Month: June, 2017

In God We Trust

Text:  John 14:21-31

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

Please pray with me…

As I sit writing this sermon, I can hear Marilyn recording patriotic songs from the piano so that we might have some accompaniment when we sing in Ferndale on Friday. One’s heart can’t help but swell up a bit with pride when you hear “Oh Say Can You See.” After all, most of us are proud to be American’s I think. It’s the greatest country in the history of mankind and we are blessed to be called citizens.

When this country was formed, the church had a major share of its development. The 10 Commandments became the foundation of our laws and our Christian faith helped form every facet of life as we knew it. Churches were filled with people praying and praising God. Even our money showed signs of this deep trust in God and all things Godly. On every note was the same phrase we see today, “In God We Trust.”

Back then these words stood for something. They were more than a motto, they were a spiritual truth which most people swore to. Back then it was expected that we would put all our trust in our Creator. My how times have changed.

In a couple of days, our country will be 241 years old. When it was formed it formally declared its independence from Britain after a war that cost the lives of thousands of its citizens.

On the document that declared that independence, were these words, “And for the support of this Declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” The document was signed by 56 men in Philadelphia. A new country had been born.

That “Divine Providence” was God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, a very present help in times of trouble. When times were tough, they turned to God because they trusted He would be good to His Word and because of that, our nation became great.

We still see this trust on display from time to time when things get tough. Immediately after the tragedy of 911, people turned to their faith to comfort them. When our brave military men and women die or are wounded in battle, it is most often God they turn to for peace. In turmoil and terror, it is easier to trust God because we know He’ll always be there. It’s in times of peace that we replace Him.

Back in the 80’s there was a band called Diamond Rio that would occasionally show its faith in the words of their songs. One such song was called, “In God We Still Trust.” The words went like this:

You place your hand on the Bible, when you swear to tell the truth

His name is on our greatest monuments and all our money too.

And when we pledge allegiance, there’s no doubt where we stand:

There’s no separation, we’re one nation under Him

In God, we still trust here in America

He’s the one we turn to every time the going gets tough.

He is the source of all our strength, the one who watches over us.

Here in America, we still trust.

Now there are those among us, who wanna push Him out.

And erase His name from everything this country’s all about.

From the schoolhouse to the courthouse they’re silencing His Word

An’ now it’s time for all believers to make our voices heard

In God, we still trust here in America

He’s the one we turn to every time the goin’ gets tough.

He’s the source of all our strength, the one who watches over us.

Here in America, in God, we still trust.

Martin Luther wrote, “(God) alone it is to whom we must flee as to a holy anchor and our Sole Refuge when we think we are lost.”

Yes, when times are especially tough, we still see evidence of trust towards the one true God. It’s when there are times of peace that we forget about Him.

“In God We Trust.” Is it really true? Can the majority of the citizens of our great country rightfully say that they put all their trust in Him? Can most of us say it here in this worship service? I fear not. For most Americans, the one true God is not their God. They have chosen God’s of their own making or have reshaped their belief in the one true God to fit their lifestyles making Him no God at all. We can only imagine what God thinks of this transformation from One Nation Under God to One Nation serving whatever God they choose.

From Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 

 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 

Is this our destiny should we continue to replace immortal God with God’s of our own making? Are we already seeing people lost in their lusts given to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies because they exchanged the truth for a lie? I’m afraid the answer is yes. The evidence is clear to see. Little by little the devil has chipped away at this concept of “In God We Trust” and has convinced many if not most to find their confidence somewhere else. In the process, our nation has become a cesspool of identity politics and false gods. When will those who remain faithful make a stand for truth?

God has promised that if we still honor Him, He will bring honor upon us. But when we don’t allow Him to be our God, He’s not the kind of God who forces Himself upon us. He guides us to the truth but He does not force feed us the truth. If He did, our relationship wouldn’t be about love and respect. It would be a relationship of rules and fear (and not the healthy kind).

So, how do we make a stand? How do we turn the tide of disbelief to once again trust in the one true God? How do we convince others that our way is the right way? It tends to be overwhelming if you think about it too much.

Really, the answer is simple. All we need to do is to be the people we were created to be. Let others see your conviction in Christ. Let them see Christ in all your actions. Put others before yourselves. Don’t be shy to share your faith and the reasons for your faith. Glorify God in all you do and quit making excuses for yourself. Trust God to be true to His Word and trust Him to lead your life. Don’t get lost in the comforts of the world so much that you forget about God.

Satan was writing to a junior devil. He wrote, “I am truly amazed at you. Your methods are so old fashioned that I can hardly believe it. You and your ridiculous talk of torturing Christians. Can’t you see that doesn’t work anymore? It just makes them mad and then you can’t do a thing with them.

It’s simply not done that way anymore. There’s a whole new approach to getting Christians to denounce their faith and it works like a charm. It’s called trial by affluence, for lack of a better name. It’s so simple you can hardly believe it. Here’s what you do.

You take a good, solid Christian family so you make the best example of them. Now start pouring on ‘the good life.’ Give them a boat and a camper, a good car, a decent house. Several color tv’s and a good income that provides for more then what they need in life. Add to this a couple of days a week he doesn’t have to go to work. Better yet, give him a three-day weekend. Pour on the goodies.

Now watch him crack! And if you really want to get your laughs, listen to what he says. Sooner or later you’ll hear him mention how God gave him all these good things. But while he’s saying this, he’s hooking up the camper to be gone from worship again. Or turning on the TV to sit paralyzed instead of thinking or doing anything. Each week give him a shot of playtime. With every move towards comfort, you’ll get him one step further away from his God. If you need proof to see how this works, look at America. We’ve almost got her completely in our grasp.

Peter said in His first book chapter 5:8-9, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.

We look at our nation and it doesn’t seem to be one nation under God anymore. Has God lost us? Is it too late? Of course, the answer is a resounding NO! Our God is still in control even as it seems all morality and godliness is fleeing. I believe right now, we are being given into our perversions so that we might be cleansed with fire.

You and I can be catalysts for change. Little by little, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can bring God back into the picture for people. As a church, let the searching see us as a church who cares, an active church so busy being Christ to the world that they have no time for the devil’s temptations. Let them witness our faith as we draw nearer to God, Sharing the message of salvation even to those who resist it.

Little by little we can make a kingdom difference and best of all, we have the power of almighty God behind us.

Our God wishes to raise us up with Christ into glory and he will do most anything to make it happen. His love for us has no bounds and, even if He has to watch us suffer from our actions so that we might come to the truth, He will do it.

I believe that, today, we see our country in the midst of self- destruction. We have fallen. But all is not lost. There is still time to make a change. There is a strength born out of our Christian roots that still exists and I believe our nation will be once again, “One Nation Under God.”

But until that time, we as proud citizens of the United States must become united ourselves. Christians must start to make a stand for truth. Love and forgiveness mixed with grace must be evident from all of us. We can no longer be the silent majority. God needs us to make our mark on this country and throughout the world.

Do you put your trust in how many dollar bills you have or do you believe what’s written upon it, “In God We Trust?” Trust in the name of God.  Hebrews 11:1, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

Trust in His Word.  Psalm 56:4, “In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid…”

Trust in His promise. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Trust in His power.  Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen

And trust in His grace.  Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

As you celebrate this Independence Day, don’t dwell on what our nation has become, think about all that it could be. God is much more powerful than all the degradation we have been witness to. He has the power and the will to make a change for the better. But He is depending on us to be His instruments of change. How will you answer the call? Don’t be satisfied being silent any longer. Amen.

Bible Study: In God We Trust

 

John 14:21-31

Is Jesus insinuating in verse 21 that He loves some people (those who obey him) more than others (those who don’t)? John 7:17, 8:31-32, 12:26

Why do you think Judas was confused?

Who is this Judas? Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13

Compare Judas’ question (Verse 22) to Thomas’ (Verse 5).  What does this say about the confusion the disciples were having?

In verse 23, Jesus uses the pronouns “we” and “our” in verse 23. Who is He talking about?

To what degree does Christ make His “home” with us? What is He really saying?

Why was it important that the disciples knew that the Word they would receive would be from the Father and not Himself? Verse 24; Verse 10; John 7:16

Compare verses 24-25 with 1 John 2:5. What similarities do you see? Is it a consistent message?

Why is keeping Christ’s Word a requirement for those who love Him?

How do verses 25-26 display how the New Testament was written?

How would the disciples be equipped to continue Jesus’ teaching after He was gone? Mark 13:11; Acts 2:43; 10:40-42

What kind of peace does Jesus offer? Verse 27, 16:33 Because of His offer of peace, how should we respond? Romans 15:13; Colossians 3:15; Philippians 4:6-7; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; 2 Peter 1:2

The phrase in verse 28 “The Father is greater than me” has given skeptics reason to think Jesus is somehow lesser than the Father. What did He mean by this? Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 5:8

What effect would Jesus’ death have on:  The disciples – Verses 28,29, Satan – Verse 30, the world – Verse 31 

How did Jesus refer to His approaching time of death? Verse 30; Luke 22:53. Why let this happen?

What victory do you see in verse 30? Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15 

Name ways this section of Scripture would serve as comfort for the disciples after Jesus’ departure.

In the light of the promises about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s presence in your life, and Christ’s offer of peace, how would you finish this sentence?  “When I am afraid or feeling abandoned and alone, I can…”

(Note:  Bible study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

“Claim Your Reward”

 

Matthew 25:31-46 / Philippians 3:7-11

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

Please pray with me…

Jedediah Smith was a very interesting character in the shaping of our country. In 1814, he left St. Louis in search of something new, something as yet unseen in the American West. In search of opportunity he left all he knew to explore and conquer.

Jedidiah was a dependable, wise and courageous explorer and during his adventures he showed bravery in facing demoralized people in his group, hostile Indians and even ferocious grizzly bears. Above all he was a faithful and devoted leader. More than once his wisdom and quick thinking saved the lives of those in his party and eventually he and they would discover the South Pass, a critical component for future expansion into the Oregon territories.

If you read his biographies you’ll hear about all of these great acts, but what you might not read is who he gave all credit to for the success he found. Above all, Jedediah Smith was an unashamed follower of Christ. His friends would testify in their writings of his undying commitment to God. In every action, he thought of Christ. He rejected the seedier side of frontier life. With every step, he tried to glorify God. With every breath, he gave his Creator the credit He deserved. He left all he knew for the unknown, because he trusted God to show him the way.

Long before this, there was another man who set out for the unknown with only Christ to count on. His name, at the time, was Saul but would later be changed to Paul. Once a committed opponent to Christ, he became a follower in every way. It was he who said in verse 8 of our New Testament lesson, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

And when I say he set out for the unknown, I mean that of which he once fought so heavily to destroy. When he didn’t know Christ, he thought of this new Christian faith with nothing more than contempt. In his eyes, it was a fantasy drummed up my malcontents and needed to be stopped. To him it was of no use, utter nonsense and in need of disposing of, for the rubbish it was.

But then something wonderful happened. On his way to the city of Damascus, Jesus introduced Himself in a most Godly way. “Why are you persecuting me? Says Jesus, who once was crucified but now sits at the right hand of the Father. In bright light and clear voice, Jesus introduces Himself when Saul asks who He is, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” When you persecute His people, you are persecuting Jesus. Saul would soon find out just who this Jesus was.

As we wrap up our series on the beatitudes we come to Matthew 5:12. To set it up we’ll also include last week’s verse, verse 11:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Today we are going to talk about heavenly rewards and how to attain them. Now, when you think of rewards, what do you think of? When you see a poster up offering a reward for the return of a lost dog, you expect more than a thank you for returning it, right? We expect to receive some cash for doing the right thing. In fact, if all we got was a thank you, we’d feel cheated, wouldn’t we?

So, does our heavenly reward equate with this kind of reward with the most faithful, the most trustworthy, getting the greatest reward? Is my mansion in heaven going to be bigger than your mansion because I’m a pastor? What if someone spent years living in dangerous conditions with people who didn’t even have a written language so that they might know Jesus. What if they developed a written language and translated the whole New Testament so these people could pass it on from generation to generation. Would their reward be greater in heaven because of the sacrifice of themselves that they made in the name of Christ? Many might think so, but is that the way God works?

Well, Paul attempts to answer this in Philippians 3 when he says, , “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” The Psalmist says it another way in Psalm 73:25 saying, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” 

I hope you’re getting what they are saying. Their desire is not mansions and riches as a reward for their faith. To them, the greatest reward will be to truly know Christ. To be in the same place as their Savior. To finally look Him in the eye and behold His glory. Indeed, that moment will be so great that all the things we have ever owned will be rubbish in comparison. Just the prospect of that great day outweighs all the riches on earth. Imagine standing face to face with Jesus Christ.

So, as we await that awesome day when we will receive our own reward, what should we be doing to prepare ourselves. Well, as in all things, God has a plan for us. For our first hint, we go to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We read in Chapter one starting with verse 16:

I do not cease to give thanks for you remembering you in my prayers that the God of Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.

 You want to know the Son? Talk to the Father. You want to truly understand your reward? Ask the one giving it. It is God the Father who instills the wisdom needed to make that first step to Christ. It is the Holy Spirit Himself who will enlighten you to the truth. You want your share of the reward? Get to know your heavenly family as you read their words.

All the biblical pointers lead us to believe that Christ is revealed more fully when he is revealed immediately to the eyes of the heart by the Holy Spirit. Through Word and Spirit Jesus is revealed to us every bit as much as He was revealed to Saul on that fateful walk to Damascus.

Clue #2 comes to us in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 10 beginning with verse 31:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God….Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

To gain the reward, God advises us through Paul to be imitators of Christ. In everything give glory to God as you try in imitate His nature here on earth. Know what pleases God and strive to find pleasure in the same things. Always do the right thing so as to attain righteousness. Love His people as He loves His people. Care for His creation as He cares for it. Look to Christ as your example in your attempt to venerate the Father in the best possible ways.

So, to gain your reward the Bible says to get to know Christ through His Holy Spirit and Word as you try to imitate His very nature. Isn’t it amazing that Paul would say in Philippians 1:23 that to depart to be with Christ would be far better than all the blessings we might receive on earth? Never-the-less, he says as great advice to us, that it is better to remain in the flesh so as to carry on the Savior’s work.

And that takes us to our final clue towards achieving our reward. It’s found immediately after this remarkable claim of Paul in Philippians starting with verse 25. Paul says, “I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.” 

Though it would be much better to be with Him in heaven, we are called to be Christ in the world so that others might receive their reward. We have all received the same calling as Paul to give people cause to glory in Christ Jesus. We are to transfer His message of hope to the world so that others may progress to better understanding and joy.

Romans 8:19-25:“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” 

All of creation is groaning for the message of hope you have to share. Even those like Saul in His rebellion are searching, waiting for their own Damascus moment. Hope is fleeting in this world and you have that message of hope to share. Yes, it would be far better to be with Christ, but He needs us now, more than ever to be His ambassadors.

No, our heavenly reward is not riches or fame or mansions. There is no 1st prize or runner-up. No one is rewarded for finding the truth first. Our heavenly reward is the same. It is Christ. And all it takes to gain this reward is faith in Him.

It’s easy to get confused in our Christian walk, after all, the devil tries constantly to feed us faulty information along the way. Sometimes we can lose our bearings, especially when the world is telling us to abandon our faith. In these times Christ can be your strength.

Your reward is assured, simply by believing in Him who has won for you this reward. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has, in effect, won for you the reward for which we could never hope to attain on our own. By His living example, we can discover and experience what it takes to gain heaven and to gain our rightful place at His feet.

But to attain this reward we must be willing to reject our old lives, the life we had apart from Christ and embrace the surpassing greatness of Knowing Christ as our Lord and Savior. We need to understand that righteousness is through Christ alone and we need to desire the truth of knowing His almighty power and strength in our lives.

So, claim your heavenly reward today. Claim Christ.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Amen

 

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

 

 

Blessed Are You Who Are Persecuted for Jesus Sake

John 15:18-25

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

Please pray with me…

I’ve spoken to several of you over the last few months where the conversation has drifted towards the persecution the church has been experiencing lately, especially in our own country once founded under Christian principles. I know that in my life, I have never seen a greater disregard for all things Christian than I see today from many of our own citizens.

Yet, none of this should be surprising. Christ made it clear that as the world would get more “worldly,” the church would be attacked with each transformation towards greater worldliness. In our new testament lesson for today Peter tells us, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

As we near the close of our series on the Beatitudes, we come to Matthew 5:11 where Jesus tells His disciples, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.”

We read that, and at first thought we might wonder how facing persecution, even for the sake of Christ, could be a blessing. Where is there room for rejoicing when we see the church taking hit after hit?

Now, I’m not suggesting that our persecution of criticism and occasional bad behavior against the church can hold a candle to what is happening in many other countries. Like I said last week, we are blessed with the freedom to worship our God without a lot of trouble waiting at our doorsteps.

Yet, these other countries saw their persecution rise as we have experienced in this country. Yet, as we are still in the early stages of the transformation of one nation under God to more and more separation, these other countries have matured to the point that they must fear for their lives if they so much as proclaim their Christian faith. How long before we have the same concerns here? When will our persecution become equal to theirs?

So, why does God allow persecution at all? Why are people who love God with all their minds, bodies and souls being imprisoned and even killed for their faith? Again, it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve and their decision to do the very thing they were commanded not to do, that they might know the difference between good and evil.

And as sin and death was ushered into the world, the separation between God and the world began its increase. The result is that we have now become addicted to sin, to worldliness, and to selfishness. As the gap widens, our vision of God becomes fainter until we come to the point that many now don’t see God at all.

And for people who don’t see God anymore, those who strive to lessen the gap become nothing more than a headache speaking about things that aren’t even there.

And here is where, believe it or not, our blessings lie. As we try to close the gap between ourselves and Christ, the persecutions against us rise. People lost in their worldliness don’t want God to be seen because they have become comfortable in their blindness. They have no room anymore for this person they have worked so hard to resist.

Yet Jesus Christ has the message they are searching for even if they don’t realize it. With every attempt to share our faith, that blindness will decrease, but not without a fight. Addicts can’t change overnight.

But as the scales of rejection are slowly torn away, those who once rejected Christ will see the blessings of relying on Christ. It’s in these transformations that our own blessings come. The blessings are not from a selfish point of view somehow equating greater suffering with greater Godliness.

The blessings come from lives transformed in the name of Jesus Christ even in times we had to face hardship and trial just to lead people to the truth. Christ didn’t die to save Himself, He died to save others and, in that, His glory was made visible. Our charge is not to receive blessings in our own sufferings but to see the blessings in how we have served others with the beautiful hope found only in Christ even as we face resistance in sharing the message.

Adam and Eve had lost sight of God because they had become too caught up in their own wants. They became blind to the freedom they had under God because they thought that more knowledge, even though warned against, would bring them to even greater freedom. They wanted to set their own perimeters of freedom. In the process, they became slaves to sin.

So, we have come to a point where the separation between God and His people has never been greater and with that, our call to face persecution for Christ’s sake has grown equally. Peter Said, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” Though the separation between the world and God seems to be increasing with every following day, His Holy Spirit still rests on the faithful who want to bridge the gap. Our call to persecution for Christ’s sake was never intended to be fought alone.

As we bravely answer the call of Christ to even suffer in His name, He equips us with the influence of His Spirit to speak the words many of us are too scared to share. As we boldly take the next step in our faith so that others might take their first step, we have the power of Christ behind us with every attempt. Knowing this, our blessings under Christ abound as the scales are slowly removed from the eyes of the disbelievers. Even as we are persecuted, we are blessed in knowing that the Holy Spirit has already begun His good work even in those who are shouting and cursing for us to stop.

Jesus says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” He said this in knowing that people’s addiction to sin and selfishness would cause them to do anything to resist the message. But we continue knowing that this venom that the devil instills within them is no match for the saving grace of Christ and the message of salvation we can now share because of His great sacrifice on their behalf.

Persecutions, therefore, are a blessing because we can now see them for what they are, the pains of withdrawal from worldliness and our addiction to sin.

But to receive these blessings takes a measure of faith both to deserve and endure.

Any person’s faith can be measured by how much they are willing to sacrifice to share it. Suffering persecutions for Christ can be a measure of how great a faith we really have. Through persecution our faith is often made obvious enough for even those who are doing the persecution to see. Can others see the strength of Christ in you, or are you hiding your faith so that your persecutions will be lessened? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work through you or is your fear of persecution too great?

We, through faith in Jesus Christ, are to keep on doing good even when trials arrive because of the faith we share. It’s good, even, to know that in our suffering, we are matching the character of God who was willing to suffer so that we might be saved.

In 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul says to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” He said this to prepare him for what lie ahead as he followed His calling to share the message of salvation through Jesus Christ with the world.

With every step, our Lord is preparing us for victory. Through His death and resurrection we, who believe, have received the greatest of all things. Why wouldn’t we want to share this message with those who resist it? What keeps us from partaking in godly conversations like this when we know the greatness of the message?

Walking by faith is difficult, or, at least, it should be. But we must remember that resistance to the message we have engraved in our hearts is never a battle we have to face alone. Our attempts to share the truth are pleasing to God and He will be with us with every step we take towards boldness.

Somehow, we must even learn to embrace our sufferings for Christ’s sake. When we do, we’ll have started the journey towards understanding that our sufferings loosen sins grip on us. As we boldly take the next step of resistance from the world it will help us focus more closely on Christ as it narrows the gap between us. As we practice our faith openly with confidence, it will empower us to participate in the ministry God has chosen for us. In doing so, it will allow us to experience glory as it reminds us to entrust our very souls to Christ’s care. In our persecutions for Christ, our blessings abound.

Jesus knows that our sufferings in His name will be transferred from pain into joy just as His sufferings were. Likewise, the struggle we face today, emotional, financial, spiritual or physical have the potential to birth something wonderful even if it’s hard to see at the time.

Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” By sharing your faith, you might face all kinds of resistance.

But we do so anyway because of the blessings of bringing others onto the narrow path to heaven. We will never experience anything that Christ didn’t experience before us. Trust in Him to bring blessings out of conflict. “Blessed are you when others revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven.” Amen.

Bible Study: Blessed Are You Who Are Persecuted for Jesus Sake

 

Bible Study Questions – John 15:18-27

Jesus starts out with a strong word, “hate.” Why does the world hate Christ? Psalm 69:4; 1 John 5:19

Have you ever really hated someone? How did it make you feel and influence your character?

Why does Jesus say that the world hates both Him and the Father, as well as all believers, when most unbelievers would say that they don’t have anything against Jesus or against Christians? Matthew 12:30

How is hatred for Jesus expressed today?

Is all persecution that we receive for our faith, in reality persecution against Christ? Explain

Many times, Jesus warned of persecution to follow. Matthew 5:10-12,44, 23:34-35. Do you think the disciples truly understood what this meant?

Do we truly understand what this means? Explain

Why do we try so hard to avoid persecution?

What should you do if the world finds you wonderful?

Why is the message that says Jesus is the only way to Christ so offensive to the world?

According to verse 19, can we choose Christ? Explain John 6:37-40, 44, 65

In verse 20, Jesus implies that he is our master and we are His servants. Why must the servants suffer for the Master?

Is it possible to Know Christ but not the Father? Why? John 17:3

Why do you suppose the world hated Jesus because of the works He performed? Does that hatred still stand today for the same reason?

How can we bear witness in the face of such a hostile world? 1 Peter 2:9-10, Verses 26-27

Why would we assume the world will listen to us when they did not listen to Christ?

How does the Spirit bear witness? 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 John 5:6-8

The Good news of the Gospel is not just a tool for evangelism; it must be the prime staple in our lives as well! So, what do you need to do to more freely put this into practice?

How does this passage help you be prepared to handle and grow through these tough times?

 

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

“Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted for Righteousness Sake”

Matthew 5 / John 17:5-17

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

Please pray with me…

For the next couple of Sundays, our topic will be one that many of us hear about and read about but never truly experience, at least not to the extent that many Christians are forced to experience it. For the next couple of Sundays were going to talk about persecution, especially Christian persecution.

We come to Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” My own translation goes something like this, “Blessed are those who do the right thing even when the world finds it wrong.”

We, in America, are pretty fortunate in our faith. We are relatively free to worship as we please, when we please and even where we please. We have certain rights that protect us and a government, for the most part, that supports us.

Oh, sure, there are those who openly oppose Christianity, there always have been. There are those who picket certain churches, start petitions to take down Christian monuments and argue against our beliefs, but, for the most part we are very blessed to have the ability to worship our God with relative ease. We’ll discuss the good and bad of that later.

I don’t think any of us have had to suffer the kind of persecution we read about in many non-Christian countries. None of us have had to practice our faith under the fear of imprisonment or death. None of us have been threatened or beaten or ridiculed in front of an angry mob because of our belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.

None of us have had to stand in a stadium filled with hungry carnivores because we proclaimed Christ publicly. None of us have had to face a firing squad like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, simply because we didn’t follow the party line.

David Barrett of the World Evangelization Research Center writes, “In one part of the globe, over 10,000 Christians have been killed every year since 1950, due to clashes with anti-Christian mobs, infuriated relatives, state-organized death squads, and so on.” His statistics, in fact, reveal that deaths of Christians for their faith have shown a marked upsurge since the 1900’s when there used to be around 35,000 a year, to the last few years when the figures are up to around 260,000 a year.

No, we have had the luxury to come to Redeemer every week to hear the Gospel message (and even the law) in all its honest glory without the pressure to change what we believe or water down what we say. We are very blessed.

Now, that’s not necessarily great news for us because our overwhelming freedom has made us very lazy. When other Christians are boldly proclaiming Christ even though it might cost them their freedom, we’re hard-pressed to even tell people we know about Christ because it might make them feel uncomfortable. Our freedom and easy life style has been a curse in many ways because it has stopped the message from reaching willing ears.

Now, I could go on and try to shame you into action. I could start a fire and brimstone sermon on what sinners you are for not doing the right thing. I could, but I won’t. You already know where you fall short. If you’re like me you’ve already beaten yourself up enough times for not having the courage you should have to reach out, even when it makes you feel ill at ease.

No, I’m not going to call you to action as much as I am going to inform you why you should act. There are many good reasons to strive for righteousness, even if it means there will be persecution to follow.

Many people of the Bible faced persecution for righteousness sake. James, the son of Zebedee, was beheaded. Philip was thrown into prison and later crucified. Matthew was killed by a sword. Matthias was stoned in Jerusalem and then beheaded. Andrew, the brother of Peter, was crucified on a cross.

Mark was dragged to pieces by the people in Alexandria. Peter, it is thought, was crucified upside down at his own request because he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified like Christ. Paul and Jude were both beheaded. Bartholomew was beaten and crucified. Thomas was thrust through with a spear. Luke was hanged on an olive tree. Simon was martyred by crucifixion and Barnabas was put to death in 73 AD. They all died for a cause. They all died because they refused not to do the right thing. They were all martyred because they wouldn’t allow themselves to hold back the truth. The message was that important. These brave men of God are now blessed with the inheritance of heaven because they were persecuted for righteousness sake.

So, why is righteousness worth being persecuted over you ask? Proverbs 21:21 gives us reason, saying, “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness and honor.” Psalm 112:6 adds, “For the righteous will never be moved; He will be remembered forever.” Matthew 6:33, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Finally back to Proverbs, this time chapter 10 verse 2, “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death.”  all good reasons to be sure.

So, how is righteousness in God’s eyes defined? Righteousness, in relation to men, is their conformity to a standard. In other words, if the world sets a certain standard for being a good citizen, it is right, according to the world, to conform to that standard. As we’ve seen though, what the world calls right is not necessarily what God calls right.

To be right in God’s eyes is to conform into the image of His Son who, in turn, bears the image of His Father in heaven. The righteousness of God is evident in the way He consistently acts in accord with His own character. God always acts righteously; His every action is consistent with His character. God is always consistently “Godly.” God is not defined by the term “righteous,” as much as the term “righteous” is defined by God. God is not measured by the standard of righteousness; God sets the standard of righteousness.

So, to be righteous in God’s eyes is to imitate the rightness of His character. In other words, if your actions separate you from Godliness, they would be considered unrighteous. Conversely, those actions which draw you closer to the likeness of God are the actions that He would see as righteous. Godliness is the goal of righteousness.

But this kind of righteousness is a tall order for the imperfect of which we must claim a membership. How do we attain this kind of righteousness, then, in our limited capacity?

Well, we do so the same way we attain Godly meekness and mercy and purity and peacefulness. We do so through Christ alone. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

So, therefore, it is through Christ that we find our righteousness. It is through Christ that we find our strength. It is in Christ’s name that we have been made ambassadors with the same agenda of those who were persecuted before us who saw God’s appeal worthy to suffer for.

God reveals His righteousness by revealing His will and His Word to the world through His people. To do this, however, takes the strength that only God can provide through His Spirit within us. Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit working as one God. Our intaking of His righteousness is a perfect explanation for how this works. There is one purpose under Christ and every person of the Trinity plays a part in that one purpose to bring righteousness to the world. Yet, all work through means, through you and I, to bring about this great blessing.

And, in a world where the Word and the will of God has become hostile to some who support the worldly definitions of righteousness, there is bound to be resistance. With this resistance can come persecution, yet that persecution does not lessen the urgency of the message. If anything, it heightens it.  So, we are therefore called to persecution if that is the price we must pay to share what we know of salvation. We are the means by which God spreads His wonderful Gospel message, yet to do that takes a certain strength and willingness that we cannot find on our own. Therefore God imparts on us the strength won for us on the cross of Christ. Christ has become our power, the Holy Spirit has been given to instill us with that might which, in turn, imitates the character of the Father Himself. The Holy Trinity in unity working towards righteousness.   Our challenge, then, is to place our trust in the perfector of our faith who is our strength. Will it always be easy to follow this calling towards righteousness, God Himself says very much the opposite. In John 15 He reminds us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the Word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

Yet the message of salvation is so great that it is worth taking on the hatred of the world. The disciples certainly thought so and they were eye witnesses to glory.

Every person needs to know what you know, that Jesus Christ Himself is our salvation. Every person needs to have the opportunity to receive the same blessings you have been given because the message you have been given through our Triune God has everlasting consequences. Yet, the world has been influenced by evil and, even though the Word is the best gift they could possibly receive, they will continue to resist it.

Our God loves you with a God sized love, but so does he love the person who has become deaf to His calling. Our God sent you His Son so that He could be your righteousness, and he sent Him to be the righteousness even to those who publicly condemn Him. God opens His arms to welcome you to everlasting life with Him in heaven and those same arms reach out for the lost who want to persecute you for your beliefs.

Our God is asking you to do the right thing, even if it means you will meet opposition. His Spirit will be your words and His Son will be your strength. Righteousness is worth your efforts because it is the very character of God. …….Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Amen.

Bible Study: Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted for Righteousness Sake

 

Bible Study Questions – John 17:5-17

Why did Jesus pray this prayer? Did he have you and me in mind? Explain

Could Jesus glorify Himself? John 8:54, 11:4

How will God the Father glorify the Son’s humanity? 1 Corinthians 15:35-50

Why does Jesus say He “had” that glory?

Who had chosen Jesus’ disciples: Jesus or God the Father? Verse 6; Luke 6:12-13

What danger did the disciples face now that Jesus would no longer be with them?

In verse 9 Jesus expresses His unity with the Father, but there is also a remarkable revelation that Jesus makes concerning His relationship and the Father’s relationship to the disciples. What is that revelation?

Why is Jesus here not praying for the world? Verses 20-21

Why would Jesus pray for their protection? According to v. 11, what might be lost without this protection?

In verse 13, what does Jesus want for his disciples (and for us)? How would hearing this prayer bring that joy to the disciples?

In verse 17 Jesus says the disciples are sanctified by the truth or by His Word. What does “sanctify” mean? What does the Word have to do with our sanctification?

What is one result of this sanctification or being set apart (verse 14)?

Is this kind of persecution necessary? If so, why?

Why was it important for the apostles to know persecution was coming? Why is it important for us to know?

How is the world a battle zone for Christians?

How is this battle to be won? Ephesians 6:11-18

Is there any room in this description for violence? Why is this? How does this differ from the world’s approach to persecution?

Why is it so much easier for us to go about our defense the worldly way?

What do you learn about ourselves as believers from these verses in John 17?

How can this prayer be a model for our own prayers?

How have worked more towards avoiding persecution in Christ’s name then you have in preparing for it?

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)

 

“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

 

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

Please pray with me…

General Douglas MacArthur said back in 1935, “In the last 3400 years only 268 – less than 1 in 13 – have been free from wars.” Well, now we know that since that time, there have been a mere 26 days free from it. Someone once said, “Peace is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.” War seems to be what we know, it’s what we’re good at.

And I don’t need to tell you, we currently live in a society full of stress and strife. Anger is more prevalent than love, arguing is more obvious than proper discussion and revenge seems to rule the day. It seems it’s getting harder and harder for people to get along. In the midst of all this, God has called us all to be peacemakers. Looks like another job for the strong.

As we carry on in our discussion of the Beatitudes we come to verse nine of Matthew chapter 5, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” I wonder what was going through Jesus’ mind when He spoke these words. Society at that time was much like it is today.

At that time, His people were under the foot of the mighty Romans and most hated them.

In fact, they were looking for a Savior who would save them from their oppression. A member of Christ’s own disciples himself was so against them he was known as a Zealot who thought that no liberation or peace could come from anything but war. Do you think he might have bent Jesus’ ear a time or two?

Yet, even in this atmosphere the wisdom of Christ concerning peace was shining through. He didn’t let the “Sons of Thunder”, James and John, persuade him that fire should rain down from heaven upon the Samaritans who gave Him a hard time. He didn’t allow His disciple the satisfaction of revenge by cutting off the servant’s ear who was with the group arresting Him. He didn’t even allow His own disappointment to overcome Him unless it was truly warranted. Through it all He was showing that peace can be more effective than war and that love is a much more powerful weapon then hate.

His disciples were everyday people like you and me. Because of this, they would occasionally let their anger get the best of them. Throughout their discipleship, they had to deal with their master being treated as an outcast, a trouble maker and even a charlatan. They had to witness his arrest, His sham of a trial and His unjustified crucifixion. And through it all, Jesus required them to remain calm, showing love, practicing patience. An almost inhuman expectation.

We have much to learn from the example of Christ who, through love and peace, accomplished more than all the greatest war generals of all time combined. Through the example of Christ, we see the effectiveness of patience and discussion. We see how love can be used to overcome life’s biggest dilemmas. We see how peace can be used to create unity. And we could all use a little more unity couldn’t we.

Seems easy doesn’t it. Just do what Jesus did. Yet we continue to do things our own way hoping that maybe this time our anger and impatience will win out, only to find once again that Jesus might just know what He’s talking about.

So, in this world of storm and strife, how are we very faulty people to become the peacemakers we’ve been called to be? How do we battle through all the divisions, alienations, feuds, aggression and hostilities we witness every day between nations, ethnic groups, gender identities, political parties, cliquish social groups and even churches and families? How can we be an instrument of peace?

Well, first we must learn to find the peace within us. We are all made in the likeness of God, therefore we all have the ability for peace. And, of course, this will take some kind of inner strength within us. A kind of Godly strength we seem to be talking a lot about lately. And where do we find the strength that can produce peace out of chaos?

If you notice as we move along in this series, every new beatitude builds off the last. We seek righteousness through mercy, we find mercy within us by being pure in heart and we become pure in heart in part by bringing peace because purity cannot be achieved through chaos. Each new blessing builds from the last until we have the blueprint of what kind of person Christ is calling us to become.

And all of it takes spiritual strength. A “want to” attitude that overcomes adversity and temptation through a kind of inner-strength provided by the Holy Spirit Himself. To be a promoter of peace does not mean that someone must be weak and passive. Christ promoted peace but no one would call him weak. To do what He did required a kind of strength that goes beyond human understanding.

Through the beatitudes we are taken through a journey towards righteousness and God’s peace in our hearts and minds is the blessed fruit of those who choose to take this journey with God and see it to the end. God’s peace is given to each disciple of His until it overflows into every facet of our lives. Are you living a life that is full of disarray? Then take the journey with Christ to find your peace. Does it seem that every day is filled with turmoil? Then surrender to the one that wants to bring you stillness. Is your life a series of situations colliding with each other? Then trust in the one who promises you tranquility.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in real pain in the world who have not yet been given this good news. Not every hurting or troubled person, family, community or nation automatically recognizes the warmth and security of the peace that Christ is offering. Even worse, some hear the message but openly resist it. They keep thinking the way of the world will save them and it never truly does. They see the peace of God as a threat somehow that will only bring them persecution, so they refuse it in favor of their own self-made remedies that often lead to destruction.

God wants for you something infinitely better. He offers you a kind of peace that passes human understanding. And, more than that, He asks you, as His children so dearly loved, to pass that peace on to others. Our job, therefore, is to accept that peace in such a way that it becomes who we are. So much so that people can’t help but to sense it from us. So, how can we get there.

First, we must embrace the miracle of life and we do that by embracing the one who gave us life. Life is not a gift to be taken lightly. It is an opportunity to learn and to love in such a way that we become one with our Creator. When we embrace the beauty of life, we can more fully understand the great gift of peace.

As we learn about the life God has created in us we learn how it craves for peace, the peace only God can fully give. When we understand how precious life is, we can more fully appreciate a life in harmony with God’s creation. We all yearn for peace. We all cling to peace. Yet the world tends to fight against it because peace is a Godly thing. That’s why, when we choose to live a godly life, we appreciate more the great gift of Godly peace.

Secondly, we must become more concerned about building bridges then we are in building walls. Peacemakers are never passive in their efforts to bring unity. They search for opportunities to reach out to those whom they have alienated. They recognize that, in Christ, God acted to tear down the walls of sin that caused us to be separated from Him and each other. In Christ those walls were to be transformed from walls to gateways where no locks are found.

That’s still the promise. Peacemakers still strive to restore broken relationships just as God restored the relationship between Himself and the people he so dearly loves. They don’t wait for others to make the first move toward reconciliation. They take the initiative to tear down the walls themselves.

Finally, people of peace are people who promote unity.

If there is one symptom of sin that we see in the world that is more obvious than most, it is seen in our disunity. One group hates another group. No discussion is found unless it contains words of hurt and separation. No reconciliation is found because pride will not allow it.

People of peace don’t talk in terms of “us” and “them.” They talk in terms of one body, one creation, one purpose and one God. All the distinctions we used in the past to justify our disunity and underscore our differences have been made of no consequence. The cross of Christ has taken all of that away.

People of peace understand what Jesus was saying when  He prayed to His Father in John 17, “The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one. I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23)

This is to be the destiny of God’s people of which you and I are so blessed to be counted among. Disunity was never in His plan nor can His plan for our lives succeed with it. We are called as one body to reflect the image and the likeness of the Son of God in much the same way that He is the full visible manifestation of the Father’s glory.

In a world such as ours, there is a great calling for us to be peacemakers. It’s what the sons and daughters of God are called to be. We can answer the call by following His lead and by following His calling, or we can choose the world and all the madness it offers. But to be the children of God, we must follow the ways of the Father. The way of unity, the way of harmony. The way of peace.

Embrace your calling as peacemakers. Strive to make the world, at least your little sliver of it, a place of unity and not division. Receive the inner strength God is offering you to make a Godly difference in the lives who have become tied up in the worldly rope of hatred and division. Tear down the walls of conflict and promote a kind of peace that can only be found in the source of peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Amen.

 

 

Bible Study: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

 

Bible Study Questions – Romans 12:14-21

The calling of a Christian is unique to the world. What sets it apart? Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:26-38; 1 Peter 3:8-12, 4:7-12

If you follow Christ, you will gain enemies who want to destroy you. How have you personally experienced this?

Why is it so hard for people to live in harmony with each other? 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:1-2

What does repaying evil with evil usually produce? Proverbs 20:22; Matthew 5:39; Romans 14:19

If you haven’t suffered from this, what may be the reason?

What benefits are derived from blessing those who persecute you? Acts 5:40-41; Romans 12:1-2; 1 Peter 4:1-5, 12-16

How does this run contrary to the inclinations of the flesh?

How do we see this played out in our world?

Will persecutions of Christians ever end in this earthly realm? Why or why not? John 15:19-21; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12

If then peace is impossible to come by, why are we called to cling to it?

What benefit did Paul receive by being persecuted from both sides? Acts 7:58–8:1, 9:1-5; 1 Timothy 1:13; Acts 9:22-23, 13:50, 14:2, 19; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16

Why do you believe, after all he suffered, Paul still believed that peace was the answer?

Verse 18 says, “If Possible” live peaceably with all. What can make this impossible?

What does “weeping with those who weep” or “rejoicing with those who rejoice” have to do with persecution (verse 15)? 1 Corinthians 12:26

What does this command have to do with peace?

What would happen in your society (negative and positive) if all Christians did as Jesus called in this passage?

What can you do to develop a response to Satan’s attacks? Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Peter 5:6-11

Why is vengeance better left with God? Why is this so hard to do, even for Christians?

If your goal in feeding your enemy is so God will heap burning coals on his head, is this a sin?

Why will good always overcome evil?

(Note:  Bible Study materials are gathered from various resources, i.e. Bible.org)