ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – The Joy of the Generous Impulse
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (p. 807) August 28 2016

Introduction:

Impulses can be either good or bad…You can have the impulse to strangle someone, or you can have the impulse to hug someone…one isn’t such a good idea, and most of the time hugging someone is a good impulse.

[One day a while ago I had gone to the store to get some stuff for a little fishing boat I have (well, Jimmy my son in law actually has it). I got a floating container to hold papers, an anchor, and some rope. Oh yeah, I got this air powered horn…It was a can of CO2 attached to an orange horn….Regulations say you have to have one on the boat. On my way home I stopped at Mom’s to check on her…while I was there the phone rang…and it was one of the 300 people who call every day to ask her for money. (I’ve put her on the no call list…I’ve called the Better Business Bureau…and they still call.) While talking to the man from the “unnamed charity” I explained my mom’s circumstances and asked him to take her off the list. He continued at full pace…ignoring my information and then I had an impulse…I reached into my sack of boat purchases…pulled out the CO2 powered air horn…and blew it into the mouthpiece for 10 seconds and then hung up…He hasn’t called back.]

Now I’m not sure if that was a good or bad impulse…but it was one I listed to nonetheless.

I believe the word “impulse” is one of the best ways to describe how the Holy Spirit works in a believers life daily. Romans 8:14 tells us “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” The Holy Spirit leads many times by impulses.

The word impulse means “A sudden strong desire to do something.”

The most joyful and fulfilled Christians live their lives by being “impulsively generous” when the Holy Spirit speaks and says do something…when He creates a strong desire to act…children of God…Act.

I use the term “generous impulse” because for the 35 years Kari and I have been married we’ve had a rule…if one of us experiences an opportunity for impulsive generosity we try to be obedient to it…and the other one of us will not question it…we’ll share the joy of the opportunity…please know, we aren’t perfect at it…and its easier when you have 5,000 in the bank instead of $5. But we’ve discovered this rule has brought us great joy and great opportunities.

It’s important according to God’s Word to remember this:

I. WHOEVER SOWS SPARINGLY REAPS SPARINGLY…BUT IF WE SOW GENEROUSLY WE REAP GENEROUSLY

Many preachers use this scripture when talking about tithing or giving to the church. And I certainly think we ought to be obedient and generous in this way. But this scripture isn’t about regular tithing…it’s about a generous gift for hurting people.

Here’s a little background…many of the churches Paul had established were under great persecution. They were hurting in every way possible, especially the home church in Jerusalem. There has been a request for those churches that could contribute financially to do so. Corinth has said, “Yes, yes, we want to help” but they haven’t. Paul doesn’t want to rebuke them…but he does urge them to fulfill their commitment. He shares that generosity is where God creates great joy…and He doesn’t want them to miss out on the joy of generosity. He doesn’t want them to give because they “have to” reluctantly…for God loves a cheerful giver.

[There are two ways to look at all we possess…pretend you’re a farmer and you have a seed for each of your dollars…each of the hours of your life…and each of the talents you’re blessed with. Here are the two choices…both involve a field owned by God Himself. You can begrudgingly plant a few seeds in God’s field…because you don’t want to “waste them.” You’re afraid you’ll run out of dollars…hours…and talents. You see them as something you should “protect” for yourself. Or you can go into God’s field with your dollars…your hours…and your talents and “empty the basket.” Throw handfuls into row after row of prepared soil…after all God gives the increase…remember, God owns the field…each of us are just tenant farmers… But God is a generous God…an amazingly giving owner.]

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written (Ps. 112:9) they have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever.”
(2 Cor. 9:8-9)

It’s about who we trust more with everything we have (each seed). Many times we believe we can control our happiness by using the seed when and where we want…and yet true joy comes from trusting God with it all…in His field.

We can build bigger barns with the thought…I’ve got plenty of dollars…plenty of time…plenty of talents to enjoy my life as I want. Or we can use them to grow an abundant crop in God’s field…At least in my country boy mentality this is what I believe God’s Word is saying.

There is always an internal battle within our impulse between reluctance and generosity. And for the Holy Spirit led people we trust God and choose generosity…for worldly people we choose to walk away from these opportunities because “we have too much.”

SHOW PICTURE (MARK 10:17-31, p. 707)


“Give it all up…and come follow me.” But he couldn’t relinquish control of it all…He had too much…His face turned toward his sandals…and he left the presence of Jesus…sad.

Money, power, prestige give us control….It’s hard…impossible apart from God’s doing…to surrender that control to the Lordship of Christ.

The battle between reluctance and generosity is a fierce spiritual one which takes place in the human soul…especially for those of us who have a lot of seeds.

This week at Kroger maybe someone in front of you struggles to pay for their groceries and you feel the tug of the generous impulse…and reluctance…I challenge you to give into generosity and impulsively pay for their bill…and experience that joy.

This week at the restaurant you treat the waiter or waitress who’s in school with a listening heart…and when you pay your bill leave the equal amount as a tip.

This week when you fill up your car and you notice the old vehicle next to yours with a couple of kids in it and a guy with work scarred hands holding the nozzle, say…“Man, I just felt God give me a generous impulse…I’d like to pay for your gas today…God bless you in Christ.”

Sow some seeds as a cheerful giver so the Giver of all seeds can increase your storehouse and your opportunities…it will change your heart…it will change your life…it will “result in thanksgiving to God.”

“The children of God are led by the Spirit of God.” Let Him lead you and don’t be afraid to share who your Father is.

“Let God enlarge the basket of your righteousness…you will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” (You trust God when He gives you a generous impulse…and He’ll provide the ability to do it every time!)

Let me end with this truth…

II. GOD IS ABLE

The real Christian life is about faith…it’s where real power comes from.

When Paul writes “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things, at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

He’s saying…I believe this…I’ve experienced this…Trust God to be able!

He owns it all…“He is at work for good in all things for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

If we want the world to experience the good news, it’s righteousness must be revealed by those who live by faith.

Remember this scripture:

ROMANS 1:16-17 (p. 782)

Righteousness is “acting right.” “Doing right.” And it’s not those acts that save us…but when we are in “right relationship with God” they flow out of us because of our faith. It’s how the gospel is revealed…no matter who you are…first or last (feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.)

Kathy Escobar in the book “Down We Go” (Living into the wild ways of Jesus) writes:

Small, simple acts go further than we think, especially in a harsh and cruel world. Let us never underestimate what a kind word might mean for someone, or what a cup of cold water might mean for another. One is always better than none. Something is always better than nothing.

Everything begins with love. Jesus makes the command to love one of his most defining statements. He summarizes the entire law with it: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30). We can talk about love, preach sermons about love, read books about love, quote scriptures about love and long to love. However, the bottom line is: The only way to actually learn the ways of love is to extend it, try it, do it, risk it, live it – to enter into another person’s life and let someone into ours.

Jesus multiplied 2 fish and 5 loaves into feeding 5,000 with 12 baskets of leftovers…Trust Him, He is able to take your “small gift of righteousness.” And use it for a harvest of righteousness.

Let’s pray.

SO OUR WORLD CAN EXPERIENCE GOOD NEWS

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – So Our World Can Experience Good News
Romans 1:16-17 (p. 782) August 21 2016

Introduction:

[These two guys went fishing, one younger guy and an old crusty fisherman. The young guy started to bait his hook when all of a sudden the old guy lit a stick of dynamite, threw it in the pond and covered his ears as the explosion ripped the air. The young guy watched as fish came floating to the surface…and he said, “What are you doing…that’s against the law!!!” The old guy lit another stick of dynamite…tossed it to the young guy and said “Son, you gonna talk…or are you gonna fish?]

Dynamite’s explosive stuff…it will change your attitude and your altitude, if you’re not careful…whether you’re fishing for fish…or fishing for man.

I say that because when Paul writes to the Romans and says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation.” he uses the word “dunamis” for power…It’s the Greek word from which we get “dynamite.”

This word isn’t used to describe strong things. It’s used to describe “something which houses mighty, explosive power.” There is within the stick of dynamite the potential power to really shake things up…to move mountains.

And one of the most freeing things for those of us who are Christ followers is this…The power to save doesn’t depend on us…This mighty, explosive, saving power comes form God Himself.

It’s the very reason Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection, and just before His ascension back into Heaven.

“You will receive power (“dunamis”) when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

This was the gift they were to “wait for.” “It was the gift the Father had promised.” The gift Jesus had spoken about often.

With the Holy Spirit housed in their souls they would become “dynamite” fishermen, so can we!

For that to happen we must choose to let…

I. FAITH CONQUERS SHAME

Paul tells the Romans later on in his letter that “Faith comes by hearing the message of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

He asks this series of questions:

“How can people call on the one they have not believed in? How can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without someone proclaiming Him to them? How can anyone proclaim Him unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15)

God has chosen people to be the instruments that communicate His good news of salvation to other people.

Not only has He provided the power to His children to know when to speak and what to say…He has provided the same Holy Spirit to be convincing the world that they need a Savior…It’s a two pronged attack…The Holy Spirit filling and guiding us as Jesus’ disciples, but at the same time He is “drawing lost people to see their need for a Savior.”

The two most difficult parts about this plan is we don’t know when He’s going to give us these opportunities…and we don’t know what He’s been doing in the lives of those we encounter. So we have two choices…be bold…be unashamed about the message of Christ…or be ashamed or complacent about opportunities “as we are going” daily.

Those who expect nothing powerful to happen usually aren’t disappointed…and those who are living outside the will of God are too ashamed to tell people they know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

[I learned the lesson of God’s preparation in other people’s hearts early in my Christian walk…my mom had been actively involved in a group called “The Lexington Christian Women’s Club” and they had monthly meetings…during the summer months they had a “youth meeting” for teenagers and their families. And she asked me to speak at this meeting just months after my conversion. During this meeting they always had special music…and a speaker. It’s hard for me to tell you how scared I was…I was genuinely terrified…so when I got there I met the guy who was doing the music…His name was David…and when I sat down next to him he asked, “What are you doing here?” And I then proceeding to tell him my whole story…my childhood, my rebellion, my struggle and my surrender…I look at David and he was crying so hard he could hardly breathe…the lady introduced him to play his trumpet…and he stood up still crying and said, “I can’t play…but you’d better listen to this guy, he just told me my life and the answer for it.” He sat back down and I shared my story, again.]

I have no idea what God was doing in David’s life before this day…but I know what He was doing in David’s heart on this day…and because I choose faith over fear I got to experience His power.

Let me show you a video I saw recently…it features a magician Penn Jillette. He’s part of a duo called Penn & Teller…He’s an avowed atheist…and some of what He does in his videos is an attack on God and the Bible…but not this one:

SHOW VIDEO, https://youtu.be/6md638smQd8

You can tell Penn Jillette was genuinely moved by the sincerity and courage of a believer who believed fervently in heaven and hell…who believed enough to share God’s Word in faith…a businessman who wasn’t crazy…just one who believed God’s power can save anyone…and that he could be the instrument to bring the good news. Penn Jillette is still an atheist…but this encounter changed his view of believers…maybe the door opened just a crack.

There’s a song by Greg Long called Fifteen and it says:

I was sitting at the table
As the waitress took our order
In her eyes I knew that something wasn’t right
And before I saw it coming
I was caught up in her story
Of the storms that she had weathered in her life
My friend said can we pray for you
She said I think I’d like you to
She walked away, we bowed our heads
But then he turned to me and said

If it takes fifteen times
To hear about Jesus
For someone to believe
Wherever I stand in line
I’ve got to make a difference
In case it comes down to me
‘Cause, I may be the third, may be the seventh
There may be years in between
But what if I’m fifteen
What if I’m fifteen

Just a chapter in a story
With the ending still unwritten
Do they find the truth of Jesus after all As I listen for the whispers
And I follow where they lead me
I pray that I’ll be faithful to the call
If I’m who I’m supposed to be
I know that God can work through me
I may not understand it now
But I believe somehow

If it takes fifteen times
To hear about Jesus
For someone to believe
Wherever I stand in line
I’ve got to make a difference
In case it comes down to me
‘Cause I may be the third, may be the seventh
There may be years in between
But what if I’m fifteen
What if I’m fifteen

God I don’t want to miss the chances
When you open the door
What may seem so insignificant
You see so much more

What if you or I are 15 but what if we’re too busy, caught up in our own world…what if we are too apathetic…too scared…too unbelieving in God’s providence and power? If so, we miss the chance, we fail to go through the door…we think it’s too insignificant…remember “The one who is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the big things” according to Jesus.

The essential question I’ll end with today is:

II. DO WE BELIEVE GOD CAN SAVE ANYONE? (AND DO WE CARE?)

Can God save a murderer? Can God save a stripper? Can God save a drug addict? Can God save a proud violent blasphemer? Did God save you?

Paul’s entire point with this scripture in Romans 1:16-17 is “Salvation is possible for everyone who believes.” Jew or Gentile…it doesn’t matter. God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel…and if it’s been powerfully revealed to you, then there’s no way you’ll be ashamed to share it.

So when we encounter people, do we allow our judgments about their value, worth, and ability to be saved be greater than God’s judgment about their value, worth and ability to be saved?

Do we see God’s power to be at work in us and others as a firecracker or a stick of dynamite?

Hebrews 7:25 says “Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through Him because He always intercedes for them.”

You know what that means right? He saves, and can save anyone totally…and He continues to work in our lives pleading our cases continually…now and until we get to heaven. BOOM!!!

It’s this powerful truth that fills God’s people with a message of hope…a message we should be willing to share courageously when the Holy Spirit opens the door…It’s why the Church will always be a hospital of grace instead of a clubhouse…We believe God can save anyone…and we care.

[Brennan Manning tells the story of a recent convert to Jesus who was approached by an unbelieving friend…

“So you have been converted to Christ.”

“Yes.”

“Then you must know a lot about Him? Tell me, what country was He born in?”

“I don’t know.”

“How old was He when He died?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many sermons did He preach?”

“I don’t know.”

“You certainly know very little for a man who claims to be converted to Christ!”

“You’re right…I”m ashamed at how little I know. But I know this: 3 years ago I was a drunk. I was in debt. My wife and children dreaded the sight of me…and my family was falling apart. But now I’ve quit drinking. We’re out of debt. I have a happy marriage and home. My children eagerly wait my return each evening. Jesus did all this for me. I know this much about Christ!”]

Our unashamed relationship with Jesus is often the most powerful message this world can hear.

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – Committed to Loving
Matthew 22:34-40 (p. 692) August 14, 2016

Introduction:

Anybody here find it hard to love people who are mean to you or who try to put you down?

How about those who get in your face and try to prove how wrong you are and how right they are?

In the next 80 some odd days I promise you we’ll experience more of this in America than any other time in our history…at least in my lifetime.

We will hear 45% of our country proclaim that Donald Trump is a misogynistic jerk, a racist, a me focused egomaniac that should not have his finger anywhere near the red button…and 45% of our country will proclaim Hillary Clinton is a corrupt liar, a soldier abandoning baby killer who only received this nomination because the system was rigged…5% of the nation will vote for the independent Gary Johnson while the 2 major parties shout how can you throw away your vote for this “pot smoking” libertarian?

Instagram, Facebook, and protests will be inundated with caustic strong opinions about how right the posters are and how stupid the opposers are. Spit will spray from mouths shouting in anger…with ears firmly closed.

These are just the facts…It doesn’t take much of a prophet to forsee this truth.

And yes I realize all the important issues from Supreme Court appointments to social inequality. I’m human and have opinions just like every one of you.

But the most important question we as God’s people can answer is “How do I keep the kingdom of God as my priority? How do I seek His Kingdom first?”

Jesus gives us the answer:

I. LOVE GOD WITH EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES

In Matthew 22 Jesus is under verbal attack. Verse 23 tells us that a powerful group called the Sadducees…Religious leaders who took a stance that there would be “No resurrection from the dead,” came to Jesus with a question…I promise you that they weren’t seeking a real answer, they were seeking to make Jesus stumble. They didn’t want dialogue…They wanted His failure.

They call him teacher…And remind him of the Levite law which says…If a man dies, his brother should marry his widow. They then gave an impossible scenario…Suppose 7 brothers die one by one (I’d be a little cautious of that widow). They then ask, “Whose wife will she be at the resurrection?”

Here’s Jesus’ reply:

MATTHEW 22:29-33 (p. 692)

They don’t believe in the resurrection! And the scriptures, God’s Word isn’t their guide…but their fervent hatred of Jesus is…Jesus answers their question…but even more let’s them know God is “I Am”…not “I Was.” He is the God of life and the living. He is firmly saying “God will take care of death.”

When the crowds heard his answer they were astonished…this made sense powerfully.

And it shut the Sadducees up…at least for a while.

So another powerful political and religious group tried to take Jesus to task…The Pharisees, the law keepers and enforcers…remember Saul? He was one of them…They come and test Jesus with this question “Teacher (Rabbi) Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

I passionately believe that scripture teaches that life begins at conception because of what Psalms 139 says…I passionately believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman because of what Jesus said in Matthew 19…I passionately believe that no matter whether you are black or white or male or female…Jesus can restore and make us one because of what Galatians 3:26-29 reveals.

But I believe this even more passionately. If our love for God and others doesn’t totally overshadow those individual beliefs then all those beliefs profit me nothing. I’ve become a clanging gong…a noisy cymbal…and so have you.

Jesus spoke truth to very political religious people…but in the midst of that truth He firmly stated, “our first priority is to love God with our thoughts…our spirit…our emotions to the core!”

God’s Kingdom is what we are to seek first…and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Because the eternal spiritual destinations of men and women will not be determined by Caesar…but by God.

I’m not minimizing the importance of individual issues…I’m maximizing the importance of loving God first, and allowing that “same attitude that Jesus has” to flow through our hearts and lives into a very lost world!

There is a more excellent way of life according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-13 (p. 800)

This love, agape, is an action word…and even if you think you have special insight and knowledge and can communicate that insight powerfully…you and I don’t see all that God is doing…just a little part of it…children focus on themselves and speak without thinking of others…but when we become mature…It’s not all about me…It’s about faith, it’s about hope…but even more it’s about love…or it’s worthless.

It’s why our mission here at GCC is to be “A family committed to loving Jesus and others so our neighbors, community and world can experience good news.”

Are we as Christians, or at least those who claim to be, as passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus as we are about elections?

It’s easy to stand on a soapbox…it’s a lot harder to help homeless men get clean. it’s easy to shout how horrible abortion is while holding a poster…it’s a lot harder to open your heart to young girls at Assurance who need someone to speak life and love.

It’s easy to talk about things you oppose…it’s a lot more difficult to get involved with real people. Posting a Facebook comment makes you feel like you’ve taken a stand…opening your heart and life to real people face to face fulfills the Great Commission of Christ.

Paul tells the Galatians “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” (Gal. 5:6) John the Apostle writes in his first letter “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

It’s why Jesus connects loving God with all our heart, soul and mind with loving our neighbor. “Loving God is the first and greatest command…but the 2nd is like it:

II. LOVE OTHERS LIKE YOU LOVE YOURSELF

All of us remember Jesus’ parable about the “Good Samaritan.” Once again he was being tested by the religious Pharisees.

LUKE 10:25-29 (p. 725)

He knew the greatest commandment and the second by heart. He quoted it perfectly…But Jesus said “Do this” and you will live. “Do this” is harder than memorize this…or post this…or teach this.

When the Pharisee wants to justify himself, have you ever wondered why he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Could it be he wants a list of who he has to love and who he doesn’t have to?”

Could it be that’s exactly why Jesus tells this story?

LUKE 10:30-37 (p. 725)

2 religious people and one enemy…All three are going down the same road. It’s a normal day…when unexpectedly they encounter a naked, beaten, and bloody man in the ditch…But only the Samaritan helps him, and even goes the second mile.

When Jesus asks “Which of those three…do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Even the Pharisee, who was testing Jesus, has to answer….“The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Go and do.

You cannot truly love God with all your heart, soul and mind if it doesn’t affect your “Go” and “do.” If your knowledge about God doesn’t move you to be like God, or seek to be like Him…You’ll spend a lot of time trying to justify yourself and very little time showing broken and hurting people mercy.

Here’s the thought I’ll close with…when we as God’s people seek to love Him with every part of our being…it’s different than how the world loves…Jesus said:

MATTHEW 5:43-48 (p. 678)

God didn’t design His Church to be a country club where “good ole boys” get together…or a bridge club where “old friends” meet together for fun and cards…when this happens you’re a church by name only…and you’ve stopped being a lighthouse and become a beach club…when this happens “others” stop being as important as “preferences.”

Here are some specifics that can help us show our love for God to our neighbors, community and world.

1. Enjoy your friendships, but invite new people to be a part of your meals, activities and ministries…open your heart to those who need you more than you need them.

2. If physically you are limited, use the phone as an outreach tool…call and pray with those who are hurting…or just to encourage! Whether it’s their child’s award…or an upcoming surgery.

3. Carry a backpack or purse in your car loaded with things that would help someone who is homeless…use your discretion, but be prepared to show tangible mercy.

4. Look for new people at church and ask to help…Can I show you where your kids go? Can I answer any questions for you…Can I sit with you?

5. Live each day looking for Kingdom opportunities. Opportunities happen as we are going…This is true in parables and real life.

6. Pray…pray for not only those who are in the ditch, but for the insight and courage to get off your “donkey” and help them…scripture always connects real love with real service.

7. And finally, don’t live your Christian life as one who expects others to be neighborly to you…you be the neighbor first…and I promise you, “joy” will be God’s gift.

Even if you’ve been hurt…even if you built a protective shell around yourself…join in…join in the family…make the Church a priority…and move from the sidelines into the game. God is good…and our goodness should point others to Him.

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – A Family
Ephesians 2:19-22 (p. 815) August 7, 2016

Introduction:

Tony Compolo in Who Switched the Price Tags tells this story:

Miss Thompson taught Teddy Stallard in the fourth grade. He was a slow, unkempt student, a loner shunned by his classmates. The previous year his mother died, and what little motivation for school he may have once had was now gone. Miss Thompson didn’t particularly care for Teddy either, but at Christmas time he brought her a small present. Her desk was covered with well-wrapped presents from the other children, but Teddy’s came in a brown sack. When she opened it there was a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker but Miss Thompson saw the importance of the moment. She quickly splashed on some perfume and put on the bracelet, pretending Teddy had given her something special. At the end of the day Teddy worked up enough courage to softly say, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother . . . and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I’m glad you like my presents.” After Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and prayed for God’s forgiveness. She prayed for God to use her as she sought to not only teach these children but to love them as well. She became a new teacher. She lovingly helped students like Teddy, and by the end of the year he had caught up with most of the students. Miss Thompson didn’t hear from Teddy for a long time. Then she received this note: “Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later she got another note: “Dear Miss Thompson, They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later: “Dear Miss Thompson, As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Miss Thompson went to the wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat, because she let God use her as an instrument of encouragement.

God’s household is filled with Miss Thompsons! And it’s designed by our heavenly Father to be this way…What would have happened to Teddy Stallard if Miss Thompson had opened that brown bag and said, “This is the ugliest bracelet and worst smelly perfume I’ve ever seen?” and then thrown it into the trash.

We don’t know…we can be pretty sure that it would have devastated Teddy. But we can be absolutely sure she would have never set anywhere as his mother.

I. FOREIGNERS AND STRANGERS CAN NEVER BE FAMILY

The Apostle Paul talks about the bond that’s formed through the cross…whether Jew or Gentile. Jesus breaks down the dividing wall…Jesus puts to death the hostility…no matter who you are.

“Through Jesus we have access to the Father by One spirit.” (Eph. 2:18)

People become family when they are connected to the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And the hard truth is unless we open our hearts and lives to new people they will always stay foreigners and strangers.

It doesn’t matter your race, gender, economic status…the simple fact is you cannot have a real and deep relationship with someone you don’t know. Pieces of wood that are never joined together will never become a house…They’ll always stay a stack of timber.

For the house of God, Jesus Christ Himself, is the Chief cornerstone…In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord…We have access to God through the One Spirit that makes true worship possible.

Church should never be a place you go to worship…Church is a family of people joined together in worship…not just on Sundays…but in life.

ACTS 2:42-47 (p. 759)

A devotion to God and each other…Monday through Saturday was as important to the bond as Sundays…And new people came into the family daily.

“A family committed to loving Jesus and others so their neighbors, community and world could experience good news.”

A church ceases to function as a family when it forgets this mission and preferences become more important than God’s purpose. Where people are viewed not as possible family but foreigners and strangers.

Established and comfortable members circle the wagons…Their focus turns to friendships and relationships that are safe…This way they don’t get hurt…This way they don’t have to go through the difficult process of building new relationships…I understand this too…I can protect my heart and I can be friends with those I like…The problem is when I do this my Christianity is about “ME.” And according to Jesus…it’s never about me.

[I remember reading this email of a godly woman who wrote…I decided to not let anyone new in…I wasn’t going to do it anymore…I’d been hurt too many times and disappointed too many times…I’ll have my friends and those I trust, but I’m not going to open myself up again!]

I get that!!! I’ve done that! (at least for a while, while I heal up) Relationships are always a two way street…and sometimes the ones you feel like are going somewhere, end up a dead end street.

But, if we close off our hearts to foreigners and strangers, they can never ever become part of the family of God.

If there are never godly teachers who will invest in the Teddy Stallard’s of this world, the potential of God for unkempt, slow loners will never be realized.

Never stop believing that God can build a temple out of a crackhouse!

[I’ll never forget filling out my entrance form to go to Bible College…It was only about 6 months after my conversion…I was working as the lifeguard at Blue Grass Christian Camp and on weekends I came home for church…It had questions on it like “Have you ever used drugs?” and “Have you ever been arrested?” “If so, explain.” I tried to explain honestly and share that that prison didn’t exist anymore. The application also required a letter of recommendation from a church leader…So, I asked one and He looked at me and said, “I can’t write that letter for you!” I felt the judgment and condemnation fall on me like a ton of bricks. So, I asked another…my dad’s boss Bill Buchannan, the President of Kentucky Utilities and an Elder. he said, “Ricky, I’d be honored to write that letter…I’m so proud of you.” It was an honest letter filled with hope, the belief in forgiveness, and God’s plan. By the way I’m the only person in Johnson’s history to enter on Academic probation and graduate as valedictorian…That’s a story of hope and grace…because God can turn potheads into preachers…and the Holy Spirit becomes our letter of recommendation.]

May God help us all have Bill Buchannan’s heart…It believes that those who are far from God can be brought near…Those who are foreigners and strangers can be adopted into the family.

“Anyone can find the dirt in someone…be the one who finds the gold.”

Let me end today with this challenge:

II. GOD’S HOUSE IS A CONTINUOUS BUILDING PROJECT

When Jimmy and Karissa were looking for their first home they found one they really liked, but it had a crack in the foundation…They didn’t buy that house!

The family of God is composed of “Living Stones.” It is people joined together in the Lord, and our foundation is built on the Word of God, through the Apostles and prophets. Jesus is the chief cornerstone that makes that foundation perfect, solid and crack free!

It’s absolutely essential for us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior to keep Him as the chief cornerstone…It’s His perfection and love that cause us to be in right alignment with God. It’s His Word that is truth, and it’s this truth that keeps us in God’s will…and on point when it comes to His mission. And seeking His will through prayer is the only way our attitudes can be molded through the Holy Spirit.

When Paul finishes this section of scripture in Ephesians 2, he says “And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”

Are…being…built…together.

It’s a continuous project. It’s an ongoing construction…The foundation is Jesus…it involves you too…and it involves His family being unified around His plan together…By His Spirit…and…The Holy Spirit never speaks disunity…Never. He is the construction manager of God’s building project…He never deviates from God’s blueprints…he seeks to guide each worker to build towards the same plan.

But we workers can be an ornery…opinionated group can’t we? The Holy Spirit wants to build a temple of unity and praise…but we’d rather build a clubhouse.

Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin had every reason as teammates to be friends, but they were not. Incognito harassed and bullied Martin. He called him a racial slur in a voicemail played by every media outlet in the country. He threatened to kill him and his family. Incognito claimed all of this was just locker room talk. It is the way the guys talk to one another in the NFL.

Apparently, Martin didn’t get the memo. Martin left his lucrative job citing emotional issues and fearing for his life. Though we don’t know all the details, it appears as if Martin has some culpability, as well. He was far too passive in dealing with Incognito’s threatening behavior. As a teammate, it appears, he should have expressed how troubling Incognito’s threats were to him. These two men had many more reasons to get along than to have a toxic relationship. Consider all the reasons they had to be friends.

They were both football players.
On the same team.
Had the same coach.
Both were offensive linemen.
Both played on the same side of the line.
Both were starters.
Both wanted to win.
Both are big dudes.
Both were millionaires.

Yet somewhere along the way one or both of them forgot they played for the same team and began to treat the other like a New England Patriot. They forgot the enemy was in another city. They forgot enemy is on another team.

Similarly, we have many more reasons to honor one another than to dishonor one another.

We have the same owner!
The same Father cheering us on from the press box.
The same Savior who scouted us and forgave us.
The same Spirit within.
The same playbook.
The same purpose.
We are going to the same place when life is over.

We believe that God has called us to be one Church…One family committed to loving Jesus and others, so our neighbors, community, and world can experience good news.

I’m sorry if you don’t believe God and his Spirit can and should build us to be just this kind of house…I’m sorry if you believe preferences are more important than people…But please remember…It’s not my vision for the church or your vision for the church that makes it great…It’s His!

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – One God and Father
Romans 8:14-17 (p. 787) July 31, 2016

Introduction:

Life isn’t fair is it? Think about that. I was born in 1960. A stay at home mom (kinda because she was the most active woman I’ve ever met). A father with a successful job that allowed us to go on vacations together and never worry about food or a roof over our heads. If you haven’t notice I’m white.

One of my best friends in High School was black. He grew up in the projects here in Lexington…a single mom worked three different jobs…to just barely survive. He lived with his grandmother a lot of the time. He had no relationship with his dad. he was born in 1960 as well.

Neither of us chose these circumstances. And neither of us had the power to change them. It wasn’t fair.

People would say…Well, that’s the hand you’ve been dealt…and you’d be right…but why was I given such a life…and why was he given such a life?

Is the child I held in Haiti on the trash heap outside of Port Au Prince worth less? Is John Baptist’s life of less value because he has so little? He had no choice in his circumstances of being one of thousands of street children in the poorest country in our hemisphere…I wonder what John Baptist’s life is like today.

I saw my black friend at Wayne’s funeral a few weeks ago…He’s still the gentle, loving, and kind soul he was in High School only a little grayer.

I’ve got a lot of relationships that make me think: “Life is not fair.” A girl Kari and I “claim” as our adopted daughter…her mom was in prison for shooting her dad…raised by her grandparents because drugs had broken this family apart…How come I got Ozzie and Harriet and she got an episode of “Cops?”

I don’t know the answers to those whys or a thousand others…I do not have the ability to understand why you had to grow up alone or abused while I grew up with security, support and an earthly example of a heavenly father…It’s not fair…life isn’t.

This statement from Jesus echoes through my head and my heart…“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded and the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

The Message version sums it up clearly…“Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities.”

Who determines what gifts are given…and how they are given? Who decides what responsibilities are required?

I. THE ONE WITH A POWERFUL PURPOSE AND PLAN

Our text started out today with these words…“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.”

Bertrand Russell, an avowed atheist said, “Unless you assume a God, the question of life’s purpose is meaningless.”

And there are many who assume there is no God…life is chance…John Baptist’s birth and life…and yours and mine…Just the luck of the draw…chance…and if this life is all we have then it’s about enjoyment…self fulfillment…comfort…even among many who claim belief in God…life and it’s pursuits isn’t a great deal different than the atheists. Belief doesn’t translate into any responsibilities.

Now listen to the parable, the story of Jesus told right before that – “to whom much is given much is required statement.”

LUKE 12:42-48 (p. 727)

Knowing God’s will and God’s plan is only possible if we are led by His Spirit but that Spirit not only leads us to know God’s will…that Spirit enables us to do God’s will.

There is a huge expectation that those who have been given many gifts…are to use them to help others before the master returns.

Ironically many times the opposite happens…we begin to believe that the possessions are ours…we begin to get comfortable with the “much given to us.” And after all Jesus is taking a long time to return…so I’ll eat, drink and get drunk (I’ll take care of me). Jesus says the one who does this is assigned a place with unbelievers.

If you are a believer in God…or someone who is open to that option let me firmly say, God is a purposeful God. He created us for a reason. Scripture teaches that its so we can become adopted as His children…This is true whether you are born in Haiti or Ohio…Rich or poor…Black, white, brown or purple. Long before you were conceived by your parents you were conceived in the mind of God. Isaiah 44:2 says “I am your creator. You were in my care even before you were born.”

You see if there is no God then we are all accidents…the results of some cosmic petri dish with the odds of it happening being so astronomical they are incalculable. And your life and mine would have no purpose or meaning. There would be no right or wrong and no hope beyond your time here on earth. (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, p. 26)

Or you can believe a loving Father created us for a purpose…To be loved by Him and become His children…Both take faith…the difference? One has responsibilities…one doesn’t. So which do you suppose our sinful, rebellious, independent nature is predisposed to choose?

II. THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “DADDY” AND DICTATOR

Slaves live in fear…Children who love their father live in obedience…and there is a huge difference.

ROMANS 8:15-16 (p. 787)

The Apostle Paul knew about the Law of Moses…and he also knew about fear…causing it..and feeling it.

He tells Timothy He was a violent enforcer of it. (1 Tim. 1:13). Acts 9 says as a persecutor he breathed out murderous threats against the followers of Jesus…and then he got warrants for their arrest. So he could drag both men and women to prison in Jerusalem.

I’ve met religious people like that, haven’t you? Their lives are governed by a list of rules…and they believe its their job to persecute those who don’t live by them. The rules are what they worship…not the God who made them. Fear, hatred, threats prison…They knew God as a dictator who wants to pour out His wrath.

Know about God, but not knowing God…Then Paul met Jesus…the One He was persecuting…and everything changes.

Louie Cline wrote this poem: I MET THE MASTER FACE TO FACE:

I had walked life’s way with an easy tread,
Had followed where comforts and pleasures led,
Until one day in a quiet place,
I met the Master face to face.

With station and rank and wealth for my goal,
Much thought for my body but none for my soul,
I had entered to win in life’s mad race,
When I met the Master face to face.

I had built my castles and built them high,
With their domes had pierced the blue of the sky,
I had sworn to rule with an iron mace,
When I met the Master face to face.

I met Him and knew Him and blushed to see,
That His eyes full of sorrow were fixed on me;
And I faltered and fell at His feet that day,
While my castles melted and vanished away.

Melted and vanished, and in their place,
Naught else did I see but the Master’s face.
And I cried aloud, “Oh, make me meek,
To follow the steps of Thy wounded feet.”

My thought is now for the souls of men,
I have lost my life to find it again,
E’er since one day in a quiet place,
I met the Master face to face.

John the Apostle tells us Jesus left His Spirit to convict us of sin, righteousness, and the judgment (John 16:8)…but the purpose of that conviction is not to put us in prison. It’s to show us a Savior…a Savior given so that we could be restored as children…to reveal to us that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8) “We are justified (declared not guilty) by His blood and we escape God’s wrath because its been poured out on Him.”

None of us will understand how much “The One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” loves us until we see the cross God’s Spirit reveals my sin…but He points to the Father’s love dying on a cross for me…And like those on the day of Pentecost our hearts are cut…broken…and we cry out “What do I do?” The answer is the same today as it was then, “Repent.” (turn from your sin to Christ.) Be baptized, everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

That gift changes your relationship with God, and how you knew Him. He no longer is a dictator wanting to keep you in slavery…He is Daddy, “Abba.” And the inheritance He will give His only Son Jesus will be shared with His adopted children…me and you…Heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.

This is the message our God and Father has for His creation:

One of the great preachers of our time is Dr. Fred Craddock. Craddock tells a story about vacationing with his wife one summer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they found a quiet little restaurant, where they looked forward to a private meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. Craddock leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want anyone intruding on their privacy. But sure enough, the man did come over to their table. “Where you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice.

“Oklahoma,” Craddock answered.

“Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there,” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?”

“I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University,” Craddock replied.

“Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a story to tell you.” And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife.

Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly and thought to himself, “Oh, no! Here comes another preacher story! It seems like everybody has at least one.”

The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper,” he said. “I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born, so I had a pretty hard time. When I started to school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and lunch time because the things they said to me cut me so deep. What was worse was going to town on Saturday afternoons and feeling like every eye was burning a hole through me, wondering just who my father was.

“When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in the church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. ‘Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’ he asked. I felt this big weight coming down on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute!’ he said. ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that he slapped me across the rump and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’

The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, “Those were the most important words anybody ever said to me, and I’ve never forgotten them.” With that, he smiled shook hands with Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.

And as he walked away, Craddock – a native Tennesseean himself – remembered from his studies of Tennessee history that on two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected to the office of governor men who had been born out of wedlock. One of them was a man named Ben Hooper.

Maybe today is the day you claim it!

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – One Baptism
Romans 6:1-4 (p. 785) July 24, 2016

Introduction:

Jack Cottrell taught at Cincinnati Bible College for 40+ years and he shared this quote on faith and baptism:

“Both faith and baptism are conditions for salvation, but faith is the means and baptism is the time.”

He then shares this illustration to show what he meant:

The MEANS of bringing something about is not the same as the TIME when it happens. My favorite is the simple process of getting light out of a lamp. Here we can distinguish three things, all of which are “conditions.” First, the SOURCE of the light is the electric power that comes through the wiring of the house. Second, the MEANS of transferring this power to the lamp is the insertions of the lamp’s plug into a socket. Third, the TIME when the light actually comes on is when you flip the switch on the wall (or on the lamp). As applied to salvation, the source is grace; the means is faith; and the time is baptism.

Most of us are familiar with Eph. 2:8 which says “We are saved by grace through faith – and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God.”

Grace is the source of salvation’s power…faith is how we plug into it, and the time it occurs is our baptism…when we unite ourselves with His death, burial and resurrection. We receive His Spirit.

You have often heard me say, “you cannot be saved until you realize you are lost.”

This has a great deal to do with the means of our salvation. GRACE.

This amazing gift involves us coming to the realization of our need for forgiveness…and that God has provided the resources for that forgiveness.

[For many years I had an understanding of what was right and what was wrong. In a legal sense I knew that stealing was illegal…that driving fast or recklessly was wrong…but I really didn’t care…It really didn’t bother me until I got caught…The consequences of my sin was what I didn’t like…the sin itself wasn’t that big a deal.

That is until God’s Spirit began to do what He was left here on earth to do in my life…and in yours…and in everyone’s.]

The reason there is “one baptism” that saves us and unites us is because of this Spirit influenced conviction.
I. DYING TO OUR SIN REQUIRES A DEATH BURIAL AND RESURRECTION

Jesus said something really important about “the grace” part of every person’s salvation. Remember God’s grace is the source of salvation’s power…Here’s what Jesus said:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:44)

Our salvation requires a heart change when it comes to sin. Sin is what separates every single one of us from a holy and perfect God…It’s a separation that exists for every person. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

It’s not a separation we can close…and because of that…we are dead people walking around in a temporary body. Most of our choices and pursuits are about our comfort…our pursuits are mostly pride and preference driven…This is what we inherited from Adam and Eve…a nature…a heart that seeks selfishness…and that means “Sin.” Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires…the mind governed by the flesh is death…the mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God…and it does not submit to God…nor can it do so…those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)

So how can God change minds that are selfish…How does God wake us up to our hostility and rebellion? How does God, in His amazing grace enter this realm of the flesh to save people “dead in their sins?”

Jesus says, “I will send my advocate (my representative…it’s a legal term). When He comes He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” (Jn. 18:7-8)

The only catalyst powerful enough to wake up dead people…is the same Spirit that raised Jesus to life…and His wake up call has to do with our sin…that we are all unrighteous…and because of that we stand in judgment before a perfect holy God…and the verdict for us all is “guilty.” Separated from God in danger of an eternal separation.

We would never change on our own…In fact its impossible to understand our lostness because of our sin apart from God’s pursuing us…This is grace…it’s His gift…“At just the right time, when we were still powerless…Christ died for the ungodly…God demonstrated His own love for us in this…while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

The perfect God required a perfect payment for all mankind’s sin…So He became flesh…conquered all sin with a perfect life…and then died in payment for every sin…The Lamb of God…taking away the sin of the world…3 days later He rose from the dead proving His authority over death…the last and greatest enemy…That’s the source of grace’s power.

But unless we accept the gift through faith there is no “salvation.” We still remain separated…lost. Faith is how we plug into grace’s power.

Paul says, “Shall we go on sinning so, that grace may increase. By no means! We are those who have died to sin, how can we live in it any longer (Romans 6:1)

When the Holy Spirit brings us to that heartbreaking place that our sin separates us from God…and God Himself paid for it. A faith surrender is called for…Listen to what happens in Acts Chapter 2…Peter preaches:

ACTS 2:22-24; 32-33; 36-41 (p. 759)

Peter shares the message about Jesus…His audience hears it…some believe it…some are “cut to the heart.” The Holy Spirit deals with their sin…It’s a shattering realization that makes them ask “What should we do?”

Peter’s answer “Repent”…which means to turn from sin toward God…and be baptized…literally immersed…completely covered in the name of Jesus…for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit…Grace is the source of salvation…Faith is how we plug into it…baptism is the time.

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death…we were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may have a new life.”

Dying to sin requires our death, burial and resurrection…The power of grace moves us to repentance. Faith allows us to plug into this power as we hear the message of Christ…and baptism is the time of decision. It’s when we surrender in faith to be united with Christ’s power!

II. THIS UNION WITH CHRIST SETS US FREE FROM THE SLAVERY OF SIN

What does Paul mean when he says “We know that our old self was crucified with Him, so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with – that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”? (v. 6)

The key word used here is “ruled.” It literally means “owned.” Our old self…in this body was “ruled,” “owned” by sin.

Sin is the master…we are the slaves. Sin owned our thoughts, our attitudes, our words and our actions…sin chained us up…sin beat us…sin required us to work for him…sin required us to work for him…sin is a horrible owner because he always takes you further than you want to go…He always costs you more than you want to pay…and he always promises freedom…but only provides slavery.
But much like the Israelites who had been newly rescued by God, and because slavery to sin is all that were known…we look back and long for it…maybe the pills…the bottle…the pornography…the toys are the answer…They made me feel free for a while!

Did they? Or were they just a momentary distraction? A period of numbness…sin was enjoyable for a “season.” But then came the time when payment was required…and the price was steep…your marriage, your relationship with family, your integrity, your witness. And guilt and shame wrap you up and put you in a fail you never envisioned…over and over again.

Sin is a liar…Sin is a thief…Sin is a murderer. Addictions are tough to break…and all of us were “sin addicts.” Our old selfs needed an intervention…a crucifixion intervention.

This baptism we’re talking about this morning isn’t about washing dirt from the body…It’s a pledge…It’s a faith surrender…It’s the bringing of a spiritually dead old self, owned by sin to Jesus. The time where repentance leads us to our death…out burial…and as Peter says…It saves us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21)

You see when we are given the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead “We too may live a new life.” You see if we have died with Christ…we also believe that we will live with Christ.

Sin no longer is our owner…sin no longer is a ruler…Christ is now our owner…He rules.

Here’s what God’s Word says happens when we receive God’s Spirit at our baptism into Christ…It’s in the same letter to the Romans…Paul follows baptism with these words:

ROMANS 8:5-16 (p. 786)

There is a huge difference between being a slave and being a son (or daughter).

Its God’s Spirit that makes us His child…He signs the adoption papers with the blood of Jesus. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you…and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all that are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts)

And it is the promised Spirit, living in the born again child of God that allows us to think like sons instead of slaves. To lovingly serve our Father and others instead of being under sin’s chains.

[Grace is the power…Faith plugs us into it…and baptism is the time we turn it on.]

Maybe today is the day…maybe right now is the time you flip the switch.

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – One Faith
Ephesians 2:1-10 (p. 814) July 17, 2016

Introduction:

Paul tells us we are saved by “grace through faith.”

Let me give you a real quick definition of grace…Grace means receiving something you don’t deserve…it’s different than mercy…mercy means you don’t receive something you deserve.

Like when you were a kid and you took some of your mom’s chocolate chip cookies that she’d made for Christian Women’s Club (this is purely hypothetical you understand) and your mom says “I should give you a spanking…but I’m not.” That’s mercy!

Grace would be mom saying, “Ricky, do you want me to fix you a milkshake to wash those cookies down?” Why yes mother, yes I would.” That’s grace.

There’s a huge difference between mercy and grace…most of us as human beings have extended mercy…even though it’s not easy we don’t speak hateful words back, even if it’s deserved…we don’t hit back…we don’t return hate for hate…that’s mercy…and most of us give out small measures of mercy every day…and need small measures of mercy every day…sometimes large measures.

But grace is different…grace is a gift. And its given not because its been earned…but simply because it’s needed.

Illustration:

[I remember reading a story by Chi Chi Rodriguez, the golfer. He grew up in abject poverty…and one day his father caught a neighbor who had broken into their backyard and was stealing a bunch of bananas. Chi Chi watched his father give the man the bananas…but also a bag of food that amounted to about half of what their family had for the week…THAT’S GRACE.]

Most of us think “that thief” deserved a beating with a stick…and you’re right! But he didn’t get what he deserved…He got mercy…And he got what he needed instead…grace…Grace is a gift.

I. WHAT DO ALL OF US DESERVE?

EPHESIANS 2:1-3 (p. 814)

Paul’s not just telling the Ephesians that they were dead in their sin…that their former life and former choices proved it. He says “All of us also lived like this, like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath…”

Adam and Eve opened the door to sin…They would never be the same after “having their eyes opened because of their disobedience.” Their natures were changed…sin brought selfishness and death into the equation. The serpent had lied when he said, “You will not surely die!.” Adam and Eve surely would…Adam lived 950 years and then died…950 years is a long time…but it’s not forever!

And every descendent of Adam and Eve would inherit this same nature…a selfish one…a sinful one…and the consequence would be the same…death. We as Adam and Eve’s grandchildren times 100 are not responsible for their sin, but we are the recipients of their nature.

“All have sinned” according to Romans 3:23. It’s in our nature…and because of that, we deserve that “beating with a stick.” We deserve “God’s wrath.” We deserve death… “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

Until we experience this truth we cannot truly accept grace by faith.

You see we cannot be saved because we start being nicer…or start doing a bunch of good things to try and make up for the bad things…grace has nothing to do with us…it’s not from us… “it’s the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.”

[It’s so hard for us…in fact for everyone, to not put the cart before the horse…by nature we minimize our sins…by nature we forget them quickly…by nature we maximize the good things we do…we forget them…NEVER! We want to think…good people go to heaven…and because of our nature, guess how many of us think we’re good…statistics say, “1 out of 1” of us. Let’s say some Hail Mary’s, let’s put an extra $20 in the collection plate, let’s help our neighbor cut his grass, like money in the spiritual bank…We’ve earned God’s approval. It’s still selfishly about us…but we’re trying to put more good on the scale than bad so our sins don’t seem so…deadly.]

This way of thinking and living requires no gift of grace…it just requires more good than more sin…It’s almost the exact way the Pharisees lived in Jesus’ day…and it’s why they rejected the need for a Messiah.

Good works don’t cover our sins and cancel them out…the blood of Christ covers our sin and His righteousness justifies our unrighteousness. “All are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of blood – to be received by faith.” (Romans 3:24-25)

“The wages of sin is death…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)
II. GOD GIVES DEAD PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED

EPHESIANS 2:4-6 (p. 814)

Silly question, but “What do dead people need?” You could say, burial…and you’d be right…but if you could give someone whose died anything, what would if be? Life right?

If you love someone dearly and they’re dead…and you could give them anything. You’d always choose another chance at life before you chose a beautiful casket.

I’ve shared this before but I need to share it again here. God did not send his son to die for our sins to make good people better. he gave His son so that sinners could have forgiveness and dead people could have new life.

God’s love is so great that instead of wrath. He extended mercy and grace. He made us alive, even when we we’re dead in transgressions. God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him.

Your Spirit (or soul) and my spirit (or soul) is one that goes on forever…at least that’s what scripture teaches and I believe. But as we’ve already said…it’s wrapped up in sin and selfishness. It’s bankrupt when it comes to living forever…unless something changes what it deserves. Wrath and death are its destination…everyone’s destination…But God’s rich spiritually…God is spirit…and He desires to change our natural destination…supernaturally. So He offers a gift…His Son, who will pay for the wages of our sin with His death…He will conquer the wrath of sin which is death by defeating it with a resurrection.

What is the response of dead people who choose God’s gift of life. There’s only one.

III. FAITH IS ACTIVELY ACCEPTING GOD’S GIFT OF GRACE

[I was cleaning out the trunk of Karissa’s car the other day and I found all these Christmas presents in the back from my niece and nephew who live in Chicago. There was this really cool flashlight and tool kit with my name on it…I said what’s this…and Kari said, “Oh, those are from Leann and Jax. I asked Karissa to bring them home from Granny’s. By the way it was the end of May when I found them. I immediately opened the gift…put the tool on my keychain and used the flashlight to look for more presents. My question…when did my niece and nephew’s gift become what they wanted it to be? Only when I saw it, opened it, and started to enjoy it.]

God’s gift is new life through His Son. It’s offered to spiritually dead people through His Spirit of life. When does it become what God wants it to be? When we see it, open it, and start enjoying it.

Faith is our response when we see the gift…If you leave it in the trunk unopened it does no good at all.

Holeman Hunt has a really famous picture called, “The Light of the World.”

Holman Hunt, Light of the World

It’s Jesus standing at a door, holding light for the darkness and knocking to be let in. And the artist did something intentional in this beautiful painting…anyone notice what’s missing on the door? There is no doorknob or latch on the outside. it can only be opened from the interior.

This is the picture of faith…God will knock on the door of our hearts…The Holy Spirit will reveal our sin…He will knock with conviction…The answer starts just behind the door. A Savior holding light for our dark lives…but He won’t kick the door down…we have the doorknob…we have the latch…we must choose by faith to open the door of our lives and invite Him to come in. This is the response of faith.]

If you invite Him in through faith…If repentance leads you to be changed by the death, burial and resurrection of baptism, Jesus isn’t just a houseguest. he makes it His home. His Spirit turns your shack into a temple. “His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” (Rom. 8)

And that Spirit creates the masterpiece God planned for all along…an instrument to do the good things that bring Him praise and glory…forever. This is the one faith that makes us one family.

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – One Hope
1 Peter 1:1-9 (p. 850) July 3, 2016

Introduction:

Satan is the god of “immediate gratification” and “the quick fix.”

Here’s what I mean by that…“Suppose you’re having a rocky time in your marriage…You begin to think, “I’m not sure I love him or her anymore…and a co-worker or the opposite sex begins to commiserate with you…They listen, and all of a sudden you meet for coffee, privately…“After all, it’s just coffee.” But you recognize feelings of attraction…feelings you’ve missed…and you choose to act on them.

Instead of doing the hard work of making your marriage what you “hoped” it could be…you choose “the immediate gratification” of a new relationship…you choose the “quick fix.”

Maybe an even better example of “immediate gratification” is when we go deeply into debt to buy something we want or can’t afford…We buy things we can’t afford, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like…our house owns us instead of us owning it…our new car makes us feel good when we drive it, but the crushing payment steals the joy.

Why would we do stuff like this? Because we aren’t willing to “wait.” We believe that this new relationship…or new possession will fix the dissatisfaction and pain we feel right now.

It’s not a new scheme…but it’s Satan’s most affective one, and it’s what he used to cause our spiritual grandparents, Adam and Eve, to sin.

GENESIS 3:1-6 (p. 2)

“Did God really say “You must not eat from any tree in the garden.” Doubt is planted…the focus is directed at what is not available…not what is…was it successful…Eve replies.

“We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say Don’t eat fruit from one tree, in the middle of the garden…and you must not touch it, or you will die.”

I’m not sure if God said you can’t touch this tree, but the Liar and Deceiver has started the thought process…“God is withholding from me this thing…and I want it.”

The Serpent lies… “You won’t die…God knows that this will make you like Him if you eat it…you’ll have your eyes opened…you’ll know the difference between good and evil.”
It looked good…it was tasty…so she ate, and so did Adam who was with her. “Immediate gratification” and “the quick fix.” Satan’s not a one trick pony, but this is his first trick and his most successful trick.

Hope is defined as “The anticipation and expectation of something to happen.” “Faith is the choice to wait for it to happen.”

For God’s children, faith and hope walk down the same road holding hands…This is the encouragement Peter expresses:

I. WE ARE TO BE GOD’S ELECT IN EXILE

Peter’s first letter is written to believers scattered throughout the world because of their faith…Many who are scattered because of severe persecution…men and women who have been called by the Holy Spirit to surrender their lives to Jesus…and they answered that call.

God’s plan…one He had before creation, was to save us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood. The elect are those who experienced the Spirit’s conviction for sin…and chose the sacrifice of Christ as the answer.

But the hard truth for those who become the elect is: “We still live in a world of sin…temporarily under the control of Satan…the god of this world.”

Our place as God’s people is with God…our home. And our hope is that “we have a place prepared for us, Jesus opened a way for us to be with Him in our Father’s house…He promised to come back for us so that we also may be where He is.”
(Jn. 14:2-3)

That’s our hope…an anticipation and expectation to be with Jesus, and our Father…an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade…an inheritance kept in heaven for God’s elect.

But what does this hope do to help us while still in exile? Well, God’s Word reveals two ways:

II. IT HELPS US DEAL WITH DEATH AND SHIELDS US DURING DIFFICULTIES

No one likes to talk about death…we’d rather ignore it…we’d rather have distractions that keep its apparition on the peripheral of our everyday lives…But scripture describes it as… “The last enemy to be destroyed.” (1 Cor. 15:26)

Peter praises God the Father of our Lord Jesus because in His great mercy He has given us “new birth” into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

Without the resurrection there is no living hope. Jesus paid for our sin, all sin, with His sacrificial death on the cross…but the resurrection proves His authority over death…He conquered the greatest and last enemy…and God’s Word says, “The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead lives in you…He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

Death doesn’t win…Death isn’t the end…the same sanctifying Spirit given to us at our baptism into Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is God’s guarantee that we share with Jesus as co-heirs of His inheritance in heaven. Paul says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Rom. 8:17)

Everyone is God’s creation…but not everyone is a child of God…you must be born again spiritually to be adopted into the family of God…a new birth into a living hope.

How can you know that birth has happened? “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…The Spirit you received brought about your adoption…and to Him we cry “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16)

With this being a reality you don’t have to fear death…or the difficulties of living a life in Exile.

The Apostle Paul echoes this same hope when he writes to the Corinthians.

2 CORINTHIANS 5:1-5 (p. 805)

This body is temporary…no one wants to live in a tent forever when there’s a mansion waiting for them…especially when the tent starts to fall apart…and your mate or best friend has moved out of the campground.

God made us to live with Him forever…we can’t do it in this sinful temporary body…so He gives His Spirit as a guarantee of our forever home.

That forever hope for the child of God is our “shield of faith.” Our choices are made, not with a view of immediate gratification and a quick fix…but an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1)

Faith isn’t a noun…it’s a verb…It’s an active living truth…It’s a shield we take up as we fight our way home. We trust the power of God until the coming of salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time…It’s during this short time here on earth that we prove:

III. THE GENUINENESS OF OUR FAITH

Peter says trials come so that the genuineness of our faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though its refined by fire may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus is revealed.

God doesn’t tempt anyone…He doesn’t try to trick us or trap us like the Evil One. But He certainly allows us to be tested so we can grow to be more like Jesus.

And often, for this purpose He will intervene when we have worldly priorities above Kingdom priorities.

Corrie Ten Boom, who survived a Nazi Concentration Camp said, “I’ve learned not to hold onto anything too tightly because it hurts when God has to pry my fingers from it.”

Gold is refined by fire to make it genuine…and pure.

God will seek to grow our trust…our faith…our hope…And He does so by allowing all kinds of trials…and He watches to see if we depend on Him through them…even if we don’t understand…even when he doesn’t immediately take us out of the fire…The revelation of His plan and purpose won’t be revealed until later…and sometimes in heaven…The school of life is a tough university…we get the test first…and the lesson afterward.

I want to see Jesus face to face someday…either after I’ve died or upon His return…either way is OK with me. He rescued me…He saved me…He gave my life purpose and has blessed me more than I could ever testify…Has it been easy? Has there been times of suffering and difficulty…you bet ya!

“Now we see only a reflection as in a minor; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part then I shall know fully even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

I love that scripture! Peter’s words seem the same thing:

1 PETER 1:8-9 (p. 850)

The finish line is Jesus…the end result of our faith…the salvation of our soul is Jesus.

[The most powerful reunion I’ve ever had, took place on an army base in Killeen Texas…for almost 2 years my son had been the gunner in a fighting vehicle, he’d had it blown out from under him by an T.E.D…I couldn’t see him for the better part of 18 months…while he was in the most dangerous part of the world at that time. We wrote…we emailed…occasionally we had a phone call…I just wanted to get him home…so when he stepped off that white bus my heart exploded with joy and inexpressible gratitude.

As I read Peter’s words of hope that is the emotion I feel…one day I will step off the bus…walk across the field…and the war will be behind me, and I will see my Father face to face. A father that loves me more than I love Tyler. That’s the finish line!]

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

One Calling by Rick Burdette

Jeremiah 1:1-1:10

ONE CHURCH – One Calling
Jeremiah 1:1-10 (p. 522) June 26, 2016

Introduction:

Jeremiah is often called, “The Weeping Prophet.” He is brokenhearted about the condition of God’s people…and the message he has to deliver to them from the Lord.

And his most famous prophecy is Jerusalem will fall. In fact this book begins and ends with this heartbreaking message.

For 40 years Jeremiah speaks to the kingdom of Judah. From the end of the Assyrian Kingdom until Babylon lays siege to the Holy City from about 626 BC to 587 BC.

Remember, the Israelites have been split into 2 kingdoms: Israel and Judah, Jeremiah’s ministry spans the reign of 5 kings…from Josiah who calls the nation back to repentance and God’s Word, to Zedekiah under whose reign Jerusalem falls and Solomon’s temple is destroyed.

He has been compared to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament because he continually challenged the people of Judah about their sin…and the impending judgment that was coming because of it.

JEREMIAH 1:11-19 (p. 522)

Like a branch about to bear fruit…like a tilted pot of boiling water about to be poured out…consequences were coming.

These consequences would not be directed at the pagan nations that surrounded Israel and Judah…They were coming upon those God had called that had forsaken their calling…and forgotten who called them.

Verse 13 in Chapter 2 says “My people have committed 2 sins. (One) They have forsaken me, the spring of living water and (two) They have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

I. FORSAKING GOD AND LIVING IN OUR OWN WISDOM DESTROYS OUR CALLING

The Israelites had a history where God had called them…It was a covenant relationship that began with Abraham leaving his homeland and heading to the place God promised to him and his descendants. Moses received the plan after the Israelites were rescued out of slavery in Egypt…God provided his presence and protection through the wilderness and through Joshua as they entered the promised land and took possession of it…but after all this they forgot God…they forgot who provided it all..They forgot and forsook His laws…and they began to worship other gods…They were no longer unique…they didn’t want God’s Living Water anymore…They chose to dig their own cisterns.

God would allow the Babylonians to pour down on Jerusalem like boiling water from a pot…the temple would fall…and once again slavery would be the result…Jeremiah cried out for God to His people in warning for 40 years.

Please remember, the covenant with Israel in the Old Testament was just the precursor to the Kingdom of God, His Church in the New Testament.

The writer of Hebrews says, “The Old Covenant was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect) and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:19)

What this clearly means is I can give you a list of rules but that list doesn’t have the power to make you obey…and it can do nothing about the consequences you or I suffer when we break them…

God’s remedy in the Old Testament was an animal sacrifice to postpone the punishment. God’s answer for the Church…His kingdom was the sacrifice of His son to pay for all the consequences of every one who had broken the rules…for those who had postponed the punishment in faith…and those who would accept this payment of grace through faith.

Here’s what Jeremiah prophesied concerning the New Covenant:

JEREMIAH 31:31-33 (p. 548)

Tablets of stone would be replaced with the Holy Spirit…a list of laws would be replaced with God’s indwelling Spirit…Solomon’s temple would no longer house the Holy One…our bodies would become the temple He lives in…The Kingdom of God wouldn’t be in Jerusalem…according to Jesus…The Kingdom of God would be in us.”

Israel’s power wasn’t in how big and influential they were among the nations…Israel’s power was in their calling from God.

So it is with God’s people the Church…The Apostle Paul writes these words to the Corinthians:

1 CORINTHIANS 1:26-31 (p. 793)

For me to remember what I was when God began to call me is easy. I wasn’t wise, I wasn’t influential, I wasn’t noble…I was a fool chasing shameful things…A 17 year old pothead who had dropped out of High School and was washing dishes at the Campbell House. A rebel bound for Hell…The epitome of lost.
And God began to “call” me to Himself…Why He would want to, can only be answered in grace. He sent people into my life that spoke Good News. He used circumstances and situations. He made Himself evident. He broke my hard heart…and I chose to answer His call with repentance and baptism on January 17, 1978. I knew without a doubt why He called me. “It was to testify that if He can save me…He can save anyone.” I’ll never forsake that calling…or forget whose power it took…He chose to love the unloveable and rescue the unrescuable! Gratitude for this is the foundation of everything I am or ever will be. These words describe my calling.

1 TIMOTHY 1:12-17 (p. 829)

The evil one would have us try to start this journey with little gratitude…or try to make us forget that gratitude over time…both will destroy the power behind our calling…and its purpose…because:

II. GOD HAS A PLAN FOR US ALL

“God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are – so that no one, may boast before Him.”

Jeremiah thought of himself as a nothing, a nobody…“I don’t know how to speak, I am too young.” (Jer. 1:6)

Maybe that’s been your thought, “I’m too young…I’m too old…I’m too poor…I’m too hurt…I’m too…anything!

But the word of the Lord says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer. 1:5)

And before you use the excuse…“Well He’s just talking to Jeremiah!” He’s just calling him.

Peter said, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you WILL RECEIVE THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

I believe the foundation behind God’s plan is “He isn’t willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance…He’s not slow in keeping His promise…He’s patient.”
(2 Peter 3:9)

Because of this, I believe He calls every one of us to repentance…He sends people with the message of Good News…His Holy Spirit cuts our hearts in conviction of sin…Now we decide whether to come home or stay in the pig pen. We decide to surrender, be baptized into Christ’s death burial and resurrection…receiving the promised gift of the Holy Spirit…or we harden our hearts to His call and turn away.
But if we turn to God…open the door when He knocks…and repent and are baptized and fulfill with His Spirit…it’s for a purpose…

“GO AND MAKE DISCIPLES, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…and I will be with you to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)

In the same way He told Jeremiah to go to everyone I send you to and say what I command you to say. He does for each person whose answered His call…same God, same plan.

The reason many never do this or stop living within God’s plan is the same reason Israel forgot and forsook God’s call.

Once they had security, safety and comfort they forgot about Egypt and slavery. They forgot who had rescued them and brought them to the promised land. They decided to dig their own broken cisterns and worship the same gods that everyone else did. Instead of thirsting for God who is the spring of living water…they filled their Tervis with self sufficiency and pride. “We’ve got it on our own now God…we don’t really need you now.” And the consequences were devastating. All nations were supposed to be blessed through Israel and their covenant relationship with God…but that wasn’t going to happen when they forgot Him and His plan.

Jesus said that The Holy Spirit is living water which fills every believer’s soul…He’s saying this to a woman who’d had 5 husbands and was living with a guy she wasn’t married to. A Samaritan…a non-Jew…He says whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) He describes this as “the gift of God.”

The purpose of this gift is to provide living water to people like this woman who are thirsty for hope…people who have looked for it in relationships and worldly cisterns…but all the water has leaked out.

Is your life a living water spring to a lost world? Does the gratitude of your salvation pour out into compassion for those who are dying? Because this is God’s plan to save the world.

[One of my least favorite pictures I’ve ever seen was this one after the Orlando shooting in a gay night club where 49 people were killed and 53 injured by an Islamic radical terrorist.

rainbow ar15

The caption above it said, “I’ve got your tolerance right here.”

I’m not totally sure what the poster of this picture meant, but I know what I thought when I saw it… “Let’s kill all homosexuals.” I wrote this:

My heart has been broken in many ways this weekend by the evil that transpired in Orlando, but I continue to trust my beautiful, loving, and wise Savior. I seek the answers that lie in between having a loving and compassionate heart like His while trying also to rely on His Word of truth when it comes to our need for redemption.

May the heart and desire for sin to be dealt with with punishment and death never beat in my chest. I know without a doubt Jesus paid for all our punishment with His death, burial and resurrection….He paid for the wages of my sin…all our sin….and I believe He is able…able to forgive, able to change, able to transform and renew.

“Lord God, It is my fervent prayer that you will let me and every other person who claims to follow in your steps to love…when we try to feebly speak your truth….let it be with love and a hope of redemption. Lord God help me fight the evil one and his schemes, but always with the knowledge it’s never against flesh and blood…but dark spiritual forces which hide your glory from the world…help me Lord to love even when I disagree with someone….Lord God, help me to never expect those who are not led by your Holy Spirit to think like those who are….O God, give me your heart, mind, strength and purpose. O Lord God let me be consumed with your grace”]

Amen.

224

The Gospel Can Change Anyone by Rick Burdette

Romans 1:16-1:17

4 NEW ATTITUDES THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE – The Gospel Can Change Anyone
Romans 1:16-17 (p. 782) January 25, 2015

Introduction:

Life generally has a way of changing the way we think about people when we were younger, more innocent, we didn’t look for hidden agendas…or judge people’s motives quite as harshly.

But eventually someone hurt us, used us, or betrayed us…and we became “more careful, more cautious” on the other side of that lesson.

On Wednesday nights we have a great small group studying a book by Brian Jones called “Getting Rid of the Gorilla: Confessions on the Struggle to Forgive.”

Brian got beat up badly by a gang at a football game, and then during legal proceedings he was raked over the coals by the defense attorney. All while the defendants laughed at the table. He said, something inside him died that day as innocence left…and the gorilla of unforgiveness came to live in his heart. Here’s a quote from Brian Jones:

You want to know what I think is the saddest part about living with the gorilla? It’s not that my heart has been jammed full of rage like an overstuffed suitcase. It’s not that I’ve created this huge, stupid, impassable wall just outside the perimeter of my soul that continually separates me from those I want to get close to. Both of these realities have caused me tremendous amounts of pain, but I wouldn’t say they’ve caused me great sadness. The most heartbreaking loss of all is the way the gorilla has slowly changed the way I view life itself. Living with the gorilla over time has altered the way I view people around me. My greatest problem isn’t sarcasm, it’s what gave birth to my sarcasm, and what gave birth to my sarcasm is the pessimistic way I view those I rub shoulders with on a daily basis – something I directly attribute to living with an unforgiving heart.

[I’ll never forget serving at a church where the Chairman of the Elders and the Sr. Ministers came to a shoving match over a microphone during a congregational vote. I’d been asked to bring the children up, so those who had baptized could vote. As I rushed them back downstairs because I refused to let them see this kind of example a little bit of my innocence died.]

But life has done this with all of us hasn’t it? The break-up, the divorce, the crooked business partner, the “close” friend that throws us under the bus…the church leader who attacks your son, the criminal who steals your stuff and your security.

And unlike when we were five or six with new friends…we become more guarded…more protective…more cynical.

Proverbs 4:23 warns us “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (p. 440)

Hebrew writing has no punctuations like commas or exclamation marks…so writers always put the most important thing first in the sentence. By putting “Above all else” at the front of this proverb the writer is saying “TRUST ME…WHATEVER YOU DO IN LIFE AND I MEAN WHATEVER YOU DO, MAKE SURE YOU GUARD YOUR HEART.”

So, how do we protect ourselves from being hurt and guard our hearts from becoming cynical? I’m not sure I have all the answers for that question, but since it’s the most important thing we need to do in life let’s start with this truth…This attitude “I BELIEVE THAT THE GOSPEL CAN CHANGE ANYONE.”

Paul tells the Roman church and us “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes; first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed.” A righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.”

Here’s the most important question we can start with…

I. DO WE KNOW WHAT THE GOSPEL IS?

Most of us who were raised in church will pipe up “It’s the good news.” If you went to Bible College like me maybe you’ve studied some Greek and know it’s the word “evaggelion” (yoo-ang-ghel-ee-on). “Good News or Good Tidings.”
(Like… “Oh man…I feel really hesitant to tell you this but…daggone…I’m so sorry! But you just won a million dollars…sorry!)

Well, let me tell you why “shame or being ashamed” of the gospel is a very real possibility.

The good news all focuses on one single person…His name is “Jesus.” And that name evokes very powerful reactions in people…but not all of them are “good.”

Here’s what I mean…
[Suppose you where one of those poor individuals held in the concentration camp at Ohrdrof in Germany. Jews, Gypsy, poles….anyone deemed undesirable by the Nazi Regime…by 1944 they housed some 10,000 individuals…thousands had died or been killed.

This was the first concentration camp liberated by the U.S. Army. The 4th Armored Div. and the 85th Infantry. You’ll recognize their leader. His name was George S. Patton. When he showed up he made the Nazi officers and German civilian population come to the camp and move and bury thousands of bodies so they could see with their own eyes what they’d done. Here’s what I mean about not all people thinking it’s good that a rescuer shows up…These Ohrdrof prisoners rejoiced at their savior coming to release them. The Nazis and many of those Germans in the community hated his arrival and experienced judgment and shame.

Jesus…His death, burial and resurrection are my good news for those who He rescues. It’s not good news for those who are serving the Evil One!]

If you serve in the Evil One’s camp…even if you apathetically just live in his community….the name of Jesus isn’t good news…and the gospel doesn’t bring rescue and salvation it still brings the fear and shame and guilt of judgment.

Kari and I had the amazing privilege to visit Rome recently. We walked through the coliseum…even walked where Christians walked right before they were led to their execution. And right next to the coliseum is Constantine’s Arch. Arches were built to celebrate military victories. Most of the time Rome’s leadership didn’t want the military in the city, they were afraid of its power and military coups. But there were certain times the military was allowed…and that was after a great victory…and the conquering general would lead his army in procession through the city…leading his soldiers…as well as displaying prisoners they’d taken captive and the spoils of war they plundered. The Apostle Paul had seen such a procession…knew its significance. That’s why he uses it to compare how “news” is received by the victors…and the conquered…Listen, it’s written in 2 Corinthians 2 verses 14 through 17.

2 CORINTHIANS 2:14-17 (p. 804)

Christ’s triumphal procession…He’s the victorious “General”…he conquered death, He overcame sin, He set free the captives, God designed a plan to defeat the Evil One, to rescue us from the captivity of sin, and to bring us home to live with Him forever. That is what I call “The Gospel.”

But once again it all depends on who you are in relation to the victorious general. At the front of each of these parades they had giant incense burners smoking, sending out the sweet smell of myrhh. It smelled like victory, beautiful and good if you were on the right team…but if you were not, and you saw the coliseum and your fate right next to you, it smelled like defeat, judgment and death.]

It’s important we know what the Gospel is…and what it isn’t…It isn’t some vague belief in God or Jesus…it isn’t some easy cheap grace where you say a prayer or “get baptized” so you can live how you want…but slide into heaven because you did the right thing at “one time.” The Good News is this: God has the power and God has a plan to save everyone…Jew and Gentile alike….That plan includes the perfect righteous Son dying for the unrighteous world… “For God so loved the world He gave His one and only son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Those who believe that…live by faith…and the righteousness of Jesus becomes their righteousness.

Now that we know what the “Good News” is…and why for some it’s the promise of Heaven and for some it’s the fear of judgment…

II. IT’S TIME FOR GOD’S PEOPLE TO STOP BEING ASHAMED OF JESUS

First of all let me say there are many who are ashamed to admit they are Christians because their words and lives say, “No I’m not.”

None of us are perfect…(and those who think they are…are the most irritating), we are all rescued sinners…all recipients of God’s amazing grace and only saved by His power.

But there are many, who like the Germans near Ohrdrof, live apathetic lives…not being Nazis but certainly never “rocking the boat”…are shamefully never speak about their relationship with Christ, but hope that “believing” and going to church once in awhile are good enough…listen to what Jesus says to this group.

MATTHEW 7:21-23 (p. 679)

The opposite of love isn’t hate…the opposite of love is “apathy.” Jesus can stomach love and hate…lukewarmness makes Him want to vomit.

And lukewarmness makes us ashamed to say, “The power of God has changed my life…it’s transformed my mind…it’s rescued my soul…because we’re not living in His righteousness…and we’re not living by faith.

Let me end with the reason “most” people are ashamed of the gospel…ashamed of Jesus.

The gospel is very specific…it’s narrow, not broad.

When Acts 4:12 says “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

No one else…no other name…very specific…very narrow…it doesn’t allow for Muhammad, or anyone else to be the Savior…only Jesus.

He said so himself…remember when Thomas said, “Lord we don’t know how to get there (heaven) so how can we know the way…And Jesus says in John 14:6 “I am the way, I am the truth and I am the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.”

You see Christianity isn’t a theory…it’s not even so much a religion…It’s a person.

A person who loves lost people…who seeks them, who calls them to “Come to Him.” Jesus, friend of sinners. And when we come…He saves us completely, forgives us totally, cleanses us entirely. And fills us with Himself. His Spirit of righteousness…and Paul knew that…Rick knows that…The Gospel can change anyone…

I gave our leadership and staff a book called “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” by Jim Cymballa, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle…and I want to end with this story he tells:

It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people.

As I was sitting there I looked up the middle aisle, and there in about the third row was a man who looked about fifty, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, “Could I talk to you?”

We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, “What a way to end a Sunday. I’ve had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here’s a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine.”

He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I’d never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I’d talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn’t inhale facing him. I asked him, “What’s your name?”

“David.”

“How long have you been on the street?”

“Six years.”

“How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.” He looked fifty – hair matted; front teeth missing; wino; eyes slightly glazed.

“Where did you sleep last night, David?”

“Abandoned truck.”

I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking; I’ll give him some money. I won’t even get a volunteer. They are all busy talking with others. Usually we don’t give money to people. We take them to get something to eat.

I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”

I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself. I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God has sent to me. Se how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels.

But oh, did that change! David just stood there. He didn’t know what was happening. I pleaded with God, “God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I’m so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!”

Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other. The smell of His person became a beautiful aroma. Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I can’t use you, because this is why I called you where you are. This is what you are about. You are about this smell.

Christ changed David’s life. He started memorizing portions of Scripture that were incredible. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital. They detoxed him in 6 days. He spent that Thanksgiving at my house. He also spent Christmas at my house. When we were exchanging presents, he pulled out a little thing and he said, “This is for you.” It was a little white hanky. It was the only thing he could afford.

A year later David got up and talked about his conversion to Christ. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, “This man is a preacher.” This past Easter we ordained David. He is an associate minister of a church over in New Jersey. And I was so close to saying, “Here, take this; I’m a busy preacher.”

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