Mark 4:26-34 How to Grow God’s Kingdom

The Gospel reading from Mark 4:26-34 is a series of parables about the kingdom of God. Jesus used parables to explain the kingdom because the kingdom is so vast that our limited human minds can’t understand it on our own. Jesus used these parables to explain the kingdom in terms that we, the disciples, and his audience could understand.

The parable of the sower explains how the kingdom can start in the hearts and minds of each and every one of us. Someone-a minister, a parent or another faithful servant of God-plants a tiny seed of faith in each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter how the seed is planted, only that it is planted. Those of you who were farmers or who have planted any type of seed know that it can take a long time for the seed to grow into a strong, vibrant plant. We can water it and fertilize it all we want to, but nothing can speed up the process. It has to grow on its own, and we don’t know how it grows.

Most of us have heard of the legend of Johnny Appleseed. That legend is based on fact. Johnny Appleseed’s real name was John Chapman. He worked in a greenhouse and worked with plants, trees and shrubs. He really loved apple trees and planted them all around his hometown in Massachusetts. He really wanted people to enjoy apples as much as he did, so he traveled all around the United States planting apple trees and giving away apple seeds until he died in 1845. God wants us to be just as passionate about planting seeds of faith as Johnny Appleseed was about planting apple seeds.

The parable of the mustard seed is a good example of the old saying that “big things come in small packages”. A mustard seed is very small, but it grows into a shrub so large that even birds can make their nests in its branches-a symbol of the seed of faith being offered to everyone, including the Gentiles. The seed of faith is like that. For example, in 2007 I began my preaching ministry. In fact, the very first sermon I ever preached was based on the Parable of the Mustard Seed. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement, but God gave me the strength to get through it. That small act of faith has blossomed into a thriving preaching ministry. A similar seed was also planted in my heart in 2003 when I began my lay ministry. God used my father’s terminal illness and subsequent passing to bring me back to Him and do his work in the world through my ministry.

In order for the seed of faith to be planted and grow in us, we need to hear the word of God. The kingdom of God is hard to understand, so Jesus took time to explain it. The kingdom was hidden from our earthly view, so Jesus used the parable of the lamp to explain that what was kept hidden in the darkness needed to be brought into the light. The kingdom of God has to be brought from the darkness of our limited ability to understand it through teaching from learned ministers, be they lay or ordained. Those who hear the word of God and take it to heart will be richly blessed.

We, like the disciples, are expected to bear fruit by spreading the seeds of faith-namely, the Good News of salvation-and nurture it as best we can. Then, we have to let God go to work. God will eventually reap the harvest and save those who hear His word. The growth has to take place spontaneously and in the proper environment, and if it does, the kingdom will become even bigger than the bush produced by the mustard seed.

Bibliography

  1.  “Planting Seeds-Watching Them Grow”. Retrieved from http://www.Sermons4Kids.com
  2. Exegesis for Mark 4:21-34. Retrieved from http://www.sermonwriter.com
  3. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J., The Preacher’s Commentary Series; Volume 25:Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.; 1982)
  4. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, Inc.; 1994)
  5. MacArthur, J.F., Jr. The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package

Mark 3:20-35 Jesus’ Definition of Family

Have you ever done something that made other people wonder if you have lost your mind? If so, you can probably understand what is going on in Mark 3:20-35.

This takes place early in Jesus’ ministry when word of his teachings and miracles is starting to spread. This was a homecoming-Jesus’ homecoming. Our instincts and associations of home and family shape our expectations about how this event will unfold.

Jesus’ earthly family and friends didn’t understand his ministry. They didn’t understand that He was the Son of God. To the people of Nazareth, he was just the son of Mary and Joseph-earthly parents. We are the same. Sometimes we can’t understand Jesus and his ministry. Sometimes it’s hard for us to understand who Jesus is, what he does and why he does what he does. Often we make a rash judgment about Jesus. We need to ask God what his will is for our lives. We need to ask God why he is doing what he is doing in our lives.

At this stage of His ministry, not even Jesus’ own people-His own family-believed He was the Messiah, the Chosen One of God. He also faced opposition from His own disciples, not just from the religious teachers and His political enemies. Still, He never wavered from His mission.

Because the Pharisees did not understand what Jesus was doing, they accused him of being possessed by the devil. They wanted to discredit Jesus in the eyes of the people, but their claim had one big flaw. How could the devil defeat the devil? Jesus challenged the way the religious leaders were calling God’s work the work of the devil. The devil and his angels are of equal strength, so evil can’t defeat evil. A strong man can only be defeated by someone who is stronger. Since good is always stronger than evil, good will always defeat evil. Jesus is the champion of everything that is good, so he will always defeat evil.By labelling His healings and exorcisms as works of the devil, Jesus’ opponents tried to portray His miracles as counterfeit wonders designed to lead people away from God. His miracles commonly led people to praise God rather than blaspheme Him-further proving that Jesus’ kingdom is a heavenly one.

Truth-tellers make us uncomfortable. They disturb our creeds, customs and stubborn peculiarities. The apostle Paul said not to get weary in doing good deeds. Truth and doing good deeds are not always appreciated. We can’t handle them. Those who challenge the status quo are dangerous. They threaten to upset everything. Jesus was dangerous in the eyes of both the Pharisees and His biological family. We as Christians are in the same situation today. If we challenge the way things are or the way things are done, we may be seen as insane or dangerous, and we may be persecuted.

So what’s going on? How has Jesus’ ministry of preaching and teaching and healing created such controversy and accusation? The answer is actually fairly simple: Jesus is so totally what the religious authorities don’t expect that they have absolutely no idea what to make of him. He doesn’t fit their categories, and what doesn’t fit our categories we typically label abnormal, or deviant, or crazy, or possessed. We assume that what we know, have experienced, and hold to be true is normal, natural, and God-ordained, and that becomes the standard by which we measure — and judge — the thoughts and actions of others. And that’s what going on here.

Jesus’ whole ministry thus far has been about announcing both a new vision of God and a new way of relating to God. And at the heart of that vision and way is the conviction that God is love, that God desires the health and healing of all God’s creation, that God stands both with us and for us, that God is determined to love and redeem us no matter what the cost, and that this God chooses to be accessible to us, to all of us — indeed, to anyone and everyone.

This is why Jesus sets himself against all the powers that would rob humanity and creation of the abundant life God intends — whether those powers be unclean spirits; disease that ravages the mind, body or spirit; illness that isolates and separates those who suffer from community; or whatever. Jesus introduces a new vision of God and a new way to relate to God…and it’s not what any of us religious folk would expect.

Jesus frequently prefaced His parables with either a thought-provoking question or straightforward teaching points in order to frame His stories properly. These were effective ways to help people see their faulty reasoning and their need for a Saviour. If Satan really was behind Jesus’ miracles, then the devil would be defeating himself, which doesn’t make any sense.  Jesus defeated Satan because He is more powerful than Satan.

Normally, when there is a champion of any type-sports, politics, etc. – most people will follow the champion. In other words, many people will “jump on the bandwagon”, but there will still be some opponents. There is a similar situation in this passage. By accusing Jesus of using the devil’s power to cast out demons, the Pharisees rejected the work of the Holy Spirit. They willingly rejected Christ as their Saviour because they did not want to give up their power, prestige, authority, etc.  Because they chose not to believe, they refused to accept forgiveness for their sins. Refusing to accept the Holy Spirit is the only sin that cannot be forgiven-and not blasphemy as most believers would think.

How many people in our modern world have refused to accept Christ because it would mean giving up an earthly way of life that is more important to them? The list is endless, but it includes the famous and not so famous. It includes people such as actor John Belushi and singers Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson-people whose desire for the good things of this earthly life led to their downfall and death from drug and alcohol abuse (even though Whitney Houston was raised in a strong Christian church and with a strong Christian faith).  

Jesus’ family wanted to charge him with insanity. The Pharisees wanted to charge Him with working for Satan. Jesus answered these charges with riddles, and they make sense to us. They call on us to consider how Jesus might have to do with how we imagine our world and the ways of God and His creation. What is God calling us to see and hear in Jesus?

Jesus’ earthly family was concerned about his physical and mental health, but Jesus was more concerned about the spiritual health of the people he dealt with. True “family” is not a matter of biological relationship, but of kinship in obedience to God, and that kinship begins when God through his grace adopts us into his family. God wants to have a family, but if we want to join His family, we have to detach ourselves from our old families. In a world where there is so much opposition to the Christian faith, and where our homes and families demand so much of our time, our one priority is to love one another wherever we are, and with every breath of our being.

Jesus defied the norms about who’s in and who’s out. People possessed by demons and those who were maimed or born with a physical limitation or defect were often assumed to be cursed, to be not natural, or to have sinned or to be suffering from the sins of their parents. Jesus forgives and heals all who are in need-no exceptions. If people weren’t sure about this before, Jesus pushed his point unbelievably and quite literally home when he says that anyone and everyone who does the work of God is his true brother and sister and mother. He redefined what constitutes a family at a time when family was everything.

Although Jesus honoured His mother as the law commanded in John 19:26-27, Jesus did not allow even His own flesh and blood to prevent Him from doing the will of God. A closer bond exists between brothers and sisters in the faith than among biological siblings because of their spiritual relationship. This is why Jesus later said that believers who must part ways with their family of origin because of their faith gain a much larger and more closely-knit family. When Christ is the focus of our lives, faith becomes stronger than family.

For Jesus, action in response to the call of God marks what it means to be a member of God’s family. Relationships in God’s family are couched in terms of doing God’s will. At this point in the story, the will of God is not defined. Jesus offers another invitation of hospitality that is about meeting people where they are, accepting anyone who is interested in God’s kingdom and responding to need no matter who is asking or when or how they ask. We have to trust Jesus and the invitation to join him and believe that together we will take part in spreading the Good News of God’s kingdom.

Instead of asking why Jesus got so much flack, we should ask ourselves why we aren’t getting more flack. Why aren’t we pushing the boundaries of what is socially and religiously acceptable in order to reach more folks with the always surprising, often upsetting, unimaginably gracious and ridiculous love of Jesus? If that’s the kind of love we want to offer, we must ask ourselves if we are communicating that message in our words and our deeds loudly and clearly, both in the church and in the community.

Those who accept the Holy Spirit will do the will of God and thereby become part of the new concept of family that Jesus creates. That is, they will become part of the family of God. This is not meant to exclude our biological family unless they refuse to accept the Holy Spirit and therefore refuse to do God’s will. When we allow the Holy Spirit in our lives, nothing can stop us. We have a power that can overcome everything the devil throws in our way-even the opposition of our earthly family. That power is the awesome power of God! When we unite with fellow believers, the power is even greater.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, C.F., “The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB”. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2009)
  2. Exegesis for Mark 3:20-35. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  3. Max Lucado, “Dealing with Difficult Relations”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  4. Bob Brine, “Team Spirit”. Retrieved from www.christianitytoday.com
  5. Pastor John Barnett, “All Sins are Forgivable”. Retrieved from www.dtbm.org
  6. Pastor John Barnett, “The Unforgivable Sin”. Retrieved from www.dtbm.org
  7. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  8. Mark D. Roberts, “A New Kind of Trinity”. Retrieved from Newsletter@TheHighCalling.org
  9. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
  10. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
  11. MacArthur, J., “MacArthur Study Bible, NASV”. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006;2008)
  12. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J., “The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 25: Mark” (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  13. Meda Stamper, “Commentary on Mark 3:20-35”. Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=1315
  14. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “Who Are My Mother and My Brothers?” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  15. Dr. Mickey Anders, “Was Jesus Out of His Mind?” Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  16. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Proper 5, Ordinary 13. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org/archives/year-b-season-after-pentecost-proper-5-ordinary-13.html
  17. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: NKJV (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1347-1348)
  18. James Boyce, “Commentary on Mark 3:20-35.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2468
  19. David Lose, “Pentecost 2B: Offering a Wide Welcome.” Retrieved from www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-2-b-offering-a-wide-welcome/
  20. David Lose, “Out of Our Minds.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1615
  21. The Rev. Dr. William H. Willimon, “Why Jesus? Part 4: Jesus the Home Wrecker.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/2201-why_jesus_part_4_jesus_the_home_wrecker.print
  22. The Rev. Dr. Ozzie Smith Jr., “When Jesus Comes Home.” Retrieved from  http://day1.org/8212-ozzie_smith_jr_when_jesus_comes_home.print

1 Samuel 8:4-20 Be Careful What You Wish For

How many of you have wanted something that someone else has? Well, you’re not alone. Envy and coveting have been around since the beginning of time. One of the Ten Commandments even says, “You shall not covet…” It’s too bad that the Israelites and the elders in the reading from 1 Samuel 8:4-20 didn’t remember that commandment.

What is a king? A king is a barrier between us and chaos. A king is a strong wall protecting us from whatever we fear the most: marriage problems, a faltering economy, illnesses, crime, or drugs, for example. Anything that threatens to destroy us is chaos. A king promises to bring order out of chaos. Whatever we are afraid of in this world, there is a king to tell us why we don’t need to be afraid. For Christians, our king is Jesus. He came to give us the protection we need in the form of a restored relationship with God.

The Israelites wanted a king for three main reasons. First, all of the surrounding nations had kings, so the people of Israel wanted a king too. They were influenced by the world and were no longer listening to Samuel.  Second, the Israelites were concerned about who would lead them after Samuel died. You see, Samuel’s sons were leaders in other parts of the country, but they weren’t very good leaders. They made crooked politicians look good! Third, the Israelites wanted a king who would represent power and security and lead them into battle.

Deuteronomy 17:14-15 gave the Israelites the right to have a king as long as they chose a king from among themselves and not a foreign king. This same passage places restrictions on the king to prevent some of the abuses Samuel outlined. The king was not to have many horses or wives or great amounts of silver and gold, and he was not to exalt himself above the people. Human nature being what it is, these restrictions were largely not observed, and sometimes they are not observed today.

The problem the Israelites had was two-fold-wanting to be like other nations and forgetting about God. God saw the Israelites’ desire for a king as a rejection of him and everything he did for them. They forgot (as we sometimes do) that God must be first and foremost in our lives. God can and does go along with demands that are not in our best interests in order to teach us a lesson.

The people were wise in that they saw an upcoming leadership void. Samuel was getting old and the people knew that his sons would not be capable of assuming the leadership role. They didn’t see a succession plan, and they certainly didn’t see God’s plan for succession. They made their decision with their hearts and not with their heads. They did not think things through. They made an emotional decision and not a logical decision.

We are the same. We often look at things through an emotional filter when we make decisions. For example, if we do not make our funeral arrangements and pay for our funerals before we die, our families have to make the necessary arrangements at a time when emotions are running high and might cloud their judgment.

Samuel might have taken the Israelites’ request as a rejection of his leadership, and perhaps they did. After all, part of their reason for wanting a king had to do with justice and good governance-something that they weren’t getting from Samuel and his sons. In his response to their request, he apparently does not recognize their concern, either by defending his sons or explaining past injustices. Or, perhaps he is deflecting their legitimate concerns by making it about him!

Samuel knew that the decision to appoint a king was a rejection of God’s authority, and the decision would lead to dire consequences for Israel. To make matters worse, Samuel knew that his sons were not fit to succeed him. God warned the Israelites that most of the kings would pervert justice, levy taxes and help themselves to the best of everything in the land. In fact, Israel had 43 kings over 450 years, and only 8 of them followed God. Most of the human leaders created more problems for the Israelites than they solved. The same situation exists today. While we do have some good human leaders, there are leaders who start with good intentions but over time they become concerned only for themselves and their supporters and friends.

This story is about the doctrine of free will. God gave us the ability to choose between right and wrong and then suffer the consequences. Sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils, especially during an election, and sometimes we choose between the better of two good. God limits his power to allow for us to make decisions, but he also shows his power of grace by sometimes allowing good things to happen from our poor decisions. One example was the dynasty of King David, which had a historical significance beyond measure.

We have been called by God to do good works. We have to be on guard against anything that would hinder that work. One enemy of good works is pride. We must remember Samuel’s words in this passage. God has called us to specific situations, and not anyone else. When we live in the world, we are influenced by the political and cultural environment more than we realize. Consequently, we often lose our ability to distinguish between what comes out of our environment and what comes out of our relationship with God. When we turn from God in sin, our worth is downgraded, but God does not stop loving us.

Samuel’s sons abused their power just like some modern-day politicians and CEOs abuse their power. God warned the Israelites that most of the kings in their future would abuse their power. The people wanted stability and security, but they left God out of this desire. Sometimes we leave God out of our desires and plans also. We must always go to God for guidance, especially when we face life’s challenges. Our desire to imitate the world may seem righteous at first, but it will result in destruction. We need to ask God to give us the courage and conviction we need to stand apart from the sin-filled world. We need to stop the conversations that begin and end with, “I’ll have what she’s having!” and pour out our souls to God in honest prayer, seeking his heart, his plans and his will. When we do, the Holy Spirit will give us the tools we need to trust that where he leads and what he allows is what is best for us.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Butch Odom, “Proper 5/Ordinary 10 for 2015-1 Samuel 8:6-7”. Retrieved from comment-reply@wordpress.com
  3. Butch Odom, “Proper 5/Ordinary 10 for 2015-1 Samuel 8:4-5”. Retrieved from comment-reply@wordpress.com
  4. Chafin, K.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 8: 1,2 Samuel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989, pp. 67-72)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. Gwen Smith, “I’ll Have What She’s Having.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Exegesis for 1 Samuel 8:4-20. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  8. Charles Allo, “Missing the Mark.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  9. Roger Nam, “Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:4-11(12-15), 16-20 (11:14-15).” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2472
  10. Karla Suomala, “Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:4-11(12-15), 16-20 (11:14-15).” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1342
  11. Charles Curley, “The Way of the King.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  12. William J. Carl III, “God Never Gives Up.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com

Romans 8:12-17 The Trinity in Us

The answer to that question affects our attitudes, actions, responses and reactions to life’s circumstances. If we see ourselves as the helpless victim of Satan and his schemes, we will likely live like his victims and be in bondage to Satan’s lies. If we see ourselves as children of God, we will likely live like children of God. In order to live like a child of God, we need a firm grip on God’s Word. We need to understand who we are as a result of who God is and what he has done. The only way we can gain this understanding is to consider the work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, also known as the Trinity.

There are many mysteries in the Christian faith, one of which has to do with the nature of God. How can we understand God who is described in the Bible as both the one true God and the God we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Trinity Sunday, is the one Sunday when we consider this important part of the church’s doctrine, instead of considering a teaching or message from Jesus.

Believers are debtors who have to share the Gospel with the world and live righteous lives. They are responsible to live according to the Spirit instead of the flesh. No one can destroy the flesh in this life, but they can destroy the deeds of the flesh. The indwelling of the Spirit gives people the ability to kill the corrupt deeds that once defined them, thereby enabling them to taste a life that won’t perish.

Following the Holy Spirit’s leadership is proof that we are children of God. For believers, conviction of sin and a pattern of repentance are assurance of our salvation. Two effects confirm that someone has been released from fear into sonship: adoption and an ability to call God “Father.” The Spirit of adoption provides release from the spirit of bondage. Slavery to sin leads to fear. The Spirit delivers us from fear and does not take us back to it again.

God does not punish us for our fears. Instead, he redirects our attention to him. He wants us to turn from fear to faith. He wants us to turn away from anything that feeds our fears and focus on him. Paul invites us to imagine a life of courage, the courage of those who have been adopted by God and invited into the full measure of God’s blessing and riches.

Christ and fellow believers sanctify us, but we have to take an active role in battling sinful habits. We are freed from sin’s slavery and are adopted as children of Christ’s family. We do not have to fight this battle alone. The Holy Spirit will show us the way and give us the tools that we will need.

The Christian walk won’t be easy. Following Jesus won’t mean a life that is free from trouble. In fact, it will often lead to more problems and struggles. Some of the most committed Christians have lived some of the most difficult lives. Some of them paid a heavy price. Some of them even died because of their faith. The Bible even tells us to expect problems and to be joyful when we face them. With Christ, we can do that. Without Christ, we will fail.

We can learn from suffering. We must not be angry or bitter. We should look at our suffering as a way to become more intimate with Christ. We should use that time to sense his love and compassion. We should use the time to grow to trust him and grow closer to him.

Every time people pray and call God “Father,” the Holy Spirit does the same thing. That is dual evidence of sonship. Sonship does not rest alone on one’s changing spirit for affirmation. The affirmation of sonship rests on the unchanging testimony of the Holy Spirit.  The rewards of sonship are being children and heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. An heir has not yet received his inheritance, but expects to receive it in the future. The biblical idea of an heir implies possession and enjoyment in the future.

We are heirs of God’s kingdom, but that does not mean we will inherit it like we would inherit something when a loved one dies. Our heavenly inheritance means that we are in a privileged position as a result of our place in God’s family. Our hope for growth, meaning and fulfillment as a member of God’s family is based on our understanding of who we are as a member of God’s family. That understanding will greatly determine how we live our lives.

We have certain obligations as a member of God’s family, just like we have obligations in our earthly families. One of the obligations we have as a member of God’s family is to use his gifts to fulfill the Great Commission.  One day we will be judged for what we’ve done with what we’ve been given. If we use God’s gifts for God’s purposes, we will be rewarded for this choice.

The Holy Spirit is a gift from God for all of us. It can’t be bought or sold. Because the Spirit is in us and because we have access to the mind of God, we have an obligation to allow the Spirit to do good deeds on our behalf. We will become more like Jesus and share the blessings that are due him. We also gain practical benefits:

  1. Everyday leading from God.
  2. Fearless intimacy with God.
  3. Assurance of belonging to God.
  4. A continual reminder of our value before God.

All we have to do is let the Spirit be spiritual within us. When we do, we will start to understand God’s grace.

God is not a distant ruler. He is up close and personal; therefore, our unconditional faith in God the Father is taken seriously. That Spirit bears witness to our faith, and that faith is created when we accept Jesus (also known as God the Son) as our Lord and Saviour. God spared no expense to save us from a life of slavery to sin. God will stop at nothing to make us his own. He pursues us relentlessly until we are completely adopted into his family.

When we die with Christ, we are one with him in his death, but our sufferings are not meaningless. We suffer so that we can share his glory. The path to suffering is the path to glory. We must “mind” the things of the Spirit rather than those of the flesh. We must choose to walk with the Spirit instead of walking with the flesh.  This can be hard for us to do when we are not faced with difficulties that challenge us. We can become so comfortable with our lives that we don’t see the need to deepen our spiritual lives. Christ’s grace allows us to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to put to death our earthly, sin-filled lives.

Paul did not outline what the things of the flesh and the Spirit are, but it appears that he was thinking of the presence of the Spirit within the believer. When the believer constantly thinks of the Spirit, it impacts a believer’s thinking. If we think of the Spirit of truth constantly, it will take us exactly where we need to go and help us to reach our maximum potential in life. In Paul’s mind, Jesus’ radical message was that Christ’s love offered belonging and forgiveness, and goodness would flow from our new relationship with God because love creates love, not fear of disobedience. The doing of righteousness is a work of the Holy Spirit. God’s law is realized in the life of a believer through the direct and personal intervention of Christ.

We are proof of Christianity. We are proof that God saves lives and that the Spirit changes them completely. The Spirit lives in us and gives us faith when we don’t have any. We have a choice. We can accept the Spirit and live a new life in Christ, or we can continue living our sin-filled, earthly lives.

The power of sin dwelling within us prevents us from doing what is good and right in spite of our best intentions. The solution to this problem is the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. A mind that is set on our earthly lives separates us from God and his Spirit.  If we reject Christ, we condemn ourselves to an eternity in hell. If we accept Christ, we will be with him in heaven for eternity. Where would you prefer to live?

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Rome (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
  3. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  4. Morris, L.: The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Erdmans; Inter-Varsity Press; 1988)
  5. Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  6. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2015)
  7. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Fear Turned Into Sin.” Retrieved from my devotional@leadingtheway.org
  8. Stephen Davey, “Evidence From Within.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Neil Anderson, “Following our shepherd.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Rick Renner, “Is the Holy Spirit ‘Tugging’ at Your Heart Today?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Exegesis for Romans 8:12-25. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  12. Steve Arterburn, “Struggle.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Steve Arterburn, “Learning Through Suffering.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Pastor Rick Warren, “The Power of Eternal Thinking.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  15. Neil Anderson, “Understand Who You Are.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  16. Neil Anderson, “How We Perceive Ourselves.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  17. Neil Anderson, “A Solid Belief System.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  18. Pastor Dave Risendal, “The Feast of the Holy Trinity.” Retrieved from donotreply@wordpress.com
  19. Audrey West, “Commentary on Romans 8:12-17”. Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1343
  20. Elisabeth Johnson, “Commentary on Romans 8:12-17”. Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=321
  21. William Loader, “First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary: Trinity.” Retrieved from http://www.staff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/BEpTrinity.htm

John 3:1-17 The Greatest Gift of All

Good morning boys and girls!

Who likes getting gifts? I certainly do.

Let me ask you this. Is something a gift if you have to pay for it? If you have to pay for it or do something for it, it isn’t a gift. When someone gives you a gift, it doesn’t cost you anything. All you have to do is accept it. What is the one thing you should not do when someone gives you a gift? The one thing you should never do is ask “How much did it cost?”

What do you think is the greatest gift anyone can receive? It is the gift of eternal life. Jesus talks about this gift in John 3:1-17.

Now let me tell you a story that will explain why Jesus gives us the gift of salvation. It’s a story about Mia, Rafael and a dog. As Mia and Rafael walked down Main Street with their father, Rafael noticed an unusual display in a shop window. “Hey, Dad!” he exclaimed. “There’s a real dog in that cage!” Rafael stooped and looked at the small, brown dog. A large hand-lettered sign was attached to the cage.

Mia read it aloud. “Death row! Without your help, this animal will have one more day to live. Call the local animal shelter and make arrangements to adopt this puppy.” She looked at her father. “What does that sign mean, Dad?” she asked.

“It’s a new program the animal shelter is trying,” said Dad. “They can’t take care of all the stray animals they find, so by letting people know about the problem, they give the animals a better chance to be adopted out. If no one takes this dog, they’ll have to put it to sleep.” The kids stared in dismay at the little animal. “I’ve heard that the program is very successful,” Dad assured them. “I’m sure someone will claim this cute little puppy.”

“But, Dad! What if nobody does?” wailed Mia. “Can’t we take him home with us? Look-he likes us already. He’s wagging his tail!”

“Yeah, and he needs us, Dad!” Rafael pleaded.

“Well . . .” Dad hesitated. “Let’s wait till this evening, and I’ll call and check on him. If nobody rescues this little guy by then-and if Mom agrees and you kids promise to take care of him-we’ll come back and get him tomorrow. Okay?” Mia and Rafael nodded eagerly.

When Dad called the animal shelter, he learned that the dog was still waiting to be rescued. Since Mom had agreed, they went the next day to get the puppy. As they drove home, Mia looked up at Dad. “It’s kind of like what Jesus did, isn’t it, Dad?” she murmured.

“What do you mean?” Dad asked.

“When we had devotions yesterday, the verses you read from the Bible said that before Jesus saved us, we were condemned,” explained Mia. “In a way, that’s like being on death row, isn’t it? But Jesus died on the cross to take our punishment. When we trusted in Him, He rescued us-kind of like we rescued this puppy.”

Dad smiled. “Good thinking,” he approved.

“The puppy will be a reminder that we’ve been rescued by Jesus,” Rafael added.

Boys and girls, God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to earth to die on the cross so that we could have the gift of eternal life. Can you imagine how much Jesus loved us to be willing to die on the cross so that we can have eternal life in heaven? Jesus paid the price so we could receive the greatest gift of all.

Let’s bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Dear God, thank you for the greatest gift of all. Thank you for Jesus, who loved us so much that he paid the price for our sin to give us the gift of eternal life. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. “The Greatest Gift of All.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
  2. “Rescued.” Retrieved from newsletter@cbhministries.org.
  3. Real Life Devotional Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zonderkidz; 2008)

John 3:1-17 How Can We Measure God’s Love?

Hello boys and girls!

One of the most famous Bible verses is John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world.” Just how great is God’s love and how could we measure it?

Sometimes we use a measuring cup to measure things. If we make some cookies, we would use a measuring cup to make sure that we put in exactly the right amount of flour, sugar, and milk. Is there any way we can use a measuring cup to measure God’s love? In Psalm 23, the Bible says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want….my cup runneth over.” Well, if our cup runs over with God’s love, I don’t think we could use a measuring cup to measure it.

If we were building something, we might use a tape measure to measure the length, width, and height of different things. Can we use a tape measure to measure God’s love? In Psalm 108, the Bible tells us that God’s love is higher than the heavens.  If God’s love is higher than the heavens, I don’t think we could use a tape measure to measure it, could we?

We use a watch to measure time. I wonder if we could use a watch to measure how long God’s love will last. In Psalm 103, the Bible tells us that God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting. Wow! If God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting, I don’t think we could measure it with a watch.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How do you measure a love like that? We can’t measure it — we don’t need to — but we do need to experience it.

My hope for you today is found in Ephesians 3:18-19:  “That you may understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience it, though it is so great you will never fully understand it.”

Let’s bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Heavenly Father, we thank you for your love — a love so great that you gave your one and only Son so that we could have eternal life. Amen.

Bibliography

  1. “Measuring God’s Love.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com

John 3:1-17 God in Three Persons-Blessed Trinity

The minister gave his Sunday morning sermon, as usual, but this particular Sunday, it was considerably longer than normal. Later, at the door, shaking hands with parishioners as they moved out, one man said, “Your sermon, Pastor, was simply wonderful – so invigorating and inspiring and refreshing.” The minister of course, broke out in a big smile, only to hear the man say, “Why I felt like a new man when I woke up!”

Actually, I can understand if you do happen to fall asleep during this message (and hopefully you won’t!!!!!!!) because the topic is very “dry” and hard to understand. We’re doing something a little different today. Instead of talking about Jesus and his parables or teachings, we’re talking about one of the key doctrines or teachings of the Christian church. Why talk about doctrine? Simply put, the doctrine of the Christian church is the substance of our faith. If we do not show any interest in biblical doctrine, then we do not show any interest in our roots.

The Trinity is a difficult concept to understand let alone preach about, and part of the reason is because the Trinity is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Scriptures, even though the concept of the Trinity is mentioned throughout the Bible. There is always a danger when a man-made concept is introduced into something God has created. The early church introduced the concept of the Trinity to explain how God works in our lives to restore our relationship with him.

In essence, the Trinity is the belief that God is one in essence, but distinct in person. In other words, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are somehow distinct from one another, yet at the same time they are completely united in essence, will and tasks. God has a life in which all three members of the Trinity relate to each other, give to each other, and love each other.

This is the concept behind the Nicene Creed and the Apostle’s Creed. The intention of the creeds was to affirm these three core beliefs:

  1. The essential unity of God
  2. The complete humanity and essential divinity of Jesus
  3. The essential divinity of the Spirit.

Christians affirm the unity of all three members of the Godhead. We worship and glorify the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The three members of the Trinity-God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit-are three unique “individuals” (for lack of a better word), but they are one in that they are part of God’s master plan to restore our relationship with him. God is dynamic and unpredictable, just like the wind, and just like the wind comes from all directions, sometimes God convicts us of our sin, sometimes God denounces us and our sinful nature, and other times God opens Christ to us, yet at all times God still loves us.

God created the plan of salvation, Jesus put the plan in place, and the Holy Spirit implements it in our daily lives. The Holy Spirit is the invisible force that allows us to accept Christ and what he did for us. The Holy Spirit allows us to walk with God along the straight and narrow path in our new relationship with God.

The Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus did on earth. It tells us what God is thinking. The Holy Spirit is infinite and indefinite. It can be everywhere and with everyone all of the time. In contrast, Jesus could only be with a few people in one place and at only one time because of his finite, human form. Only through his death on the cross does he disclose what it means for him to have been the mind and will of God in human form.

Like Christ, we have to suffer a form of death and resurrection when we allow God to enter our lives. When we do, we die to our own sinful nature and rise again into a new life that is energized by the Holy Spirit. To be born again means that we see things in a new and different light and in a way that is broader and deeper than we can understand now, and to be energized by God’s power-a power that is greater than ours. The only way we can gain this new insight into God’s kingdom is to be born again with the Holy Spirit through God’s grace and truth. We receive the Holy Spirit through baptism and acceptance of Christ in our lives. The water of baptism washes away our sinful nature and allows the Holy Spirit to enter and teach us all about what Jesus said about himself and God the Father.

The transition to our new relationship with God can be painful and full of conflict. It involves letting go of our sinful earthly life, which can be difficult. After all, change can be uncomfortable. The status quo is like our favourite pair of shoes-it just feels so darn good! Change is sometimes necessary. We need to be shaken up if we want to walk with God. Just like we trade cars when they wear out, we have to trade in our old, sinful life for a new one modeled on the life of Christ. Faith heals our sinful nature when the Holy Spirit is born in us. It also heals the conflict that results from our change to our new life. It also heals our relationship with God, and relationships are the foundation of our lives.

God is so vast and so infinite that we can’t even begin to understand him on our own-the gap is simply too great. God bridged this gap by sending his son Jesus. In other words, God became human so that he could understand our human nature. Only by becoming human and by understanding our human nature could God bridge the gap between him and us and begin the process of restoring our relationship with him.

A good analogy is the trips our Canadian Prime Minister takes to visit foreign leaders who can’t speak English. When you see pictures of the two leaders sitting down and having a conversation, you often see more people with them, and one or more of these people are translators. They translate what our Prime Minister says in English into a language that the other leader understands and vice versa. When God became man, not only did he bridge the gap between him and us, he was able to translate the mind and will of God into terms that we can understand. That is also why Jesus often spoke in parables. He used ordinary experiences that his audience could understand to teach them about God.

We are never too old to accept the Trinity and what it offers. The Holy Spirit gives us a spiritual awakening. In John 3:1-17, Nicodemus thought that because he spent many years climbing to the top of the Jewish faith he could not change, but the encounter with Jesus changed him. How do we know this? It is because Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial after his crucifixion.

None of us can enter God’s Kingdom on our own, because we cannot measure up to God’s spiritual standards by ourselves. Why it that? It is because God’s spiritual standard is perfection. We need the help of all three members of the Trinity. We are and always will be sinners, but with the Trinity we become sinners saved by grace. Even though the Holy Spirit restores our relationship with God, and even though our sinful nature has been removed, we still have to accept the consequences of our past sins. God can’t overlook sin. Sin demands punishment. God took our punishment on himself as our substitute when he as Jesus died on the cross. When we accept him as our substitute, the Holy Spirit lives within us and reestablishes our relationship with God.

When we look upon the crucified Christ, like the Israelites who were bitten by serpents in Numbers 21 looked at the bronze serpent on the pole and lived, we are given a new life. In other words, we are born again. When we are born again, we receive the Holy Spirit. It encourages us to meet our needs in a way that honours God. It leads us to salvation, regenerates us, convicts us of our sinfulness, teaches us to live for Christ, and seals us for redemption. It also leads us in truth. The Spirit will guide us to remember the truth, reproduce the truth, receive the truth, act upon it and speak it.

God works at the highest levels of power and the greatest distance from us. He enters history uniquely identified with Jesus, who was fully human and fully God. God also personally encounters us in our ongoing history.

The most difficult truth for us to understand is that our sinful nature has made us spiritually dead to God. That is why we need to be reborn spiritually. Baptism is the sign of a new life in Christ. Baptism allows the Holy Spirit to enter us. Once the Spirit turns on the light in our souls, we can understand spiritual things. Our soul comes into union with God and gives us eternal life. God adopts us, makes us his own and promises to be with us forever. This is the heart of being born again.

When we re-establish our relationship with God, he becomes our Father by rebirth and adoption. God loves us because of his nature and he won’t stop loving us. The Spirit gives us rebirth and new life, and God gives us the Spirit because he loves us. God’s work in Jesus through the Holy Spirit is to save ourselves from our own foolishness and our destructive nature. In return, God uses the Holy Spirit through us as a voice of humanity in an inhumane world. We gain the confidence to speak out because the Holy Spirit has touched us like the fiery coal touched the lips of the servant in Isaiah 6:1-8. Life in the Spirit does not have the problems or temptations that exist in life in the world.

God is Father, Son and Spirit, co-equals united in mutual love and divine essence. When we remember this, we can understand what Jesus meant when he said that he and the Father and the Spirit are one. We can’t have one without the other. Jesus reveals God and reconciles us to God. He is the one through whom we are able to enter God’s kingdom, and the Spirit takes us there. The Holy Trinity is God (who is love) coming to us in whatever way we can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we become new people who express God’s love in everything we do, say or think.

Bibliography

  1. Lectionary Homiletics, Volume XXIII, No. 4 (St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary; 2012; pp.1-9)
  2. Craig Condon, “The Three Musketeers-Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Sermon on John 16:12-15
  3. Craig Condon, “No Greater Love”. Sermon on John 3:1-17
  4. Alan Smith, “Both Born and Adopted”. Retrieved from thought-gor-the-day@hub.xc.org
  5. Gerrit J. Bomhof, “Wind”. Retrieved from today@thisistoday.net
  6. John Piper, “The Free Will of the Wind”. Retrieved from www.desiringgod.org
  7. Richard Innes, “Do Good People Go Into Heaven, Part II”. Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  8. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Why Did Jesus Have to Die?” Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  9. Steve Arterburn, “Never Too Late”. Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Anne Graham Lotz, “A Spiritual Implant”. Retrieved from angelmin.info@angelministries.org
  11. Pete Briscoe, “Is It About Your Behavior or Your Being?” retrieved from crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  12. The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, PCUSA, “The Threefold Nature of God”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  13. Exegesis for John 3:1-17. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  14. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Jesus Christ, the Seeking Savior”. Retrieved from In_Touch_With_Dr_Charles_Stanley@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Jim Burns, “New Life”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  16. The Rev. Dr. David Lose, ELCA, “Like It or Not”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  17. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  18. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  19. Albert Mohler, “Does Doctrine Matter?” Retrieved from Jesus.org@crosswalkmail.com
  20. C.H. Spurgeon, “Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle”. Retrieved from Biblegateway@lists.biblegateway.com
  21. Daniel Clendenin, PhD, “The Infinite God as Truly Intimate”. Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  22. Roland McGregor, “McGregorPage #820, Trinity Sunday, 6/3/12”. Retrieved from mcgregorpage-bounces@mcgregorpage.org
  23. The Rev. Dr. Thomas G. Long, PCUSA, “The Start of the Trail”. Retrieved from www.day1.org/3832-the_start_of_the_trail.print
  24. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Year B, Season after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod,org

Romans 8:26-39 Why God Allows Bad Things to Happen

Have you ever wondered why God allows bad things to happen to his people? Well, God uses all of our circumstances to work for our good when we have faith. In other words, when we are Christ-like, God can take the negative circumstances of our lives and use them for our good, especially if using them for good fulfills his will for our lives. It’s like an oyster taking a grain of sand-something that irritates the oyster-and turning it into something of great value-a pearl.

Take Joseph, for example. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and ended up in jail in Egypt, but God used all of these experiences to prepare Joseph for his ultimate role of saving his family and the people of Egypt from famine. While still in prison, Joseph correctly interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants-his cupbearer and chief baker. As the dreams had predicted, the baker was executed and the cupbearer was restored to service.

Two years later, Pharaoh had two dreams that disturbed him, but no one could tell him what they meant. The cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him. Pharaoh sent for Joseph, who told him that God was warning that a famine was coming and that preparations had to be made. Joseph was released from prison and put in charge of the preparations.

When the famine came, it was widespread and affected Joseph’s family. The same brothers who sold Joseph into slavery came to Egypt to find food. Joseph still loved them and forgave them. He arranged for all of the family to move to Egypt. Pharaoh promised them the best of the land.

Joseph trusted God through many years of hardship, and God worked all of those painful circumstances for the good of Joseph, his family and God’s chosen people in the generations to come. His chosen people grew from a few to millions.

Satan is often called “the accuser,” but any charges Satan makes against us will never stand up because the Jesus who sanctifies us is also the Jesus who judges us. We are protected by Christ’s death and resurrection.  Anyone who would take away our salvation would have to be stronger than God, and since no one is stronger than God, we can never lose our salvation. God speaks of love as Christ’s love for his people. Christ’s love protects us from the trials of life. No one and nothing can separate us from God.

A believer can never be condemned by God because of Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ’s exalted position and his continual intercession for us. We are part of the body of Christ, and he loves us so much that nothing can separate us from him. God’s love is not human or normal. God loves us because of who we are-his children.

Paul affirms the incredible power of the love of Christ in Romans 8:26-39. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us when we can’t find the words to pray. When believers are hurting so much that they can’t mention their desires, the Holy Spirit intercedes with groans that words can’t express. Paul urges us to recognize the depths of our despair, but we must remember that we are not alone. God is always with us, even when we feel alienated, separated and alone.

When we are saved, God doesn’t stop with justification. He gave up his son, so he will freely give us everything we need for sanctification and glorification. When we are redeemed, we receive a new heart and we begin the lifelong process of transformation. Then we have to immerse ourselves in the Scriptures so that God can use his word to transform our minds.

God will take our negative experiences and use then to shape us and use us for his purposes. That doesn’t mean that God is pleased with all of our negative circumstances. He gets mad when people drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He is sad when we are persecuted for our faith. God loves us enough to be with us and walk with us when we face the storms of life.

God sees our sin and hates it. We need to repent for our own sake. We need to repent because we need to acknowledge that we do not want to keep on sinning. We have a duty to pray for ourselves and anyone who has been affected by our sin.

Sometimes we can only learn great lessons of faith when we face difficulties. God’s plans are not always our plans, because his plans carry a greater purpose. Sometimes he has to let bad things happen to us so that our lives and plans are realigned with his plans for our lives. God chips away at our lives like a sculptor chips away at a block of stone. In both cases, excess waste material is removed so we can become more like Christ.

We do not always know why God allows bad things to happen to us. It is enough for us to love him and know that he is there for us. God’s values and our values are not always the same. God speaks so that we may be made more like Jesus. When we trust in Christ, we are his forever. Because he paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, we are eternally secure. Nothing can take that away from us, and nothing can take us away from him. We gain the healing Spirit of God.

We are created in the image of God. The choices we make in life will either make us more Christ-like or more like the world. The key is how we choose to respond to our circumstances. We have to look at God’s promise that if he is there for us, nothing can be against us. Christ reversed our condemnation and enabled our salvation, and nothing and no one can undo his work. If Christ is our advocate, no one can win a judgment against us.

When we face times of trial, we can turn to God’s Word and ask him for help. God knows our needs. He won’t let anything happen to us without supplying the grace we need to turn the stumbling block into a stepping stone of faith. When God puts hard times together like a baker puts the ingredients for a cake together, they can work out for our good, including our failures and our hopelessness. God is at work in our lives. He undoes Satan’s messes and leads us where he wants us to go.

When our faith in Jesus operates in our lives, we are more than capable of handling whatever approaches us. He will give us the victory because of what he did for us on the cross. We can live happy, contented, joy-filled lives when we live in his goodness and with him in proper perspective.

When Christ returns, he will use the world’s destructive tools such as disaster, disease, death and decay as tools to accomplish his good will. As believers we will also be made into something good because we will be glorified. We can face life’s trials with the knowledge that God can use our trials for good and make us into something better than we can be on our own, and that is a life that is as Christ-like as possible. We can then be an example for others who are facing hardships. They can look at us and see that if faith can help us remain strong in the face of adversity, faith in God will help them as well. Our presence can sprinkle God’s healing love onto others wherever we go.

We must remember that when bad things happen, God is in control. He loves us and wants us to be saved. He allows events for his good purpose. People who love God and are called according to his purpose are assured that God will transform a bad situation to bring a good result. Our spiritual struggle will help us to move toward the greater good of salvation. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, our present experience of suffering and what we can expect of the future are changed. There will come a time when even the worst suffering we endure now will pale in comparison to the glory that will be revealed to us in heaven.

Bibliography

  1. Anne Graham Lotz, “According to God’s Purpose.” Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  2. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  4. Lucado, Max: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2010)
  5. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Help from the Holy Spirit.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Jim Burns, “God Knows What He is Doing!” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Dr. Charles Stanley, “The Pathway of Spiritual Growth.” Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  8. Dr. Ray Pritchard, “Can We Still Believe in Romans 8:28?” Retrieve from www.keepbelieveing.org
  9. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2008)
  10. Briscoe, D.S.  & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 29: Romans (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  11. Ron Moore, “I Am His Forever.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Rick Warren, “The Wild Card: Your Choices.” Retrieved from www.purposedriven.com
  13. Mary Southerland, “Can We Really Trust God?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
  15. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Answers in Times of Great Disaster.” Retrieved from www.intouch.org
  16. Exegesis for Romans 8:26-39. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  17. Jesse Gutsgell, “Bible Study, 7 Pentecost, Proper 12 (A).” Retrieved from http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
  18. Daniel Clendenin, PhD, “Inseparable Love.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  19. Paul S. Berge, “Commentary on Romans 8:26-29.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  20. Mary Hinkle Shore, “Commentary on Romans 8:26-39.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org

Psalm 104:24-35,37 Worship God the Creator

How many of you have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan?

It’s a war film set during the invasion of Normandy in World War II. The film is about U.S. Army Ranger Captain John H. Miller (who was played by Tom Hanks) and his squad as they search for Private First Class John Francis Ryan (who was played by Matt Damon). Private Ryan was the last surviving brother of four servicemen. Captain Miller lost several of his men in their search to find him. After finding him, Captain Miller himself was mortally wounded. As he laid dying, he told Private Ryan, “Earn this.”

Years later Private Ryan stood in front of Captain Miller’s grave and said, “Every day I think about what you told me that day on the bridge. I tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that, at least in your eyes, I’ve earned what all of you have done for me.” He turned to his wife and said, “tell me I have led a good life…. tell me I’m a good man.”

Private Ryan asked the same question many of us ask ourselves: “Have I done enough with this one and only life God has given me?” On our own we can’t answer that question, but with Jesus’ help the answer is clear. He died for us so that we don’t have to do anything. By his grace we can live lives that are satisfied with good things, as the writer of Psalm 104 tells us. The question then becomes “Is the work of Jesus enough to make me satisfied and significant?”, and the answer is always a resounding “Yes!”

All of God’s creation is subject to his authority, including the biggest sea creatures. All of creation must praise him. In return, he takes pleasure in everything he has created. They depend on him, and in return he is generous to them. They can rely on him. We are part of God’s creation, so we can also depend on him.

God gives life. He makes the world new again and again. Creation is God’s and it exists for him. He cares and provides for creation, and in return everything he has created gathers in what God gives them and returns a portion to him. This is what the term “tithing” means-giving back to God a portion of what he has given us. God’s spirit has touched all of us in amazing ways, and we must share what we have been given with others.

It’s almost impossible for us to understand creation. Even our best scientists have to regularly revise their theories to try to explain creation-and God puts all of his wisdom at their service and ours. What God has created is awesome beyond our ability to understand it.

All of creation is supposed to show the majesty of God, including Jesus. He was the shekinah, or the visible sign of the invisible God. According to the Old Testament, the shekinah was a radiant cloud or a brilliant light within a cloud that showed the immediate presence of God. That same cloud led the Israelites by day in the desert. That same cloud also appeared at Jesus’ baptism and his transfiguration.

On the other hand, sinners and the unchurched are those who reject God’s rule and rebel against him. They are a blemish on the world, and God will remove that blemish in due time. The purpose of Psalm 104 is to foster hatred of sin. Its purpose is not to foster hatred against sinners. On the contrary, we are to love them. For example, Pope Francis’ statements a few years ago to the Roman Catholic Church about how homosexuality and divorce are to be treated show compassion and love instead of hatred.

Our prayerful response to God’s love is to worship him and care for creation, but unfortunately our modern world has selfishly neglected to care for creation. The only way to prevent an ecological disaster is for humanity to treat God’s creation with respect. For example, I recently found out that one of our former rectors is currently in Malaysia working to save the elephant population.

Those who bless and praise God want to see the day when sinful men have been removed from the earth and the curse of sin removed. Throughout the Old Testament there are stories of how God used creation itself to destroy evil and rebuild the world. The prime example is the story of the Great Flood. There is a destructive power in nature. God’s world contains forces that are beyond our wildest dreams, so we would be wise to respect both the forces of nature and the forces of God. We can’t challenge God’s truth and justice, because they are both swift and just. God wields his power with love and compassion.

If we take time to develop the habit of seeing God in our lives, we will be able to withstand the most trying times in our lives. I have been developing the habit of seeing God in my life, and it helps me to persevere when the situation is tough. When the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us, we can expect that it will be consistent with the character of Christ even though we might not be able to anticipate everything it will mean.

Our Christian life with God is like a song that is ready to be written. He loves to hear our praise. He will put a song in our hearts that will be the sweetest melody that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives. Just like the angels sang “Glory to God” at Christ’s birth, we are to give God glory in every circumstance in our lives. We don’t have to be a great singer to sing praise to God as long as we praise him every day. We can praise him when we do our household chores or serve others behind the scenes. When we show that Jesus is in our lives and reflect his character to those around us, we will make God happy.

Bibliography

  1. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
  2. Dr. R.C. Sproul, “Witnessing His Glory.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  3. Williams, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 14: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989: pp. 239-242)
  4. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. “Sing to Me.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  7. Carol A. Solovitz, “God Pause for Tues., June 3, 2014.” Retrieved from communic@luthersem.edu
  8. Ron Moore, “Beyond the Last Note.” Retrieved from www.ronmore.org
  9. Ron Moore, “Significant in Christ.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org
  10. Joni Eareckson Tada, “What Makes God Happy?” Retrieved from communications@joniandfriends.org
  11. Alan Brehm, “The Waking Dreamer.” Retrieved from http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.ca/2010/06/breath-of-god-acts-21-21-ps.html
  12. Matthew Stith, “Commentary on Psalm 104:24-34,35b.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=320

Acts 2:1-21 Happy Birthday to the Church

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Church

Happy Birthday to you!

On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the birth of the church. On the day of Pentecost over 2,000 years ago, the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, and through the Holy Spirit the church was born. It is a time when the church traditionally concentrates on the gift of the Holy Spirit and the ways in which it strengthens the church. It is a time to consider how the Spirit has created and sustained faith in our lives. It is a time to explore how the Spirit empowers our witness so that others might have faith.

The power of the Holy Spirit ignited the disciples. Peter was ignited and gave one of the most powerful sermons in history. It included both the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy and a strong rebuke/accusation. The effect was remarkable. The message pierced the hearts of the people, and as a result more than 3,000 people were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit. When these new converts returned home, they spread the message, and thus the church was born.

This would not have been possible without the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is not an impersonal force. It is a person. It possesses the mind of God, emotions and will—because it is God. It performs the actions of God. It has the attributes of God.

As a result of the Holy Spirit, the church opened its hearts to fellowship. It opened its hands to care for each and every member. Members opened their homes to each other, especially for worship. They devoted themselves to prayer. As a result of all of this, the church grew and found favour with other people-both inside and outside the church.

The term “Spirit” describes wind or breath. The Pentecost wind is no wind of destruction. It blows where it will and fires up people with faith and spiritual power. The church did not come alive until after God breathed the Holy Spirit. The wind was an outward sign of what was happening within the disciples. The Holy Spirit came like a rushing wind on the first Pentecost, and it still comes like a rushing wind today. We can’t control the wind, and we can’t control the Holy Spirit no matter how hard we try. We try to control what it tells us to do or who it wants us to allow into our churches. Many Christians want just enough religion to be comfortable, to be respected, to feel good about themselves, but not so much that it shakes up their routines and changes their way of living. Many Christians want the benefits of the Holy Spirit without having to experience much of the Spirit.

Differences can enrich and enliven our worship experiences. Differences force us to reach across what divides us. Differences and diversity force us to rely on the Holy Spirit in order to remain faithful to the Gospel of Jesus in more creative and dynamic mission efforts. We are called on to share the Good News with others and welcome them to find love of each other and the love of God. If we do not share the Good News, it is wasted. The Holy Spirit calls on us to share our gifts and love with those who are different from us.

God gave the disciples supernatural ability to speak the languages of all those who had gathered in Jerusalem from around the known world at that time. The Spirit’s presence signified their baptism into the spiritual body of the church. This gift was the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit so the disciples could preach the Gospel to all the people.

God does the same thing today. He speaks through both chosen people and simple people like you and me. This message of being somebody again through God alone is communicated. Why? So that it might get through to everyone. As people who have received God’s grace we get to be a bridge of that good news to people we know and love.

Part of the Jewish liturgy involved reciting one of the great acts of God in their history. When the Holy Spirit came they all worshipped and rehearsed his wonderful works. Bystanders understood them because of the Jewish liturgy. When the Holy Spirit comes to fill a Christian, he/she speaks and acts in ways that weren’t possible before. Christians live supernaturally because the Spirit of God within them controls them.

For example, just a few days before Pentecost, Peter was too scared to admit he knew Jesus. Now, filled with the Holy Spirit, God changed him. In Acts 2:16-21, Peter quoted Joel 2:28-33, which was Joel’s prophecy of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the last days. On that first Pentecost, the Spirit came to people in a new, more powerful way that signalled the beginning of the new covenant age, which runs from the time of Christ’s death until he returns at some time in the future. These are the last days in that the coming of the Messiah, which was foretold in the Old Testament, have now occurred. His saving death and resurrection have been accomplished, and now the Holy Spirit has to build the church before Christ returns.

Acts 2:1-21 is the marching orders for the church. The coming of the Holy Spirit was an awe-inspiring moment that changed the world. It was a tipping point when history was changed. We have to go with the flow. It asks us to go beyond our comfort zone. God’s dream was one where all believers would gather together in unity and faith. Gold calls on us to love one another. That love changes us. It allows us to show grace to everyone.

Sometimes we wonder if what happened at Pentecost can happen today. We wonder if we can gain a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit and experience its transforming strength. We want to deal with our own feelings of spiritual inadequacy. God answers these questions and other questions people are really asking. People want something more than ordinary, dull religion. They want the power and intimacy of the Holy Spirit. It changes us. We were created for union and communication with the Holy Spirit. The greatest need for both society and the church today is for a contemporary Pentecost. We, like the disciples, must be ready for the miracle of the supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit’s power.

The flames represented the purity and power with which the disciples would speak as they proclaimed what God had done. The fire of the Holy Spirit burns away anything that will keep us from being the people God wants us to be. It convinces us that God loves us unconditionally and that we can love others unconditionally. It gives us the ability to love others deeply. The Holy Spirit releases us so that we can praise others. That praise becomes very effective proclamation. It frees us from self-concern and to Spirit-consciousness. We are free to praise God and to receive what he will do.

When people hear a minister preach on a Biblical text with the power of the Holy Spirit, and the people have been prepared by the Holy Spirit, the result is conviction, faith and changed lives. In contrast to the baptism with the Spirit, which is the one-time act by which God places believers into His body, the filling is a repeated reality of Spirit-controlled behaviour that God commands believers to maintain. The work of the Holy Spirit in the church today is to dwell with believers so they will look like Christ and be empowered to continue his ministry here on earth.

How does the Holy Spirit work in the church today?

  1. He convicts us of our sin, shows us that none of us can live up to the righteousness of Jesus, and reveals to us the judgment that is coming to those who die without faith in Christ.
  2. He immerses us into the family of God.
  3. He encourages and comforts us when we are hurting or discouraged.
  4. We work with him to maintain unity among Christians.
  5. He brings peace in the midst of life’s storms.
  6. He pours out the power for victorious living.
  7. He helps us to study and understand the truths of the Bible.
  8. He intercedes for us when we can’t put our feelings into words.
  9. He gives us power for evangelism.
  10. He distributes spiritual gifts as he deems best throughout the Body of Christ.

A life in Christ is God’s will for his people. God’s plan can’t be stopped. Pentecost is a taste of what will happen in God’s kingdom when the Spirit is poured out on all people. The Holy Spirit will live in all believers.

The Holy Spirit is more than a tool to help us overcome life’s challenges, but much of what we are asked to do is far beyond what we are called to do. On our own, we are never enough. The outpouring of the Spirit is far greater than anyone expects. It will be poured out on all flesh and everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved. The Spirit will give us the strength we need to do God’s work in our world.

In return, we are called on to be wanderers. We aren’t meant to be too settled, rooted or rigid. Our spiritual lives are meant to be a pilgrimage. The dangerous place is the place that gets too comfortable or stagnant. We are to be on the move, and our churches are meant to be on the move as well.

Pentecost is the day when we remember the eruption in which the Church came to birth. It is also the day when we remember the countless ways in which the Holy Spirit shapes the Church as an institution and ourselves as individuals. It is also the day when we are reminded that once we have received the Holy Spirit, we are required and enabled to take a stand for good and against evil in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. The Holy Spirit will teach us to love God and neighbour-and he will reward us by giving us a life worth living. That life won’t be easy or trouble-free, but it will be worth living and dying for-and that is the greatest birthday gift of all.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, Dr. David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  3. George Hermanson, “All You Need Is Love.” Retrieved from www.holyscriptures.com
  4. David McGee, “Grace for Life.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
  5. Ogilvie, L.J. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 28: Acts (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983)
  6. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  7. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  8. Rev. Gregory Seltz, “That’s Just Who God Is.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  9. Dr. Roger Barrier, “What is the Role of the Holy Spirit in the Church Today?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. The Rev. Dr. Charles Reeb, “Controlling the Wind.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
  11. Pastor Dave Risendal, “The Holy Spirit Has Called Me.” Retrieved from donotreply@wordpress.com
  12. Jacob Myers, “Commentary on Acts 2:1-21.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1296
  13. Rick Morley, “Wanderlust-a Reflection on Pentecost.” Retrieved from http://www.rickmorley.com/archives
  14. Jeremiah, Dr. David: AD: The Bible Continues: The Revolution that Changed the World (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.; 2015, pgs. 39-56)