saying what we are against and don’t always tell people what we stand for.

Every week, we gather for worshipping the Triune (three-in-one God). Every week, God faithfully shows up. There are times when I am so busy with my to-do lists and work that I can forget to pay attention to His presence. Do we expect to encounter Jesus Christ every Sunday in worship? Or do we only seek for what we think will “feed” us?

The Day of Pentecost came 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, This was a day when thousands, millions, of devout Jewish people would again descend upon Jerusalem to praise God for their harvest. It was during this time that God was showing the harvest He was reaping through the lives that were being changed.

Think about that. God had not forgotten nor given up on the world. Just because Jesus had been raised from the dead, this was not the end of the story. 

GOD’S LOVE FOR US AND WORK IN OUR LIVES IS NEVER COMPLETE.

People were coming to know and follow Jesus Christ, as their Lord and Savior, by the thousands. All because Jesus’ followers were obedient to sharing the message of Christ wherever they were. The world was turned upside down by just a relatively small number of people. 

Big things happen when small groups of people put their full trust in God through Jesus Christ and do His work in the world. The early followers were not concerned about what the rest of the world though they were lacking. They had everything they needed, the power of God through the Holy Spirit.

God has not given up on this world. Even with all of the chaos and negativity going on, God has given us the greatest gift and resource of all…God has given us Himself.

Our focus should really be on salvation. When we focus on salvation, we can have our eyes open to the incredible work God is doing all around us, and is inviting us to participate.

Now, salvation is so much more than where we will be after this life. Salvation is so much more than escaping hell. Salvation is living in the presence of God here and now. Salvation is knowing Christ.

This is why Jesus told Zacchaeus “today, salvation has come to your house.” Jesus was talking about himself being with and around Zacchaeus and his family.

What if salvation is not what we think it is…”getting to heaven”?

And living in perfect peace away from this world. 

What if salvation is actually bringing heaven to earth?

What if it is about being “saved”, better word is “transformed” to be instruments of Christ to bring his light and love to a dark world?

Salvation is mainly about here and now not just leaving this earth to “go to heaven.”

Salvation is about transformation and redeeming (making right) the fallen, messed up world. 

When the people of God live in ways where his light shines through them, we get to experience heaven (God’s full presence) here on earth and we can see how God’s love prevails and forces evil, or the hardships, to serve the purposes of God by being reconciled (reversed and made right). 

So how does God’s love prevail in this world?

We have seen and learned how the worst thing in life is never the last thing. God forces the evil to be transformed and still work out the circumstances for our good – for the good of transforming and redeeming all of creation.

There are times when it doesn’t feel as if God is with us. How we feel about the closeness of God does not demonstrate the actual proximity of God to us. God is closer to us than we realize and He will be with us, working within us and through us.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Pentecost reminds us God is always with us because of the Holy Spirit. You and I are being called to be in the world to transform the world by bringing people to faith in Christ (think about who is NOT in a community of faith…have more conversations…want to learn how to talk with people about Jesus? I can help) and to serve in this world through missions – we have several opportunities coming up.

We get to help people see and experience the real presence of the Kingdom of God here and now – not just something to look forward to after this life

God’s love prevails and wins in this world because God ultimately has the final word.

We are already living in victory

We know the end of the story – Revelation 21:1-6

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, ”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. 

Live as people who 

Know God

Love God

Know God’s love for others (including our enemies and people we don’t like)

Love people

Go into the world showing and sharing God’s love wherever you are and with whomever you’re around


[1] Wesley, John. ‘Thoughts Upon Methodism,’ 1786.

The Problem of Evil

A perfectly good God exists, and evil exists. This is a challenging enigma to contemplate and understand. After all, a good God would stop all evil and suffering from happening, so we would not have to experience it, right? This is where we need to pause and consider some of the characteristics of God and consider how God works in the world.

God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful. Wouldn’t it make sense that an all-powerful God would be able to eradicate all evil in this world? But there is still evil, and many use this as an argument against God, or his goodness. This argument comes in because we have a misconception about the concept and reality of real power, mainly how God uses his power.

Real power is not coercing and forcing your will and desires on other people or situations. Real power comes from restraint, as well. Underlying the all-powerful nature of God is that his nature is of love. God can, and maybe sometimes does, prearrange circumstances to make sure things turn out as he intended, but this does not mean this is how God acts all the time.

Real power also comes from restraint. Since God is all-powerful, he can do anything he wants. Since God is loving, he does not desire his creation, us, to follow and serve him out of anything but a desire and a sincere love for him. Everything has been set in motion and is perfectly aligned and created to make life habitable here on earth for humanity. If there were one, seemingly insignificant part out of correct alignment, life as we know it would end. For example, if the core temperature of the earth was a degree hotter, or the earth’s axis was off by .01, life would not be sustainable. This is true even if the moon was an inch closer to earth. Everything is placed in the proper placement and, therefore, has been given natural laws to run so life can continue. Even though J.L. Mackie says the argument that God limits himself in our world takes away from the teaching God is omnipotent (all-powerful), this is one of the best ways to describe what’s going on.

Another aspect of God’s restraint from merely taking control and erasing evil comes from his great love for the created order, especially humanity. If God wanted people to follow him, no questions asked, he would have robotic slaves. This is not what God desires. God desires a relationship with his creation. Because of this, God has given humanity the “gift” of free-will.

Free will has been a blessing and a curse for humanity. It has been a blessing because we have been allowed to learn, to make our own decisions, and to choose what we believe. It has been a curse because we have also been given a chance to do good or to do evil. There is much evil because people have exercised their freedom to bring evil into the world, maybe even into our situations. This is called moral evil.

Moral evil does not explain all that is wrong in this world because there are things that happen that occur because we live in a world where sometimes things happen beyond our control. We cannot stop the destruction of natural disasters. We cannot always prevent illnesses and diseases that take life. We cannot stop people from making the wrong decision. We cannot stop the consequences from the actions of others affecting us (i.e., Enron or financial systems doing what they believe is right). This is called natural evil.

This brings us to the next question, “did God create evil?” Saint Augustine argued that God only created/creates good things. And since the whole universe is God’s, it is fundamentally good. He also says that evil is not a created thing; it is an entity and, therefore, evil is the lack of good. God is all-powerful and has created an incredible world and universe. He is also unchanging and eternal, but the created order isn’t. Creation is mutable and changeable and, therefore, is corruptible to manifesting as evil. This lines up with the account of the fall in Genesis 3-11. Creation, humanity, rebelled against God, and brought evil into the world.

Bishop Irenaeus taught something a little different from Augustine. John Hick has his rendition of this teaching—Adam and the original creation were innocent and immature but were offered the opportunity to do good by loving God and people. He goes on to say that evil is here because this is an “inevitable stage in the gradual evolution of the human race.”

There is an argument that we cannot know good without knowing about evil. J.L. Mackie argues this with a few points: evil is a necessary counterpart to good, evil is a necessary means to good, and the universe is better with some evil. One of the issues with this kind of thinking is that it implies God is the One who created and brought about the evil and suffering we experience in this life. There is evidence to support this thought in scripture, but we also have to understand people are going to do what they are going to do.

To know evil means we have the opportunity to know good. To identify good means we know what is evil. And this is precisely why we were given the Law in our Bibles—to understand how we should live, so we do not end up living an evil life and corrupting the world even more. The created order is designed to do what God set in motion through natural laws. Humanity is the only part of the created order that has been given the gift of knowing right from wrong. God must have known we were going to make the choices we made and still make today, right?

Many theologians believe that God knows everything—past, present, and future—and lives within the space of being able to see and know all possible outcomes and scenarios (probable and factual). This means that God knows every possible way we could act or think. Some argue that this way of thinking about the knowledge God has means humanity does not have free will if God knows what we are capable of doing and do what we want. Scripture teaches God works all things together for good—meaning, God has a plan in place for every situation we might choose so his perfect will is done here on earth, even amidst the evil that surrounds us.

The biggest thing we have to wrestle with is not, why has God not eradicated evil, but what do we believe about God and what do we believe about how God works in this world and yours and my life. Sometimes faith has to go beyond the intellectual level and go into the heart level. This means there are some things we are going to have to be okay not being able to reconcile, and we have to trust that God is working for the good in this world. If we believe this about God, we can put simple trust that what the book of Revelation says about a new heaven and new earth are real, and God’s goodness will win in the end. The question now is, how will you and I choose to live?

The Greatest Story Ever Told

How is the story of Scripture shaping your life? Do you know how the complete canon (storyline) of the Bible fits together? Here is a message (including liturgy for Holy Communion) to show us how we can understand what the Bible is about.

For more information on Red Lick First United Methodist Church, click here.

GROW IN YOUR FAITH

AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.COM    KINDLE & PAPERBACK EDITIONS

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Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. C.S. Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our lives today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.

Click here to get your copy today!

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.

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

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)

SERMONS ON THE GO! Click here to listen to and subscribe to the weekly sermon on iTunes!