Faithfulness

DO YOU WANT TO BE GREAT IN HEAVEN?

The disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

Great in heaven.

Wow, that sounds too wonderful to be true!

But look again at Jesus’ description.

The great in heaven are not those with big ministries or impressive gifts. Neither is it necessarily those who have gone through horrible circumstances.

Jesus tells us, it is to humble ourselves like a child.

Humility is a perspective and lifestyle that we must “turn” to – it is not our natural way.

However, it is a way that any believer can follow. Humility is an approach to life in which we can all become proficient.

Greatness in heaven has nothing to do with the measurements and standards that the world uses or that we typically think of.

You don’t need a high IQ or extensive training

You don’t need an abundance of resources

You don’t need leadership gifts or a high position

You don’t need circumstances to go your way

You don’t need years of Christian heritage

You need the direction of God’s word and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.

Humbleness can grow in us bit by bit each day.

Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is an invitation Jesus has given to you. Greatness in the kingdom of heaven is a reality which can become yours.

The question to us is not can you become great in the kingdom of heaven. The question is whether it is important enough to you to “turn” away from anything that keeps this path from being the one you are following.

DON’T FORGET GOD ON YOUR VACATION

Vacation season is upon us, and whether or not this is when you are on the road, it is a good time to consider how we honor God while we travel.

Sam Bierig encourages us in this article to make sure we don’t allow excuses to keep us from being in church when we are away.

I will add two other areas we should not let slip during vacations.

Giving – the expenses of your church don’t diminish when you are on vacation. Make sure you remain supportive of your church family whenever you cannot attend a service.

If you don’t give regularly to your church during the rest of the year, keep this in mind: you expect your church to be faithful in its ministry to you, so you should be faithful in making that ministry possible. 

Devotional time – vacation definitely flips over our regular schedule, which is the point of going on vacation! Still, have meaningful engagement with God.

Vacations are meant to be relaxing, but we have all experienced vacations turning into times of frustration. We need our hearts equipped by God wherever we are. God is worthy of living for him in all situations – including the times of getting away, which he graciously makes possible for us.

When you go away to be refreshed, keep in mind that meaningful time with our good God is refreshing.

JUST BE FAITHFUL WITH YOUR TODAY

James-4-14

by Debbie Huber

I recently read a blog article where the author made a point that stood out to me:  “Just be faithful with your today”.  Many of us allow regrets from the past to prevent us from doing what we know is best today.  We can beat ourselves up over the things we did not accomplish or would do differently from the past.  We also tend to habitually put things off until “tomorrow” or expend a lot of mental energy worrying over the future.  These thoughts can often paralyze us so we are not faithful with the things God has entrusted us with for today. 

Are you waiting to begin having your personal time reading the Bible daily until circumstances are better (….your child sleeps through the night, or until your work schedule changes, or until summer comes, or until you are less tired…)?

            Make a plan today and begin.  There will always be events of life that seem like they are obstacles.  Make reading God’s word a priority TODAY.

Do you feel like your children are too old and it is too late to begin reading the Bible together as a family?

            It is never too late to begin reading the Bible.  Apologize to your children for putting it off and approach it as a privilege, not a chore!

Is there tension in your marriage and you have pulled back emotionally?

            Repent of your selfishness and seek God for your marriage TODAY. 

Are you putting off joining a small group until after your child’s sports season?

            Do not wait!  Demonstrate to your family that God is most important.

Are you neglecting hospitality because you are not happy with how your home is decorated?

            God has put you in your home today, be content in it and do not be ashamed to share your life with others.  He has called us to be faithful with what we have. 

Have you been putting off sharing the gospel with a coworker?

            Ask God to help you do it today.

Have you been meaning to call your struggling Christian friend but are dreading getting into her “messiness”?

            Pick up the phone today.  Do not neglect God’s imperative to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118:24

MAKING PROGRESS!

 

Earlier this week, I shared Richard Baxter’s list of 20 hindrances to living fully for God.

Today, I have a list from William Perkins, who is often called the Father of the Puritans. His list comes from the positive side. He gives 6 evidences that we are committed to progressing in godliness.

Find encouragement from where you see yourself in this list. And gain wisdom by adopting those you still need.

1.  We have an earnest and hearty desire in all things to further the glory of God.

2.  We show a care and readiness to resign ourselves in subjection to God, to be ruled by his word and Spirit, in thought, word and deed.

3.  We have a sincere endeavor to do his will in all things with cheerfulness, being conscience of everything we know to be evil.

4.  We walk upright in our lawful calling, while by faith rely on God’s providence, so that we are content with whatever He sends.

5.  Every day we humble ourselves before God; wholeheartedly seeking his favor through Christ; being daily renewed in faith and repentance.

6.  To continually maintain a fight between the flesh and the spirit, drawing on grace and resisting what pulls us from God.

WHY AM I NOT MATURING AS I WANT?

 

Every Christian is called to be a Great Commandment person who loves and serves God with all that we are. Yet, we all recognize that we still have progress to make.

If we are serious about loving and living for God more fully, then we need to be serious about specifically identifying what is getting in the way.

Once we are clear minded about obstacles, we can prayerfully and humbly make true progress in rising above them. This is not only important for God’s honor, it will flood your life with grace and lift your heart with joy.

Richard Baxter was a puritan pastor who wrote extensively on what it means to live fully for God. In one of his treatises, he listed 20 hindrances of conversion.

As I read over his list, it occurred to me that for the most part, this is also a list of what hinders us from being Great Commandment people.

Tremendous progress can be made once we identify one or two areas of stumbling and then daily seek God’s grace to overcome them.

This is Baxter’s list of hindrances with my own comments in italics:

(1)  willful neglect of the means of grace – this includes the habits of godliness God has told us to follow

(2)  bad company

(3)  gross ignorance of biblical truths – how can we know them well, if we are rarely in God’s Word?

(4)  unbelief – as Christians, we don’t believe all biblical truths as fully as we think

(5)  thoughtlessness – when we read the Bible or hear a message and shutdown as soon as it’s over

(6)  hardness of heart – every time we push off the Holy Spirit’s voice, we build up a callous

(7)  great esteem and interest in the world 

(8)  habits of sin subduing the mind – yes, every sin does affect us

(9)  foolish self-love and presumption 

(10)  counterfeit conversion 

(11)  living among strong temptations to sin

(12)  scandal and division in the church – divisiveness harms the church and our witness to the world

(13)  the poor education of children – parents are not all Bible experts, but all parents can read and talk about the Bible to their children

(14)  striving against the Holy Spirit

(15)  half-heartedness in religion

(16)  delay 

(17)  failure to follow through on good beginnings – this is one reason we need the example and accountability of biblical community

(18)  misunderstanding some Scriptures – bad teaching makes it harder to mature

(19)  pride and unteachableness – the Bible shows pride to be the great root of sin

(20)  willful obstinacy

THE WAVES NEVER STOP

Living near the shore has its advantages.

I don’t get to the beach often, but when I do, I usually think to myself, “Why don’t I do this more often?”

My favorite time to walk along the beach is early evening, when the crowds are gone along with the heat.

Although the people have left, the sand bears many signs that swarms of them were recently present. In addition to the ubiquitous footprints in the sand, are the remnants of collapsed castles and abandoned excavations.

Yet, the next morning, all these evidences will all be washed smooth by the ever-flowing action of the waves.

God’s grace accomplishes a similar work in the believer’s heart.

Throughout each day, sin is disrupting our hearts and minds. As we come to the end of our day, we can see abundant evidence of sin’s disturbance.

However, the Cross never ceases to flow with the cleansing grace of Christ.

No matter how often our soul is disrupted, the merciful actions of our Savior have the final say. This is the proclamation of the Prophet Jeremiah in Lamentations 3:22-24

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

Child of grace, don’t neglect giving praise and thanksgiving to your faithful Savior.

He never tires of pouring grace upon you, so don’t tire in imitating his attentiveness.

As we develop the habit of recognizing the evidences of his grace, our minds will turn more easily to worship rather than worry. And our hearts will increasingly yearn for the good things that honor him.

The result will be a heart that is clean, and at rest.

FORGET MAKING NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Forget Your New Year’s Resolutions

Life is not going to improve because you resolve to try harder. But life can become increasing fruitful if you consistently respond to God who has already pursued you

If you are in Christ, you cannot keep your life from reaching its highest possible crescendo! This is because God has already resolved to complete his work in you!

“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6)

“Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30)

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7)

The intention of these passages is to assure us that God is absolutely committed to completing the ultimate purpose he had in saving us.

In Romans 8 and Ephesians 2, notice how the end result of our salvation is spoken of in the past tense. This shows us, that in God’s eyes it is a finished work – that even our failures cannot stop!

I am not saying we shouldn’t bother to put effort into being faithful.

And I am not saying it doesn’t matter if we are spiritually half-hearted.

My point is that the foundation to why we “can” be faithful and fruitful, does not start with our earnest commitment toward making life work. It comes out of God’s irrevocable commitment toward all who trust in His Son.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9)

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12)

In these verses, we see that God is the basis – even for our responses to Him. This is not an invitation to give less effort. Rather, it is an encouragement that our efforts flow out and are held up by God’s faithfulness.

We will fail, we will face dry times, and at times we will feel utterly useless for God.

But that is only a partial reality. There is a greater reality, which is God’s resolution to never give up on those who belong to him.

Instead of a New Year’s resolution, start meeting God who has already come to you.

God has given his word to you, read it

God is here every morning, spend time with him

God’s graces are new every morning, praise him for them

Your children are God’s gift to you, let them see you are committed to him

God has established the Church to build you up and to use your gifts, commit to it

God has made us his ambassadors, be a person of the gospel

Yes, these actions require resolve from us.

But be encouraged that God makes it work. He does the heavy lifting.

Instead of a making a New Year’s Resolution soon to be abandoned. Start responding to God who is already pursuing you.

SERMON LEFTOVERS 12.12.16

Joseph’s Hard News

 

Matthew 1:18-25

 

The Angel Gabriel visited Mary to announce her pregnancy, now Joseph finds out

 

Being chosen as Jesus’ parents, was a difficult honor

Joseph is a deeply hurt man; his fiancé was “found to be with child”

We don’t know how Joseph found out, or if he spoke to Mary

He knows his betrothed is pregnant, and he thinks she betrayed him

The pain and “dishonor” goes beyond Joseph and Mary

Both sets of parents, their extended families and friends were all impacted

Then there was the question who is the father?  Whose life was affected by suspicion?

Joseph was a ‘just’ (righteous) man who wants to do the right thing (v19)

He realizes he cannot marry a woman who is unfaithful and “unrepentant”

But he will show mercy and divorce her ‘quietly’; which means he will not bring charges (she could have been stoned)

Joseph is righteous and Mary is favored by God, but their lives are unraveling

God’s favor doesn’t ensure an easier life, but it will unquestionably bring a fuller life

Even though the angelic visits brought truth, the complications remained

Being in the center of God’s grace doesn’t mean all will be clear to us, or that people will be supportive

Yet, every moment of God’s purposes is gloriously worth it

 

An angel is sent to intervene (vs 20-21)

God knew Joseph couldn’t be expected to accept Mary’s testimony

God provided what Joseph needed, to follow the path given

The statement, ‘Do not fear’ was an assurance that even this will be okay: you will not be a fool, and you will not regret it, for the Lord is fully in it

The angel brought 3 affirmations to Joseph

1.  The child in Mary’s womb was conceived by the Holy Spirit

2.  The name of this child is to be “Jesus”

3.  This child is the Messiah (the “anointed one”)

Anticipation of a Messiah came from Old Testament prophets, who often described a coming deliverer who would bring unparalleled blessing

This Messiah would come from the line of David, the great king of Israel

Messianic fulfillment was clearly in the angel’s words and in the circumstances

Joseph’s response, like Mary’s, revealed his character

They both accepted what God had ordained for them

Joseph obeyed, he “did” what God commanded (vs 24-25)

Joseph will soon fade from the biblical record; and none of his words are recorded

We don’t know much about Joseph, but we know what matters – he was faithful in his part

 

Matthew adds commentary on Jesus’ birth (vs 22-23)

Jesus’ birth fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies: Matthew gives one from Isaiah 7:14

God “with us” is a key theme of the Bible – from the Garden of Eden onward, God is with his people

Jesus transcends all previous expressions of God’s presence (John 1:14 & 18)

Jesus is not only the Messiah, he is Messiah beyond expectations

God himself is our Messiah!  There could be no greater deliverer (Romans 8:31-38)

The deliverance Jesus brings is also beyond what was looked for

Jesus doesn’t simply save us from current problems, he saves us to the uttermost! (Hebrews 7:25)

He saves us as far and as wondrously as is possible to be saved!

 

Matthew gives context for Jesus’ birth (vs 1-17)

The announcement of Jesus’ birth is preceded by his genealogy

Jesus fits the biblical promise that the Messiah be from the line of David

This genealogy shows Jesus’ coming is part of a huge sweeping plan (vs 17-18)

Centuries of events and lifetimes culminate in Jesus’ arrival

No one was more aware of being predestined than Jesus. He often spoke of “my time” and “my hour”

Christ is at the center of God’s plan, but his genealogy shows God uses messy people along the way

Jesus’ genealogy contains as many skeletons as anyone’s closet

The Bible doesn’t hide the mess of these lives, Jesus saves them!

SERMON LEFTOVERS 12.05.16

 Mary Receives Impossible News

 

Luke 1:26-38

 

Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel (vs 26-30)

What do we know about this woman Mary?

Today, we would consider her more of a girl; the typical age of betrothal was 12-14, with the marriage following a year or more later

She was Galilean, raised far from the places of power and prestige

Gabriel tells Mary, she was ‘favored’ by God (vs 28 & 30)

This doesn’t mean she deserved what she was about to hear, but Mary was certainly a godly woman

So, we know she loved God and obeyed his word, Mary’s character was like that of the Son she would bear

How God uses us differs, but the character he looks for in us is the same

Gabriel adds in v28 the Lord is “with you”

Here was the great truth about Mary!

She had true faith which brings a true relationship with God

God been working in her beyond what she grasped, for the grand purpose he had for her life

God has “favor” and is “with” every person he saves

Gabriel’s statement describes the grace and joy God has for all his children

Yet this ‘favor’ didn’t keep hardship at bay; it brought difficulties she otherwise would not have endured

 

Mary is told the Impossible (vs 31, 34-37)

As a virgin, she will bear a son!

The virgin birth is essential to the hope and power of the gospel

If the virgin birth is not true, Jesus was just another man who cannot save us

If the virgin birth is not true, Jesus was simply a good man whose life ended early and tragically

If the virgin birth is not true, the Bible is one more book of myths which offers nothing eternal

But if the virgin birth is true, God has come!

God has not merely appeared, he has entered into humanity itself

The virgin birth is the first step of God overpowering the helplessness of our sinful brokenness

Gabriel gives a 3-fold answer to Mary’s question

(1) The Holy Spirit will cause your womb to conceive

(2) You have an example of God’s power in your relative Elizabeth (vs 5-25), whose dead womb is now 6 months pregnant

(3) The ultimate answer for Mary is declared in v37, “nothing will be impossible with God”

This means God’s only limitations are his perfections! God will perfectly perform what he says, as well as what we need

 

Mary is told the Unimaginable (vs 32-33)

v32 Your son will be “great” – he will be a man worth following, serving and obeying

v32 He will be “Son of the Most High” – he is the Son of God and so equal to God. His birth will mean that God walks among us, in a greater way than He did with Adam in the garden

v32 He will be given “David’s Throne” – he is the Messiah; and will fulfill a 900-year promise of deliverance and blessing

v33 He will “reign forever” – will be more than a great king, he will be an eternal king. And those who are citizens of his kingdom, will be eternal citizens

v31 You shall call him “Jesus” – this was a common name which means the ‘Lord saves’

Jesus is the name which should daily fill our mind and flow from our lips

Jesus is the one before whom we should humble ourselves – as he did, to reach us

 

Mary’s response is our example (v38)

Her initial response is “How will this be?”

Mary’s question flows out of perplexity rather than doubt

It is okay to be perplexed by what God is doing; but we shouldn’t doubt or blame God for what he is doing

Mary submits to what the Lord has ordained for her

She accepts what she cannot fully grasp, because she trusts her Heavenly Father

She is willing to follow and fulfill what God has planned for her

Mary had no preparation for a virgin birth, for being the mother of God in flesh, or for enduring the hardships these would bring to her

But God was “with her”, so Mary had all she needed for everything to come

 

Over the next few weeks we will celebrate a joyful holiday; consider what actions you (and your family) can take to exalt Jesus in it!

SERMON LEFTOVERS 10.17.24

Love the church God established

 

Ephesians 4:1-16

 

God established his Church in loving unity (vs 1-7)

The bonds of our unity are rather extraordinary

1.  The unity of the Church is Trinitarian (v4 one Spirit, v5 one Lord, v6 one Father)

God is a Triune being, and each member is ever working in every believer

God’s greatest intention for us is that we share this unity (John 17:20-23)

2.  The unity of the church flows out of the gospel (v5 one faith, one baptism)

3.  The unity of the church flows into eternity (v4 one body, one hope)

The Church is a forever family

We are all part of the same covenant kingdom

So why do churches often struggle with unity?

(1)  Satan hates God, so he is relentless in attacking the church which is precious to God

(2)  People in the church don’t always understand their own identity. Instead they look at church life through culture rather than Scripture

The application of our unity is in vs 1-3

Paul urges us to live according to the realities of our unity

This requires us to see these realities when we see one another

 

God established structure for his Church

God has given specific practices for every church:

(1)  The church is to gather regularly to be under the ministry of the Word

(2)  The church is to practice community

(3)  The church is to practice the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper

(4)  The church is to protect against sin through church discipline

And in Ephesians 4 we are told God gives leaders to his church (vs 11-12)

Leaders are given by God to organize and lead local churches, so that the practices God has given to the church are maintained

In this passage the emphasis is on their responsibility to “equip” the members of the church

An implication of God’s structure is the importance of membership

The church is not just universal (all believers everywhere), the church is local (specific congregations)

Without the commitment of membership, which church are we responsible to?  

Without the commitment of membership, how do pastors fully know who is under their care?

 

God established the purpose of his Church (vs 13-14)

The great purpose of the church is to make mature Disciples of Christ

We proclaim the gospel to bring people into the church    

We press toward Christ-like maturity, so we actually look like him

God’s purpose must shape how we shape practices of church life

So an important question churches must continually ask: Do our practices bear this fruit?  

 

God established engagement for his Church (vs 15-16)

The existence of church leaders doesn’t minimize the role of church members

v16 the church is held together by “every joint”

v16 the church grows when “each part” is working properly

Churches cannot be healthy unless their members are engaged

This doesn’t mean random volunteering, but a commitment to the life of your church 

v16 also states that members most “work properly”, which means the characteristic of our involvement is not a matter of personal opinion, it is to be shaped by Scripture

A church that places the weight of ministry on its leaders will have a very limited ministry

So it is important that members have clarity about the doctrines of church, otherwise their involvement will be directed by opinion rather than Scripture

When it comes to church life, it is meant to be our life