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Monday, March 27, 2017

Jesus and the 5,000

            March Madness falls right in the middle of the Christian season of Lent this year.  Lent is the 40 days (not including Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.  It is a time when Christians prepare for Easter by focusing on spiritual growth through prayer, study, and focus.  Will take the challenge to make a 3-pointer for March Madness/Lent by focusing on prayer, study, and service?  Jesus was committed to all three.  Today, let's look at one story about how he served. 

Slides – Matthew 14:13-21

13 As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. 14 Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. 21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

We Want to Withdraw

            Serving is not just something we do on Sunday or every now and then.  We are called to live a life of service.  Jesus is our Lord, our Savior, and our example.  He lived his life as a living sacrifice—serving people everywhere he went. 
            You might think, “Well sure, he was Jesus.  It was easy for him.”  Jesus was God, but he was also human.  He got tired.  He got frustrated.  He dealt with feelings of depression and sadness and loneliness just like everyone does.  I think this story is a perfect example and it’s the reason I decided to read the story from the Gospel of Matthew today instead of Luke.  Matthew really emphasizes something important that’s going on in Jesus’ life.  You see, we usually focus on the miracle of how Jesus fed 5,000 people and skip right over something very personal going on in Jesus’ life.
The story begins in verse 13, where it says, “As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.”  What was the news Jesus heard?  He’d just heard the news of his cousin John’s gruesome death by beheading. 
There are a lot of cousins at the church I serve.  I’ve been here 7 years and it took me a long time to figure out who all is related to who.  So many cousins and aunts and uncles…  There’s a lot more distant relations I probably still haven’t figured out, but I know there are some cousins in my church that are very close—maybe more like sisters and brothers than cousins.  Perhaps you have a cousin you've been close to.  Well, how would you feel if you got the news Jesus did about your cousin?  You would be devastated.
When Jesus heard his cousin was dead, it says he got in a boat and went away “to a remote area to be alone.”  I don’t know what Jesus was doing out there in the middle of a deserted lake and the scriptures don’t say, but I think I can imagine because I’ve done it before.  You get out there on the lake and it’s peaceful and still.  You pray.  You listen.  You reflect.
Maybe Jesus was out there on the lake in the quiet remembering what life was like for him and his cousin before the Spirit of God had led them both into the perilous lime light of public ministry—a time before crowds pressed them for leadership and healing and deliverance, a time before politics mattered so much and speaking the truth could get you beheaded or crucified. 
Don’t we all get tired of “adulting” sometimes?  Isn’t it nice when we can just run away to a quiet place. Who couldn’t use a little more quiet time to refresh the soul and reconnect with God?  That’s what Jesus was doing. 

We’re Moved to Compassion

No matter how you get away or how far you go, when you come back, you find that life has not taken a break with you.  There are still bills to be paid and checkbooks to balance and houses to clean and weddings to plan and people who need help.  But with your mind clear and your own spirit at peace you can rise above the fray and view the pressing needs of the world from outside of yourself. 
And thus it was for Jesus as he returned to the shore.  He saw a great crowd, full of needs.  And out of compassion for them, he cured their sick.  Can’t you see him there: passing among the great crowd, no longer burdened by his own troubles?  How does he pass so quickly from group to group, here bringing sight to the blind, there bringing hearing to the deaf?  Matthew makes no mention of any teaching taking place.  Didn’t Jesus at least once stand in righteous indignation and say to a drunken father, “If you wouldn’t drink so much you’re son wouldn’t be struggling with this demon and he wouldn’t go into fits of rage in the first place…” No, it simply says in verse 14, “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Ah, yes, I can see his kind hands stretching out to heal.  And the day wears on and soon the sun begins to set and you can hear babies beginning to cry—first over here, next over there.  It is that distinctive, imploring cry of a child that says to those who are accustomed to hearing it, “Mommy, Daddy, I’m hungry…” 
Can you put yourselves in the disciple’s shoes for a minute?  Walking with Jesus as he ministers, assisting him as he directs you, patiently working your way through the seemingly endless crowds of needy people, seeing the hungry expressions growing on each needy face as your own stomach begins to grind and complain.  You know that there is food waiting for you, but what about this crowd?  Are you going eat right there in front of them while they have nothing? 

We Face Impossible Challenges

            So the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to go buy their own food.  And then Jesus gives the disciples this impossible challenge, “you feed them.”  Did he really mean the disciples were supposed to feed this massive crowd?  They didn't plan for that.  It wasn't on their agenda.  They hadn't secured the supplies.  They couldn't afford that kind of outreach.
Have things changed that much in 2,000 years?  Have we not ever felt ashamed to see a hungry person holding a sign saying “Need food”?  And a voice inside us says, “you feed them.”  They weren't part of our agenda that day.  We didn't plan for a way to help them.  We don't know how to help them or have the resources to really do it. 
Or maybe we see that angry teenage girl at school; you know the one—dressed all in black with pale white skin, black lips, black nails, weird hair, and a chain strung from her ear to her nose and tangled all around her heart.  Or what about the family that lives across the street; what’s their names again?  Or maybe it’s our brother or sister, our husband or wife, our son or daughter, or our cousin.  Or maybe it's the people we work with that need leadership and guidance so they can truly serve the way God wants them to in the workplace.  Or maybe it’s the shut-in that's growing old and feeble and can’t leave the house anymore.  Or maybe it’s the congregation or Sunday school class that looks to us each Sabbath to fill them with words from the mouth of God.  And a still, small voice says inside us, “you feed them.”
The cardboard signs all read something different, “Need food,” “Need love,”  “Need hope,” but they all say, “I need help.”  And when we turn to Jesus and ask him to do something, he says, “you feed them.” 
I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to run off and hide, because I have so little to give.  Who am I?  What have I to give?  How am I to feed this hungry crowd when I barley have enough to feed my own soul?  But there is no running away.  The crowds follow you wherever you go and they are there waiting for you when at last you come ashore.  And the voice still whispers, “you feed them.” 

God Provides
            The disciples said to Jesus, “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.  18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers.”
            Can you see them all sitting together, eating, drinking, laughing, and sharing?  What started as a meager 5 loaves ended in 12 baskets full of leftovers and a crowd full of satisfied people.  Even the disciples were filled.  How extraordinary that by giving away the little you do have—not to the crowd, but to God—you could be filled and have an abundance left over.
            I don’t know how God does it, but He has this amazing way of taking the meager things we have to offer and multiplying them into an abundance of good.  It still amazes me, every time I preach, that God would use my humble ability.  I can’t remember a time when I stood in the pulpit and was satisfied with the message I had prepared.  I always feel like there is room for improvement.  Maybe the ending seems too loose or the illustrations seem too vague or the message is not insightful or instructive or nourishing enough.  Yet God takes this humble gift I bring and multiplies it and the Word of God touches people. 
            Thank God we are not operating on our own power.  We are drawing on the miraculous power of Christ who takes the ordinary things we offer and turns them into the extraordinary things people need.   

         So then, we must serve.  We must follow Jesus’ command:  “You feed them.”  Even when we are tired, God gives us new strength.  Even when we have very little to give, Jesus takes what we have and multiplies it.  So we can listen.  We can obey.  We can serve.  We can feed the hungry, heal the sick, give to the needy, and bind up the broken-hearted.  With God’s help, we can give hope to the hopeless, build new relationships, and help our community.  And in the process, we find that we ourselves are the ones who receive the biggest blessings, and the blessings overflow.  

God grant us the extraordinary peace, assurance, compassion, and abundance that comes when we rest in Your amazing grace and draw on the miraculous power You offer as we face life’s impossible challenges.  Amen.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Young Jesus in the Temple

During lent and March Madness, I've been encouraging everyone to make a 3-point shot by focusing on 3 things: prayer, study, and service. Last week, we talked about prayer. Today, I want to talk about study.  Jesus prayed, but he also studied.  He grew up in a Jewish family that studied the Scriptures in synagogue every week.  And this morning, I want to read an enlightening story about a time Jesus was 12-years-old and his family took him on a special trip to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Luke 2:41-52
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. 42 When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. 43 After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, 44 because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.
45 When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. 46 Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. 47 All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
48 His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son,” his mother said to him, “why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.”
49 “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he meant.
51 Then he returned to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And his mother stored all these things in her heart.
52 Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.

Lost and Found
Have you ever lost your child—even for a moment?  My wife and I lost our daughter Grace once while we were shopping at JC Penny. We were talking to my wife's cousin when Grace, who was 2 or 3-years-old, wandered off unnoticed. She was only gone for a moment before we discovered her hiding in a rack of clothes. It's was an awful feeling while we searched for her frantically. I can't imagine how Mary and Joseph felt when they couldn’t find Jesus for 3 days and they had no idea where he was.  It must have been terrifying!
This story reminds me that we are all God's children. We all, also, have been lost and God searches for us frantically until He finds us. Perhaps the best place to get found is in our Father's house. However, because of Jesus, God can find us anywhere, even if we are far, far away from His house.
There is a lot that could be said about this passage, but let’s zoom in on verse 49.  When his parents scolded Jesus for causing them to search frantically for him, he said, “Why did you need to search for me?”  Jesus supposed his location should have been obvious to his parents.  His character, his interests, his very DNA dictated where he would be.  “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Let’s look closer at that statement.

Jesus said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  
Jesus was committed to study.  Even as a young boy, Jesus was determined to study the scriptures, listen to religious teachers, and ask questions.  He was an exceptional student.  His love of learning continued throughout his life.
Study is essential to the Christian faith.  Christians are Jesus’ disciples.  The word disciple literally means “student.”  You can’t be a student without study.  If we are going to be disciples who follow Jesus, we must study.
Study establishes our faith, helps us grow, and equips us to serve.  Luke 2:52 tells us, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God.”  If study was important for Jesus, we should study too.  But where should we study?

Jesus said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?  
In other words:  “Didn’t you know where I would be studying—in my Father’s house?”  Jesus studied in the Church. Jesus was God, but he never separated himself from the Church.  Jesus studied in synagogues and the Jerusalem Temple all his life. These were the Jewish versions of a local church.  The scriptures tell us Jesus attended synagogue every week to teach and study (see Luke 4:16, 31, John 18:20, and numerous other inferences in the New Testament).  He set an example for us.
Jesus transformed the world.  He ushered in God grace and forgiveness and salvation.  And Jesus established the Church to be his bodily presence on the earth.  Matthew 16:18 – “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
If Jesus didn’t believe in organized religion, he could have easily done away with it.  Instead, Jesus reformed organized religion by forming the Christian Church.  Throughout the New Testament, the Church acts as the representative of Christ in the world.  It is where disciples came to study and grow in the faith so they could go out to serve and spread the Gospel to the whole world.  The Bible tells us the Church is essential.  Ephesians 1:23 says, “And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”  And 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “…the household of God, which is the church of the living God, [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
Today, the Church continues to fulfill Christ’s plan.  The Church guides our understanding, checks our pride and misapplication of knowledge, encourages and motivates us, equips us to serve, and sends us out on a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ to change the world.
We have several ways you can get involved in study at my church:
  • We are studying THE STORY, by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee on Wednesday nights and Thrusday mornings. The book, which reads like a novel, takes students through the whole Bible in chronological order from beginning to end. We read one chapter a week and then gather together to watch a video about the chapter and discuss it. I invite you to read along with us and come to the study if you live nearby.
  • One of the easiest ways to study is to join a small group or Sunday school class.
  • Another great way to study at our church is in our youth or children’s ministry. Here, our awesome ministers and volunteers teach the Bible in a relevant, age appropriate ways. EVen if you are not a child or teenager, you can volunteer!  You will be helping out and learning all at the same time.
  • Or perhaps you would like to start a new study of your own. Leading a study is one of the best ways to learn. The teacher or leader or facilitator almost always learns the most in a study as they prepare for the class each week.

There is one final, but critical point I need to make:

Jesus said, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?
Study is About Relationships–Christian study is focused on building a relationship with God and each other.  Remember, Jesus said the first and second greatest commandments are:  “Love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor.”  (Matthew 22:36-40)
So the Christian’s study must be more about transformation than mere information.  What good is it to know a lot about Jesus if you don’t know Jesus?  What good is religious information if it doesn’t transform who you are and the way you live?
I know a man who has a motorcycle, but he's afraid to ride it. He knows all about the bike and how it works. He is constantly customizing the bike to make it the best, safest, coolest bike possible, but he never rides it because he is afraid to leave his house. What good is all his knowledge and work on the bike if he never rides it?
When Christians study, our goal is to have a real relationship with God and His people.  It is more than the satisfaction of a curiosity or fascination with an interesting topic.  Christian study is meant to deepen our relationship with God—to know Him better, to understand His will for our life, to marvel in His glory, and be part of His people. What good is it to know all about Jesus if we don't know him. What good is it to know all about the Gospel if we never go out to share it with someone else and help change the world?

In summary, there are three points I wanted you to glean today. First, study is essential to the Christian faith. Second, Jesus gave us the church to help us study. And finally, Christian study helps us build a relationship with God and His people so we can go out and help change the world. Will you be a disciple—a student follower of Jesus?  Will you make a commitment to study—not just so you can be a know-it-all, but so you can know Jesus and his love?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Jesus in the Wilderness

             I am encouraging everyone at my church to focus on three things during the 40 days of Lent--prayer, study, and service.  Today, I want to talk about prayer. 
            Prayer is communicating with God. You don’t have to use fancy language or try to impress God (or anyone else) with your eloquent speech. The best prayer is simply you talking to God like you would talk to a trusted friend.
            However, we often forget prayer is also listening. Many times, our prayers are just us talking, but never listening. There’s a cliché that says God gave us two ears and only one mouth so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak. That’s even truer when we come into the presence of God. Do you presume to teach God something He doesn’t already know or impress Him with your clever speech? We should tell God about our day and our struggles and our joys and present Him with our petitions. And we should thank Him and praise Him and glorify His holy name. Yet it is even better and far more beneficial to just be still and quiet and know that He is God and to listen for His holy voice that we might know His thoughts and His purposes for our life. That would be a worthy practice for the 40 days of Lent.
            I want to share a story takes place right at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus goes into the wilderness on a pilgrimage to fast. And fasting always goes with prayer. Jesus is listening for the voice of God to prepare him for the next 3 years of his life—a ministry that will be powerful but face many challenges, require great spiritual fortitude, wisdom, and grace, and that will culminate in his arrest, torture, and crucifixion. Ultimately, there will be the final victory of the resurrection and defeat of death, but only if Jesus is completely faithful to God’s plan. So Jesus begins his ministry with an intense period of fasting and prayer.

Slides – Luke 4:1-13
1Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’”

Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,

He will order his angels to protect and guard you.

11 And they will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’”

13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

The Voice of God vs. the Voice of Satan            In this passage, Jesus communes with God as he fasts in the wilderness, but he also encounters Satan. It is often the case that we encounter Satan when we are looking for God. Why? I will tell you. Satan does not want us to commune with God. His ultimate purpose is to disrupt just such encounters. People may think of Satan’s wants to scare us, or hurt us, or deceive us, or make bad things happen to us. In part, all of these are true. Satan hates us and wants only bad to befall us. However, the greatest and darkest goal Satan has is to keep us from a true relationship with God. For if he accomplishes this, he will ultimately achieve the greatest evil of all which will also include all the other lesser evils.
            If all Satan wants to do is scare us or cause us pain, he could simply show his ugly face and shred our bodies with his evil hands. However, doing so would be the surest way to make us turn to God. (If you saw Satan face to face, you would cry out to God—and He would come running to save you. You would never forget it; you would cling to God forever lest you fall back into the hands of the Devil.) It is much better for Satan that we never know he is the one who torments us. 
           Satan’s goal is to turn our hearts away from God, to make us forget about God. Then Satan will have our souls and can make sport of us forever, torturing us and causing pain, having already accomplish the greatest wound of all—eternal separation from our Creator.
            So when we go looking for God—as Jesus did while fasting in the wilderness—Satan comes along to tempt, to disrupt, to deceive, and destroy.  Satan doesn’t usually come and tell you “I am Satan.” We would never listen to him if he did. Nor does Satan look as you would expect—with red skin, horns on his head, and a pointy tale. Who would take advice from a monster? Satan’s usually comes to us in the same way God does—as a voice in our head as we contemplate the world around us, as we think about our life, as we meditate on the worries we have, as we ponder how we should react and what we should do.
            So you must learn to know the difference between Satan's whispers and the voice of God. And I want to give you some clues to how you tell which is which.

God’s voice stills you; Satan rushes you.
            Satan will push you to always do more and more and more.  He will keep you so busy you don’t have time to look for God or consider if all you’re doing has any real meaning.  But God calls us to slow down.  He gave us a whole day to rest—the Sabbath—so that we can be still and know that He is God.  For when we are still, we become calm.  And when we are calm, we listen with our heart.  And when we listen with our heart, we hear God’s voice.  And when we hear God’s voice, we know Him. 

God’s voice leads you; Satan pushes you.             Jesus said, “Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of me.”  He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heaven burdens, and I will give you rest.”  Satan pushes us to do more and more and more.  He literally told Jesus to go jump off the highest point of the temple.  What do you think Satan would do to you?
Sometimes Jesus asks does ask us to do difficult things.  He said his followers must take up a cross and follow him.  But he has already lead the way.  Jesus also carried a cross—a heavier one than you will ever bear.  Jesus is our leader.  Satan is a pusher who has never done anything for us or anyone else.  Listen to Jesus, not Satan.

God’s voice reassures you; Satan frightens you.
We all have doubts.  We all have worries.  We fret over our relationships.  “What did so-and-so mean by that?”  “Can I really trust her?”   “Why is he staring at me all the time?”  “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”  “Maybe I should have done more.”  We worry about our children growing up and making good decisions.  We fear we have messed the whole thing up.
Satan loves our inner turmoil.  He directs to the unholy choir of voices singing our perceived failures.  If you listen to Satan, he will rip you apart with fear.  Don’t listen to Satan.  Listen to God.  God reassures you.  He says, “You have done much better than you give yourself credit for.  You are a loved; you are good; you are special; you are doing well.”  He says, “Even your failure are not as bad as you think.”  He says, “We can fix this together.”  He says, “Don’t give up.  Keep on the path.  We will get there together.”  Listen to God not Satan. 

God’s voice enlightens you; Satan confuses you.
Do you realize, you don’t have to know everything about everything?  You only need to know what God teaches you to be truly wise.  Wisdom is more about trusting God than knowing information. 
Satan will try to confuse you.  He will cloud your mind to the obvious truths and lead you chasing after knowledge that is irrelevant.  Listen to his dark voice and you will know a bucnhc of stuff about nothing.  But if you listen to God, you will be clear about what really matters and you won’t care about things that mean nothing.  You will be truly enlightened.

Slide – God voice encourages you; Satan discourages you.
            God is our Father.  He encourages he children to do their very best.  Satan makes us want to give up and settle for less than our best.
            A while back, I had a daddy/daughter date night with my youngest child, Abigail.  We decided to go out eat dinner.  As we drove to her Red Lobster and passed our church, she asked, "What's up inside that steeple?"  I told her how I had been up in the steeple once to help fix a broken window.  As we ate dinner, I asked her what she wanted to do afterwards.  She replied, "I want to go up in that steeple!"
            I thought that was pretty cool; my daughter wanted to go on an adventure.  And since I'm the pastor and have access and permission to do such things, I could make it happen.  To get to the steeple, you have to go into the attic above the sanctuary.  It's a lot like most attics--dark, dusty, and full of insulation.  You have to be careful to step on the studs, but as long as you are careful it is safe.  It made my young daughter a little nervous, but I was there to make sure she stayed safe and to reassure her.  We climbed the ladder inside the steeple and she completed the challenge--safely under the supervision of her protective father.
            That story reminds me of our relationship with God.  God helps us overcome great challenges and accomplish great things.  We may be nervous or even a afraid of the things we must face.  However, God is there with us to guide us and keep us safe and encourage us so that we can do anything He leads us to do.  Satan discourages us, but God encourages us.

God’s voice comforts you; Satan worries you.
Worry is thinking about the same problem over and over again.  It’s like spinning your tires—it makes a screeching and a lot of smoke and it ruins your tires, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.  Satan loves it when you worry.  It makes you restless.  It fixates your mind on a useless thoughts.  Worry doesn’t leads to anything productive and it keeps you from resting in God’s loving arms.
            God’s voice comforts you, letting you know it’s all going to be OK.  It allows you to rest your mind until your thoughts are clear.  Then you will see the answer is probably so simple or that God has already worked it out for you.  Let God comfort you and don't listen to Satan.

God voice convicts you; Satan condemns you.
            God loves us.  And love is more than a sentimental feeling.  Love is far deeper than that.  Love, true love, warns us when we have gone astray.  Jesus’ core message was: Repent of your sins for the Kingdom of God is near! (Mark 1:15).  In Luke 13:3, he warned, “…you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God.” 
            We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard.  We are guilty and God convicts us.  But he does not condemn us.  Satan condemns us.  Satan tells us our sins are unforgiveable.  Satan lies and says, “There is no hope for you.  God does not love you anymore.  You might as well give up.  You are not worthy.  You will spend eternity in my hell!”  Do not listen to Satan.  Listen to God.  God says, “You have sinned, but you can be forgiven.”  The Bible says:
·       If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. (1 John 1:9)
·       For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 3:23)
·       For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans10:13)
·       God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 2:4)
·       Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18)
·       Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
·       He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
·       This is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  (Matthew 26:28)
·       Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. (Acts 3:19)

            If you want to know how much God loves you, look at the cross.  He loved you enough to die on the cross to forgive you of your sins.  The cross is clearest statement about the depth of God's love and the forgiveness He offers.  Listen to God's voice in prayer and ignore Satan.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ask Pastor Chris (a short, quick answer about divine inspiration)

Question:  Did divine inspiration stop with the writers of the Bible? Are there modern writers who are divinely inspired?

Answer:  The writers of the books of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit to share the Word of God.  The Bible is God's magnificent message to us and the final authority for Christian doctrine and practice.  Divine inspiration also guided the compilation of the Bible.  God inspired Christians to use the various books that now makeup our Bible, scribes to copy them, and the leaders to authorize them.  Divine inspiration guided it all.

God continues to inspire writers today.  The difference between the Bible and other books is authority.  The books of the Bible are the "authorized" collection (or canon) of inspired books.  Divine inspiration is only one criterion that determined if a book was included in the Bible.  There are other important factors.  Such as:

·      Authenticity – Is the book generally accurate or a fabrication or forgery?  In the New Testament, authenticity also required the writing to be based upon the preaching/teaching of the first-generation apostles (or their close companions).

·      Timelessness – Is the book useful for people of all times and places (even if it was originally written for a particular time and place)?

·      Consistency – Is the book consistent with the overarching message of the Christian faith?

·      Acceptance – Is the book accepted by the majority of the Christian community? The books of the Bible were widely used and recognized by early Christian communities as inspired, authentic, and timeless over the first four centuries of our faith.  Their leaders gathered in a council to "authorize" the Bible.  They affirmed the books were given by God as an authoritative and timeless guide to Christian doctrine and practice.

Although there are inspired writers and books today, they do not have the authority of the Bible because they cannot match the authenticity, timelessness, consistency, and wide acceptance of the Bible.  The Bible is the only book authorized to serve as God's Holy Word.  It contains everything we need to find salvation and live a Christian life.