It’s a Thanksgiving Sermon, Charlie Brown

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Do you have any holiday traditions? I haven’t been to a family thanksgiving get-together in a while, but I imagine things like watching football with my uncles, if there was no snow – maybe playing horseshoes, and of course my aunt’s delicious pies. Family would gather in different areas of my aunt and uncle’s home and talk and catch-up. When I was really young, my sister and I would play games with our cousins – “Chutes and Ladders” and “Chinese checkers” were some of my favorites. One thing that we would do once we got home that night…if we hadn’t missed watching it on TV was the “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” Special. Originally broadcast in 1973, this family favorite was such a tradition for so many families, TV stations just had to play it on Thanksgiving. Of course now, we have it on blu-ray but back in the day the best you could do was to record it on your VHS tape and watch it back next year…commercials and all.

Jacki, the girls and I watch this on Thanksgiving and the story is a typical Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang cartoon. (You can get a bit of side-shenanigans from Snoopy and Woodstock as well.)

Today I wanted to reflect on the biblical topic of giving thanks and use this film as a frame of reference. If you haven’t watched it yet: spoiler alert! The movie’s been out for 48 years! What have you been waiting for? 

The word “Thanksgiving” begs the question:

Thankful for what?

I’m sure if Charles M. Shultz was still alive, he’d be thankful people still watch and enjoy his creations. What might Charlie Brown be thankful for?

In the film, Charlie and his sister Sally are going over to their grandmother’s for Thanksgiving meal. They’re just kids! They probably don’t need to do anything other than show up. 

Question: Have you ever been invited to something and felt like you needed to do something, bring something…contribute in some way to justify your invitation? 

IF your answer is yes, then I have news for you: you don’t have to do ANYTHING.

Just like Charlie and Sally, guests aren’t required to do anything other than show up and enjoy the meal set before them. Now perhaps Sally and Charlie helped and maybe there was an expectation of everyone pitching in…but all we know for sure was that they were invited to enjoy a meal on Thanksgiving day. And when you receive something, especially one you did nothing to earn or deserve – (like a thanksgiving meal) Hopefully you respond with thankfulness for what was provided.   

“Dear Lord, thank you for providing this food. Amen.”

You may hear something like that on Thursday. You might hear something like that every time you sit down for a meal. Thankfulness is a response for… 

What has been provided.

Let’s look at a biblical example for a moment

Daniel prayed to God a prayer of thanksgiving for what God had given him. What was that?

Wisdom and Power

“I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:

    You have given me wisdom and power,

you have made known to me what we asked of you,

    you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Daniel 2:23 NIV

So Daniel recognized his wisdom and power were not from his own hard work and determination. He didn’t play his cards right and the result is wisdom and power. Daniel received them as a gift and his response was thankfulness.

In another example, King David was thankful for God’s…

Wonderful Deeds. Psalm 9:1-6 says: 

1 I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

2 I will be glad and rejoice in you;

    I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

3 My enemies turn back;

    they stumble and perish before you.

4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,

    sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.

5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;

    you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.

6 Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,

    you have uprooted their cities;

    even the memory of them has perished.

Psalm 9:1-6 NIV

For context, that selection says that it is set to the tune of “The Death of the Son.” I can’t imagine it would be an upbeat, number one pop song of it’s time. Yet in the midst of sorrow and sadness, David can remember all the good God has done for him. Not only remember it, but verbally recount and give thanks to God for it.

Yet another example comes from Psalm 100.

Psalm 100 isn’t attributed to anyone in particular, but it does have a clear purpose. Before verse 1 it says, “A Psalm. For giving thanks.” This is a tune of worship and thanks to God. It’s shared here in this hymnal called “The book of Psalms.”

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2 Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.”

Psalm 100:1-5 ESV

This psalm was for all to use in their times of giving thanks. Let’s zero in on what this psalm is saying we should be thankful for:

  1. God being good.
  2. God being God.
  3. God having made us.
  4. We are His – (people, sheep)
  5. God’s forever-enduring love
  6. His enduring faithfulness

So we are thankful for what was provided. But that then leads to the next question…

Thankful to Whom? 

In an animated film that could be all about going to grandma’s for Thanksgiving, Something quirky occurs. Charlie gets a call from his friend Peppermint Patty. Through his wishy-washiness and her kind of pushiness, Patty has invited herself over for a thanksgiving meal at Charlie Brown’s house! Charlie has to think fast…since he’d rather not try to uninvite Patty and explain the misunderstanding between the two of them. (I mean, hey! The movie’s got to happen, right?)

So he attempts to come up with a plan. With the help of Linus, Snoopy and Woodstock, Charlie Brown begins making a feast and scheduling it earlier in the day so He and Sally can still go to their Grandmother’s. Patty calls back at one point and has invited Marcie and Franklin to join her at Chea’ Brown. Charlie of course needs to make more food and Snoopy set up more chairs around a very special table.

If you were a guest somewhere, the proper manners dictate that you thank your host. For dinners, it’s who’s providing the meal. In life…with so much to be thankful for you and I thank …

  • The one who provided it. Of course in a biblical context, it should be VERY obvious who we are talking about.

It’s hard to read a verse from the bible about thankfulness, giving praise or thanks and the recipient isn’t God. James had his eyes wide open when he wrote the following: 

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

(James 1:17 NIV)

If God is the ultimate provider, then he is the one who receives thanks, praise, exaltation, and worship. Here’s some more examples from scripture of thanking God:

“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

(1 Cor 1:4 NIV)

“I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.”

(Psalm 7:17 NIV)

“We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.”

(1 Thes 1:2 NIV)

We know who to thank and there is so much to be thankful for, however…

What if my circumstances…stink?

And now we come back to the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. Circumstances were rough. Rough for Charlie, with unexpected guests coming for Thanksgiving. For Peppermint Patty who, for the show’s story to happen, her dad left her alone on Thanksgiving. For the friends like Marcie and Franklin who might have been in a similar situation as Patty. No plans with the family. 

We’re not done with “Chuck.” He’s in another rough situation: He doesn’t know how to cook or how to please his guests. What does he do?

He does the BEST a kid can do at his age: Pops some Popcorn, Toasts some bread, Finds the leftover Easter Candy and includes some Jelly Beans and brings in some pretzel sticks for good measure. 

When Charlie Brown’s circumstances stunk, he did what he could.

When our circumstances smell so bad they haven’t taken a shower in years, we do what we can do:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thes 5:16-18 ESV

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 4:6-7 NIV)

We bring all these woes, troubles, aches, pains, emotions, loneliness, heart break, inadequacies and lay them at the Lord’s feet. But not just any old way…We just read it. We offer our request to God with thanksgiving. The Manner of giving thanks. The attitude of thankfulness. The belief that the one you are thanking in advance will do what you are thanking him for.

You know who didn’t have a thankful attitude? Peppermint Patty. She invites herself over, she brings two additional guests…and she is displeased (to say the least) with the food that Charlie and the others provided. 

Maybe you’d react the same way. You pull back the cover of the platter for the big juicy turkey and find buttered toast and jelly beans. Where the Green bean casserole is supposed to be, you find those pretzel sticks and popcorn. If you are familiar with Patty’s reaction, She lays into “Chuck” and really complains at him for such a poor choice of food. Charlie Brown leaves the dinner dejected, believing he can never do anything right. Marcie tries to go and smooth things over and Patty and the others apologize for inviting themselves over and Patty for reacting the way she did.

She did not act very thankful. She let her stinky circumstances dictate whether she was going to have a stinky behavior. In the end, forgiveness and restoration occurred when she looked beyond those circumstances.

I think we all have times when our circumstances stink. No one wants to endure the pain of losing a loved one, of a family member being sick. Of a job that’s lost, a home that’s foreclosed on, and a relationship on the rocks. But regardless of our circumstances we can choose how we respond. Will we recognize the good things provided right in front of us? Like brown paper packages tied up with string. We need to thank the one who did the providing. We need to be thankful in all circumstances.

Regardless of our circumstances we can choose how we respond.

Back to the Peanuts Gang. The kids don’t head back outside to the ping-pong table to finish lunch. The phone rings and it’s Charlie Brown’s grandmother. She ends up inviting all of Charlie’s guests. As they ride together in the back of a car, they merrily sing a song. I can only imagine, they sing it with a great deal of thankfulness. Someone thought of and included them. They were heading over the river and through the woods…to Grandma’s house.

Conclusion 

Have you felt left out? Maybe you identify with Patty. You might not tell your friends and family, but you’re lonely. You’d like to be invited. 

  • Even in the midst of those circumstances, you can practice the attitude of Thankfulness. 
  • The only other option is something that comes quite naturally to us: stewing and having a pity party.
  • You never know when you circumstances might change, but if you always have an attitude of thankfulness, sudden shifts in your life won’t phase you.

Maybe you connect with Charlie Brown.

  • You’ve done your best and people are still not thankful for what you provide. 
    • Dwelling on that causes resentment and bitterness to grow. 
  • If you are thankful for the one who provides for your every need, you may not get so worked up about how others react to your best attempts to please them. You might remember it is only what God says about you that matters.

How do we thank God in all circumstances? It may be helpful to join those who have gone before us and sing and pray Psalm 100.  (Read this psalm again to yourself or say it out loud.)

1“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

2 Serve the Lord with gladness!

    Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!

    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]

    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,

    and his courts with praise!

    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;

    his steadfast love endures forever,

    and his faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100:1-5 ESV

  • We remember to be thankful for what was provided.
  • Give all thanks to the Provider.
  • And not allow our circumstances to control our ability to be thankful.

For Us, In Us, Through Us

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A few weeks back, Jacki and I were blessed to be able to journey to Wisconsin Rapids to our district’s Pastor and Spouse retreat. This is one of the very few times a year that we get face to face interaction with other ministry couples from our district. It’s also a nice time to relax, spend time together as a couple – not just rush around trying to get things done. The speaker of the event was Dr. Scott Sherwood. Dr. Sherwood, or as Jacki and I know him as, Pastor Scott, was elected to be the president of Nazarene Bible College. Jacki and I had a lovely time reconnecting with Scott and Sherry Sherwood, swapping stories about life, ministry and parenting. 

During one of the sessions, Dr. Sherwood spoke about the Core Values of the church of the Nazarene. I could be remembering it wrong, but he didn’t just start out by saying, “Now we are going to talk about the three core values of the Church of the Nazarene. They’re important and you all need to know this. There will be a quiz later.” Nope. He just ninja snuck it in while we weren’t looking. I appreciated his messages so much, I couldn’t keep them to myself. That’s why I want to share with you some of what I heard at that retreat. 

One of the last things I expected to hear at the retreat full of ministry couples was a mini-course on the core of Nazarene values and beliefs. It was refreshing and I am grateful for it. Well let’s dive in to it, shall we? I have the dry erase board up this morning and I want to ask you to help me with the message today. I’m going to ask for you thoughts on particular topics. I think it would be of great benefit to hear what you can share from your experience. Let’s start with this this word: Christian.

—-

Have you ever been in a conversation with another Christian and perhaps you are discussing the very basics of Christianity? Of course we just did that in our recent message series here…but if someone were to describe The Gospel or the “Good News” what might they say?

  • Jesus Died for the sins of the world
  • Jesus’ Blood covers us and God can’t see our sins…
  • Jesus is God’s son, perfect
  • His sacrifice brings us to forgiveness and a restored relationship with God

What else might they say?

Would they go any further, do you suppose?

For many people this is THE good news. It ends with us being “OK” in God’s eyes – Justified. And there it is…we’re done. We’re good with God so…now we can go to church service and sing about that restored relationship, we might talk about it in front of others, we might study God’s word to understand it better…but it’s all done. It’s all good. We’re a Christian now and that’s…great. 

Christian – The Work God Did FOR you.

This Work  is described as the work God did for you. He Sent his Son. His Son Died for You. You accept the free gift of grace and forgiveness that He provides. The work that God did for you.

We believe Good news doesn’t stop there. If we were to categorize that information, that grouping of beliefs – We’d put that under “Christian.”

But once you accept that free gift, you actually don’t just stop there. As much as it might seem we focus an awful lot about getting a person to the place where they accept Christ and make a profession of faith in what Jesus has done…Jesus… isn’t done.

He doesn’t stop with what he did FOR us…He wants to do something IN us. He desires his Spirit to dwell within us. To guide our life, to help us love God with all that we are and love our neighbor as ourself. What we are talking about here is Holiness.

Holiness – What God Does IN you.

We might have a harder time with this one. I think it comes from a poorly conceived idea of what holiness or “being holy” actually is.   When you think of holiness – what things come to your mind? These could be good examples of holiness or perhaps not so good ones. What do you think about when you hear the word Holy or Holiness?


We’ve probably had bad examples in our lives. Perhaps we got the idea that holiness means you can never make a mistake. That holiness means you can never sin again. This work that God wants to do in you and me is to conform our hearts, minds, and life to be more and more like his Son. He desires us to not struggle with the temptations that we’ve given into our whole lives. Christianity is not just about being forgiven over and over and over for the same sin, the same failing and HOPING…hoping that we are still forgiven when we die. That we re-upped our forgiveness right before biting the big one. No. 

God Creates a new heart in us. 

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

    or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Psalm 51:10-12 NIV

Paul said it well in 2 Corinthians 5:17 

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

In a Moment, Jesus can and does make you new, but you are also in the process of renewal. Moment by moment, his Spirit is shaping and molding you into the image of Christ. We follow Jesus, not just a set of teachings he “left behind” but the very son of God. 

Holy also refers to being set apart for His purposes. John records one of Jesus’ prayers in John 17. Starting at verse 14 and going to 19 Jesus prayed:

14I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17Sanctify them by d the truth; your word is truth. 18As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

John 17:14-19 NIV

Jesus Sets us apart for his purposes. The Holy spirit dwells within us and makes us new. The world doesn’t know what to do with a holiness person! It’s because Holiness and Sanctified people…are not of this world.


Salvation – That work that God does for us.

Sanctification/Holiness – The work God does IN us. Making us more like Christ each Day. Setting us apart for his purposes.

So Christian…Holiness…and now Missional. 

This is the work He wants to do Through us. 

What is your first impression when you hear the words “Mission” or “Missionary?”

  • I think of those occasional Sunday night services my parents brought me to when I was a young kid. I don’t remember a whole lot about what was said…truth be told I was probably turned around in the pew, playing with action figures. I do remember it was the only time we had a slide show or a video projection in the Sanctuary. You gotta remember, the late 80’s and early 90’s the best we had was a over head – dry erase projector. So any advanced technology got me to pay attention. We saw photos of the missionary traveling to villages and speaking to the people. We heard stories of churches being planted. Lots of people hearing the message of the Gospel for the first time in their own language. And many coming to a saving relationship with Jesus.

We look back up at 2 Corinthians 5:17 and keep reading.

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 NIV

And Just incase you forgot what that message of reconciliation is that we are to pass along…Paul spells it out to us and the Corinthians in verse 21:

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV

So we are God’s Ambassadors. The Right relationship we have with God – Christian. The moment and process of making us like his Son – Holiness. That propels us to share this good news with the WORLD. How could we keep it to ourselves?

The Church of the Nazarene is 113 years old. When it formed, it was made up of many like minded Christian churches that had missionary works all over the world. The story goes that missionaries in the field got the news that their denomination had joined with others to form the Church of the Nazarene and they were like, “That’s Great!” Then promptly turned around and kept doing what they were doing. Missional work, brining the gospel to the world has always been at the core of what it means to be a Nazarene, even before the church existed.  

  • Back to my experience of hearing missionaries when I was a kid:
    • Missionaries would also tell us of the infrastructure that our giving helped make possible. Wells dug and pumps installed. One of the greatest problems facing Third-world countries still to this day is low or no access to clean drinking water. It’s usually the first thing that missionary works try to address when coming into an area. When people spend all day traveling just to get clean water for their families, they can’t farm or work at any other job. Makes meeting their other needs difficult and when basic needs aren’t met, no one stops to listen to the gospel. 

Jesus knew this very well. When He did the miracle of the loaves and the fishes…twice! People were hungry, they needed food or they couldn’t hear the word. And Jesus provided. He took away that distraction so they were freed up to listen.

Missional work is more of a mindset than it is a program. Sure you can go to school and get your degree in Ministerial Missions and apply with the Global Minstry Center to become Missionary. However, a Christian who is being made into the likeness of Christ shares the good news of God wherever God sends them. You can be a missionary in Vernon County. In Wisconsin. In the Midwest. In the United States. Anywhere God calls you, if you are willing to share the good news, the peace of Christ, there …you are being missional. That is the third core belief. It’s what God wants to do through us.

Conclusion

Now it’s time for self-reflection. You see these Core Values aren’t something the Nazarene Church made up. They didn’t start the church and then say, 


“Hey Phineus, what do you think we should do in this new church we just formed?” 

“Oh, I don’t know Pheobe, maybe Follow Jesus, let the Holy Spirit empower us and spread the good news all over the world. Does that sound like a good thing we should try?”

“It wouldn’t hurt!”

Rather, these are descriptions of How God has called us to live out the Truth. They aren’t goals to strive for, they are our identity. Christian. Holiness. Missional.

Reflect on this:

  • Do you see these three values in your life? 
  • How do they show themselves in your life?
  • If they aren’t showing up in your life, might I suggest starting from the beginning.

“21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV
  • Do you feel like you’re Saved, but just barely? Like you have to renew your salvation every three seconds because you’re just not sure? The Holy Spirit wants to Sanctify you – cleanse you and set you apart for his purpose.
  • Do know you’re in right standing with God. You see how He is making you more like his son every day…but you’re not sure what to do with your life – Might I suggest that you need a mission.
    • You are uniquely positioned to reach people that no one else will be able to reach. You – wherever you are in life, wherever you live…God has a mission for you.
    • It might just be as simple as being mission-minded in all you do as you do your normal things. 

Christian. Holiness. Missional. Core Values of the Church of the Nazarene. What God did and continues to do for, in and through people for his glorious purpose.

Faith Basics: Jesus

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Today will be our last in the Series of Faith Basics. There are a LOT of things about the Christian faith we could talk and dig into, but my hope with this series was to understand the core of Christianity, moreover what a person must believe in order to be a Christian. Notice I didn’t say Baptist, Nazarene, Methodist, Lutheran, Catholic or Pentacostal. Nope, Denominations are not at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. They ought to, however, have Christianity at their core and their specific focus is an expression of that faith.

If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of this message, The Spotify player is at the bottom of this post.


The very key things that must be believed and understood for someone to be a Christian, or a “Christ-follower.” :

Salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ.

8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. (Eph 2:8-9 NIV)

Faith is believing in what you can not see.

Going further with the idea of Faith in Jesus being the only way to get to God we looked at the illustration of this stool. You can intellectually believe it will hold you up, but you will never know for sure until you put your whole wait on it, trust in it and sit down. The same goes for trusting Jesus for Salvation. You can look at evidence of other’s lives turned around when they turned to God, you can be persuaded by sound and reasonable arguments, but you have not put your trust in God until you’ve committed to sit in the chair. Truly believe in your heart of hearts he’s saved you.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Heb 11:1 NIV

Another great example of this is that we ask for a verbal assurance of belief before we do a “Believers Baptism.” Do you Accept Jesus as Lord of your life and believe he saves you now?

Then we looked at The Bible.

This book of books. It’s an ancient tome. It’s an encyclopedia of sorts. It’s a guide. But above and beyond all the book types and writing styles contained therein, it was and continues to be the Living Word of God. God inspired the Authors of the books. The Holy Spirit continues to inspire our hearts and minds as we read and study the Bible. Telling us general things for all people and also telling us specific things meant just for us.

One of the 10 commandments is You shall not steal. That’s a general rule. But what if the Holy Spirit alights your heart to notice that at work, you might be taking too long to do things or maybe chit chatting too much when you are at work. The Holy Spirit might help you connect the dots of “stealing” to “stealing time and money from employers.” That’s just an example, but I trust the Holy Spirit has spoken to each of us about personal changes God desires for us, and our job is to listen to them and not ignore them.

Beside all this, the bible is the trustworthy place for find the plan of salvation. If we didn’t have this, how would we know how to become a Christian or introduce others to their fresh start in Jesus Christ?

Last week we got a little spooky and talked about the Afterlife.

It was an overview from three of Jesus’ teachings. The main things to remember that Christians believe in faith from scripture are:

Final Judgement is Final.

People get separated into two groups, each with their own eternal destination.

And Hell is eternal Separation from God. Heaven is eternal connection with God.

In this post we will look at the Christ – Who is Jesus, anyway?

You might be wondering, Didn’t we already talk about Jesus? Yes but there is a bit more to what we believe about him that must be addressed if one is to be a devoted follower of him.

Who is Jesus anyway?

Savior/Messiah

Not just personal savior but THE Savior. 

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

Mark 8:27-30 NIV
  • Jesus isn’t your homeboy. He isn’t your Boss. He is first and foremost the Savior, the Messiah of the World. Sure there are great examples of Jesus being our best friend or even our master, our boss or Lord…if you will. But at the core of Christianity, Jesus is THE CHRIST. No ifs, ands or buts about it. 
  • It’s interesting here in this passage, Jesus is checking with his followers. He asks about the word on the street…”what are the people saying about me?” But it all boils down to what His closest say about him. “You are the Messiah” “You are The Christ.” Good, now keep that to yourself.

Experience is the Best Teacher

Why might he give this instruction? Because to truly own Jesus as Savior, Messiah, Lord…you’ve got to experience for yourself. You’ve got to believe by FAITH. Allow me to give another analogy that might be terribly flawed…but here goes.

Photo by Stas Knop on Pexels.com

Have you ever ridden a roller coaster before? Imagine you’re a person who’s never been on a roller coaster. Your friend is  absolutely enamored with roller coasters. They try to talk to you about going on a ride with them. They describe the twists and turns. The flips and drops. The whiplash when you come to a quick stop at the end. They sound like they enjoy that kind of thing, but you don’t share their passion. Their experience is not convincing to you. You’ve never ridden on a coaster and by the sound of it, it sounds pretty scary! You don’t know what you are missing, because you’ve never tried it yourself. 

But imagine one day you just up and decide to go on a small ride and surprisingly, you begin to like roller coasters. You start to understand what your friend was telling you. It might be a bit frightening at times, but also thrilling. For you to understand that fully, you had to actually go on a roller coaster. You had to experience it for yourself.

That’s what the disciples did and that’s what Peter confessed here in Mark’s Gospel. They confess their belief in what they’ve experienced. Jesus is the Messiah and he does save and will save. They believed, but Jesus made a point that that message was not something you preach…but rather something you experience. Why even after the resurrection, Thomas eventually wrapped his head around it. Jesus shows himself to Thomas and his only response to the Resurrected Jesus is “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28b NIV)

Jesus is the Son of God

In Matthew’s account of the previous interchange between the disciples and Jesus, Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say I am?” 

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

(Matt 16:16 NIV)

This idea of Jesus being the Son of God was not something Peter simply made up. Luke records the angelic prophecy about Jesus.

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:25 ESV)

Now, in the New Testament era and Greek/Roman influence, being the “son of god” was a claim that Julias’ Caesar made about himself. He let everyone know. It was a way to push his will upon the masses as if they were divine orders.

By comparison, Jesus and others made the claim about Jesus- whether outright or veiled…and then Jesus did things that backed up his deity.

  • Various Miracles
  • Forgiveness of sinners
  • Bringing the dead back to life
  • Being resurrected himself

That last one might be tricky. “A deity can’t die!” That might be true if the deity doesn’t choose mortal form and “Become flesh and dwell among us” But that’s exactly what John says Jesus, son of God, one of the heads of the Trinity, did. Talking about his life in John 10:18 Jesus says this:

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18 NIV)

So Julias Caesar talked the talk…but still died and stayed dead. Jesus walked the walk and died, resurrected, and he still lives today!

Fully Man and Fully God

Though we just touched on Jesus’ deity, it can’t be overlooked that some people throughout history have questioned his nature. Christians believe in his two whole perfect natures: Fully God and Fully man. 

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. But what about his humanity. What was the point of that? Hebrews tells us…

Why both natures.

17 For this reason he had to be made like them,[a] fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

(Heb 2:17 NIV)

And also…

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

(Heb 4:15 NIV)

He is able to be our High Priest. He is our advocate who can also relate to the temptations of humanity – Yet he didn’t give in to those temptations. 

Jesus is Exactly Who He Said He is

This one might be hard to swallow for some, but again we build on the previous Basics of Faith, especially belief in the Word of God. You would think that a teaching series on the basics of the Christian faith would spend more time comparing it to other religions and faiths. Though that may help us gain perspective on other’s beliefs in order to better reach them with the Gospel, I am not an expert in other religions. The bible doesn’t teach us to follow anything other than The Way.

Some don’t believe Jesus ever existed. The problem with this belief is it’s not based on anything other than feeling and lack of research. Historical documents outside the bible recorded Jesus’ existence.

Some believe Jesus was simply a Good Moral teacher

If we believe He was a good teacher, but can’t accept all of what he teaches, we approach him much like people would approach Confucius. Interesting, wise sayings…but I’m not giving my whole life to follow strictly the teachings you can find in a fortune cookie! More to this point…

Author and Theologian, C.S. Lewis has this to say about the topic.

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse…. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

(Mere Christianity, The Shocking Alternative p52)

So we must identify what Jesus was and is. Was he 1)A madman, 2) A liar or 3)who he said he was: The Son of God. Christianity says “Door number three.” All his messaging and the work he accomplished and continues to accomplish are tied back into his nature and what Christ-followers believe about Jesus. He was and is the Son of God. 

Christianity says “Door number three.”

Take note of this, though:

  • What we believe about Christ does not affect who He really is. He is above our labels. (If we say he is a fraud, that doesn’t make him one.) We believe the reality of the thing, not make it so by our beliefs.

Jesus is not like Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan movie, “Hook” Have you seen that? Peter has grown up in our world and forgotten about Neverland. Hook comes and kidnaps Peter’s children to draw him back to Neverland. Tinkerbell comes to get Peter and bring him to Neverland but the appearance of a fairy makes him think he has lost his mind. He tells her he doesn’t believe in fairies. She faints death, since belief in her is what keeps her alive. Peter feels bad and Tinkerbell tells him to clap his hands and shout, “I DO believe in fairies!” to restore her to life. He does and the movie goes on.

Like I said, Jesus is NOT like that. He does not need us to believe he is the messiah for him to be so. He just simply is. Christians, we acknowledge the truth of reality. We may do so by helping items such as archeological, other historical evidence, personal testimonies, personal supernatural experience, and divine revelation. Those only stand to reinforce something that must be believed by FAITH. 

Savior/Messiah

His role, his function if you will… is to save

Jesus is the Son of God 

His divine nature makes his work possible. And because He is God’s son and calls us brothers and sisters, we are adopted into the promises bestowed on the Son. 

Fully Man and Fully God

He is the perfect High Priest, the Best Advocate for us. He understands our sufferings and our trappings of sin, but he did not fall prey to them. He is the only one who can speak to God on our behalf.

Jesus is Exactly Who He Said He is

Jesus is Trustworthy. The only other options would be that he was a liar or an insane person. Both of those don’t bode well for those who followed him for the last 2,000+ years. He’s not just some rabbi, some great moral teacher. He is the Son of God, the Messiah.

Conclusion

But what do we do with all this? It’s always the question I tried to figure out at the end of a message. If you or I wanted Christian history education, we could take an online course with Nazarene Bible College or Olivet University. Information is not a bad thing, but it must move us toward action. What is the action or the change that this information draws us toward?

  1. Strengthening of our own faith. “I know my savior lives, He lives within my heart!” It might reinforce the things we already believe. “I always believed Jesus was who he said he was…I always believed God’s word was true, but now I’m even more assured of it!” Personal development in faith is one of the main reasons people actively seek out bible studies and intentionally listen to sermons and teachings. They want to GROW. Deepen and Strengthen their faith. If this is you today, wonderful! 
  1. Sharing the faith with others. You remember that cheesy saying that parents might have said to their bickering children, “Sharing is caring?” Well it’s not just a silly phrase to help your kids not to fight. In sharing the faith with another, you are truly tossing them a life-preserver! Knowing and being able to share these Faith Basics can help your friend, family member or acquaintance not feel so overwhelmed by all the religious jargon they may have expected. Maybe by presenting things to them simply, they will really hear it…for the first time. Moreover they will have seen it in YOU.
  2. Situating believers to do the same. Why did the gospel of Jesus reach as far as it has? Of course because it’s God’s will, but to accomplish that he used people who made followers…not of themselves…but more followers of Jesus. More Disciples. They knew the Basics of Faith. It led them personally deeper in a relationship with Christ. They shared the faith and then guided others to do the same. But Faith is not some chain letter or email that gives you bad luck if you don’t forward it on to 17 people. Faith in Christ creates the desire to share, the desire to make disciples…wherever we go.

Strengthening our Faith. Sharing our Faith. Situating the Next Generation to go and make Christlike disciples in the Nations. It all starts with the Basics of the Christian Faith.

Faith Basics: The Afterlife

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At the start of this message, my wife and I did a little skit I wrote. If you’d like to read it, use it, preform it…I permission granted! Here is a link to the skit, “Heaven or Hell?”

If you’d like to listen to the Audio record of this message (it does not include the skit performance) click HERE for Spotify, or scroll to the player at the bottom of this post.


Heaven or Hell?

It’s a very real question, one that needs to be posed and needs to be answered. Not “Do you believe heaven and hell are real?” But rather, “Where are you headed next?”  

Today I want to look at three teachings on the afterlife in the New Testament. These are teachings of Jesus so we will want to listen very carefully. Since Christianity revolves around following Christ and accepting his gift of salvation…It would behoove us to find out what He said on the matter.

In the end, I want to draw some general observations about these teachings, how they apply to Christianity and how they might motivate us to guide others toward an eternity with God.

Photo by Nothing Ahead on Pexels.com

See there was a big reason we looked at God’s word last week. If you can’t put your faith in God and His word, you’re not going to look to the Bible as the authority on this topic (or any for that matter). We started with the plan of salvation a few weeks back, but salvation from what, exactly? Are we being saved for or toward something? I hope to answer those questions this morning and we will start with punishment rather than reward. 

Let’s talk about Hell. “Is Hell for real?”

The answer of course is yes. The Bible (remember that, the authoritative word of God. Inspired for instruction, correction, rebuking…that bible.)

Let’s look at a verse from Revelation about Hell.

“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

Rev 21:8 ESV

Sometimes the bible just comes out and says something and we are like, “What, WAIT! That sounds too harsh. I fit into some of those categories! I might be cowardly and a liar, but I’m not that bad!” 

We can truly convince ourselves of many wrong things if we try hard enough, right? Well, enough denial of Heaven and Hell. Let’s see what Christ said about the topic. The following three teachings informed Christian thought on the afterlife. It stood on the framework from Jewish thought and goes further, pulling back the curtain…

3 key passages that informed the Christian view of the afterlife.

I’m including links to the passages, but not the passages themselves. You may also want to read it in your own preferred version of the bible. Biblegateway.com is an excellent resource for comparative bible studies.

The Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

First we meet these two guys: The Rich man and Lazarus. It’s always best to introduce you main characters, so we care about what happens to them later in the story. These two men are very different, even though they live in close proximity to one another. They both suffer from the same illness: mortality. This teaching tells us they both died and were burried.

Then we hear about this Heavenly place, Abraham’s side. It is a place of reward.

Some bible translations may say “Abraham’s bosom.” Think of a parent hugging and holding their child really tight. I picture a tight, comforting hug.

On the flip side, the rich man end of in Hades and Hades is a place of torment.

This story is recorded of course in the New Testament. The New Testament was originally written in Greek. Makes perfect sense for the word Hades to be used here. It’s simply the place of the dead. The Old testament examples of the place of the dead come up with the word: Sheol.

“The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.”

Psalm 9:17 ESV

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Daniel 12:2 ESV

What in essence is “hell?” Eternal separation from God. What’s more torturous than not being with the one who loves you most?

Those in the Old Testament era may not have gotten a clear picture of this. This also helps me to realize  that all I know and believe about Heaven and Hell, it could just be a mere shadow of reality on that side of eternity. So I boil it down to Eternal separation from God. 

What else do we learn about this place after both men die?

No going between each place

There is a great chasm placed between them. Lazarus can’t come to the place of torture and the rich man can’t leave. Abraham’s hands are tied!

Also we see a role reversal.

In Life, The Rich man had all the comforts life could afford. In the afterlife he was eternally “Uncomfortable.”

In Life, Lazarus was tortured and more than uncomfortable. What he receives is the comfort of Abraham in the life after. 

Goats and the Sheep (Matt 25:31-46

Sheep – Just cared for “Jesus” without knowing it. Natural outpouring of him in them.

Goats – Did not care for the least of these out of the lack of Christ in them.

Action follows the heart. What controls and leads our hearts controls our actions or inactions.

Action follows the heart. What controls and leads our hearts controls our actions or inactions.

Final Judgement of all – two types of people. The Did and the Did-Nots

The Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30)

Final Judgement is final. No do-overs.

Lots of people will try to squeeze their way in, but only a few will make it.

  • When I was in college, I heard about a tragic event that happened in a nightclub in Chicago. Apparently a fight broke out an pepper spray was used to break up the fight, but it induced panic. 1,500 people tried to escape the club at the same time crushing, others in the door way. 21 people died and 50 others were injured.
  • I picture something like this, climbing over others…trying one way or another to make it through that door, but not all do.
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Heven: The place where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophet  – but others will be tossed out!

It’s also a place where a great big feast with people from all over the world! (Foreshadow of the Great commission being fulfilled.)

We choose our eternal destination by the choices we make here on earth. No I’m not talking about doing good, nice stuff. There are not enough beached whales for you to push back into the ocean, enough poor people you personally sponsor with your finances, there’s not enough good deeds to secure your ticket to Heaven.  

It’s a free gift of salvation from Jesus Christ. Do you want to be with him forever or apart from him forever?

To recap:

Conclusion

  1. Hell is for real. It may, at times seem metaphorical. Many times familiar imagery is used in scripture to help us grasp the unfathomable. That surely applies to Hell. A place of everlasting death and torment. It is a very real potential destination for us.
  2. We choose hell by our rejection of Jesus as Lord in our life RIGHT NOW. If we decide we don’t want him here, he won’t be there (in eternity) and he will leave us to try and be the lord of our own lives. 
  3. Heaven is for real. And we choose Heaven by the opposite. If Jesus is Lord of my life he is and will be the Lord of my afterlife. I’ve got to live each day with Him as Lord. My body is not my own. My time is not my own. My money, resources…everything.
  4. Heaven is not just the absence of torture or pain. Sure there is that:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Rev 21:4 ESV

Heaven is the very presence of the living God. (Rev 21:10-27 ESV)

10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12 It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— 13 on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. 

15 And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16 The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. 17 He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. 18 The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, like clear glass. 19 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Rev 21:10-27 ESV

Faith Basics: The B-I-B-L-E

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Sorry for no blog post last week. I was blessed to be at a Pastor and spouse retreat with my wife and other ministry couples from around Wisconsin. Quick plug: www.wisnaz.com can tell you a bit more about my denomination (Nazarene) and our structure and mission here Wisconsin.

Today we are going to resume with our series called, “Faith Basics.” Christianity can seem overwhelming to someone who has not ever been exposed to our “lingo.” That’s why if I use an uncommon word, I’ll define it so we all are on the same page.

If you would like to listen to the audio recording of this message, scroll to the bottom and click the Spotify player.

Last time we looked at Faith itself, determining that it is believing in what you cannot see…what is yet to be. Things hoped for. Faith is fundamental in what we believe about Jesus and his work of saving us from the punishment of our sins. Jesus’ work is unseen. One has to accept his gift and believe what Jesus said. Put our whole weight on him. Our faith. We don’t know that the stool will hold us up for sure until we take that chance and sit down. Same for Faith in Christ. 

Today we will be looking in the bible and talking about the bible. That’s right, The Bible. God’s Word. The Holy Scriptures. The Old and New Testaments. Some people call it life’s instruction manual, but it is so much greater than that. We are going to talk about (1) what is the bible?, (2) why is it important to the Christian Faith?, and ask the question, (3)“How is the bible still relevant to the world today?”

Though those are the main questions, I just have to start with one more: “What does scripture say about itself?” That’s a meta-sermon if I ever heard one! Paul was writing a follow up letter to one of his apprentices, Timothy. Paul is giving encouragement and direction as Timothy learns to lead in the church he pastors. In that letter, Paul says this:

 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 3:14-17 NIV

That’s an interesting thing to put in this book. “This book is good for you! All of it is breathed from God, God-inspired. It’s useful in personal and professional growth. Dig into it so you can be equipped to do what God desires you to do every day.” That’s the Matt paraphrase.

But what is this book? There is an old illustration about 6 blind men and an elephant.

There are so many variations of this folk story, but the most poetic of the bunch comes from John Godfrey Saxe. 

THE BLIND MEN AND THE ELEPHANT.

A HINDOO FABLE.

I.

IT was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

II.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

“God bless me!—but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!”

III.

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried: “Ho!—what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me ‘t is mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!”

IV.

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a snake!”

V.

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

“What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,” quoth he;

“‘T is clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!”

VI.

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: “E’en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can,

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!”

VII.

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant

Is very like a rope!”

VIII.

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

MORAL.

So, oft in theologic wars

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

While this use of the folk story identifies something more about theological disagreements, I’d like us to consider what people think about the bible itself.

Some think it’s a historical book, full of stories and records. Births and deaths. Some look at it and see wise sayings and practical teachings for life. Some see it as a book that tells you the future, the meaning of life and everything. Maybe even later on, it’s a specific road map of the early Christian movement, with epic first-person story-telling. Even some see the latter portions and believe the bible is personal correspondence that somehow pertains to our lives today.

Well, it’s not just one of those things. It’s all of those things. Like our poem about the elephant, there are many pieces that make up The Book known as The Bible, but it is altogether one.

I first started to wonder, where did we get the word “Bible” from?

The Good Book

The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word “Biblos” (βιβλίοs) which translates as “book.” That’s kind of why people will refer to it as the “Good Book.”

I wondered, since that was Greek for book, what did people in the Old Testament era call the Bible? Well they referred to it as “The Law and the Prophets.” But as you might know, the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures make up much more than just those two sections. 

  • The Law: this a big section of the beginning of the Old Testament. Genesis through Deuteronomy, God establishes creation, sets boundaries, mankind breaks them and sins. The Law is the direction of man trying to live out the life God desires us to live out. Do discover our need for him and draw near to him.
  • History: While those 5 books do give us stories and timelines, they aren’t part of the section specifically dedicated to history. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, then some books later on the Jews are in exile during the writings about: Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. These books continue to showcase the God who cares, who loves, who can’t abide sin because He’s Holy. 
  • Poetry: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon all fall into this category. If you’ve read Job before you might wonder why Poetry. His story reads similar to The “Iliad” of the “Epic of Gilgamesh”. You’ve got shifts between first and third person story telling, long dialogue between friends coping with loss, and God himself breaking through in the end to clear things up. I am not saying this story didn’t happen, I am saying it was presented in the vein of an epic poem.
  • Prophets: These are words of warning. Most times they pertain to the people of Israel and Judah, but sometimes  prophecy was for foreign countries. Any time the People of God strayed and didn’t repent, consequences followed and the prophets were right there to describe what would happen. Sometimes they were believed, but in most cases they were believed only after it was too late.

As a Christ follower, we affirm these scriptures. These are the scriptures that today make up the Hebrew Bible: The Torah and the Tanakh. Jews today use these same passages in their worship and song. So where did the rest of the bible come from and what is the New Testament made up of?

  • Biography: One chart I found separating out the New Testament books called the Gospels biographies. Many just classify them as “the gospels.” These are the stories of Jesus’ birth (in most accounts), life and earthly ministry, sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension. But it’s not just an account, but interwoven you’ll find practical instruction and teachings that guided the early church.  Gospel translates to “Good News” so the purpose behind these biographies is to give an account of the good news of God in Jesus Christ. From the moment he came to dwell among men to the moment he went to prepare a place for us in Heaven. The Gospels are so much more than the personal history of a first century Rabbi.
  • History: We had a section on History in the Old Testament. Various stories in the general history of the world, specific dates and times. The events were chronicled and they were more than just folk lore. In the New Testament an entire book is devoted to what the followers of Jesus did after Jesus ascended into Heaven. It’s called “The ACTS of the Apostles” Or the Book of Acts for short. It chronicles major events in the history of the apostles as they were sent-out to preach the good news. Miracles to ongoing persecution, this book holds much history but also instructions. Examples for how to and how not to live with other believers in Christ.
  • Epistles: This section of the New Testament refers to the letters from leaders in the Christian Faith to certain churches or leaders of those churches. Paul wrote the most of these but James, John, Peter, Jude, and the author of Hebrews got in on the instructive letter writing. These weren’t just brief, “oh I miss you, hope to see you soon! TTFN.” They were letters that addressed specific topics and problems. They clarify theological confusions and give direction on handling interpersonal conflicts among believers and with authorities outside the faith.
  • Prophecy: One more book at the conclusion of the Bible is very much in the vein of the prophecies from the Old Testament. With its vast imagery and divine word from God for the World, the book of Revelation reveals not only what this world will endure but reveals the one whom the whole old and new are a testament to: Jesus himself. It reveals and shows us Jesus and it is he who also does the revealing. There are words of warning and judgement for those in Christ who are not following what they believe, as John writes to the Seven churches in just the first few chapters.

These are the classic, or orthodox views of Christian Scriptures. 66 books in total, from Genesis to Revelation. We believe the bible perfectly reveals the good news of salvation, that salvation we talked about just a couple of weeks ago. We trust by faith.

So that’s what the Bible is. A God-inspired and fueled compilation of writings that reveal God and his plan for humanity.

That’s all well and good, but you might say “I’ve read ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul!’ I’ve read ‘Your Best Life Now!’ I’ve Read ‘The Purpose-driven Life.’ All of those are inspiring. Why is the Holy Bible so important to Christianity?”

Why is The Bible important to the Christian faith (and what we believe about the bible)?

The Bible is divinely inspired – We believe That God moved and spoke to each recorder of the books of scripture. The faith in Jesus that is revealed in scripture, the example set forth by the disciples, is not a man-made religion But a God-initiated Relationship.

The Bible reveals not a man-made religion, but a God-initiated Relationship.

Christians affirm this, though sometimes we rely on the Bible like we would a search engine. When my windshield wiper was messed up on my car, I searched online on how to fix it myself. It worked and I never needed to go to that website again. However if we treat the bible like a search engine that can fix our problems just by flipping open some pages, we are missing opportunities for growth. Joshua records a personal conversation with Yahweh himself. God gives Joshua instructions for leading the people of Israel after Moses had died. He said to Joshua: 

“8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Joshua 1:8 NIV

He didn’t just want Joshua to turn to God’s word when he needed help, or when he was bored or when the Israelites were whiny. He and the people were to keep the words on their lips and think about it all the time.

Why do Christian read God’s word daily? Because we know this promise from God to Joshua and accept it ourselves. God instructs us to dig into his word and keep it on our mouths, hearts and minds.

Not only did God say to dig into his word, but Hebrews 4:12 says his word is alive and digs into us!

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Hebrews 4:12 NIV

It may seem uncomfortable, but The Christian faith is all about Change. Jesus’ sacrifice, was and is intended to change our relationship with God. God’s Word gets into us and shows us things not yet fully given over to Him. One thing that God wants of those called according to his name is purity, Holiness. But how can someone be pure or holy? Probably not hard for you to believe that the bible has something to say about this. Psalm 119:9:

“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.”

Psalm 119:9 NIV

Why is the bible important to the Christian Faith? Not only does it record the history of…history, but God’s love story for us. His deep sacrifice for us. His desire and help lead us “Not into temptation, but to deliver us from evil.” 

Like I said last time, none of that matters if you don’t put your trust in God’s word to do what He wants it to do in your life. It’s living and active. It’s not just a website you flip to for car advice. It’s life changing. It’s good news. It’s His love story for us.

In what ways is the Bible still relevant today?

It should hopefully be obvious that the bible is important to Christians. It is the history of where we, mankind came from, God’s loving plan for us, and our part in it all. But in what ways is this old book still relevant to our day to day life? You might think, “I’m reading in the book of Joshua about physical battles being fought, but I’m just trying to survive until my next paycheck.” 

Jesus has this to tell us in Matthew chapter 6:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:25-27 NIV

Fear and worry are always relevant. They are always around. Jesus comforts and assures us, We’ve got nothing to fear or worry about. Just trust in him.

What about life and death? New life comes in the form of a baby and death might come all of a sudden or slowly, day by day. Martha and Mary had just lost their brother to illness. He’d been dead 4 days and Jesus came to the funeral very late. He tells Martha the following:

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.

John 11:25-26 NIV

He raised Lazarus from the dead. Believe it or not, he still can do so. He has victory over death and it couldn’t even keep a hold on Jesus when he died. He didn’t stay dead. We have the hope that even through new life and trials of sickness and death, we can believe in Jesus and find everlasting life.

What is it you deal with? The bible not only has relevant answers and instructions for you on that topic, but wants to dig deep into you as you dig into it. God’s word is living and active. 

Conclusion

The Bible, 66 book compiled into one big tome. History, poetry, letters of instruction, prophecy, and biography. It was historically handed down, and in some hands and mouths it has brought life. In some it has been wielded as a weapon. One to control the masses into following whatever ruling group or person is in power. Yet, we have this hope that even though some have used scripture as a tool to preserve their power, God’s real purpose shines through. It is the Good News. In Genesis 50, Joseph’s brothers are afraid he was holding a grudge against them. When their father died, they feared Joseph would finally make them pay for selling him into slavery.

“19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Genesis 50:19-20 NIV

God’s word is a weapon. Paul referred to it as “the Sword of the spirit.” But the bible is never used to attack people, but rather affirm God’s love for man, his plan for us and his call upon us to share the good news.

Faith Basics: You Gotta Have Faith!

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[If you’d like to listen to the audio recording of this message, Click the Spotify player at the bottom of this post.]

If you’ve got a bible handy, turn to Hebrews chapter 11. We are continuing on with the series “Faith Basics.” But one thing occurred to me this week. 

All we talked about last week and all we will talk about in the coming weeks are pointless…until you embrace Faith itself. Faith is not a structure of religious practices. Faith is not the manual of the Church of the Nazarene. Faith is believing in what you do not see…what you hope for. What you trust in. All the other basics can be tossed out the window if you don’t have faith. So We need to talk about Faith today. Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith.” It’s a grand retelling of the Heroes of the history of the Israelites, but it is framed in such a way to highlight a few things: Who they were (as if the audience didn’t know), what they believed in without seeing, and what was the result. 

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1 NIV

The New Living translation puts it this way:

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.” 

Hebrews 11:1 NLT

The reality of what we hope for. It’s the truth that is truth, even if we don’t believe in it. But when we do believe in it without seeing it, that’s what faith looks like.

  1. Faith is the Evidence/assurance of things unseen.
    1. What were the unseen things in these verses?
PersonUnseen ThingResult
AbelGod’s acceptance of his offeringRighteousness
EnochPleased GodTaken without death
NoahFloodFamily Safe
AbrahamFuture home (didn’t know where he was going)Inheritance (land/children)
SarahFaithfulness of GodChild
A Chart of the people, what they believed in without seeing and the result of that.

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

Hebrews 11:4 NIV
  • Abel had faith that his offering was going to the God who would accept it. It was a good offering, a better offering than his brother’s. He believed God was worthy of this offering – (“fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” Gen 4:4b)  

5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.”[a] For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.

Hebrews 11:5 NIV

We’ll look at verse 6 in a moment or two, but let’s skip down to verse 7 and Noah.

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen (Flood), in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

Hebrews 11:7 NIV

Let’s look at verse 8 and Abraham:

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 

Hebrews 11:8-10 NIV

Even Abraham’s wife, Sarah, gets in on this Faith thing. Hebrews 11:11

And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 

Hebrews 11:11 NIV

The Hebrews author paints a much nicer picture of Sarah than Genesis, as the Old Testament records that she laughed when she heard that she would have a child. Somewhere down the line, this became the view and the observation of the Hebrews writer. Even though she thought it so funny she giggled, she still hoped and believed and then she had a son.

These are some examples of historical heroes having faith and God blesses the results. Presumably we want to please God, but the more and more we try, it doesn’t seem to add up. What do we need ?    Let’s look back at verse 6 to learn what it takes to please God. 

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 NIV

Hebrews 11:6 NIV

To please God, you must believe God and seek God.

Believing in God and seeking him are essential to pleasing Him.

Let’s look at this verse from the Amplified Bible. Essentially, the Amplified bible gives commentary-like context to the text as you read it. So it has those notes in brackets, clarifying the deeper meanings behind certain words. It says:

“But without faith it is impossible to [walk with God and] please Him, for whoever comes [near] to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He rewards those who [earnestly and diligently] seek Him.”

Hebrews 11:6 Amplified

Try as we may, as we illustrated last week with the drawing of the chasm of sin that’s between us and God, we can’t jump high enough, run fast enough, use things to propel us to him…Hebrews says we must believe he exists…(and it doesn’t stop there.) And that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.

Sinner’s prayer or “A,B,C’s of Salvation” are perfect examples.

  • Admit – I am a sinner. You aren’t really pursuing help if you don’t think you need it. Recognizing you are a sinner is the first step to salvation. 
  • Believe – Believe Jesus died for my sins and I ask for forgiveness. I accept his gift of Salvation. I believe he saves me now.
  • Confess – Confess your faith before others, tell the whole word of what God has done for you!

It’s that “Believe”, the “B” in the A,B,C’s of salvation we are talking about. It’s the trust in someone you haven’t seen, but yet believe…in faith. It is essential. Otherwise it looks like this.

  1. I’m a sinner
  2. I’m kinda trying some stuff to fix my sin problem. I hope one of them works
  3. I don’t know if my life has changed yet, I’ll get back to you on that.

It’s like trying different diets to find out which one will give you the best results. Then when you find that one, can you actually stick with it? That’s what we are doing when we fit ANYTHING else into the spot where Belief in Jesus, dying for our sins, and that he saves you now. We are rolling the dice, leaving it up to luck…but we are NOT placing our trust in anything. In Anyone.

3. Believing and Seeking

Person/PeopleBelievedHow they sought God
Abraham (again) (v17-19)His Son back from the DeadTrusted God’s directions even when it sounded crazy.
Israelites (v29)God’s Power to keep red sea partedStepped out onto the place where the Red Sea had been.
Israelites (v30)The conquering of JerichoFollowed their literal marching orders.
another chart

Let’s look at a few more examples. This chapter has tons. It has so many examples, the writer even lumps some folks all together at the end, big names like Samson, David, and  Samuel. Let’s look at Abraham again in verses 17-19.

17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19 NIV

Abraham Believed God. He believed God existed and was living and active. He believed he wasn’t going crazy when he heard words of direction straight from God. He believed it so much, He trusted in God so much that he sought God through his obedience. He went to sacrifice his only son, believing –as the Hebrews writer points out, he believed God would resurrect Isaac. Otherwise God’s initial promise wouldn’t be fulfilled!

There are several other examples of Joseph and Moses, but let’s skip down to verse 29 and see how a general people group, the Israelites, Believed and Sought God. How they trusted him by faith.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

Hebrews 11:29 NIV

Have you ever been to an aquarium before? There in Jenks, Oklahoma there is the Oklahoma Aquarium. It’s got stingrays, sea turtles, shrimp, starfish, an octopus and so much more. One of the highlights of the Aquarium is the Shark Exhibit. This Shark Adventure houses the world’s largest collection of bull sharks. Now this is not just a tank you walk around, but through. There is a glass tunnel that leads you underneath the shark exhibit. It’s something you have to experience for yourself to get the full effect. But even though I did not know it, I had faith in something, walking through that tunnel. I had faith that the glass wouldn’t break and sharks would come flooding down the tunnel to munch on me and my family. I had faith in the engineers who designed and the workers who built it. I showed that faith by walking down the tunnel.  I imagine something similar to those crossing the Red Sea. Moses was holding up his staff. He was following directions by faith…but the people could have been all wiped out that day, just as the Egyptians were where they tried to cross after them.

The Israelites showed they sought God by…Stepping out onto the place where the Red Sea had been.

 Let’s look at the next verse, verse 30.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

Hebrews 11:30 NIV

If you don’t know the story, here’s the summary: Joshua and the Israelites were given some very strange battle plans by God: March around Jericho once a day for 6 days. Don’t shout or play your horns or anything. On the 7th day, march around it 7 times, blow trumpets and shout at the conclusion of the last lap. They believed. They were seeking God to do the impossible and the city of Jericho was delivered into their hands. They couldn’t have done it without faith.

They Believed God would deliver Jericho into their hands.  They sought God through obeying their literal “Marching orders.”

4. Everyday Faith

The best and most tangible demonstration I have ever seen concerning faith looks like this. This is a stool. I can look at that stool, I can investigate it “Sure looks like a sturdy stool!” I can maybe push on it a little, give it a kick like people do with tires for…whatever reason they do that for. I could go so far as to look into the stool’s history, “Who bought this stool? What material is it made from?”    

But it all comes down to this one question: “When I sit on it, will it hold me up?”

[At this point in the message I got a volunteer to help me with this demonstration.]

Now you know that I wouldn’t want you to fall and have everyone laugh at you, right?

You also don’t know if I messed with this stool before the service. It could be wobbly or it could be sturdy.

The interesting this is, you will NEVER know until you sit down.

You will never know for sure until you put your whole weight on this stool and see if it will hold you up. 

Perhaps you’ve seen other people sit on other stools before, much like our Hall of Faith from Hebrews 11, but you’ve never sat on this stool before.

[Hopefully the volunteer sits down. Stool stays in one piece.]

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Though you couldn’t know for sure that the stool would hold you up, you hoped it would. You had enough confidence in that hope that you sat down and risked falling. Now, go ahead and stand up. Ok, now sit down on the stool again. Did you believe it would hold you up?

Why?  (Because you’d already experience the stool’s faithfulness as you put your trust or full weight on it.)

Dismiss volunteer

Wrap up: What’s this have to do with the other faith basics?

Without faith, without actually sitting down on the stool. Without trusting God, his word, how He’s revealed himself throughout history…all you are left with is doubt. And when you stay there, you can even doubt the most basics of the Christian Faith. And so, we needed to address the very topic of Faith…putting your whole trust in something you can’t see, but you’re hopeful for. 

Do you want to be free from addiction? The first step is to believe it is possible for you to be from that addiction. What about worries? Do you enjoy being stressed and terrified all the time or do you want to live life in a state of calm and peace? You’ve got to have faith that’s possible. 

No matter what anyone pursues in life, they must have faith that it is pursuable…or else they wouldn’t pursue it!

No matter what anyone pursues in life, they must have faith that it is pursuable…or else they wouldn’t pursue it!
What about God? Do you have faith that he loves you? His Son died for you…to fix the sin problem we talked about last week? Do you trust God’s word? These are the questions, but we have two choices, to stand there looking at it “I wonder if that will hold me up or if it will collapse…” and the other choice is to trust in faith and simply…sit… down.

Faith Basics: Salvation

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Sermon Sept 3, 2021

Today we are going to begin talking about the Basics of the Christian Faith. If you are a Christian or if you are not, this series entitled Faith Basics is for you. If you don’t know anything about the Christian faith, I assume you are open to learning more about it since you are listening to (reading) this message today. Perhaps you come from a background where religious groups have distorted the message of the bible. Maybe you came from a family or church that preached things that it didn’t live out. My hope is that at Viroqua Nazarene you will find that not only do we understand and believe what the bible says about God, Jesus, Sin, and salvation…but you see it reflected in the love and fellowship of believers who gather regularly here.

If you are a Christian, these messages are still for you as well! I find the toughest thing that most  Christians deal with is being bogged down by discouragement when it comes to sharing their faith. So the methods I’ll use each week to share the message about the Faith, you can use them as well. 

I’ll try not to over complicate things with big words, but know that if I do use these words I will define them for easy use. I went through numerous courses in college and kept forgetting what the meaning of this one word ment. The word was “Soteriology.” Any time you hear the ending “ology” it means “to talk about or the study of.” But what does Soteri mean? (Bible.org source)

It comes from the Greek word “sorteia” which comes from another Greek word “soter” (σότερ) meaning savior. So Soteriology is the study or the talk about Salvation or the work of salvation.

Whether you grew up in church or this is your first time, you’ve probably heard Christians talking about the need to “get saved.” Today, that’s what we are going to talk about and I hope to illustrate it in a way that this act of God (Salvation) is clear enough that we could easily share it with someone else.

Mankind’s main problem in Life is SIN.

Sin separates us from a relationship with God. Sin says, “I want what I want…even if it’s not what God wants.” Sin Says, “I know what is right, but I’m doing otherwise because It’s convenient.”

Around here, our beliefs and teachings are guided by God’s word, the bible. So don’t be surprised if I quote it to support each week’s Faith Basic. We look to The Bible because we believe it is the authoritative Word of God and the only perfect guide for all things concerning salvation. We’ll talk in more detail about the Bible in a different week, but I think you need to know this…before we go any further today: Christians believe in the authority of God’s Word. In God’s word we find all the details for God’s perfect plan of salvation. 

And God’s word tells us that mankind has a problem and it’s called SIN.

James, Jesus’ brother once wrote:

 “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

James 4:17 NIV

Former persecutor of Christians, Paul of Tarsus wrote about how all mankind has had to deal with this sin problem.

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—”

Romans 5:12 NIV

So not only do we have a sinful condition because one man (Adam) sinned…it leads us to make sinful choices which ultimately lead to death. 

One day, Jesus was trying to explain to some people that what comes out of a person, their words and actions – that’s what defiles them and makes them unclean…rather than eating or drinking the wrong thing. Gospel of Mark chapter 7:20-23 NIV

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:20-23 NIV

Jesus spells it out for us, just in case we didn’t know what some prime examples of sin were. So we’ve all got this sin problem. We have desires to live in ways opposite of what God’s best is for us. But that’s not the worst part about sin.  

Sin Separates us from God

I know, forgive this very rudimentary drawing. We’ve got a cliff on either side. God’s on one side and we are on the other. I’m going to tell you right now, no illustrations are 100% perfect. So go with me on this one, if you will. 

Sin gets between us and God. 

A very good example of this comes from Isaiah 59. Isaiah was a prophet of God. God would tell him what to say to the Israelites and he would tell them. What he said wasn’t always pretty or even encouraging. He tells them:

“But your iniquities have separated

    you from your God;

your sins have hidden his face from you,

    so that he will not hear.”

Isaiah 59:2-3 NIV

You might say, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” “My mama says I’m perfect! My Granny says I’m perfect.” Maybe you just say, “Well I’m a good person, I don’t know anything about this ‘sin’ stuff of which you speak…”

I’ve got news for you. Romans 3:23 makes it very clear:

“23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

Romans 3:23 NIV

Not only are we born with the desire to put our desires before others’, especially before God’s desires, but we practice it regularly!

It’s that sin that creates a chasm…between us and God. Our Sin…His holiness. And the thing we dislike most about this situation is that…

We can’t fix this problem ourselves.

Are you an Olympian or a track and field star? No? Awesome. No one can call me out for not knowing what I’m talking about. 

So, in Track and Field there are various events with similar goals:

With the Long jump it’s all about who can go the farthest. With the High Jump and Pole vault, the goal is to get over the bar without knocking it over. They keep raising the bar to see who can get the highest jump or vault.

With our illustration here, we try things to get to God. We try “being good” or being a nice person. We back up really far, we take off in a dead sprint, we jump forward with all our might and all our goodness and niceness…and we fall short. We can’t get over that Sin pitfall by being nice or “good.” 

What if we jumped and put an extra little flourish to our jump, jumping higher. What if we said this was going to church…maybe saying “I’m religious” or even “I believe in God.”  These are things we might say that look like we are putting in a bit more effort to reach God…But just like before, we fall short. The pitfall of sin is what we can’t get past through being religious or being a church-goer.

What if we used a tool like pole vaulters use a pole to get over that super high bar? This might be doing good things: “I volunteer at a (fill in the blank). I DO lots of good and nice things. I teach Sunday school.” What about “I’ve dedicated my life to being a missionary” or “given it to religious service? I always recycle. I help clean trash on the side of the road. I encourage others to do good and nice things. I don’t just say I’m good or nice, I do nice things!”

OSLO, NORWAY – JUNE 28: Jeff Hartwig of the USA comes second in the mens Pole Vault during the IAAF Exxon Mobil Bislett Games at the Bislett Stadium in Oslo , Norway on June 28, 2002. (Photo by Christopher Lee / Getty Images )

This is that Pole in Pole vaulting. Have you ever seen a vaulter who fails to cleanly get over the bar? It’s disheartening. It’s sad. It’s embarrassing. It is the same with people who equate good works with a way over or past Sin. If that is their method, rather than the fruit of a tight relationship with God, they will knock that bar off everytime. They will not make it.

So believing we’re good enough isn’t enough. Being religious isn’t good enough. Doing “good” things isn’t enough. What’s it going to take to get over sin and to God? 

Fixing our sin problem takes an act of God 

God wants us to be close to Him. He wanted it so much that he took steps to help us cross that ravine. In the middle of the night, Jesus is teaching a religious leader, Nicodemus, about the Kingdom of God and the extent that God has gone to get us to him. He tell Nicodemus in John’s gospel, chapter 3 verse 16-17:

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17 NIV

Jesus was of course talking about himself. What was the Son supposed to do to save the world?

He was to lay down his life as a sacrifice to fix the sin problem in our lives. That pesky thing that drives a relational wedge between us and God.

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Cor 5:12 NIV

Peter, an early leader in the Christian faith proclaimed this boldly:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12 NIV

This is one of the most challenging pieces for some folks. 

  • I want to be saved, but I’m going to get it by being good
  • Or I’m all good for the “afterlife” because I believe in this god or that god. I pray three times a day to that god.
  • Oh my salvation is found at the bottom of a bottle.
  • I’m part of a secret society that does good stuff for the community. I can’t tell you anything about it, but I’m sure that’s enough to get wherever I’m going.

There are countless other examples. 

So fixing our sin problem takes an act of God. God sends his Son, Jesus… 

And Jesus lays down his life as a sacrifice for you and me. He makes a way for us to get to God.  That bridge comes by his sacrifice on the cross. 

John 14:6 paints a clear description of what we see here today in this illustration.

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 NIV

The Key point to this message of salvation is this: JESUS is the only way. This is an essential basic piece to the Christian Faith. If someone believes or acts as though they believe something other than Jesus fixes the sin problem and restores our relationship with God, they are incorrect. 

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

John 3:36 NIV

Jesus also describes himself as the gate in John 10:9

9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

John 10:9 NIV

There is only one way to:

  • God
  • Heaven
  • Salvation
  • Forgiveness
  • Redemption
  • Wholeness
  • Holiness
  • Restoration

That is through Jesus Christ.

The question is, where do you see yourself in this illustration? Firmly planted on your side? Trying to run and jump over the chasm? A couple inches onto the bridge? Half way? All the way?

31 days of Blogging – What I learned and experienced

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From August 31 to Sept 30 I made an effort to post to this blog at least once a day. I had a specific focus in mind: look over the Proverb that corresponded that particular day and write a devotional thought off of a verse or two from within it.

1. Just starting is an accomplishment. I have tried writing on a regular basis before, but this was a challenge. However it had a time line and a clear idea of what I wanted to do. That sure helped.

2. Life goes on. I experienced A-LOT of life without those 31 days. My family went camping twice. It was wonderful to take my daughter fishing for the first time. We also dealt with a sick pet (Guinea Pig) and many vet appointments to help address what was going on with him. Feeding him, giving him medicines. Ultimately, he passed away at home. This as a family, was our very first pet to have died. Just typing those words brings it all back up again. It was (and still is) hard on us, but we are glad he’s not struggling to live anymore and we are not exhausted physically and emotionally by trying to keep him alive. In the midst of this time, I wrote a sermon every week and tried to publish those here to this blog soon after it was preached. My daughter started horseback riding lessons and I have even writing a blog post in the barn while waiting for her lesson to finish (I am currently doing this as well.) This taught me that I can’t wait for life to “slow down” in order to do something I want to do or need to do. Life will go on. Just how much will I get to experience withhold I’m here? That’s up to me.

3. Writing short posts and regularly scheduling them is probably the best bet for me. I’m normally a “I want publish this thing! I just finished!” Kind of guy. But having it done the day before you want to frees up so much head space.

What would I do more of? Read other people’s work. It can inspire me and get better thoughts and even help me realize that presentation (the format) matters to the reader. If it’s difficult, bulky or confusing, people are going to tune out. I hope you stuck with me through this one.

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Proverbs 30 – I didn’t do that!

Back to my silly roots! So many things in scripture remind me of movies I’ve seen. This passage reminds me of that elderly gremlin from Hotel Transylvania. If you’ve seen this wacky movie, you’ll know see seems old and feeble, but in a quick moment…she’ll eat something larger than herself and then give a sly look all around. She’ll then proclaim, “I didn’t do that!”

The clip from the film, the scripture point out our real life excuses. We are prepared to sin, make the wrong choice. When we do it, the first thing we do is deny doing it. We might point the blame on others.

Why? Because taking responsibility for our actions is the first step to reconciliation. As long as as a person denies they did nothing wrong, relationships stay broke and forgiveness and healing can’t take place.

Proverbs 29 – Better late than Never

“Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.”

Proverbs‬ ‭29:26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

First of all, mad props to you if you have a blog and are able to keep a consistent posting schedule. in a couple days I will post about my 31 day experience blogging about the book of Proverbs. But for today I’m going to talk about this verse.

What comes to mind when you think about this verse? For me, I think of contacting governmental leaders to let them know what I stand for and how I would encourage them to vote a particular way on a bill.

No matter what legislation is passed, what budgets get vetoed, or who goes before a judiciary committee, we only receive justice when it comes from the Lord.