Month: October, 2014

“The Gift of Adoption”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father….

Please Pray with me…

The last Sunday of this month is going to be a great day and I can’t wait until it arrives. I’m excited because it is then that my grandson Ashton will be baptized. It’s doubly exciting because, not only is he my grandson but I actually get to serve as God’s representative in the baptism by performing His right of adoption into God’s family. From that day forward he will be a child of God and fellow heir to the kingdom. It will be the start of what we all hope is a long journey with God’s Spirit guiding him and inspiring him. What a blessing to have a vocation that takes part in such important parts of a person’s life.

It’s also exciting when I get to study with and pray with someone who has just begun their journey in Christ. There is no better moment then when that light goes on for someone and they finally start to understand what it means to be a child of God. When someone takes the time to try to make sense of faith and then you see that resultant change taking shape, it fills you with such anticipation and thankfulness that our God is such an awesome God. There is true joy in my heart when I look someone in the eyes who has just been reminded of his new birth in Christ.

It’s at times like these that I most feel the Spirit at work and I get to think of the wondrous possibilities now existing in that new life.

The sentences immediately preceding our Epistle lesson for this morning in 1 John give instruction to those newborn in Christ when they say, And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:28-29)

When we abide in Him, when we receive the great gift of adoption into Jesus Christ and try to emulate Him, it brings about an amazing relationship as a result. We can then rejoice in knowing that, one day, we will be like Him, because we’ll get to see Him as He really is. Can there be any better gift? Can there be a greater anticipation?

Our Father in heaven longs for all people, even those who currently reject Him, to be adopted sons and daughters into His family. When one receives Christ as He really is, Savior and Redeemer, they can then be said to be born into a new birth, a spiritual birth that connects us with the Creator. But this transformation is only the beginning of the journey for all of us. If God loves us enough to want to make us His own, we should give Him love in return.

As we do, God rewards that love by transforming us into the children He wants us to be. So, look at your life. Are you the child God wants you to be?

A small child gazed up into his father’s eyes and asked, “Dad, what is a Christian?”

To this question the father replied, “A Christian is a person who loves and obeys God. He loves his friends and neighbors and even his enemies. He often prays, is kind, gentle, holy, and more interested in going to heaven then in earthly riches. That, son, is a Christian!” The boy looked reflective for a moment, then asked, “Have I ever seen one?”

The father’s answer seemed pretty good didn’t it? But the boy response exposed something. It’s one thing to know what a Child of God is but it’s entirely different to show what a child of God does. We might be able to tell others what a Christian is, we might even profess to be one, but have we ever shown others what a true child of God looks like? As we said last week, when you receive the freedom that only God can provide, do you use that freedom to express who you are in Christ?

Think about it for a second. We are children of God!! What could possibly be better than that?

Through Christ we have received a new nature, a nature more like His own nature, and we have been adopted as sons and daughters of the most high. It should kind of blow our minds.

 

When we show that we truly know what it means to be accepted into God’s intimate family, the world often rejects it because, to them, it’s foreign and they cannot understand it. Only a person who comes to know the Father through the Son can ever really understand.

But we have become like spoiled children in many respects, expecting God to love us and provide for us to matter how we live our lives. We have come to expect God’s love so much that we are not in awe of it anymore. In fact, we even go a further step, thinking that God somehow owes us His love because of the good things we have done. After all we have done to reject God, we expect Him to always welcome us back, yet we rarely show our thankfulness in our actions.

 

But here in John’s letter, we hear from someone who really understands the awe of God’s love. We read the words of someone who actually gets it. John understands the fullness of God’s love and he is blown away. In his reverence he waits for that day when God’s love brings us home where we will be made pure and holy. That’s the kind of awe I want to experience. It should be your goal as well.

 

And God does not leave His incredible love a secret. For those who live in Christ, His love is obvious when we consider all He has done to show us His love. As his adopted children we are blessed to witness the grace and forgiveness of God over and over again.

As heirs to His kingdom, we are blessed to remember His love as He saves us from ourselves, even going so far as to sacrifice His one and only Son so that by His death we might be able to be called the children of Yahweh. We have all been reborn through Baptism into the family of God and, as His precious children, we can now face the world with poise and courage.

In verse two it says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.

It’s so exhilarating to think of what we will one day be because of our faith in Christ. The reference here, of course, is that day when Christ will come again in judgment on the last day and John here hints to the result of our adoption on that fateful date.

 

As children of God we have been promised eternal joy, everlasting peace and unending love that will be fully understood and appreciated. As His children here on earth we have opportunities to witness and feel that love in many ways.

We each have our own opportunities also to share that love with one another. As adopted children of God, we should act differently than the world because we are no longer of the world. As adopted children of God the Holy Spirit gives us the means to reject the world’s enticements.

But as children, we also understand we have much to learn and that we’ll make many mistakes along the way. Our being a child implies that there will be future development and by His Words we see that God is excited about our potential.

When Ashton was born, we all had thoughts of what this beautiful boy would one day become. We look at him with hope and expectation but we have to admit, we have no idea how his life will turn out. Part of that is up to each of you. As he grows, what example will you give him of God’s love? As he grows from a toddler into a boy, how will you help him to understand what God has in store for him? As he becomes a teenager, what will you do to keep him on the narrow path in a world that will undoubtedly challenge him? We all play a part in each life we have the blessing to be a part of. How are we preparing each other as we continue to grow in our own understanding of God’s love?

God’s love for us does not stop at out birth, physical or spiritual. His love continues even past the time that is says in 1 Corinthians 15:52 when the “Dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Now we live in bodies that are susceptible to sin and other ugliness but one day, God will welcome us in bodies that have lost their earthly limitations. Until that time, God continues to nurture us from babes who drink only milk to adults who have come to understand the meat of God’s Gospel.

But the Apostle John does not stop in his description of what we will one day become. Now he tells us how that comes about. He says, it is hope that changes us. Hope in Christ and the sweet anticipation of His promise of eternal life with Him when, we too, will be purified in love.

 

Everyone who has this kind of hope purifies himself. Every time we come to the Lord in prayer with courage and faith, we move one step closer to who God created us to be. Every time we read His Word with the confidence that we will learn from it, we reach another phase in our maturation process. Therefore, everyone who has hope purifies, or frees themselves from the contamination of the world and all its filthiness.

To purify oneself means that we have taken that necessary step of surrendering all we are and all we will become to Christ so that, by His grace, He may separate us from all that defiles us. We are being continually purified as we ready ourselves for that day we anticipate so much.

As God’s adopted sons and daughters, the Holy Spirit fills us with the hope of seeing Jesus one day and in anticipation we should be determined to continue our growth towards purity, determined to reach our goal of being pure like Christ.

 

As the Holy Spirit guides our understanding of Scripture that is read carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully and reflectively, we will further develop a profound appreciation for the character, integrity, wisdom and strength of Jesus. As we learn who Jesus really is and what He was so unselfish to do for us, our awe in Him will increase to the point that our actions will match our faith. The longer you walk with Jesus and get to truly know Him the closer you will be to experience what                              1 Corinthians 13:12 shows us when it says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” The more clearly we see the more we want to get to know God. Is that something you’ve experienced? Is that even something you’ve strived for?

We are transformed from new-born children to adult children of God only because he loved us enough to want us to be with Him and, not only in a casual way, but as His adopted children. All of our transformation is only because of God’s unending and untarnished love for us.

Because He loved us He sent Christ to die for us, one son dying for the many. Because He loves us He showers us with His grace even during those times we least deserve it. Because God loves us and lives in us, He wants us to grow in faith and hope so that one day we might live with Him. His salvation is promised from our Baptism to our death because we have become his offspring.

We have received the gift of adoption not because we deserved it but because our Father in heaven wanted us to have it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Titus 2:11-15 further says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

God takes care of His own and He has provided the perfect example of what a child of God looks like. Christ Jesus is everything the children of God should hope to be.

One day the trumpet with sound and He will come again to take His children home. Now is the time to ready ourselves. Are you ready for the journey? Believe that God will show you the way.

 

 

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer was walking through Berlin’s famous Tier garden one day, mentally trying to find the answers to the questions of origin and destiny that had been perplexing him for some time. He constantly had the questions, “Who am I,” and “Where am I going” rotating over and over in his head. A park-keeper, closely observing this shabbily dressed philosopher as he slowly walked with his head down, suspected he might be a tramp. So he walked up to the philosopher and demanded, “Who are you?” “Where are you going?” With a pained expression, Schopenhauer replied, “I don’t know, I wish someone could tell me.”

 

Are you ever pondering the same questions? Do you ever wonder who you truly are or where you are going? John gives you comfort in God’s Word as he answers those most important questions. You are children of Yahweh. Your destiny has already been assured. You have received the great gift of adoption into the only family that will always matter.

John calls his readers children of God and that we are, and one day, we will experience the greatest family reunion ever as He receives us into His heavenly home, the home He has been preparing for us. May God lead you to this understanding and may others see in us a child-like faith of those adopted into glory. Amen

Bible Study Questions – 1 John 3:1-3

 

What was required of God in order for Him to call us His sons?

How does God show us His love? John 3:16; 1 John 4:7-12

How has He shown you love?

John reminds his readers of God’s great love by developing the concept of spiritual adoption in verse 1. What is spiritual adoption and how is it a demonstration of God’s love?

What does it mean that the world does not know us? John 15:18; 1 Peter 4:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:14-16

What does John mean when he says that what we will be has not yet appeared?

Is everyone a child of God?

Who calls us the children of God? 1 Corinthians 6:16-18; Hebrews 2:9-11; Romans 8:16-17

Who has the right to be called a son of God? John 1:11-12; Ephesians 1:13; Romans 10:8-13; Galatians 3:26; Matthew 5:9

What should motivate us to live pure lives? Romans 15:13

 

How shall we see God as He is? 1 Corinthians 2:9-11

 

Why will seeing Him cause Christians to be like Him?

 

What will happen when on that day? 2 Timothy 4:1,8; 1 Corinthians 15:50-53;

 

What does it mean that we will “like” Him? 2 Corinthians 3:18

 

Why is hope so important? 1 Corinthians 9:10; Hebrews 11:1; Romans 8:24-25; 1 Peter 1:3

 

What produces a purifying effect in the life of the believer? Titus 1:15; Matthew 5:8; 1 Peter 2:1-3; Philippians 1:9-11

 

“The Gift of Faith”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

A dad and his son were relaxing by the river near their home when the boy asked his father, “Dad, if three frogs were sitting on a limb that hung over the river, and one frog decided to jump off into the river, how many frogs would be left on the limb?” The dad replied, “Two.” “No,” the son replied. “There’s three frogs and one decides to jump, how many are left?” The dad said, “Oh, I get it, if one decides to jump, the others would too. So there are none left.” The boy said, “No dad, the answer is three. The frog only DECIDED to jump.”

This morning we are going to look at another great gift from God, the gift of faith. Many of us, when talking of faith, especially our own faith, make the mistake of thinking that faith in God is only some sort of feeling we get, or a confidence in something that has not been proven in human terms, or an assurance that what has been promised will happen. It is certainly all of these things, but the gift of faith is so much more than that. Faith is, more than anything, an action word. True faith leads you to your neighbor and activates in us a want and a will to make a difference in the world for Christ.

Without action, faith is just words. Like the illustration above, if we don’t turn our faith into action, we are no better than those who become comfortable on the limb of doubt or indifference.

Faith leads us to jump off the limb into the river of faith guided by the current of the Holy Spirit to the places that this faith will take us. It’s more than simply deciding to come to faith because true faith is shown in our actions.

Martin Luther has been called the “apostle of faith.” He had much to say about faith because, as he believed, “There is no man living who does not believe in something.” Luther believed that a genuine faith was a fruitful faith. He said, “You say, after all, faith justifies and saves without works – yes, that is true. But where is faith, or how does it act? How does it manifest itself? For faith dare certainly not to be idle, useless, sluggish and dead matter; it must be a living, productive tree producing fruits. Therefore this is the difference and test between an honest and a false or insincere faith: where faith is honest it also manifests itself in life; a false one, however, uses the name, word and reputation of “faith,” but nothing follows upon it.”

Faith should work in us like a contagious disease, spread by Word and deed to others who in turn affect others around them. Only, instead of something people try desperately to avoid like the Ebola virus, by our word and action it should be something others see in us and look forward to having for themselves.

In our small little church, we wonder how best to attract other people so that we might grow. So, what would it take to attract these people? Big programs? Being extra friendly? Having an awesome band?

Well, these might attract people to come, but these things alone won’t keep them there if their intent is to grow in faith. At the end of the day we have to realize that no personality, program or preacher will attract people who long for a deeper faith if our priorities are wrong. If these are the primacies of the church then they’re no better than any club we might join. Without a focus on faith, born of a desperate need for salvation through the workings of the Holy Spirit, we are nothing but empty words and empty actions. Without an understanding through faith of how our sins have affected us and the faith to face the world with confidence that those sins have been accounted for by Christ in love, we are nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

The bottom line is that we, as a church, have a choice. Do we want to fill this building or do we want to attract people to Christ? Do we want to entertain or do we want to evangelize? If your answer is the latter in both cases, then it will take faith shown in our words and actions to do it. If we try to do anything less, than we don’t deserve to call ourselves a church of God.

We need to be sick with faith and infectious to all who come close. We need to be a church dizzy from contamination and carriers of the disease. We need to be a contagious church just like the church in Thessalonica.

The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to a small church in Thessalonica that was making a worldwide impact because of the faith they were showing in all they did. The church has been called by many, “the Little Church that Could.” They had such a faith that others could not help but notice. They were a contagious congregation in a world that desperately needed the infection they were offering.

Their faith and love in Christ spread from their tiny church to the whole Roman empire because, as Paul said, they were not afraid to show their works of faith, their labor of love and their steadfast hope in Christ. So what can we learn from the little church in Thessalonica to help us in our little church in Bellingham?

Well, first we can learn that true believers are infected by the work of the Holy Spirit within them, leading them to faith. This little church was chosen, as it says in verse 4, just like our little church and the people within her, by the Word of the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. The Holy Spirit leads the way to guide us through faith into actions that the whole world can see. Just as God chose Israel, He chooses us and He wishes our lives to be transformed by faith from the darkness of sin to the light of Christ so that all will take notice.

We are called to come to an understanding leading to faith that our salvation comes from God and God alone and that we are then to lead others to that same understanding. God has chosen us to stand firm in faith as an example to others just like the little church in Thessalonica to whom Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “We ought to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

God’s plan of salvation was born in the heart of God long before man was even created or the universe formed. The cross of Christ was not a later development. God planned everything according to His good and perfect will because God loves you that much. None of this would be known by anyone if God hadn’t also chosen us before time to be His instruments of faith to others.

If we are faithful, contagious Christians, then others will be able to see Christ in the words we say and the ministry we do. Not only are we infected but we are also to be infectious. Paul shows us in our New Testament lesson for this morning in verse six that the little church had became “imitators” of the apostles and of the Lord himself by the joy of the Holy Spirit. Faithful followers become more like Christ by doing Christ-like things. Contagious Christians become more like Christ in the world by impacting that world with the values that Christ holds dear.

The little church in Thessalonica made such a big impact because they became imitators of the Lord and, because of that, they left Christ’s mark on all the people they met. Billy Graham once said, “Our greatest need today is not more Christianity but more true Christians. The world can argue against Christianity as an institution, but there is no convincing argument against a person who, through the Spirit of God, has been made Christ-like.” Christ-like followers infect the world with God’s message of forgiveness and love because in their faith they are becoming more like Christ.

And people do notice. A faithful believer is changed and becomes different than the world and people see the difference. Paul told the church in verse 7 that they had become examples to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia and that their faith had been known everywhere. It says in verse 8 that God sounded forth from them. This Greek word means a sounding out, like an echo. First God’s Word came to them and then they echoed it to others. Their calling is also our calling to be echoes of God and examples of Christ. Let’s think about what it means to be changed, I mean really changed. Can it be done? Is it really practical? I’ve heard too many times people say, “I’m just too busy for church or to work in a certain ministry right now,” or “my life is kind of complicated and as soon as I get my life in order I’ll be able to attend more.”

My question to you if you see yourself in this description is? Really? Do you understand the lack of faith it takes to think that God isn’t worth the time? Do you really have such little faith that you think you can make a better attempt at putting your life together than God can? If your too busy, or to tired, or to committed to other things, then your faith is not showing its fruits. All you show is that faith can take a back seat to other things that you have a greater faith in, namely yourself.

You want to see real change in your life? Take a hint from the church in Thessalonica. They knew what real life was about. Of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament, there are only two who receive mostly positive feedback from Paul with little or no criticism. One was the church in Philippi that we have been studying the last couple of weeks and the second is the church we study today. They both faced intense persecution for their faith, they were constantly harassed, and they frequently faced one temptation after another trying to convince them to be one with the world and its godless values.

The Thessalonian church lived in a society that glorified ungodly morals and vilified faith (that sounds a little too close to our present condition doesn’t it). Every day was a renewed fight to stay on the path of righteousness all-the-while battling temptations to drag them off. They were a poor church. Many of their members were slaves or had lost everything but their faith in Christ.

Yet they endured, not just in their surrounding neighborhood but throughout the whole church on earth. They refused to believe in the devil’s lies. They understood the risks present in proclaiming their faith. But yet they forged on in that same faith as an example of Christ-like love and charity.

A life in faith is marked by worship and rejoicing. Faith builds trust and that trust becomes contagious and as it grows and as we are affected more and more, we get to the point of rejoicing at knowing the truth because we will have learned that the truth really does set you free.

The church in Thessalonica lived their lives as slaves to Christ and spreading the virus of their faith in Him was their chief agenda. We all have an agenda. We all have things that we live for and it shows in how we live our lives. It shows in how we use our time, in how we spend our money, and in how we treat our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Faith in Christ does all this. Faithful contagious Christians have turned from serving only themselves to living each day to serve others also, because Jesus is their agenda.

They have learned to trust him in all things and for all time. They are convinced that the only way to live is through Jesus their Savior and the only way to die is to die in faith toward Him. They believe the Gospel message and rejoice in the promise. They no longer trust eternity in themselves but now wait to spend eternity with God.

So what does this mean for me you say? It means that now is the time to spread the holy disease. Now is the time to become the carriers and transmitters of the Word that saves. Now is the time to finally be like Christ in a world that resists Him.

A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale he had been working on for a long time, and as he talked to his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” The manager smiled and said, “Son, take my advice: your job is not to make him drink. Your job is to make him thirsty.” And so it is with us contagious Christians. Our lives should be so filled with Christ that it creates a thirst for the Gospel in others. The truth is, the only way for a non-Christian to know what it is like to be a Christian is to see one.

If you don’t yet feel you are where you need to be, then do something about it. Be in the Word and in prayer daily. Take the time to work in ministry here at Redeemer or in other parts of the world because the need is great. Faith is a sickness we all want and it’s also one we should want to share. Let Redeemer be known as people who truly live their lives out in faith. Let’s be the little church that could and infect the world. Amen

 

“The Gift of Joy”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…
Please pray with me…
It’s not often I know what the title of a sermon is before I write it. It usually comes to me near the middle because it’s not until, at least then, that I know more clearly where God is trying to lead me.
Well, this time was different because it’s one sermon in the series I have been focusing on called “The Gifts of God.” Today’s sermon is entited, “The Gift of Joy,” so, as you can imagine, before I even started writing, I was thinking of all the times in my life that I have experienced true joy and there are many.
Of course, every time a child was born there was intense joy at the life God had created. When we were called here there was joy that, finally, I had reached my goal. The day I got married and many of our days together since have been filled with joy over one thing or another. To have the gift of Joy is amazing every time you are blessed enough to receive it. Joy is truly a gift worth sharing.

If I were to talk about a time of joy that might not have been so obvious, it would probably be the same example our kids would give you. One night, everyone was home for a change and we decided to sit down and enjoy a roaring fire in the fireplace downstairs. We pushed the big fluffy couch in front of it, built a fire and waited for it to glow.
I’m not exactly sure who suggested it, but someone recommended we put on the standards station on the cable channel. Soon we were listening to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald. Before you knew it we had all bunched together, each laying on the other, enjoying the fire and the music which would eventually lull us into a deep sleep, each using the other for a pillow. That night, as my family was around me, I can honestly say I felt real, untarnished joy.
In our text, Paul takes the time to speak about real joy and how to receive it. Yes, the same Paul who was in prison as he wrote this letter to the people of Philippi. He says in the beginning of our text, Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Paul had every reason not to be happy, but happiness and joy are not the same and nothing could stop Paul from rejoicing in the Lord.
Happiness depends on circumstances or happenings.

When we are doing things we love, when a friend comes for a visit, when your children get an A in science or math, it is during these times we are happy. The circumstance brings the happiness. When I enjoyed the fire with my family I was also very happy.
But Joy is truly a gift, a gift from God Himself. It is born of something within us. It is provided by the Holy Spirit to motivate us to the good. When we make that final decision to surrender all we have and all we are to Christ, it is the gift He gives in return.
Dwight L. Moody says it well, “Happiness is caused by things that happen around me, and circumstances will mar it; but joy flows right on through trouble; joy flows on through the dark; joy flows in the night as well as in the day; joy flows all through persecution and opposition. It is an unceasing fountain bubbling up in the heart; a secret spring the world can’t see and doesn’t know anything about. The Lord gives His people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to Him.”
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit imparted on those who have come to an understanding of their relationship in Christ, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It is not provided by outside forces but from God who lives in us.

Paul here writes when he is under sentence still not knowing if he is to live or die. We can understand if he were emoting unhappiness, but, as Paul would say, Joy is not an emotion, it is a choice, it is an attitude.
If you give joy you will receive joy. He loves the people in Philippi and he wants them to experience the same joy that he is experiencing, the kind of Joy that can only come from God. Paul continued to walk in obedience to Christ and for that he was given the beautiful bliss of the believer. In all of Scripture, Joy, the kind that only comes from God, permeates through. Time after time God showers joy on his people, even though they did not deserve it, because He loved then enough to want for them the very best.
After King David returned from victory over the Philistines as told in 1st Samuel it is said that the women came out of all Israel playing tambourines and singing songs of great joy. When God’s people returned from exile to rebuild the temple, Ezra the prophet says many shouted aloud for joy. The prophet Nehemiah reminds us that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Psalm 16:11 says “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
And this joy continues on for all who choose to accept it and believe. Paul did not look at his predicament and get lost in sorrow and regret. He always looked toward Christ, straining, as we said last week, to see the future when he would be at His side for all eternity.

However, in our world today, and, if we’re honest, in our own lives as well, we sometimes tend to ignore the joy that is being offered for attitudes of Sinicism and self-imposed sentences of regret and shame. We bow to our old Adam, content to wallow away in self-pity and thoughts of unfairness. We lament because we see the cup as half-empty with no chance for it to be overflowing. We see the thorns but ignore the rose.
But God did not create us to live with this kind of attitude. He wanted us to experience the rose and hold cups overflowing. Listen to the prophet Habakkuk,
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3: 17-19)
Notice, he says, “I will.” Joy is a choice. Like love, it will not be forced on you or from you. Habakkuk’s choice was not to live in sorrow or hardship. He didn’t bow down to despair. He didn’t deny the hardships but he made the choice not to let them take away the joy that was given to Him from a God he came to trust, even when times were tough.
If we surrender the fight we have become so used to with God, we will find that sorrow can no longer knock us down. It cannot find victory in someone who refuses to kneel before it. Those who choose to find their Joy in Christ have overcome the world and have found strength, just like Habakkuk did because they refused not to.
“I have everything I need for joy!” Robert Reed said.
His hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can’t bathe himself. He can’t feed himself. He can’t brush his teeth, comb his hair, or put on his underwear. Strips of Velcro hold his shirts together. His speech drags like a worn out audiocassette…. Robert has cerebral palsy.
The disease keeps him from driving a car, riding a bike, and going for a walk. But it didn’t keep him from graduating from high school or attending Abilene Christian University, from which he graduated with a degree in Latin. Having cerebral palsy didn’t keep him from teaching at St. Louis Junior College or from venturing overseas on five mission trips.

And Robert’s disease didn’t prevent him from becoming a missionary in Portugal. He moved to Lisbon, alone, in 1972. There he rented a hotel room and began studying Portuguese. He found a restaurant owner who would feed him after the rush hour and a tutor who would instruct him in the language.
Then he stationed himself daily in a park, where he distributed brochures about Christ. Within six years he led seventy people to the Lord, one of whom became his wife, Rosa.
Once when Robert spoke. Men carried him in his wheelchair onto the platform. They laid a Bible in his lap. People watched his stiff fingers force open the pages. And, as they did, they wiped away tears of admiration from their faces. Robert could have asked for sympathy or pity, but he did just the opposite. He held his bent hand up in the air and boasted, “I have everything I need for joy.” His shirts are held together by Velcro, but his life is held together by joy.
We have that same choice every day of our lives to live a life of self-pity or live lives with the joy we have found in Christ. We all know those who find comfort in their constant complaining. Nothing ever seems to go right, there is no joy to be found. But then there are others like Patzy Zettle and Mal Walton or any one of our shut-ins that are constant examples of joy despite their conditions. They all made the choice to live for Christ and they received the great gift of joy for their efforts. They knew that those who choose to live lives of regret and self-pity only find pain and they weren’t about to let their circumstances rob them of joy.
Joy is found in people who understand just how much they have been blessed. And how much are you blessed?
If you woke up more healthy than ill, you were more blessed then tens of thousands of others who won’t even live through the week.
If you have never experienced the danger of battle or the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are more blessed then millions of others who suffer through these things nearly every day.
If you attend church without the fear of harassment, torture or even death, you are more blessed then almost three billion people on the earth.
If you have a refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a nice place to sleep, you are already richer than 75% of all people on earth.
We are all so very blessed and we have every reason to experience the joy that God offers. Yet, joy continues to be a choice. Like other gifts you can choose to accept it or deny it. We take way too much for granted and because of this, many miss the joy they should be living in.
“No man had more reason to be miserable than this one – yet no man was more joyful. His first home was a palace.
The snap of his fingers changed the course of history. His name was known and loved. He had everything – wealth, power, respect. And then he had nothing.

Students of the event still ponder it. Historians stumble as they attempt to explain it. How could a king lose everything in one instant? One moment he was royalty; the next he was in poverty.
His bed became, at best, a borrowed pallet – and usually the hard earth. He never owned even the most basic mode of transportation and was dependent upon handouts for his income. He was sometimes so hungry he would eat raw grain or pick fruit off a tree. He knew what it was like to be rained on, to be cold. He knew what it meant to have no home.

His palace grounds had been spotless; now he was exposed to filth. He had never known disease, but was now surrounded by illness.

In his kingdom he had been revered; now he was ridiculed. His neighbors tried to lynch him. Some called him a lunatic. His family tried to confine him to their house.

Those who didn’t ridicule him tried to use him. They wanted favors. They wanted tricks. He was a novelty. They wanted to be seen with him – that is, until being with him was out of fashion. THEN they wanted to kill him.

He was accused of a crime he never committed. Witnesses were hired to lie. The jury was rigged. No lawyer was assigned to his defense.
A Judge swayed by politics handed down the death penalty….. They killed him.

He left as he came – penniless. He was buried in a borrowed grave, his funeral financed by compassionate friends. Though he once had everything, he died with nothing.

He should have been miserable. He should have been bitter. He had every right to be a pot of boiling anger. But he wasn’t.

He was joyful…He was joyful when he was poor. He was joyful when he was abandoned. He was joyful when he was betrayed. He was even joyful as he hung on a tool of torture, his hands and feet pierced with 6 inch Roman spikes…

Jesus embodied a stubborn joy. A joy that refused to bend in the wind of hard times. A Joy that held its ground against pain….”
Hebrews 12:1-3 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Jesus was the perfect example of a life lived in joy and it is the choice he wishes you to make. He died so that you could experience it. He rose again so that this joy would follow you all the way to heaven.
People of Redeemer, choose joy. You are blessed and you are called to be a blessing. His Yoke is easy and His burden is light. Turn your sorrows over to Him. Lay your pain at His feet. Let Him make your uncertainty disappear. Joy is His gift, so let Him turn your life into the same beautiful bliss that Paul knew so well. Amen

 

“The Gift of Life”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father…

Please pray with me…

A young soldier and his commanding officer got on a train together. The only available seats were across from an attractive young women who was traveling with her grandmother. As they engaged in pleasant conversation, the soldier and the young woman kept eyeing one another; the attraction was obviously mutual. Suddenly the train went into a tunnel and the car became pitch black.

Immediately two sounds were heard: the “smack” of a kiss, and the “whack” of a slap across the face. The grandmother thought “I can’t believe he kissed my granddaughter, but I’m glad she gave him the slap he deserved.” The commanding officer thought, “I don’t blame the boy for kissing the girl, but it’s a shame that she missed his face and hit me instead.” The young girl thought, “I’m glad he kissed me, but I wish my grandmother hadn’t slapped him for doing it.” And as the train broke into the sunlight, the soldier could not wipe the smile off his face. He had just seized the opportunity to kiss a pretty girl and slap his commanding officer and he had gotten away with both!

This guy knew how to seize the moment. He saw an opportunity in life and he went for it. Now, I’m not condoning his actions mind you, but you have to admire him for his quick thinking.

Today, we’re going to share the great gift of life. That this is a gift almost everyone would agree. It doesn’t matter if you are a believer or not, most lives are cherished. In fact, we cherish them so much that we try to cram as much life in as we can. We think, if we can just spend every second trying to make life fulfilling for us and for our family, then it will all turn out ok.

But we find with a hectic life comes deadlines and commitments, problems and priorities, distractions and obstacles. Life is never as easy or as smooth as we would hope. In an attempt to avoid the average life, we go overboard trying to make our lives extraordinary. Yet we are still left with the feeling that life is passing us by. Instead of cherishing life we fill it with so much that we barely have time to breath. Our priorities get discombobulated and we find ourselves in the last years of our lives wondering where the time went, wishing we would have lived our lives differently

I don’t believe that this is the kind of life God wants for us. Yes, he wants you to seize the moment, but not in such a way that He has no part of it. He gave us life to enjoy. He longs for us to take every opportunity to take a long breath and appreciate the life He has given us. He wants to be our ultimate priority in life, a life He wishes us to saver and relish.

God has already organized our lives for us and He wishes us to trust Him enough to follow His plans for us, because in the end, that is when life is most fulfilling.

Paul found this out on the road to Damascus. He was someone who had his priorities reset and in the right place. His number one desire was to live for Christ. Even if it put him in danger, he seized every opportunity to preach the Gospel of salvation through Christ, considering everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ.

Our Epistle lesson for this morning is a blueprint of Paul’s priorities and philosophies. Here Paul describes for us how to live life to the fullest. He knew that it should be every person’s priority to seize the moments that God has given us so that each one of us might gain Christ, live for Christ, and love for Christ.

If we could learn to follow his example, we could then learn to make the most out of every opportunity given us and live life the way God intended us to, no matter what the world throws at us to fill up our time.

Pastor Rick Warron wrote a book a few years ago called, “A Purpose Driven Life.” I’m not a big fan of the book but he was certainly onto something. All of our lives are lived on purpose and for a purpose.

In each of our lives, God has given us our perfect fit. Some have realized it and others have not, but all of us have a God given purpose in life. Each of us has our own unique place in the body of Christ that no one else has.

Unfortunately, if I were to ask each of you what that purpose would be, many of us would not know. Some would answer the obvious, “To be a good wife,” “To be the best dad that I can be,” “To succeed in life,” Etc. But these can fit any person. Most wives want to be good. Most fathers want to do what’s right by their families, all of us want to succeed in life. We count these as our purpose and they are, but they don’t describe the specific purpose God has for you.

The question we should all want to answer is, what is our primary purpose in the life God has chosen for us? In other words, what is our specific reason for living? Everything in creation has a specific purpose or a reason for its existence. For any of us to be truly successful, we must learn to fill this exclusive role in life. To know how great a gift our lives really are, we have to come to understand the role we play in them.

Orison Marden once said, “There is no greater sight in the world than that of a person driven with a great purpose, dominated by one unwavering aim.”

What he is talking about is passion. We all have a passion. It might be hanging sheet rock, it might be giving swimming lessons, it might even be sitting at a toll booth.

Paul’s passion was getting the Word of Christ to as many people as he could. He knew the message of the world would lead to our destruction but that the Word of God would lead us to glory.

Martin Luther once said about the Word, “We are truly sticking in the midst of night and in the densest darkness if that morning star does not send forth it’s light of which it is said: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my Path.” For if we do not have Holy Scripture to shed light on our actions and to direct them, then this entire life and all the light of reason, yea, and all the wisdom and advice of men are mere darkness and confusion.” Paul knew this and, by the leading of the Holy Spirit it became his purpose in life. Paul came to know what a great gift life really is by sharing God’s Word with all that would listen.

And Paul tells us in our lesson that to succeed in the future, you must forget the mistakes of the past. Learning from them but moving on from them. Paul would know of this aspect in life. In his past he had persecuted Christians, spoken against Christ, tried to win his salvation by works, and, I’m sure, many other things he was not too proud of.

But he learned to forget the past and live for the future. Because he knew that if his past failures were not forgotten, his future successes would be limited out of grief and a feeling of shame. He understood that all people make mistakes, both great and small, and that it is best to learn from them for the future but not dwell on them so much that we are not able to escape the past.

Paul had a choice, the same choice we all have from time to time, namely, am I going to make the most out of my future for Christ or am I going to let my past mistakes distance me from Christ. He knew that by doing nothing to promote a life in Christ because of mistakes or ignorance in his past, he would be, in effect, distancing himself from Christ for the future.

Maybe you now have in mind something that has happened that you wish you could take back. Maybe you’re feeling unworthy because of your numerous past mistakes. If so, God has a message for you. Focus on your future with me because through repentance your sins are forgiven. I don’t see them anymore so neither should you. My plan for you is still waiting. Wait no longer. Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins.”

In Jeremiah 31:34 it says, “”For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” You can take His Word for it.

And I would say, that as we forget the mistakes of the past, we are sometimes better advised to forget some of the good. Many people galvanize themselves with some special moment in the past, unable to live on into a productive future. We see glory days that make our present life so boring in comparison, that we have no thought for what God has planned for us in our future life. We’re stuck in the past, unable to change and dream because we never want that past to leave us.

I’m here to tell you, God has some amazing things for your future. Let Him guide you there. God gave us this great gift of life by giving us the even greater gift of His Son so that we might find our purpose and, when we do, live it all the way to heaven. Don’t cheat yourself by dwelling on things of the past good or bad. Live your life for what you can do now to begin a life in Christ that is rich and blessed, even thru the valleys.

To do this, we have to be able to face the present. It’s so much easier to live in the past and be satisfied with that. It’s so easy to dream away our future, becoming drunk with the past. But it’s a real challenge sometimes to face your future because when we do we understand we have to face our present condition, sinful as it might be.

If we live in the past then we no longer have to strive to be more Christ-like in the days ahead. We don’t have to try to get healthier or smarter or more faithful, because, to us, those days have passed.

But God has never said that in our lives we are to just coast along. He wants you to live your life to the fullest for Him and for you, from birth to death. You only get one life here on earth and it’s up to you to make it the life it was meant to be. Every moment brings another opportunity.

Let us all strain our eyes toward what lies ahead for us. God has prepared a place for each one of us and for every person. He has done everything that needed to be done so that we might enjoy paradise.

We must face the present, always looking toward our future with Christ. We must always be putting our faith into action so that by our present life we might make our lives and all the lives we interact with a blessing. We need to make our prayer to God, “Use me in great and mighty ways.” We need to be always looking over the horizon for the many opportunities that God will provide us.

I have talked with a couple of you who seem to be stuck, not really knowing what God’s purpose for you is. I know that can be a dreadful feeling, because I’ve been there. But one thing I have learned is that, even when I felt stuck or off course, God was preparing me for what He had planned for me from before I was born.

My advice to you is to live each moment to the fullest, patient for that time when God will make all things plain to you. In the meantime, you might have to face some battles and uphill climbs, but I promise you, if you continue to let God set your course, you’ll find your ultimate satisfaction.

We need to pray that God gives us endurance and determination. We need to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe,” and then we need to put that faith into action.

Lord, let us all hear that still small voice on the mountaintop, help us walk across the dry lands to the place you have promised us, help us to remember that you can still calm the stormy seas of life. But, most of all, help us to believe you can still raise the dead, heal the blind, open the deaf ear, make the mute talk and the lame walk. Heal our broken hearts and cast off the demons that hold us back from enjoying the great gift of life you have given us.

Facing the present means that we put our full faith in Christ, right here, right now and trust Him to be involved in every aspect of our lives. Facing the present means that we choose to live our lives day by day, with courage and passion, not in the past with guilt and regret.

 

God does not want our lives to waste away, He wants us to live every moment knowing how great a gift life really is. He wants you to find your purpose, that purpose that is only yours.

Pastor Greg McDonald reminds us that, “God has given you a reason for living, to be like Christ. It’s can’t happen yesterday so we need to forget the past. We can’t put it off to tomorrow, because tomorrow never comes. It has to happen right now.” And it will – if we cherish what God has given us in this life and make this life our own. Amen

 

 

 

Bible Study Questions – Philippians 3:4-14

Bible Study Questions – Philippians 3:4-14

  • Why do you think we are tempted to start with ourselves when seeking “wholeness?”

 

  • What are some of the problems with looking inside ourselves for the answers?     Proverbs 16:25

 

  • Why do you think Paul cites his religious background? Isn’t this being boastful? With whom does it give him credibility? Verses 4-6

 

  • He calls these elements of his religious background “loss” and “rubbish”. How can his righteous upbringing be considered “loss” rather than just “rubbish”?

 

  • What did Paul gain instead from reading verses 8 and 9 when he threw away the things he once thought worthwhile?

 

  • To get a context to whom Paul was writing we look earlier in the chapter. Paul asks the church in Philippi to “Look out for dogs.” What do you think he means? Proverbs 26:11; Psalm 22:16, 59:5-6; Matthew 7:6, 15:26; Revelation 22:14-15

 

  • The word “know” in verse 10 means to have personal acquaintance or experience with. What did Paul want to experience, and what did he seek to gain in getting more knowledge of Christ from the experience?

 

  • What two kinds of righteousness does Paul talk about? What are the differences?

 

  • Did Paul view himself as having already attained, or having been perfected?

 

  • What did Paul mean by “becoming like him in his death” in verse 10?

 

  • What sorts of things tend to draw you away from Christ?

 

  • Why do we tend to base our worth as Christians on our performance?

 

  • In what ways did Paul’s spiritual life resemble the discipline of a runner? Verses 12-14

 

  • Explain Paul’s goal in verse 14. How can it also be our goal?