Sunday, December 18, 2016

Are You the One?

Luke 7:17-23
This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

What do you come expecting when you come to celebrate Christmas? What are your expectations? What are you celebrating? One of the themes as we prepare for Christmas is a theme of waiting. While we wait for Christmas day, that is waiting for a celebration of a day that has already happened. Jesus was already born. But we do wait for something else; we wait for Jesus’ return. So the theme for this year’s Christmas Revival is “wait.” Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. 

In today’s scripture, John the Baptist has been waiting. You may remember John the Baptist from the earlier accounts from his ministry, how he preached a baptism of repentance, how Jesus came to him to be baptized in the Jordan. But now, John is in prison. He had the audacity to speak out against King Herod, who threw him in prison. John is struggling, so he has his disciples go to Jesus and asks “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” 

Why would he even ask this? Because he had come to expect the wrong Messiah. He was waiting, but not waiting for the right thing. One of the problems in life is that we have twisted the gospel so we expect the wrong things from God. We wait for the wrong things. I see stickers on cars proclaiming 2016 the year of bountiful increase or the year of prosperity. They think God is a genie waiting to give out money. Then 2016 passes by and they have to get a new sticker. Maybe 2017 will be that year.  We have endless problems when we make Jesus into something he isn’t. Here in Zambia we wait for all kinds of things with no problems. We have a meeting and it starts an hour late and people don’t mind waiting. We wait for buses and everything else. Zambians are far more patient than Americans with all these things. But when it comes to waiting on God, we’re impatient. We want God to respond now. If He doesn’t, we go to the witch doctor.

So how did Jesus respond to John the Baptist’s question? He told him to report what they’d seen: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. This would sound familiar if you’re reading straight through Luke’s Gospel, because to get to Luke 7, you have to have read Luke 4:16-21 

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus let John the Baptist know that he was indeed the one for whom he had been waiting. He is the fulfillment of prophecy. He is the answer. Here in Zambia, we often expect God to move in ways contrary to his nature. How will God move? What will God do? God’s actions will always follow God’s character. God will move according to his Word.

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.

This is the theme verse for Christmas Revival. Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. To do these things, you have to know the Lord. You have to know what he is doing. This is illuminated in God’s Word. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Talking to God - Kingdom, Power, and Glory

The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory

We have spent months studying the Lord’s Prayer. We begin by recognizing and acknowledging who God is. God is the Almighty in Heaven, but he has chosen us as his children, so we can address him as “our Father.” We worship him and lift up his name as holy. This must always be our context for prayer. We do not lift up our prayers to someone who is just one of us. God is love; he cares for us. But he is also all powerful; he can answer our prayers. 

We begin our petitions of God by asking for his kingdom to come and for his will to be done; in asking this, we also humble ourselves and bend our will to his. We call upon Jehovah Jireh - God our Provider - to give us this day our daily bread. We entrust ourselves fully to his provision. 

We continue our prayer by asking for forgiveness and for the power and grace to forgive others, and we ask for the power to resist temptation and deliverance from Satan and his tricks.

As we complete this series on the Lord’s Prayer, we will look at how we close the prayer. For thine is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen. When we look in the Bible, this closing isn’t included in our text, but in some of your Bibles, there is a footnote which tells you that it is included in some manuscripts.

This postscript in the Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the oldest piece of Christian writing outside the New Testament. We’ve been praying the Lord’s Prayer this way for nearly 2000 years. But it is not a new prayer. Listen to how King David prayed in 1 Chronicles 29:10-13:10 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

“Praise be to you, Lord, the God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 
Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

Everything in heaven and earth belongs to God. The Kingdom is his. Majesty has been defined as royal power, and if you think of the majesty of beautiful mountains, consider that God made them, and they are only echoes of his majesty. God’s kingdom is of infinite worth; I can’t list all of the scriptures about God’s Kingdom, but when Jesus spoke of the kingdom, he affirmed that its worth was greater than anything we could or would ever own. God is indeed exalted as the head over all, the ruler over all things.

Considering God’s power: If you think of the most powerful people in the world, consider that God made that person and has their lives in his hand. James 4:14 reminds us that all lives are only a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Even the most powerful. God makes the most powerful people in the world pale in comparison. We can speak of people as having power, but God is power.

God’s glory has been defined by Dr. Fred H. Klooster as the summary of all of God’s attributes. The majesty, splendor, beauty, and brilliance of God who dwells in unapproachable light are expressed by this indefinable term. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (pp. 879–880). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

John Piper defines God’s glory this way: “I believe the glory of God is the going public of his infinite worth. I define the holiness of God as the infinite value of God, the infinite intrinsic worth of God. And when that goes public in creation, the heavens are telling the glory of God, and human beings are manifesting his glory, because we're created in his image, and we're trusting his promises so that we make him look gloriously trustworthy.”

When we acknowledge that all glory is God’s, we demonstrate that God is of infinite worth. That his attributes contribute to his worth, and that he is not just worthy because of what he does, but because of who he is. 

Now, a few minutes ago I referenced James 4:14 — as humans we have a limited lifespan. We are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. But God is eternal. That’s why we acknowledge that the kingdom, power, and glory are God’s forever and ever. They are without end. While Zambia recently celebrated 52 years of Independence, and the USA celebrated 240 years, the kingdoms of this earth rise and fall. But God’s rule never ends. 

We conclude the Lord’s Prayer fittingly with “Amen.” So be it. We can pray this prayer with confidence, not even asking “if it is the Lord’s will” because we have absolute assurance that this entire prayer is within God’s will. After all, Jesus doesn’t teach us to pray it conditionally. We can pray it with all confidence. As Hebrews 4:16 tells us, Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Talking to God: Temptation

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. Matthew 6:13

Over the last two weeks, we looked at forgiveness. To get to forgiveness, we must recognize that we have sinned. We ask for forgiveness from our past sin. Now that we have done so, we ask for protection from future sin.

The reality is, temptation will always be with us. The closer we draw to Jesus Christ, the more the devil will tempt us. Our goal as Christians is Christ-likeness, and so we should expect the same things that Jesus experienced. Right as he was to begin his ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Hebrews 4:15, in describing Jesus as our high priest says this: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus has been tempted in every way, but he did not give in to temptation. Sometimes Christians believe that temptation itself is sinful, so if we have sinful thoughts or sinful urges, we can be overcome by guilt and shame. Temptation itself is not a sin. But when we give in to temptation, we sin. Temptation is a tricky subject. Does God cause it, or not?

Our language can confuse us in this manner. When we pray “lead us not into temptation,” some could think this would mean that without such a prayer, God might lead us into temptation. But James 1:13-15 tells us Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. 

So it isn’t that God is tempting us. A negative request does not mean that the positive is to otherwise be expected. If a husband says to his wife, “Don’t ever leave me” — he doesn’t necessarily assume she will leave him.

So asking God not to lead us into temptation does not necessarily infer that God might otherwise lead us into temptation. That said, God sometimes does lead us into times of testing. In our Bible study this week, we started looking at the book of James, where we learned to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of all kinds, because it is through those trials that our faith is formed, developing into perseverance, which must finish its work to make us mature and complete, not lacking in anything (James 1:4). 

The reality is, God allows us to go through testing, which perfects our faith. But as 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us, No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

So when we ask God to deliver us from temptation, we are in fact asking God to deliver us through it. To help us bear up under it. To escape it and endure it without sin. We need God’s help and protection, for the devil seeks to lead us astray. So we ask God to deliver us from the evil one. 

Know that when God delivers us, He actually expects something from us. It’s a prayer that we ask of God but that God expects us to do something as well. We can’t just sit back and say “well, I asked God to deliver me from the evil one, so I don’t have to do anything.” There are some people who continually put themselves in places of temptation. If something tempts you, don’t stay around it. Ask God to help you avoid it. For example, shortly after our marriage, we had a neighbor who was into drugs. They tried to get clean, but they kept all the same friends, those who were into the drug scene. So if you can imagine, the temptation was too hard to overcome.

This is a good area in which the church can be the church. Sometimes we just let someone struggle and fail, all on their own. We don’t even know when someone is struggling with temptation. Part of the brilliance of John Wesley’s system was that every Methodist met in a small group. We were never meant to be Christians all on our own. And one reason God put us into community is to encourage one another. Help keep one another accountable. We have to be real with one another for this to happen, admitting to one another where we need help. James 5:16 reminds us to confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

This also relates to temptation. When we admit to one another that we’re tempted in a certain area, we can help one another keep clear of that temptation. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Talking to God: Forgiving Others

Last week we looked at God’s forgiveness. How it is God’s character from which forgiveness flows. Because of who God is, and because of what Jesus did for us, God grants us forgiveness. God’s grace is not cheap. He has consistently blessed his people to be a blessing to others. And when God forgives us, he links his forgiveness to how we forgive others. 

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

So God requires us to forgive. In Matthew 18:21, when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him, He generously suggested seven times. The rabbis said three times was enough. If someone wronged you, you were expected to forgive them three times. But Peter was more generous. He suggested up to seven times, the perfect number of completion. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Then he told a parable about a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One servant owed him thousands of dollars, years and years wages. He was not able to pay, so the master ordered that he and his family and everything they had be sold to repay the debt. The servant begged him to relent, and the master took pity on him and canceled the debt. But when the same servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him a few kwacha, he choked him and beat him and demanded his money. When the fellow servant couldn’t pay, he had him thrown into prison until he could repay the debt.

In Matthew 18:32-35, Jesus finishes. “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Many times we expect someone else to make the first move, to make things right first, and then we will forgive them, but Jesus demonstrates that our forgiveness of others stems from God’s forgiveness of us. Because God forgave us a debt that we could not pay, we are to forgive others.

There is no question about God’s will in forgiveness. God wills his followers to forgive others. If you do not forgive, you are disobeying God. Plain and simple. But I recognize that it is not simple to forgive.

I recognize that for most of us, forgiveness does not come naturally. I had an experience with a colleague where he had wronged me and I had no intention of forgiving him. After all, he was the one who had wronged me! But forgiving someone does not mean we excuse the person who wronged us. Instead, we admit that we were hurt. They were wrong. We do not have to tolerate the wrong they did in order to forgive. We don’t have to understand why they did it, and we don’t have to forget what they did. And most of all, we do not have to invite them to hurt us once again. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. Sometimes reunion is impossible, and sometimes it is harmful. 

While the best possible outcome would be for restoration, sometimes that does not happen. You see, forgiveness is not always about the interaction with the other person. It is an internal change of heart, by which we take the evil that has been done to us and we relinquish our right to revenge. We give it up to God, but we do not surrender our right for justice. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.

So, how do we forgive? Forgiveness starts with us wanting to forgive. In the case I told you about earlier, when my colleague wronged me, I didn’t want to forgive him. But in my prayers, I asked God to help me want to want to forgive him. It was shortly after that when I was able to do so, and after that, I found my feelings changing. I was in a place where I despised him. I got angry even just to hear his name. But as I prayed, I found that hatred diminishing. I stopped praying that bad things would happen to him, and I found those wishes diminishing. Soon I started praying that good things happen to him. But the desire for this change didn’t come from me. It came from the Holy Spirit.

We all must remember this about forgiveness: It is not optional. It is a command from God. And God tells us that he will dispense forgiveness in the same manner as we do. But  besides that, forgiveness is good all in itself. 

Forgiveness is a sign that you are truly a Christian. When we don’t, we set ourselves up as the judge and the jury. Essentially, we set ourselves up as above God. But forgiveness is an act of trust in God, that God will deliver justice, that we don’t have to. We imitate Jesus Christ’s example; even as he was being crucified, he said, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). 

Forgiveness further frees our conscience of guilt. Unforgiveness interferes with peace of mind happiness, satisfaction, and even proper functioning of the body. This gives Satan a foothold in our hearts.

Forgiveness benefits the entire church. The Holy Spirit does not work freely among those who carry grudges and harbor resentment. Psalm 66:18 reminds us that “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Sometimes we wonder why our prayers aren’t answered, and meanwhile, we are harboring unforgiveness in our hearts. 

And when we forgive, we activate God’s forgiveness. God deals with us as we deal with others, so he instructs us to forgive others as freely and graciously as God forgives us.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). Alone with God (pp. 106–108). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

God created us to be in right relationship with Him and thus in right relationship with others. When we withhold forgiveness, we break relationship, not only with other people, but also with God. But when we forgive, we restore relationship with God. Whether the relationship with the other person is restored is partially up to them, but we have done our part, our Christian duty. And God rewards it every time.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Talking to God: Forgive us!

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

After we give God the proper respect, Jesus instructs us to pray for our daily bread, remembering that we rely on God for everything. This is a prayer for our physical needs as well as spiritual, remembering that Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never go thirsty.” (John 6:35) 

We continue today, asking for God’s intervention. Today we will begin looking at forgiveness. Forgiveness means freeing someone from guilt and its consequences, including punishment, usually as a act of compassion or love, with the aim of restoring a broken relationship. Forgiveness can involve the cancellation of both punishment and debt. Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.

We ask God to forgive our trespasses. Now, I don’t know how it works going from English to local languages, but in English itself, even while praying the Lord’s Prayer, different churches pray it different ways. Some people say “trespasses” while others say “debts” and others simply say “sins.” One reason why this is confusing is because in their Gospel accounts, Matthew and Luke use different words. Luke says “hamartia” which means “missing the mark” — when we sin, we miss the mark of God’s standard of righteousness.

But Matthew uses the word “opheilema” which means “moral or spiritual debts.” In this case, sin is a moral or spiritual debt to God that must be paid. 

When we ask God to forgive us we recognize that there is a debt that must be paid. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. The fair payment for sinning against God is death. So by rights, if we have sinned, we deserve death. That is the punishment and the debt.

We must also recognize that there is no other way we can pay our debt to God. Living without forgiveness is living under the shadow of death and justified guilt.  So forgiveness is our greatest need, because without it, we hold on to our sin, and sin separates us from God. In the here-and-now, and in eternity. 

As a result of our sin, we owe to God a debt that we are completely unable to pay. This is where Jesus comes into the equation. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This proves God’s love for us.  When we trust Jesus Christ as our Savior, God forgives us. Our sin is transferred to Jesus, and He takes our punishment upon himself on the cross. Sin was what happened, and death was its payment. God’s wrath against sin is satisfied by Jesus’ sacrifice.

At that moment when we trust Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. We are justified, which means we are made just as if we had never sinned. Our sin is actually taken away, and we are made right with God. That is what righteousness means — being in right relationship with God. This forgiveness comes from God’s character. God is described in Exodus 34:6 and following as, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.’

So, since our relationship with God is made right at our salvation, what happens if we sin after we are saved? 1 John 1:8 reminds us that if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. So we’ve sinned. What do we do? Do we have to be saved all over again? No. the next verse, 1 John 1:9 continues: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive sour sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. So our response is confession. And God’s response to us is forgiveness.

God makes us right with himself, and we celebrate this fact! Next week we will look at how we are to respond to God’s forgiveness.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Who is Invited to Supper?

1 Corinthians 11:23-29
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he also took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

As a child, I remember playing outside with my friends in the evening, having so much fun, and then we’d hear a familiar sound. One by one, front doors would open and mothers would come out to the front step and call their children in to eat. It was understood in our neighborhood that when the neighbor’s mother called, the neighbor child went home. We each went to our own homes to eat. Unless there had been specific arrangements made beforehand, we were not invited to eat at our friends’ houses.

There have been many questions over the year as to who is invited to the Lord’s Supper. In some denominations, if you were not baptized in their church, you are not invited. Generally, churches require someone to be a Christian to participate. 

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, got into trouble over who was invited to Communion. When he went to Georgia, in America, on a mission trip, he began a relationship with a woman named Sophy Hopkey. She suddenly married someone else, and Wesley denied her Communion! The issue grew, and it led to John Wesley slipping out of the colony and returning to England, humbled. 

So who is invited? 
The United Methodist Communion liturgy begins this way: Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another.

If anyone who falls into this category is invited, we must come in a worthy manner. For we see from scripture that anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner is guilty of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Who then is worthy? John Wesley required his Methodists to present a ticket in order to partake of Communion. This ticket was given at their class meeting, their small group meeting. If you didn’t attend small group, you didn’t get Communion. His rationale: he could tell if someone was intentionally positioning themselves to grow in Christ by their willingness to participate in a small group. These groups met weekly to confess their sins to one another and to pray for one another, just as James 5 commands. 

The church in Corinth was facing an issue where people were treating the Lord’s Supper as a common meal, and not even doing that very well. Some people were coming and eating their fill, meaning if you were later in line, you might not get any. In those days, the cup was always wine - unfermented grape juice was not available yet - and some people were getting drunk! There was no reverence or order to the Lord’s Supper, and Paul says this is wrong. When you take the Lord’s Supper in this way, it is a mockery of Christ, whose body was broken and blood shed for all, not just for a few.

So we examine ourselves and confess our sins, and when we do so, Christ is gracious and forgives us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That proves God’s love for us.

God’s love for us was demonstrated by a specific act in the past, but it continues today, and will culminate in the future. Whenever we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. This action is a look back to our past, what Jesus did for us. We are reminded of the importance of this historical action. Jesus died on the cross, once and for all. But this passage subtly reminds us that Communion also compels us to look forward. We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. We are looking forward to the time when Jesus will return. This is a certainty, not just a hope. Jesus is coming back. 

How does this effect our taking of Communion? The history reminds us of the great sacrifice Jesus made for us. The future compels us to positive action. We know that Jesus saved us, and we evaluate ourselves and confess our sins, knowing what Jesus saved us from. But we also strive forward toward holiness and Christian perfection, toward which Christ calls us. And we can be confident of this, that he who began this good work in us will be faithful to carry it on to completion until Jesus returns.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Talking to God - Give Us This Day

Matthew 6:9-13

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we first focus on God. Our Father in Heaven, whose name is lifted up and obeyed, on earth as it is in heaven. Now, in this part of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus shifts the focus. Having praised God for who He is, we now begin to ask of God. As in Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Now it is the time to make our requests to God. 

We begin by requesting our daily bread. This is a prayer for God to meet our physical needs. It is a recognition that God is the giver and sustainer of life itself. Sometimes we need reminding that Every good and perfect gift is from above. (James 1:17a) but this prayer keeps us rooted in this truth. Even our food itself is a gift from God. 

Did you notice that Jesus didn’t teach us to pray for weekly bread? It was daily bread. This would have made his original audience think of one event in their history. Does anyone know what this would be? In Exodus 16, the Israelites had come out of Egyptian captivity, but now they were grumbling that they were hungry. The Israelites grumbled to Moses and Aaron, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:3-5)

God provided them bread from heaven, which they called “manna” (which simply means “what is it?”) He provided it each day except for the Sabbath. If they tried to keep it for the next day, they found it rotten and full of maggots. They had to completely trust in God, every day, for their daily bread. This kind of trust is what Jesus is teaching. To utterly and completely rely on God for everything.

How does God answer this prayer? When we pray to God, asking us to provide daily bread, sometimes God provides miraculously, as in the time when Jesus was teaching and healing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the people were hungry. Jesus asked his disciple Philip where they would get enough bread for the people to eat. Philip responded that it would take half a year’s wages to just give everyone a bite to eat. However, Jesus, multiplied a boy’s lunch, five small loaves and two fish, and fed 5000 with it, leaving 12 baskets full of leftovers.

But the primary way God provides is through work, as we can see in 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, where Paul tells the church in Thessalonica, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” God has given most of us the energy, resources, and opportunity to work. For those who are unable to work, He provides care through those who can work. Whether He does so directly or indirectly, God is always the source of our physical well-being. He makes the earth produce what we need, and He gives us the ability to procure it. MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). Alone with God (p. 95). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

But this prayer is more than for physical provision. After Jesus fed the 500, people were looking for him, but Jesus called them out. He said, “You aren’t looking for me even for the signs and wonders, but because I gave you free food.” In John 6:32-35, Jesus tells the people, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 

Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, asking God to provide us our daily bread, we are praying a double prayer. We are asking for physical provision. But we are also asking for more. We ask for Jesus, recognizing that our very life depends on Him, that in Him, we will never go hungry. Indeed, Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6). If you hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God, Jesus will fill you. 

So we continue to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask for physical provision, and we ask for Jesus Himself. And we in turn provide the same for those around us.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Talking to God: What's this Kingdom Business?

Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Matthew 6:10

Do you have any friends who always talk about the same thing, all the time? I had one friend who was always talking about girls. Another friend only talked about music. If you get me started talking about running, I’m sorry, but I will talk all day. 

Jesus had one subject he talked about all the time. In the first three Gospels, He was always talking about the Kingdom of God. John the Baptist came, saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people (Matthew 4:23).

It was the center of Jesus’ ministry. The Kingdom of God. It was so central in his ministry, that when Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to ask for God’s Kingdom to come, his will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

So what does this really mean?

God’s kingdom is first and foremost the sovereign rule or reign of God. It is secondly the sphere of blessing where that reign is experienced. So there is the rule, and there is the place where the king rules. For a king to rule, there must be something or somewhere to rule. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (pp. 1269–1270). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

So where does God rule? You might answer “Heaven” and you’d be right. But Jesus instructs us to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for his reign to cover the earth as well. You see, Jesus came, initiating God’s kingdom on earth. But it has yet to be fulfilled, and will not be until we experience what we read in Revelation 11:15: “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1269). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, our prayer is an extension of the line from two weeks ago, where we prayed “Hallowed be Thy name.” To properly lift God’s name as Holy means we must obey his word.

It can be easy to say “God, I want your kingdom to come” in one moment and then behave selfishly in the next, but truly praying for God’s kingdom to extend all over the world means first and foremost that each of us who call ourselves Christians must be conformed to His will. 

How do we become conformed to God’s will? By being transformed by the renewing of our minds. By the power of the word of God. There’s a reason our church partners sent Bibles to us; not just so we could all have a Bible, but so we could all use our Bibles.  But it’s not just about knowing the Bible, but also about doing God’s will. James 1:22-25 talks about this: And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law — the law that sets you free — and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

This is exactly what Jesus had in mind when he instructed us to pray: Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

God does not force his will upon us; God forever gives us the choice to follow or not to follow. To obey or not to obey. But Jesus gave us the example to follow in the Garden of Gethsemane, even as he was about to be arrested and crucified. And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

This is a picture of asking God for His will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Sometimes we pray and strive after things we want that don’t glorify God, and sometimes God gives us these things and we find out that they don’t satisfy. Money, human relationships, fancy cars, big houses, all of these are nice, but they won’t satisfy. Some people like to talk about what they’ll have in Heaven, about how fancy their mansion will be, but I believe when we get there, we’ll find that isn’t important at all, because we will have the one thing that is most important. We will have perfect relationship with God. God’s perfect rule will be fulfilled.

But in the meantime, we pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. And the only way we can see that happen is if each one of us surrenders completely to Him, to allow Him to have His way with us.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Talking to God: In Heaven

Matthew 6:9-13 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Last week we began our look at the Lord’s Prayer. We first examined who it is that we pray to. We pray to God, who is our Father. As God’s beloved children, we are enabled to approach God directly, not through someone else, but personally. That God is our Father was a reminder of our unity in Him.

As we discussed the opening phrase in the prayer, I focused on the first two words: Our Father. While we are reminded that God is personal and loves us as a Father, the next two words add more context. God is our Father in Heaven. God is not simply one of us. He is not bound by the rules and limitations of humanity. He is wholly other. So while we pray to a God who loves us, we also pray to a God who is all powerful. He loves us and is able to do all things. 

A New Zealand chief, Tamahana, who visited England a few years ago, was remarkable for the deep spirituality of his mind and his constant delight in the word of God. One day he was taken to see a beautiful mansion—one of the show places near London. The gentleman who took him expected to see him greatly astonished, and much charmed to his surprise, to excite little or no admiration in his mind. Wondering how this could be, he began to point out to him its grandeur, the beauty of its costly furniture brought from all parts of the world, the view from windows, etc.

Tamahana heard all silently; then, looking around upon the walls, replied: “Ah, my Father’s house’s finer than this.” “Your father’s house!” thought the gentleman, who knew his father’s house was but a poor mud cottage. But Tamahana went on: “My Father’s house’s finer than this,” and began to speak in his own expressive, touching strain, of the house above—the house of “many mansions”—the eternal home of the Redeemer.

 Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (pp. 547–548). Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Before Jesus was crucified, he made promises. In John 14:1-4, we read Jesus’ words. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus’ disciples had every reason to be troubled and worried. But Jesus gives them hope. He goes to prepare a place for them. In his Father’s house are many rooms. His Father’s house is a place of security. Of safety. Of prosperity. This is the place where God is. 

Listen to the words of John’s vision in Revelation 21. He hears a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live 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.” (Rev. 21:3-4)

We will have perfect fellowship with God. Notice the intimacy in the picture of God himself wiping every tear from every eye. In heaven, there will be no more suffering or struggling. There will be no more sickness or death. There will be no poor people in heaven - I do not mean that the poor will not make it to Heaven - I mean that when you get to Heaven, you will find you are no longer poor. By having God himself, you will have everything you need and everything you desire.

Some people think of the things they love about this life and they say, “I sure hope Heaven has (fill in the blank).” But the reality is that the greatest things of this world are but a foretaste of Heaven. This is why Bible writers tell of streets of gold and that precious gemstones are plentiful. 

We aren’t there yet, and our world has problems. One problem is a justice problem. If  we look around we will realize this. If a criminal has money and political power, it is highly unlikely that he will ever be punished. Politicians, celebrities, and athletes have more money than they can spend, but at the same time, innocent children die of starvation. Where is the justice?

As Christians, we understand that God’s justice is perfect. So why don’t we see perfect justice here on earth? Why do we see sinful people prosper while righteous people suffer? The answer is, as we look at life on earth, we only see half of the picture. It would be like watching a champion Olympic athlete during training. The athlete is working extremely hard, all day long, every day, week-in, week-out. The athlete rarely takes a break and doesn’t go out and have fun and is often separated from family and friends. But the Olympics is primarily about the competition. All of that training prepares the Olympian for the big day, where she finally gets the glory. The same way, watching the suffering, struggling Christian here on earth may not look good, but that is without heaven.

Here on earth, we see the struggle, but the bigger picture must include Heaven. Heaven will be so great that, as Paul says in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Or listen to 2 Corinthians 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 

No matter what you’ve gone through, the glory of Heaven will be enough reward to make it all worthwhile.

So when we pray to our Father in Heaven, we are recognizing that our Father will reward us, even when this life does not. Our Father has better things in store for us. We were made for Heaven, and when we get there, everything will be set right.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Talking to God: Our Father

Matthew 6:9-13 “This, then, is how you should pray:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Last week we looked at motivation for praying. If our goal is to impress others or to impress God, then our motivation is wrong and we’ve received our reward in full. Please understand that this does not mean we shouldn’t pray out loud. It’s only about motivation.

Today we are looking at a familiar passage, but I want to take it piece by piece. After all, this is how Jesus instructed his disciples to pray. If we want to live like Jesus, if we want Christlikeness, we need to learn to pray like Jesus.

When Jesus says, “This is how you should pray” he does not necessarily mean that we should always or only use these same words. We can “say” the Lord’s Prayer instead of “praying” it, and that’s not helpful either. He is giving us the model of how to pray. 

When Jesus models prayer, the first point, and the most significant point, is who we are praying to. Of course, someone would say, “we’re praying to God. Isn’t that obvious?” Yes, we are praying to God, but did you notice that Jesus didn’t say “God” when he began praying? He addressed his prayer to “Our Father in heaven.

We can understand that Jesus calls God “Father.” We recognize Jesus’ unique role in the Trinity as the one and only Son of God. God is the Father, Jesus is the Son. But Jesus is instructing his followers that we, too, can call God “Father” for indeed, God is “Our Father.” 

We are not simply God’s creation; we are his children. Listen to Romans 8:14-17 Those who are lef by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.: The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs - heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. 

As God’s children, we can approach his throne boldly. 

It is through the gift and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we are adopted by God and become his children, with all of the authority and responsibility thereof. The reason the scripture appeals to “sons” is that sons had different roles than daughters in Jesus’ time. A son would inherit all that a father left. A son could speak on behalf of the father and with all of the authority of the father. So when Jesus instructs us to bring our prayers to God saying “Our Father” it is a radical statement about who we are and about the authority we hold. 

It is also a radical statement about our relationship to the Father. Jesus later instructs his followers to ask, seek, and knock, for whoever asks receives, whoever seeks finds, and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:8) Then he poses a hypothetical situation: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11)

We do not go to God as a stranger, asking for a favor. We do not go to God as a beggar, begging for alms. We do not go to God as slaves, groveling for better conditions. We do not go to God as employees, petitioning for higher wages. We go to God as God’s children. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

I want to make one thing clear. There are some preachers out there who say that once you accept Jesus, once you are adopted as God’s children, then everything will be smooth and easy, you’ll make money and be healthy. Those people deny and defy the Bible itself. The passage I read from Romans 8 reminds us that we are God’s heirs if we share in his suffering. This is the part of Christianity that we don’t like to talk about. It’s not what we tell people when we are out evangelizing. But our suffering allows us to identify with Jesus Christ. 

Peter says “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.” (1 Peter 3:14). 

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are persecuted, that Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) We have a reward for being persecuted for our faith. We have a reward if we suffer for Christ.

There is one last thing I want to point out in how we address God the Father. We address him as “Our” Father. Even in the way we address God, we are reminded that we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are in this together. In the US, we have a history and ethos of being very individualistic, so I have to really preach this. Here, it’s more of a reminder, that being God’s children is our identity. Not our tribe. Not our skin color. Not our nationality. So we are the same, unified in Christ. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Talking to God: God is not Impressed

Matthew 6:5-8 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

I had a friend who was a name dropper. A name dropper is someone who tries to impress others by the fact that they know famous people. So when they are talking, they “drop names” into the conversation. “when I was talking to the bishop yesterday…” “So I was having coffee with President Lungu…” “Well, that’s not what Michael Jordan told me last week.” You get the picture. It’s someone who tries to make themselves look more important by the company they keep. 

Jesus knew this kind of person and he knew the motivation behind their actions. He calls them hypocrites. This term has its origins in the theater; someone who wears a mask. So by Jesus’ time, it was understood as someone who acts in such a way as to make themselves look better. 

Some of the hypocrites used prayer as a way to make themselves look better. They stood in prominent locations so everyone would see them. They wanted everyone to see them and know that they were praying. Their goal was for everyone to think, “What a great, holy, spiritual person that is! He must be really godly.” 

The reality is, they are using God for the benefit of their reputation. Instead of actually being godly, they are using him to appear godly. There is a big difference. They exploit their relationship with God, their ability to speak with God, to get benefits for themselves. It’s like the guy who is related to a politician and gets a nice-paying government job just because that relationship. Maybe the guy is completely incompetent; it doesn’t matter once his politician relative gives him the job. Now he will take that paycheck no matter what, and he will walk around all puffed up and self-important because of the job.

When we use prayer to draw attention to ourselves, we are mocking God. 

Jesus brings up another way people pray. Using lots of words or flowery language. When I was a little boy, some of the older adults in my church would sometimes use old English language in their prayers. They would use words like “Thee” and “Thou” instead of “You.” They would never “ask” they would always “beseech.” But there was another little boy at my church who prayed using those same words. I thought, “Wow! He must be really godly!” But really, he was just imitating what he heard.

I have two observations about this. First, God isn’t impressed by our imitation of someone else’s prayers.  

Second, God is not a pagan god, who is swayed by human words and actions. If you use enough words, you can change the mind of the pagan gods. If you pray louder, they’ll have to hear you. This is the thought behind the behavior of the prophets of Baal when they had the contest with Elijah on Mt. Carmel. They shouted louder, even slashed themselves with swords, but Baal never answered. 

Both of my observations stem from the same truths. God isn’t impressed by our imitation of someone else’s prayers and God isn’t swayed by human words or actions, because of what prayer is and because of who God is.

Prayer is not about us impressing other humans. If it is, and if it works and actually impresses someone, that’s all the reward you’re getting. But the truth is, prayer is at its root all about communicating with God. God doesn’t want to be the third party in our prayers. God wants our prayers to demonstrate a growing intimacy with Him. That’s why Jesus tells us to go into our rooms, close our doors, and pray there. It’s not because praying in public is a bad thing. It’s about our motivation! It’s hard to have the wrong motivation when there is nobody to impress. When it’s just you and God, and you realize that God knows what is done in secret, when you realize that God knows what’s in your heart, when you realize that God already knows what you need, then you also realize you don’t need to try to impress Him… or anyone else. 

I have had people tell me they didn’t know how to pray. What they really were afraid of was that they didn’t know any special words or language to use while they were praying. The reality is, you don’t need special words. You don’t need flowery language. This is because God already knows your heart. It is also because of the second truth I mentioned earlier. God isn’t impressed by the way we pray because of what prayer is, but God also isn’t impressed by our prayers because of who God is.

We will get deeper into this in my next sermon, into God’s role as Father, but in this passage, we learn some things about God. We learn that God is unseen. This is significant because God is not simply one of us. God is omnipresent, which means he is everywhere at once. We do not have to invite God to join us; he is already with us. We cannot hide from God, but on the flipside, we do not have to put on airs or pretend before God, because he already knows us. 

Sometimes we try to do our good deeds in front of others to be seen by them, but from this passage we see that God sees what is done in secret. God rewards our character and our integrity. Integrity has been defined as who we are when nobody is looking. God rewards our private prayers with relationship with himself. 

We also see that God knows our needs before we ask him. Sometimes we enter into prayer as if we are letting God in on a secret, as if God didn’t know what we need. This sometimes translates into us not understanding why God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we want, when God is really giving us what we need. I’ll put it this way: sometimes my children ask for candy. I love to give my children candy. It makes them happy. But when it is time to eat dinner, I want to give them something healthy, not candy. If I gave them candy all of the time, they would not be healthy. It’s similar with God. Sometimes he gives us what we ask for. Usually he gives us what we need or what is best for us. 

In prayer, however, we begin to know the heart of God. We begin to understand what it means to ask something in Jesus’ name - according to Jesus’ will. As we become conformed to Jesus’ Christ’s likeness, the way we pray will change, and our relationship with God will grow!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Be Strong and Courageous

Joshua 1:6-9  

We face uncertain times. Our world is showing itself to be an unsafe place. Over the last weeks, during a holiday celebration in France, a terrorist killed 80 people by driving his truck through the crowds of innocent people. The military staged an attempted coup in Turkey. In my home country, police killings have made the news – unarmed people shot by police and police gunned down by snipers. Even here in peaceful Zambia, political cadres are being killed by police and by other cadres.

But it’s not only violence that plagues us. We are being pressured by culture to accommodate to the world. To accept the world’s wisdom. To accept the world’s standards. To accept the world’s morality. Even the United Methodist Church herself is not exempt, as some of our American brothers and sisters have seemed bent on changing scripture to meet their desires.

And add to that everything we face every day. School fees. No jobs. HIV/AIDS. Malaria. Cholera. Gender-based violence.

What do we do when life is scary?

The beginning of the Book of Joshua represents a turning point in the history of God’s people. Moses, the one who miraculously led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, the one who took them through the Red Sea, the one who brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain, the one who led them in battle, he is now dead. God’s people are left in crisis. What are they supposed to do? How are they supposed to respond? How are they ever going to enter the Promised Land? And, even worse, if Moses himself can’t enter the Promised Land, what hope do these “normal” people have?

Thankfully, God gave his people a word. There are really multiple parts to the word God gave. First of all, he repeated one phrase three times. “Be strong and courageous.” When God shows up, this is often part of what he says. Do not fear. Does this mean there won’t be scary things? No. On the contrary, God is acknowledging our fear. He is acknowledging the fact that life is scary. But he is also saying that during the worst of it, he is with us.

In Ephesians 6:10-20, we are told to put on the full armor of God. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Then in verse 13: Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then… The armor of God is about standing strong and courageously against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12).

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

We can stand strong and courageously with God’s Truth. With a right relationship with God. The good news of peace, which we know comes from from the Holy Spirit. With faith shielding us from Satan’s attacks. Salvation protects us, and God’s Word is our weapon.

This is why God tells Joshua to. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Our culture strays to the right and the left all of the time. But their success is not guaranteed. If we follow culture, we miss the mark. Did you know that the Greek word for “sin” literally is an archery term that means “to miss the mark” – that’s what we do when we stray from God’s law.

How do we keep to God’s law?  Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; in other words, talk about it to one another. Know it so well that it simply spills out of your mouth. That’s why I am asking you to memorize Scripture. Do you have it memorized?
Then he continues: meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. You become what you spend your time on. Meditating on the Word determines your trajectory. As you plan the direction you want to go, your thoughts will point you. This is why transformation comes from the renewing of your mind by God’s Word.

This is the secret of success. It’s not getting lots of money. It’s being transformed into Christ’s likeness. And God commands us: Be strong and courageous.

But he does not simply give us the command. He continues by saying:  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

He promised that he will be with us. And in the Holy Spirit, he is more than just “with” us. He lives in us. We have God himself living in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Get to know him, because he will protect you and give you success, as he has defined it. And success means being transformed into Christ’s likeness.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Holy Spirit Gives us Everything We Need

2 Peter 1:3-4

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

We have been talking about the Holy Spirit for months here. Ever since the Holy Spirit encounter, we at St. Marks have been focused on the Holy Spirit. Who He is, what He does. In John 14:12, Jesus tells his followers: I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these [new things!], because I am going to the Father.  Jesus is promising us that we will do even greater things than he did because he is going to the Father and sending us the Holy Spirit.  His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

I want to ask you a question: Is anything too hard for God? The answer is that nothing is impossible for God. Nothing. OK, follow me here. God has given us Himself, in the Person of the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. If the Holy Spirit lives in us, what is too hard for us? Nothing!

Because God, in his divine power, has given us everything we need. Everything. In giving us the Holy Spirit, God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and that everything has a name and that name is the Holy Spirit.

One of the problems in life is that we often live by fear instead of faith. It is a sad thing when the church lives and makes decisions out of fear instead of by the Holy Spirit. Just think back to familiar Bible stories and think what would have happened if Bible heroes had acted out of fear.

Noah would have stopped building the ark when his neighbors started in on him. Abraham would never have left his land to head to a land God promised him. David would never have defeated Goliath, and Israel would have been defeated by the Philistines. Nehemiah would never have rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would have just gone ahead and bowed to the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. Peter, Andrew, James, and John would never have left their fishing boats to follow Jesus. None of the disciples would have preached. Paul would have just shut his mouth.

And many of us have slipped into a life based on self-preservation. We live in fear. What would happen if God had a fantastic purpose for us? What if God actually believed that His people would do even greater things than Jesus did while he was on earth? What if God actually thought we could?

What might we look like if we stopped being afraid? There are times when people are afraid of what God might call them to do. This is a big problem for churches. What would happen if God calls us to reach out to those people? What would happen if God called us to restructure our personal lives in order to give to God generously and not live hand-to-mouth as a church? Maybe you are afraid to trust the Holy Spirit in everything. Maybe you are afraid to trust the Holy Spirit with your money. When the Bible talks about giving, some people think the tithe is optional. It wasn’t meant to be optional. But with the New Testament, the tithe was abolished as the required giving. No longer were Christians required to give 10%. No, now we are required to give 100%.

God has already given us 100% of himself – at our baptism, we received all of the Holy Spirit. So we don’t need more of God, but it’s about God receiving more of us.And when God has a hold of all of us, every bit of every one of us, then God can (and will!) do amazing things through us. Sometimes people come to me wanting advice or prayer, but often they want an easy fix, but honestly if you want to fix anything that has become such a problem that you’re willing to ask someone for help, then it’s going to be hard to fix it.

But you don’t have to do it on your own! God has given us everything we need. He gave us himself, and he is sufficient for us.

God called us by his own glory and goodness – everything about him – his character, and because of his character, he has made promises to us. What has God promised us? God promises us himself.

Often Christians simply try to overcome our sins on our own, to change behaviors. We work really hard to do it on our own, but truth is, only God can do this. Scripture tells us that God gives us his promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

Sometimes we hear phrases like “escape the corruption in the world” and think that it means we need to keep ourselves apart from everything in the world. We can’t allow ourselves to be around non-Christians or in places where non-Christians gather.

Friends, escaping the corruption in the world doesn’t mean hiding. It doesn’t mean walling yourself off from the world. It doesn’t mean pretending that the world doesn’t exist. But scripture says that receiving God’s promises, we may participate in the divine nature. We now have a part in God’s nature! If that’s confusing to you, it just means that we now do what God does because God has replaced our will with His and our power with His. So instead of hiding from the world in fear of having the world corrupt you, we live our lives doing what God does. And what does God do? God goes into the place where He is needed most. God didn’t shun the world, but instead sent Jesus Christ into the world. And Jesus went out and socialized and ate with the “sinners and tax collectors.” Obviously Jesus never walled himself off from society.

I want to also recognize here that Peter declares that the corruption in the world is caused by our evil desires. Jesus was able to be among the worst temptations because he did not share our evil desires. Why not? Because he was totally 100% submitted to God the Father’s desire, not his own. Remember when he was in the Garden, before his arrest? He prayed “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) He was completely submitted to God’s will. Therefore he remained uncorrupted. But be warned, sometimes God even uses our suffering and overcoming temptation to mold and shape us into His image.

Because many times when we struggle again and again and again with the same sinful desires and behaviors the problem is not primarily a behavior problem. It’s a heart problem. That’s why it’s not enough to just avoid sinful behavior. We have to let God get at the root of the problem, to transform us!

The Bible (Romans 12:2) tells us that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Renew your mind by spending time meditating on Scripture. In prayer and fasting. Serving others. Because God has already given us everything we need for life and godliness – he gave us Himself!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Holy Spirit Brings Freedom

One of two "tamed" cheetahs at Chaminuka Game Park
This week I got to see an amazing sight. I got to see two full grown cheetahs. They were big, majestic, and muscular. There was only one unfortunate thing. They were shut into a fenced-in enclosure. Now, that was probably a good thing for me and my family, but the reality is, a cheetah was not created to be fenced in. A cheetah was created to run free, to use its speed to take down prey in the open grassland.

God also created us to be free. But when we live to please our flesh, our sinful nature, we make ourselves slaves to sin. Romans 6:16 poses the question: Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

Jesus says in John 8:34 Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Everyone. Jesus didn’t offer qualifications. He demonstrates that we’ve all offered ourselves as slaves to sin. This is not God’s will for our lives. Galatians 5:1 tells us It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

We were not made to be slaves, but we were slaves to sin. No question about it. So Jesus came to set us free. Listen to his words from John 8:31-32. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Most of us have heard this before. Most of us know that the truth isn’t just a concept or a right thought. Here are Jesus’ words from John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. We know that Jesus himself is the Truth, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. If we have accepted Jesus and hold to his teaching, then we know the truth, and that is the truth which will set us free.

But the fact is, we can be like the cheetahs I mentioned earlier. But as we know Jesus, he has opened the gate for us to go free. Indeed, 2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So the gate stands open, and we all celebrate it, but then we stay inside the enclosure! You haven’t walked in freedom. This is sometimes a side effect of Christian evangelists and preachers who lead people to the altar and leave them there.

The big question, then, is how to walk out of the enclosure of sin. The Bible tells us that those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:14). It is the Holy Spirit who leads us out of the enclosure of sin. One of the concepts throughout the New Testament is death to self. By the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body, and you will live. (Romans 8:13).  In baptism, we can see a picture of our lives being buried with Christ in the waters of baptism, dead to sin, and being brought out of the water alive in the Spirit.

Living this out is not simple. It’s not automatic. Some people think that when they become a Christian, they will automatically be sin-free. That doesn’t happen instantaneously. When I was a boy, I was taught that the steps to being a Christian were confess your sins, repent, get baptized, then “live the Christian life.” That was said as if it was simple. I thought Christian adults had no problems living like a Christian. So I must be strange because for me, living the Christian life was hard. And is hard. But I take consolation that the Apostle Paul found it hard as well, as he recounts in Romans 7.

It is only by the Spirit that we can put to death the misdeeds of the body. We are called to put aside everything that is not godly. So when we return to sinful behavior patterns, we are going back into the cage of sin. But the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Romans 8:26

Walking by the Spirit, out of the cage of sin, takes spiritual discernment. It takes knowing what the best thing is; what is that good work that God prepared in advance for you to do? It takes vigilance. Is this of God, or not? So traditional spiritual beliefs and practices have no place outside the cage. They do not lead to freedom, nor do they help you maintain freedom. They are simply another form of slavery. Walking by the Spirit takes practice. It doesn’t come naturally. A Christian walk is similar to an athlete, who works hard and conditions his body. We do our exercises which make us stronger. What kind of exercises do we do? We call them spiritual disciplines.

Reading the Bible. Studying and meditating on the Bible. By the way, if you are interested and available, we are doing a Bible Study at Mavies’ house on Wednesday afternoons at 15 hours sharp. Our own Youth initiated this Bible study, but it is open to anyone. Fasting and praying. Serving the poor. Visiting the sick. Feeding the hungry. Spending your time with the Spirit, listening to his voice, obeying him. And when you exercise like this, you’ll find yourself more and more drawn to the freedom that only he can give!