Children of Grace

Mark 10:13-16 “People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.”

Children. The joys they bring. The laughter. The frustration. There are so many great things about children. Now, I am not going to pretend I am an expert on raising children. One thing is for certain, Jesus welcomed the children.

There are several verses that people use to elevate children. My guess is that e usually think about children as under 10 years of age when we read passages like this. 1 Timothy 4:12 is also used, along with the similar verses in Matthew and Mark.

What if Jesus wasn’t just talking about people under the age of 10? What if there is something more that he is trying to say. Yes, I believe Jesus welcomes children with open arms and loves all the people (including children) in the world. I have read that some scholars do not think Jesus is simply talking about young children. Instead, they say that “children” would have been used describing the young; but also describing someone who is under the authority of a teacher, or their father. We’ll see next week that Jesus called His disciples “little children.”

One of the points of this could be that Jesus is showing that grace is open to anyone and everyone, not just the people who seem to have it all together. He is especially showing that the insignificant people of society are welcomed graciously into the Kingdom of God. So if a student is one fire for the Lord, and studying, Jesus could be talking about them as well. We are not to quench the Spirit. We are to be enthusiastic about following Christ daily. This is what I believe Jesus is talking about when he says, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child…”

So, the challenge for us is to see how and who we can nurture faith in without trying to stop the fire they have in them.

Grace is available to all people.

Higher Thinking

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Colossians 3:1-4 Therefore, if you were raised with Christ, look for the things that are above where Christ is sitting at God’s right side. Think about the things above and not things on earth. You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

When I read this passage that Paul wrote to the people of Colossae, I think about this quote from C.S. Lewis, “Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.” It is a good reminder to know where we should keep our perspective.

We can easily look at the situations and events that are happening here on earth. If we have “died with Christ,” then we have a higher purpose for doing work in the world. It is so easy to try and fix the situation by forcing people to act a certain way, or even to try and degrade people for not doing what should be done and treating people the way they deserve to be treated. I do not believe anyone deserves to be treated unfairly. I do believe we should always look to the heart of the matter whenever we step in to try and help.

In 1 Samuel 16:7b says, “God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.” We often only try to fix what we can “see.” What we can’t see are the motivating factors behind the actions of people. This is where we should begin. To “think about things above and not things on earth,” to me, means that we should look at the world through the eyes of Christ. We look to see how we can lead people to faith in Christ. Then we continue to walk alongside them as they are being transformed into the new creations. Then, because of their faith in Christ, and walking with Christ, the love of Christ can be poured out through them.

“Thinking about things above” gives us a greater appreciation and respect for how God views the world. We then will be able to get to the heart of the matter (the human heart) and work with God on the heart, then the human condition can be improved. If we just try to fix the actions without looking at the motives, we could miss the point.

Go to the heart of the matter and see how Christ works in and through you. Give Christ the glory today for how He is changing you and I to be instruments of change in this world.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Life’s Journey

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Colossians 2:1-5 I want you to know how much I struggle for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who haven’t known me personally. My goal is that their hearts would be encouraged and united together in love so that they might have all the riches of assurance that come with understanding, so that they might have the knowledge of the secret plan of God, namely Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him. I’m telling you this so that no one deceives you with convincing arguments, because even though I am absent physically, I’m with you in spirit. I’m happy to see the discipline and stability of your faith in Christ.

This is such a rick passage that I cannot really do it justice in the space I’ll be writing today. As Paul is in prison while writing this, he wants the people to know how much he is struggling for them. Reading this in context of the entire letter, it seems like he is struggling in his spirit because he is praying for them and desires for them to be mature disciples of Jesus Christ. I would think that it is difficult for him not to be present with them, thus his struggling.

I also think it is remarkable about who he is concerned about. He is not just concerned about those who know him, who have listened to him, who love him. He is concerned for those who haven’t been reached yet, those who do not yet know him. This is a great reminder that I need to be concerned about those I am interacting with daily right here, right now; but it is also a reminder to be concerned about and pray for those I have not yet encountered. Pray for God to open doors to the lives of those who are going to intersect the path God has me on.

Our goal should be to encourage people to be engaged with the message of Jesus Christ that unifies them with the Spirit of God; but also our goal is to work with people to bring unity and peace wherever we are. This unity begins with the knowledge of Christ, that really is not a secret, just hard to understand at times. As we learn more about Christ, then somehow the treasure is opened and released to us. This is not the treasure that is material. This treasure is spiritual. We, individually and collectively, receive this treasure as we open our hearts to God.

There are people who come along and sound convincing about “other truths” about Jesus Christ. This is not really what we should be listening to. Paul reminds his readers in 1 Thessalonians to “test the spirits.” We are to test whether or not someone is speaking the truth about God to us. We can do this through prayer, personal study, speaking with others mature in their faith. This is so we do not get led astray and go off on a life journey that God never intended for us to be on.

We cannot be with those we teach and disciple all of the time; but we can be with them in spirit. We can be with them by keeping them in our minds and finding ways to check up on them. We can also be in prayer for them. Our challenge today is to think of someone who may not know Christ, or who is struggling either in their faith or in their life. Pray for them and ask God to do a great work in their lives. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the person who God uses to walk with that person/people on their journey. This give Jesus Christ glory because we do this in His name and not for our recognition.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Thanksgiving Prayer

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Colossians 1:3-8 We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You previously heard about this hope through the true message, the good news, which has come to you. This message has been bearing fruit and growing among you since the day you heard and truly understood God’s grace, in the same way that it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world. You learned it from Epaphras, who is the fellow slave we love and Christ’s faithful minister for your sake. He informed us of your love in the Spirit. 

There are so many things we can be thankful for. We can be thankful for the weather, for positive outcomes, for great visits, for the flowers, for things people do for us. We can be thankful when our life is going in such a way that it benefits us. But what about when it doesn’t seem like life is fair? Can we still be thankful and express thanks?

Paul is writing this letter while he is in prison. By all accounts, he should feel low and bad for his circumstances. He should not be in a place of thanks because everything is going against him. Or so it seems. Paul is showing the readers of this letter, and us, that whatever circumstance we are in, we should and can give thanks.

I invite you to reread the passage above and see what resonates with you. What stands out? Is this something you can do? Now a tougher question. Can and do you and I give thanks for even the difficulties and the difficult people in our lives? Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” How does this play out in our lives?

Paul has people with him, while he is in prison, who help provide for his needs and give him companionship. He could be spreading a negative feeling and attitude for his predicament and saying his people are not coming to help him. He could be in a mindset that he just wants to give up. But he is not.

The imprisoned Paul is thanking God for the work God is doing within the people and through them to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ and make a positive impact in their culture and community. He is not mad or angry they are not giving him more attention. He is thankful that they are living out their calling that God has placed on their lives. He is encouraged they are allowing God to work in them to produce fruit that will last and will do more for the Kingdom of Heaven.

We have the opportunity to be influencers of people and to help guide them in their thinking and help them live lives worthy of the calling of Christ. When we express thanksgiving and gratitude for how God is working in and through people, our lives, our attitudes and mindsets shift from ourselves to the glory of God and the Kingdom of God. Thanks be to God who is doing this work in you. I thank God for each of you and how you will be fruitful for the Kingdom of Heaven.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Be Different and Stand Out

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Romans 12:1-2 (Message translation): So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

What stands out to you as you read these verses?

The main thing that stands out to me is that we, as Christians, are to be different than those around us. This means we treat people differently. We do not get lost in the crowd. We positively impact people with the love of God through Jesus Christ. This passage says so many things we CAN do, that we shouldn’t miss the point of things we SHOULD NOT do.

For us to live in this world as followers of Jesus Christ, we should look at what he said.

Matthew 5:13-16 (CEB) “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city on top of the hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus is basically saying that we are to bring out the best in people by how we act. If we allow people to suck the good out of us, we have nothing left to give. We are to be beacons of light (God’s never ending love) to everyone and should stand out from everyone else. When we try to blend in with the culture and be like everyone else, it is like we are putting our light “under a basket” so it is hidden.

Our good works also involve how we treat people. Many times we can easily engage in bullying and hurt another person’s spirit to make them think they have no value. Jesus summed up the Old Testament laws this way, showing us how we should act in this world: love God and love people.

To be the salt and light of the earth means that we are people who:

  • do everything for the GLORY of God
  • love each other unconditionally
  • treat everyone EXACTLY the way we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12)
  • be forgivers
  • do not judge nor condemn (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 2:1-11)
  • welcome anyone and everyone in the group
  • be people who respect and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  • not do things or go places simply because “everyone is doing it”
  • learn and have our own opinions and not be easily swayed
  • stand firm in your beliefs; but do not condemn opposing views (learn to listen)
  • and many, many, many more good things we can do in this world

We should keep our focus and attention on God. C.S. Lewis says, “Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” This means that when we seek for and focus on God, we are able to love people and will treat them better and not worry about the crowd. When we solely focus on things of this earth, we miss the mark and will end up compromising just to make people happy.

Our task and challenge is to bring people to Christ. We do not do this by acting as everyone else acts; but rather by showing how Christ makes us different and how he makes the difference. To be people that follow Christ means we are becoming more and more like Christ.

Matthew 5:48 “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”

So, what do you think?

Life’s Faithfulness

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*sermon preached Sunday, October 12, 2014

Some things we can talk about, teach about, preach about and come together to study each and every week. We hear the same messages or the same theme in the messages in worship; but we don’t change. We don’t always attend worship and think, “God is always with us; God is right here with us! God is coming down to transform us!” The hard truth is that we have become desensitized to the incredible power of God’s Word. We have become desensitized to the amazing transformation that God’s grace can bring us.

God is calling us to relive and rediscover the joy; to rediscover the excitement of his grace. Not just so we can learn something new; but so God himself is allowed in our lives to transform us into the people he created us to be.

The story of Ruth is really incredible. Here’s a brief synopsis of this story:

Although the book is named for Ruth, it begins and ends with Naomi, a woman from Bethlehem. The story opens with Naomi and her small family traveling to Moab to escape famine. The men die off, and Naomi is left without her family in the foreign land. When Naomi decides to return home, her daughter-in-law Ruth insists on coming along. Back in Bethlehem, Ruth works to get food for the two of them by collecting leftover grain in what turns out to be Boaz’s field. (Boaz was their relative). The two women think up a plan for their long term security. Boaz cooperates and marries Ruth. The story’s final scene shows their newborn son in Naomi’s arms. (1)

So this is a picture of grace. 2 concepts we’ll look at while thinking about grace are: faithfulness and redemption.

Ruth’s faithfulness to stay with Naomi. So what does this mean for us? First of all we are reminded that God’s faithfulness is steadfast and unchanging. (2)

God is with you, God is with me and he is steadfast and unchanging. We have to be patient in any circumstance that we’re in so we don’t lose hope.

God is being faithful to us in every aspect of our lives by never leaving us nor forsaking us. Our first concept here is faithfulness; God is faithful to you. Our question today is, and as we begin this stewardship series is “Are you faithful to God?”

That is a tough question and many of us really don’t even want to think about it because it seems like we will begin an argument or get very defensive; but this is a hard question we really need to seriously consider. Are we faithful to God?

Remember this good news: God’s faithfulness to us is not dependent on our faithfulness to him. Our faithfulness to God honestly depends on our mood, how much sleep we got, how our day goes, etc.

As we ponder that, we should think about our priorities that we have in this life. If we look in the story of Ruth, Naomi’s priority was to find food because there was a famine. The land was parched. Our souls are parched and we are searching to find the living bread and the living water; but God is so faithful that we already have nourishment within our reach.

Are we as faithful to God as God is faithful to us? NO. But God believes in you so much, God believes in us so much that he is willing to stand by us and walk with us through the years of famine so we don’t lose hope.

The other concept we see as we just briefly go through this story is “redemption.”

To redeem, in this sense, comes from the Hebrew word Ga’al. What this means is “to redeem, to ransom, to release, deliver, to fulfill the duties of a relationship. The main idea is the buying back of someone of something such as a field or a farm.” Basically something that is consecrated to God. (3)

We see Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s, is redeeming the land.

Redemption is the act of releasing another from captivity or bondage; it points to acts of reconciliation. (4)

God is faithful to us and God is working in us and through us to redeem the world. Part of redemption means to be reconciled. Not only to other people, but to God. When we are reconciled to God, our faithfulness to him increases. So we’re not only thinking of ourselves or sulking in our situations. We’ll look at the global picture and see what God wants us to do. We realize that we should be faithful stewards of this creation and all we’re given.

As we live in Christ, we get to see the amazing grace that God gives us in our lives. Think about that for a minute. God is faithful and God redeems us.

I like this story of a father and son who go fishing. The father and son are out all day long. They didn’t catch anything; they were out in the water and didn’t catch anything. Besides that is was a hot day. The father was getting frustrated so they go on home. The mother asks the father, “how was your day?” He said, “terrible, we did not catch anything; it was a terrible day fishing.” She goes off and talks to her son and asks, “how was your day?” The son, looks at her with a big smile on his face and says, “it was fantastic! I got to spend the whole day with dad!”

The truth of the matter is that we’re too much like…………………..the father in that story. We look at our circumstances, or lack thereof and we say it’s a terrible thing. But in this story God has the attitude of the son. God loves to spend quality time with us. God is excited to be in relationship with us. That’s what he’s calling us to do: to reclaim and rediscover our excitement for him!

So as they were traveling back to Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth were searching for a redeemer. They were trying to find someone who would save them, and they found Boaz. He not only bought the land to save the family inheritance; but he took Ruth as his wife.

Today, we still search for a redeemer, for a savior. But we don’t need to search anymore because Jesus Christ has bought our past, our present and our future and he is faithful to stay with us forever.

Boaz broke the chains of famine holding Ruth and Naomi down to give them freedom and a known, secure future. Christ breaks us free from any chains or walls we have built: greed, lust, pride, envy (jealousy), personal comfort, selfishness, and on and on.

He’s just asking that we are as faithful to him as he IS faithful to us and trust that the redemption that he has bought for us can and does transform our lives so we truly live in this grace that God freely gives us. So we trust him and allow his amazing grace to change our lives, to change our future. Trusting him and seeing God in every person we encounter and everything we do.

Notes:

(1) CEB Study Bible Introduction to Ruth

(2) Wesley Study Bible NRSV

(3) NIV Keyword Study Bible

(4) Wesley Study Bible NRSV