Restored to Greatness

We looked at Colossians last week, and saw that Paul prayed, regularly, for this church, though he had not met them.

 And we recognized our need to pray for each other, too.

As well, we saw that Paul was thankful and encouraged the Colossians, and, therefore, we are encouraged to be thankful, too.

In this way, we saw that we have been reached to restore.

For the past seven months, our theme has been “Living on Purpose” and for the last several weeks, we’ve considered the theme of ‘Restoration.”

Why do we want to live on purpose?

Because we want to be reaching, intentionally, God’s will for our lives.

Why have we been concerned about restoration?

Because, God so love the world that He gave his only son that who ever believes in him would not perish but would be restored for eternity.

Our eternal life begins now, and we are to encourage believer and non-believer alike to live a restored life. We need to be restored so that our worship is that much truer, and our fellowship with one another that much fuller.

God has called us to come to Him, and to make Him known to others.

The goal God has for us is that we would be glorified.

In order to be glorified, we must first be justified.

We are justified by our faith in the work that Jesus did on our behalf.

We’ve seen that we have been reached and restored so that we can restore.

We’ve been set free to help free others, and today, let’s consider the greatness for which we’ve been restored.

God did not restore us for our selfishness, but for His Glory, and He is restoring us for greatness, not mediocrity.

Therefore, we are not a church of consumers or takers, but we are meant to be a church of contributors and givers. We want this community to be thankful that we are here taking up this piece of prime real estate beside Moody Middle School.

When a person is able to be a giver, they feel better, and when we are able to be a contributor, we are equipped.

Churches are meant to be congregations that are trained to serve, but you know, the tendency in many American churches is to train people to be served, so that they will give.

God wants us to be trained to give so that others may know Him.

God knows our pain and our suffering. He knows that we feel overwhelmed at times, and the Scriptures declare that God is close to the broken hearted.

But God does not wait until we are healed, or until we have everything together before He calls us to minister.

Jesus sent his disciples out before they were even filled with the Holy Spirit on at least two occasions to preach in His Name.

Clover reminded me of something that happened in one of our churches in Kazakhstan. In the beginning, it seemed that everyone was suffering in their finances, family or health. But as we began to encourage them to reach out and help others, they began to see that they were ABLE to reach out and help.

On one occasion, they gave all of their offerings for three weeks to help people who were suffering in Afghanistan (and don’t forget, but Afghanistan had been their enemy at one time).

God wants us to see ourselves as He sees us, as precious and as great!

Jesus said that we will be able to do greater things than Him, and I think many of us feel like we lack in that department, but one way of understanding what Jesus meant by this is that together, we can do more than we are able to do alone.

As Christians, we are selfish if we only care about ourselves and not about others.

When a person comes to Jesus, he or she is restored. We use other terms like, “born anew,” “born again,” “a new creation.”

We are not only new as individuals but as a new people, a new collective. We are citizens of a God’s Kingdom and members of God’s family.

What does it mean to be a member of God’s family?

What does it mean to be a citizen of His Kingdom?

It means that our wills are no longer supreme.

In fact, our wills must submit to God’s will.

Now, that is not something that we like to hear, really, but it is true.

Even for pastors.

Let’s look at Colossians 3:11.

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Colossians 3:11

Let’s pray

PRAY

Lord we thank you, that You, indeed, are all, and in all. Thank you that we are in You, and we live and breathe and have our being in You. WE thank you that your presence is with us, and that Your Good Word is cleansing us and renewing us.

We thank you that in You we have purpose and we are part of Your family.

We pray this in Jesus’ Name.Amen

  1. Connected with God

When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden they had everything that they needed, and even everything they wanted.

But when the serpent came into the picture, they no longer had all that they needed and wanted. They wanted to be like God, so they disobeyed God, and were sentenced to death.

The story of the Bible is the story of the restoration of man.

Last week, we looked at how we are connected to God. He has qualified us through Jesus, and brought us into His kingdom of light.

In Colossians 1, there’s another couple verses about the connectedness that we have through Jesus:

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation

Colossians 1:21, 22

We were separated from God and alienated from Him.

So, we are connected to God through the gift of Jesus, not by our own actions.

When we become followers of Jesus, we are called to renounce our sins, and to turn from them. We are called to put our faith in Jesus, and to not deny Him.

As we do that, we become citizens of heaven, because we have repented of our sins, denounced Satan, the world and our sinful flesh, and we become one people, together.

We are connected to God by our declaration of faith in the work of Jesus.

America is an interesting country, and we can be thankful to live here and thankful to welcome people here.

I can move to France and even become a French citizen, but I won’t be fully French.

America is an inclusive nation, and that is wonderful. We are not the only inclusive nation, but we are a nation that people want to come to for at least a visit, but many want to come for the opportunities that we have here.

But, we know, that becoming an American is not the best that we can become.

I know a minister who served in the former Soviet Union, and he suffered for Jesus there, but later moved to America, and in order to make ends meet, compromised and is no longer the minister that he was.

I meet people who used to be leaders in churches, and yet they have turned away from church altogether.

The world, the flesh and the devil are out to get Christians and prevent them from finishing well.

I for one don’t want to fall victim to his attacks.

When we come to Christ, we become a new creation, and we no longer are separated by race, religion, culture and position, but we come to Christ, and He is Supreme.

We become His child, and are no longer separated from God.

I believe that we are all in need of what is most important in life, and that is greater than a good job, or good pension. It’s more important than family and fame. We need to be followers of Jesus, and live our lives according to his teaching.

Let’s take a moment to thank God for the connection that we have with Him, through Jesus His Son.

[pause, pray and thank Him]

  1. Greatness Together

In addition to being connected with God, we are connected, together.

Paul wrote, “no Jew or Gentile,” and by this he didn’t mean that there would be NO ONE, but that as different ethnic groups, we would actually become One New People.

We who were not a people, are now the people of God.

And if the people who believe in Jesus would act like they believed in Jesus and fellowship with each other, work together, give at least 10% of their income to the Lord’s work, and dedicate their lives and families to the Lord and His work, then we would reach the world within a short time.

As followers of Jesus, the divisions that usually separate people, have melted. Let’s consider Race, Religion, Culture and Position. 

  1. Race…

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew…”

In Christ there is no racial separation, but why do we have churches, still, that have racial separation?

We must understand that some people like worshiping only with their “kind.”

I don’t want to judge them, but if we would want to worship with others who are different than us, then I think we’ll reach the world, faster.

Even in Missions I met people who tried to separate people by race, thinking it was better, and where as it might be better to have a new believer mentored by an older believer of his ethnic group, the gathering for public worship out to look as much like heaven, as the vision that John had in the revelation when he saw people from every tribe, people and tongue.

But it is easier said than done, I’ll admit that.

Different people whether it is a different culture, race or language takes some getting used to.

The early Church had some getting used to that had to be done.

Jews and Gentiles were separated

This was not a bad thing, on the one hand, as God designated Abraham to start a new people, through whom, the Redeemer, Jesus, would come.

But, now that He has come, there is no need for the racial division that previously was to reveal God through a people, now all people could be saved.

When the great Azusa Street Revival began in 1906, Blacks, Whites and Hispanics worshiped together, and received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, together.

Sadly, in time, there were those Christians who were against the Pentecostal teaching, and claimed it to be of the devil.

As well, there were those who didn’t like seeing the races mix together, and they created scandals about it.

But, it was too late, people began to see that they did not need to be segregated anymore.

God, who created culture, designated one man, Abraham, to be the father of many nations, and through Him, and His descendant, Jesus, God promised to bless all nations because God so loved all the world,

“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.

Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

  1. Religion

[neither] circumcised or uncircumcised

Circumcision may seem a bit odd, it only affected the men, and how did anyone know whether a man was circumcised or not?

Well, bathing was not always a private matter in the ancient world, and so this was a way that people would know.

As well, I was surprised when I visited the city of Miletus, in Turkey, which is a biblical city, that at the city gates there were baths. People were supposed to go to the baths upon entry into the city, and be inspected for diseases. And in that way, circumcision was exposed.

Circumcision, in a sense, refers to religion. Godly Religion is meant to focus attention upon God, however, religion can be spoiled and cause one to focus upon itself, as Paul had first-hand knowledge of, and as Jesus preached against.  RELATIONSHIP is the goal of the Christian Religion, not religion itself.

Paul wrote “[no] circumcised nor uncircumcised.” This was done to the body as a sign of the covenant, but what man really needed was that this would be done to the spiritual heart, and that excess would be cut off, and room for Jesus would be made.

  1. Culture

“[no] Barbarian [nor] Scythian.”

Barbarians were called such because they were non-Greeks who’s language sounded like “barbarbarbarbar.”  The Scythians were looked down upon even by the Barbarians (though, the Scythians became the Kazakhs, by the way, and had a sophisticated culture, and a “golden man”). Culture may influence our understanding of God, but let it influence in a positive manner and not a negative manner.  The Amish keep the culture of the Middle Ages, basically, but where is their actual faith in Jesus and relationship?

I recall many times when my Kazakh friends had trouble separating culture from faith, and they would not eat certain foods because they associated these foods with the religion of Islam.

I, on the other hand, had no trouble eating the foods because I didn’t have that same heritage.

I learned to not eat them, though, on certain occasions (during certain holidays) because it was as though I were participating in the rituals of another religion.

In Christ, cultures are redeemed, and ideas can take on a new meaning.

Jesus declared all food to be clean, and declared that man-made religious and cultural regulations were not correct.

  1. Position

[no] slave or free

We who are free, really are not free, and we who are enslaved, really are not. This is not to excuse the American institution of slavery, which is a heinous blot upon our history and our landscape, still. Some ask, “why is this still a problem?” and yet, what we should understand is that with the Civil War, Jim Crow laws and the KKK, the problem has not been able to go away, fast enough. In the Muslim world, for example, some Muslims are angry about the crusades of the Middle Ages, and while the term “crusade” is used differently, today, it brings up a negative connotation that still causes people to shudder

AS BELIEVERS we are slaves, truly. Did you know that in Greek, “servant” and “slave” are the same term doulos?  Jesus came as a SLAVE for man. Paul was a SLAVE to Christ. We are to be slaves, too, but without chains.

No separation does not mean no difference. Differences are beautiful.

Consider the situation of Joseph in the book of Genesis. He was Hebrew, an Israelite. He was betrayed, sold into slavery, imprisoned and forgotten.

As a Hebrew, he was detestable to the Egyptians. Hebrews and shepherds were looked down upon by the shepherds, which made it that much easier for the Egyptians to enslave them and treat them like property.

As an Israelite, Joseph was a follower of the One True God, and he made God known in a land where people believed in many gods. We live in a land with many religions. Don’t worry about all these religions coming to America, we were messed up in the religion department long ago, as Americans make their own religions J Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Universalist Church, Unitarian Church, Unity Church, Moorish Temple of Science, Wiccans and even the Church of Satan all started here in the USA.

In this pluralistic society, we need to shine as lights and let people know that we believe in the One True God.

Culture: America doesn’t have much of it’s own culture, but we collect culture. What is truly American is Yankee ingenuity, Baseball, Hotdogs, and country music, …though Yankee ingenuity took what was invented in Europe and made it better. Took the game of Cricket and made it shorter. Took German sausages and made them smaller (and with questionable ingredients) and took Irish folk music and slowed it down to make country music.

Joseph’s culture was formed by his language and his upbringing. Though his culture had been created by God through his great-grandfather, Abraham, and was set apart by God, his culture had not acted godly. Therefore, he had been an arrogant sounding dreamer, while his brothers were schemers, world-be murderers and slave-traders.

Position…Joseph, as I mentioned, was a slave, yet he came to a high position in Egypt.

It is wonderful to realize that a betrayed man who believed in the One True God and was a great-grandson of Abraham, and was sold into slavery, imprisoned and forgotten, would rule as egypt’s second in command.

Joseph did not rule without Egypt, but it was God who made him great!

When I think about our denomination, the Assemblies of God, we have our roots in the Azusa Street Revival.

Did you know that William Seymour who started that revival was a black man.

Africans were brought to America and served as slaves.

African families were broken up, and had to make do in extreme and harsh conditions.

African women were raped and men were worked to death building our great nation, and even a war happened that brought an end to slavery, but with it came destruction to our nation.

yet our denomination owes its origination to the son of a former slave, William Seymour who started a revival in 1906.

In this revival, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as mentioned in Acts 2, were given, and blacks, whites and Hispanics worshipped together.

  1. Here” Is Where?

Where is the “here” of this verse?

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Colossians 3:1-4

  1. Raised with Christ
    1. Resurrected Power (Present and Future)
    2. Position in the Kingdom of God (Present and Future)
  2. Focused on Righteousness
    1. Hearts…above where Christ is
    2. Minds…above for we died and are hidden in Christ
  • Deny self, Take up Cross, daily, follow Jesus (luke 9:23)

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 

Colossians 3:5-10

  1. Christ Is All in All
    1. Is All

Who is Christ?

Is He the American God?

Is He One god among many?

Is He One way to heaven?

According to the Word of God, Jesus is All

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.

Colossians 2:9, 10

We live in a pluralistic society that doesn’t believe the authority of the Bible.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.

Psalm 19:1-3

I am so glad that we gave $1100 to Hurricane Harvey relief. But, the US has been hit by a 1-2-3 punch with Harvey, Irma and Maria.

Mexico has been hit by earthquakes.

Jesus warned of terrible things in the end.

The sun disappeared in the solar eclipse.

The sea disappeared from islands and bays with Irma.

Christ is all…but people don’t want all if it is Christ. They want all if it is them.

  1. In All

Christ is in all.

If only the world would know Jesus as we know Him, then they would put everything else aside and follow only Him.

Our Mission

Intentionally connecting the changing community with the unchanging Gospel.

 

 

 

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Reached to Restore

I remember once when I was first in Kazakhstan, I was invited to accompany a team of doctors who were going to help some people in a village. The people didn’t have access to good health care, and these doctors were going to help them.

I went to pray with people who came to our “clinic.” If they wanted prayer or just to talk, I was there to listen and pray.

A woman came in who did not follow Jesus, and I quickly realized that she wasn’t interested in following him, but she did want to hear from God.

I had already told her that I would pray with her in Jesus’ Name, and she didn’t seem bothered by that

As we were talking, I felt that I needed to share the gospel with her. I asked a question, but that didn’t elicit the response I was hoping to get.

I was using an interpreter, and I believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well, so while the interpreter would interpret, I was able to quietly pray in the spirit (seeking God’s assistance and direction).

It seemed like I was speaking to a brick wall. I wanted so much to be able to tell this woman about Jesus, but she was closed.

“Help me, Lord,” my soul cried out, “I want her to hear.”

 You see, this woman was part of a group of people who think that they know all that there is to know about Jesus.

In fact, they think they know the correct information about him, and that we incorrect.

I had nothing in common with her:

  • she was a woman,
  • she was 10 years older,
  • and her life had been completely different than mine.
  • And, I didn’t know how I could speak to her about Jesus in a way that she would understand.

I thought, “If only she could hear, then one day, she might believe and follow Jesus.”

To many people around the world, “Christian,” is not understood, correctly.

A Christian is a person from a particular ethnic group or a particular country to some people. Some people think that all Americans are Christian.

We know that the term “Christian” is not political and even though it is a religious term, it originated as a description of people who followed Jesus.

The term was first used in Antioch, which is in modern Turkey.

At that time, it described those who followed Christ, but Christ had died 10 years prior to this term being used.

So how were people following a dead man?

Because Jesus has been resurrected from the dead, therefore, he is alive.

There are many churches in the New Testament and I appreciate the one in Colossae (which is in Turkey). What I like about them is that they were started by an ordinary person, Epaphras, who had heard the gospel in Ephesus took it back to his hometown of Colossae.

People listened to him as he shared, and the church began.

Paul later wrote to them and told them that he prays for them and is thankful for them.

Let’s look at some of the letter to the Colossians:

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people—the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf,and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:3-13

The title of my message today is “Reached to Restore.” Let’s pray.

PRAY

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for rescuing us from the dominion of darkness and bringing us into the realm of Your light and love.

Help us to grow in the knowledge of You, with wisdom and understanding, and help us to serve and love you more each day.

We thank you, in Jesus’ Name.

Amen

As I look at these verses, I want to focus especially upon verses 9-13.

I see so much in these verses that speak to us and our need. And for today’s message, I’ve reduced it to two main points:

  • Don’t stop praying
  • Don’t stop thanking
  1. Don’t Stop Praying

Paul wrote that he continuously prayed for this church.

He didn’t know them, but he was connected with them because they, too, had put their faith in Jesus.

They probably faced the same opposition that people face today.

They were afraid to change their religion. I get it.

But for these who had believed, Paul prayed for them since they had truly turned from darkness to light.

Some of the people in Colossae might have been Jewish, but the majority were most likely Greeks.

These Greeks had a sophisticated form of polytheism.

Polytheism is the belief in many gods. The province of Asia Minor housed significant shrines for those who worshipped these other gods.

The crafting and selling of idols were a big business, and in nearby Ephesus when silversmiths began losing money because so many were becoming Christians, it caused a riot.

As people put their faith in Jesus, their parents and grandparents were not happy.

But these new believers tried to help their families to see who Jesus really is.

The Greek world was very immoral, and the Colossians needed to turn from sinfulness that had bound them before they put their faith in Jesus, and they were to follow Jesus.

Jesus said we are to

  • deny ourselves,
  • take up our crosses daily
  • and follow Him.

So, Paul understood the challenges that these people were experiencing, and therefore he prayed for them.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you.

Colossians 1:9

We need to pray for unbelievers to believe and for believers to continue.

Lack of prayer reveals lack of faith.

Paul prayed that they would be filled with knowledge, understanding and wisdom.

When I provide pre-marital counseling, I often share  from Proverbs 24:3, 4:

By wisdom a house is built,
    and through understanding it is established;
through knowledge its rooms are filled
    with rare and beautiful treasures.       Proverbs 24:3, 4

A marriage needs this, and we as believers in and followers of Jesus need this, too.

Paul regularly prayed this for these people whom he did not know, because he knew how important it was to understand God more, daily through Jesus.

Paul didn’t stop praying.

We must not stop praying!

I’ve prayed for decades for people whom I didn’t know. I was led by God to do this.

Not only I, but many people around the world are praying for people who don’t know Jesus to put their faith in Him.

I had prayed for the people of Kazakhstan for 11 years by the time I had that encounter with the woman who came to me wanting prayer, but not Jesus.

I prayed in the Spirit asking God to give me the right words.

I didn’t want to push, but wanted to just try to share Jesus with her. When I saw that she wasn’t interested, then I decided to help her with what she came for: prayer.

I asked, “How can I pray for you, today?”

The interpreter said, “She doesn’t know why she came in here, she just felt that it was the right thing to do.”

I thought about that, and about the years of praying for Kazakhstan, and years of study and ministry; years of support-raising (and

River of Life was one of our supporting churches).

Here I was on the other side of the world from where I was born, with a time difference of 11 hours from Richmond. I was in a village away from my family with a group of strangers and meeting other strangers.

And this woman, who wasn’t interested in Jesus came to me and said she believed it was the right thing for her to come into my room.

Its times like that when we think,

“Wow, here I am, placed by God, but I don’t know what to do.”

I had prayed for moments like this, and yet it seemed to be slipping away.

And I was not succeeding at telling her what I needed to tell her.

In my training I learned that some people need to hear the gospel 100 times before they will believe it. Possibly, this was going to be her 1st time to hear. I kew I should not be discouraged.

But, I continued to pray in my heart for the right words.

The Scriptures teach us how to focus our hearts, moment by moment:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When we realize that we are not joyful,

  • then we need to recognize that something is messed up in our lives.

When we realize that we are not following God’s Will and plan,

  • then we must realize that we are not keeping in communication with Him.

As well, we need to have Grateful hearts, always.

A grateful heart is a joyful heart, while and sad, angry, bitter or depressed heart is anything but thankful.

Paul told this Colossian church that he was praying for them, and that they needed to joyfully give thanks to God.

  1. Don’t Stop Thanking

…giving joyful thanks to the Father

Colossians 1:12

What was the reason to give thanks to God?

  • They truly believed in One God, no longer believing in other gods.
  • They previously caused followed religions to appease the gods.

BUT In Jesus, they found no need to appease God, for His Only Son had done that for them.

And because they believed in Jesus, they qualified to be included in God’s family, the Church.

He had rescued them from darkness into light.

They had been redeemed from hell, and were now on their way to heaven.

Their previous religion, and all religions, really, put emphasis upon their good works in order to be saved.

Modern man tries to redefine even the very basic components of life.

But, we cannot redefine our destiny without Jesus. He wants to redefine it.

And because we have been saved from hell, we give thanks to God.

In the Bible, we see gratitude expressed on dozens of occasions. Gratitude is the result of a life that trusts FULLY in God.

We cannot solve all of our problems on our own, but we truly need the help of God in our lives.

Some people believe and are thankful, and yet, there are those who don’t believe, and are oblivious to the work of God around them.

As we give thanks, we begin to notice God’s hand around us.

     We need to be people who give thanks.

      If we give thanks, regularly, then we will become more attuned to the hand of God around us.

When I spoke with that woman in Kazakhstan, I wanted to share with her about Jesus, but she wasn’t interested.

I tried, but was not succeeding.

I prayed and asked God’s help.

Then I learned that she felt led by something to come to me.

So, as I prayed and asked for God’s help, I, then, did what comes natural for me, I just began to talk.  🙂

And giving thanks is part of my regular conversation.

When we are thankful, we can be more expressive.

We are not worried because we are thankful!

Gratitude makes the best attitude, and with such a mind, our thankfulness can become contagious.

  • Even with the cultural distance between me and this woman,
  • and even though we had to communicate through an interpreter,
  • my thankfulness was contagious,
  • and she began to listen.

I talked about…

  • Following God and how He had brought restoration
  • My life was focused upon Him, and I was at peace
  • He had cleansed me from sin and from guilt, and I no longer carried the burden of my sins because of God’s provision and help.

When the woman heard that, she interrupted me through the interpreter,

“I want to be cleansed of sin and guilt.”

Suddenly, it was as though the sun began to break through the clouds, and I saw her smiling.

God’s Holy Spirit had led me to say the right thing to her.  We found common ground as we are both members of the human race, therefore, we are sinners and in need of God’s grace.

I began to share with her about Jesus.

This time, she listened.

God had opened her heart to hear.

I had prayed, for 11 years for that moment.

I had prayed for 11 minutes in that room in between sentences.

And then that woman bowed her head, closed her eyes, prayed with me and the interpreter.

And she walked out of that room as a “Christian.”

Oh, she didn’t exactly know that she was a Christian, I just told her that she was now a follower of Isa Masih (Jesus Christ) and that she needed to live for him.

She joined a group of other followers of Jesus, though she didn’t realize that she was part of a church, because to her, “church” was a building with pictures and candles, but in truth, Church is the group of people who follow Jesus.

CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING BUT IT IS A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO’VE BEEN RESTORED BY CHRIST!

She had been reached by a team of people over the course of years, and people back here in the US were praying for us and supporting us, financially.

She was reached to restore, and as a member of the “church” in her community, she was in place to help reach others so that they could be restored.

Once Jesus had healed a blind man. The man didn’t know who Jesus was, but Jesus healed him.

When people asked him, “what happened?” his answer simply was, “I was blind, but now I see.”

God is calling us to be reached.

He is calling us to reach out to others.

He wants to restore this community.

We have been reached in order to restore.

Don’t stop praying

Don’t stop thanking God

I heard a statistic this week.

Based on church membership in this Richmond metropolitan area, there are over 300,000 people who attend church!

While that sounds great, let me share the negative side of this: there are over 900,000 who do not attend church. Some of those who don’t attend might be believers, but they are not following as Jesus told them to…Jesus established the Church!

And there are those among the 300,000 who are not following Jesus, but they are still connected with a church.

We need to reach this community.

Our mission is to Intentionally Connect the Changing Community with the UnChanging Gospel.

Our Mission

Intentionally connecting the changing community with the unchanging Gospel.

How can we be intentional about reaching this community?

IT BEGIN WITH PRAYER AND THANKFULNESS.

Let’s pray

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Restored to Restore

I truly try to keep the perspective that life is full of adventure, and I am on the ride of my life!

Yes, I am optimistic to a fault and visionary, but were it not for the presence of Jesus and His Spirit and Word with us, I don’t think I would be able to move forward with anything.

Things have been different in my life this past year, and they have been different for each of us, especially at the River.

One year ago, we tendered our resignation with Assemblies of God World Missions. We knew that we were not RETIRING but being TRANSFERRED by our Lord and Savior.

We went back to the field for about 6 weeks and visited 9 nations during that time. That was an adventure.

God had been stirring something new in our hearts.

We called it:

Same Calling/Different Address.

What you don’t know is that 9 months prior to our resignation, in December of 2015, I was suddenly thrust into a very low moment. Clover and I both were. It was not anything to do with our marriage, but we had a short-term opportunity that we had been prayed for, and without asking for it, we were offered this opportunity.

I prefer not to give too many details about this, ok?

We couldn’t believe it, as we had previously been told by those in authority that these opportunities were not possible.

But, suddenly, we were being offered something that we needed, and we were ready to receive it.

We made plans with those in authority.

But, when the opportunity was supposed to begin, the decision-makers were silent.

When I wrote an email, I was told not to worry, it would be taken care of.

But, a few days later, on our wedding anniversary, I received two emails:

  • one congratulating us;
  • the other asking me to make a phone call.

In the course of that phone conversation, the opportunity that we had been anticipating for almost 10 months came crashing down, and I was told by the person who had actually offered the opportunity, that I should have never expected it.

Clover and I were very disappointed by this news.

The next 6 months which we had thought were mapped out for us, were now gone … along with the benefits we had hoped to receive.

I know that many of us in this congregation have gone through much worse things, and honestly, I’ve had harder disappointments, too. But this disappointment was painful.

I knew that in order to move forward, I had to deal with it.

How do we deal with disappointment and offense?

  • Do we think about it all the time, and keep aiming our pain at the offender?

This can happen very naturally, but God calls us to no longer conform to the image of this world.

  • We could hold our feelings in, and not deal with them.

But this can cause health issues over time. It can cause us to become bitter and angry.  Holding in our feelings is not the best way to handle this.

  • We can talk about the person who has disappointed us, and cause others to become offended with him or her.

But this is so destructive to the Church, as we are the Body of Christ…who are we to judge another in that manner.

This does not honor God, but dishonors Him and His Church.

We need to be Christ-like in these offenses and disappointment.

Jesus had much to be disappointed with…

  • If only my father were around
  • If only my mother and brothers would really believe in me
  • If only those who knew the Scriptures would acknowledge me
  • If only my 12 disciples would man up, and stand with me in my trials
  • If only…
  • If only…

Clover and I practice BLESSING those who curse us, as the Scripture teaches.

It isn’t always easy, but on that first day of disappointment, and any day that my flesh wants to be disappointed, again, I TRY to bless the one who disappointed me.

I ask God, “Bless this person, help them to have what they need. Help them to have a good day, today. Give them peace, today.”

Two weeks ago, we looked at Philippians 2:1-5 and we saw that we need to…

Be the Restoration

  • Be United
  • Be Humble
  • Be Like Christ

I want to continue this theme of restoration, today, and I want us to reach out to God for our own restoration.

Today, I want us to look at Philippians 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

The title of my message is:

Restored to Restore

Let’s Pray

PRAY 

Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word to us, this day.

Thank You for the goal of this Word:

PEACE with You in our Hearts and minds.

 We choose this day to rejoice in You.

 We Choose this day to let the gentleness that Your Spirit develops in us to be visible to others.

 We choose today, to give to You all of our anxieties, worries and cares because we recognize that You care for us.

 And we look forward to Your Peace coming upon us, and remaining as we continue to choose to follow Your Word.

 In Jesus’ Name.

 Amen

  1. Attitude Like Christ

Two weeks ago, we read that our attitude needs to be like Christ’s.

Jesus came from heaven in humility and submitted to the worst form of death as a sacrifice for all of us.

Thus, we, too, need to have deference for each other.

Not pushing for our own way, but looking after other’s interests.

Last week, as we considered restoration and racism, we chose to recognize that even if we don’t feel racism, we need to listen, and we need to respond.

The Christ-like attitude continues not only in how we respond to others, but in how we respond to our own discouragement.

All during that time from December, 2015 through July, 2016, I dealt with that disappointment.

It was diminishing as time moved on, but diminishment is not automatic.

I’m sure you’ve met bitter people. They are the ones who cannot let go of offenses (either real or imagined) and, therefore, become very bitter.

They are not people of peace. They are not gentle in spirit. They are anxious, and their hearts are sad.

In this passage, we see that the Christ-like attitude includes several characteristics:

Several Characteristics of a Christ-like Attitude:

  • Joy
  • Gentleness
  • Recognition God’s Presence
  • At Ease and at Peace
  • Entrusting God with everything
  1. Joy…rejoice in the Lord, always
  2. Gentleness…the world needs gentleness, now more than ever
  3. Recognition of God’s Presence …The Lord is near us and beside us
  4. At ease and at peace…not anxious
  5. Entrusting God with everything

praying to God and not relying on our own worries to settle something

–With Thankfulness

[NOTICE THE TERMS UNDERSCORED IN THE PASSAGE]

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoiceLet your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is nearBe anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.                                  Philippians 4:4-7

Today, if we look at these characteristics and don’t see them reflected in our own lives, then we need to be honest with God, and ask Him to help us.

The help can come immediately or after some time, but the help must be continued.

We must choose to…

  1. Rejoice
  2. Be gentle
  3. Recognize God’s Presence
  4. Trust the Lord

And the result is that we will be

  1. Peace

So, our Attitudes need to be Like CHRIST

And we need to have an …

  1. Awareness of Christ

Paul wrote,

“The Lord is near.”

That could mean that the return of the Lord is near, and truly, He is nearer today than when Paul wrote these words, but it could also refer to the NEARNESS OF Christ in our daily lives.

Recognizing the Lord’s Presence is a Discipline.

God’s Word, His revelation informs me that He is right here with me.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

I choose to believe this and other words from God in the Bible, and therefore I know He is with me whether

  • I am in the valley of the shadow of death
  • or at the ends of the ends of the earth.

As a disciple who wants to be Christ-like in my attitude and chooses to be aware of Christ’s presence, I can be what we as a church aspire to be:

River of Life Community Church:

  • We are Contributors, not Consumers;
  • We are not Spectators, but Participants.

Every church should be like this, and every believer in Jesus, too.

Being aware of Christ helps us to then to be able to hear His voice when we are discouraged and overwhelmed.

Listen to God’s Voice in Discouragement

It sounds presumptuous to say that we can hear God’s voice, but I cannot apologize for this. I believe that it is God’s desire that we hear His voice above all others.

Certainly, we hear His voice in the Scriptures.

Therefore, the enemy of God and of us, is at odds with God’s Word.

We see this tactic in the world today how the authority of God’s Word has been publicly diminished.

Yet, we do not need to be distraught at how the world looks at God’s Word, but instead, let’s be people who believe it, live it and share it.

When Jacob ran away from his brother, Esau, he was discouraged. While he had obtained some privileges through deception and manipulation, he now found himself on the run. One evening, God revealed Himself to Jacob.

Jacob had a vision, and saw God in heaven at the top of stairs, while angels ascended and descended between him and God.

God promised Jacob that the land where he was sleeping, and where he was a fugitive at that moment (like a refugee) would later belong to his family.

Jacob heard God’s voice, and he believed.

Jacob’s response was this:

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”      Genesis 28:16, 17

For Jacob, it was a surprise to realize that God was there with him.

For me when I was discouraged last year, I didn’t wait for God to reveal Himself in order to be convinced that God was with me. I chose to believe that my discouragement was not a surprise to God and not unknown to Him.

I chose to believe that He was working even in my discouragement, and that He would be glorified even in my humility.

I felt horrible in my discouragement, but I declared that God would overrule my burdened heart.

Jacob changed the name of the place where he was from Luz to Bethel. Bethel means “house of God.”

He saw the place differently.

We, too, see things differently when we are aware of God’s presence.

A friend of mine grew up as an atheist in South Korea, but when he was in university, he met God and put his faith in Jesus. –

–Suddenly, he said, he noticed everything in the world had meaning, because it had been created by God.

We, too, need to not only recognize God, but to recognize His presence in our world and in our situations. It can change our views and our attitudes.

We need to equip ourselves with a

(1) Christ-like attitude and we need to be (2) Aware of Christ’s presence, then we will be able to Accomplish things with Christ.

  1. Accomplishment with Christ

Years later, God met Jacob again, when he was returning to that land. God had blessed him while he was away, and he was wealthy and had a huge family.

When he heard that his brother was coming to meet him, Jacob was concerned and worried.

In his concern, God met with Him, again.

God gave him a new name. Just as Jacob had renamed Bethel, so God likes to rename people, too, sometimes.

  • Abram became Abraham,
  • Sarai became Sarah
  • Simon became Peter

And Jacob, who’s name meant “deceiver” became “Israel” which means “One who has struggled with God.”

Jacob not only struggled with God, but he was able to move forward with God.

Jacob, renamed as Israel, was able to meet with his brother in confidence because God had met him.

And Jacob’s brother was no longer angry with him, and they had a good meeting.

I know that things don’t always work out the way they did for Jacob and his brother, Esau, but we can have restoration in our own lives.

Then, whether someone else is restored or not, we are not crippled by someone else’s bitterness.

When Paul wrote to the Philippian church he thanked them for giving him a financial gift.

Without boasting, however, he told them that he has learned how to be content whether he was well fed or hungry.

Then he said a famous quote from this letter:

13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

He stated this in context to being content in financial situations, but the term “all” is important to remember. It doesn’t say, “I can do a few things,” or “some” things. I can do “all” things…And we can, too.

But, anxiety, worry, stress weigh heavy upon us.

If we want to create a culture of restoration in the church, we need to be restored.

If we want others to be restored, we, too, need to practice what we preach.

If we want others to believe in Jesus for healing and restoration, reconciliation and salvation, we too, need to believe…and show the fruit of that belief.

The Word says that God’s peace which is greater than man’s comprehension.

God’s peace, which is greater than anything that the devil or the world, or even our own sinful flesh can dish out against us…God’s peace is offered…and we need to be people who seek His peace, and pursue it.

We need to be people who keep our hearts, minds, souls…eyes and ears fixed upon Christ, because He cares for us and offers us peace!

It requires a relationship with Christ.

  • The attitude of Christ
  • The awareness of Christ
  • And then we can accomplish with Christ.

God calls us to look at life, differently.

As Jacob saw the place of his vision as the “house of God.”… let us open our eyes, too, and see the presence of the Creator all around us.

The Word of God helps us to see things, differently, as Paul wrote:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.                        Philippians. 4:8

We need to change our thinking, and renew our minds.

In this way, we can accomplish great things with Christ.

What do we need to accomplish with Christ, today?

  • Some of us need restoration, today.
  • Others need to help lead someone to restoration.
  • And the rest of us will either be in need of …leading someone in the near future.

Let’s seek Him, and we will find Him, thus let’s seek Him with our whole heart.

We need to be healed and restored as we reach out to others, and offer restoration to them.

Let us be…

Restored to Restore

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for Your Word, today, and for how Your Word will minister to us. As Jacob went through disappointment, You met him, and he changed.

Help us, Lord, to remember the value of thinking about what is:

true,

noble,

right,

pure,

lovely,

admirable

excellent

or praiseworthy

And as we think on these things, our hearts will rest in the peace that You promise.

We ask You to meet with us, too, dear Lord.

In Jesus’ Name we pray, amen.

 

 

 

 

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Create in Me a Pure Heart: A Continuing Response to Racism

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
                                    Psalm 51:10-12

I want to ask you, today, what is the context of this Psalm?

What was the occasion of its writing?

The superscription that appears prior to the first verse gives some of the context:

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. (Psalm 51 superscription)

David did much more than commit adultery, he deceived, and he conspired to commit murder of Bathsheba’s husband.

How was he feeling between these sinful acts and the moment when Nathan, the prophet, confronted him?

Perhaps he was feeling guilty.

Perhaps he was numb.

Perhaps he was justifying his sinfulness

-not seeing it as sin.

He could have used the Scriptures to justify his actions; even though the same Scriptures would condemn him.

Two weeks ago, we considered Scriptural teaching to be a Living Sacrifice, and last week, I shared about how we need to be a church of restoration.

What went into last week’s message was

  • the need and
  • desire
  • to see people calling to God for a clean heart.

It is so that the members of the church would be thinking…

  • grace rather than judgment,
  • peace rather than conflict,
  • forgiveness rather than vengeance;
  • restoration rather than abandonment.
  • Repentance rather than revisionism

Thus, the church would welcome everyone to hear about and follow Jesus.

We mentioned a little last week about the situation that had happened the day before in Charlottesville.

I am used to not speaking too much in a sermon about particular events, as this is a place of Christian ministry, and not a place of politics.

But what happened last week was

  • more than a demonstration and a counterdemonstration.
  • More than even the deaths of two police officers and one counterdemonstrator.

What happened was that our nation, which was founded for freedom, and DECLARING ALL MEN TO BE ENDOWED BY THEIR CREATOR WITH THE INALIENABLE RIGHTS OF LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS…

Our nation continues to be divided over issues such as racism.

Politics hasn’t saved us.

If anything, politics has been dividing our nation for decades.

Media does not save us, for it seems to many that media (mainstream, conservative and social media) may be fueling this fire more and more.

This message today is not about racism, but again, about restoration and reconciliation.

Racism will be addressed, but restoration will be the goal.

You may be surprised, though, at the Scripture texts for today’s message. Some say that the Bible teaches racism, but I believe that when we look at the Bible, which IS God’s Word, it SCREAMS for RESTORATION, RECONCILIATION and PROPER RACE RELATIONS.

My text for today’s message comes from John 8:2-11. This is the story commonly referred to as the woman caught in the act of adultery.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”                                                       John 8:2-11

The title of my message is

Create in Me a Pure Heart: A Continuing Response to Racism

Let’s pray

PRAY

Lord, today we pray, as a church,

for our community, state and nation.

We pray that you will help us to change, and become more like You want us to be.

We ask you to create in us clean hearts…to renew a right spirit within us, not a spirit of division, but a spirit of unity and restoration.

Lord, we long for Your presence, and we do not want to stop fellowshipping with Your Holy and Precious Spirit.

Lord, we want to not only know the Joy of Your Salvation and Restoration, but we want to share that with others in a manner in which they will hear.

We ask You, Lord, for a willing spirit, that is willing to follow Your example, that says, “I won’t condemn you, and I ask you to go and no longer follow your life of sin.”  We thank You, in Jesus’ Name.     Amen.

As we look at this story, I see several notable points:

  1. The Players
  2. The Accusations
  3. The Results
  4. The Players

By “players,” I mean those in the story, as though it were a stage performance.

Here they are:

  • Jesus
  • The Accused Woman
  • The Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees
  • The Bystanders (Those Listening to Jesus’ Teaching).

Jesus

He was the one being Tested. to see how he would respond to the accusers.

If Jesus had said what people say today about adultery, like

“it’s not really a sin anymore,”

then the crowd of listeners/bystanders might have begun to stone him.

Jesus, however, believed the Law of God.

But, if Jesus answered according to the fullest extent of the Law…at least on the surface, then He must condemn the woman.

If he condemned her, then his accusers would inform the Romans that Jesus was breaking the law, since only Romans could issue death sentences.

The accusers tried to put Jesus in a conundrum.

Jesus paused.

This is often good when someone is badgering us, and trying to entrap us.

Pause.

Pausing gives us time to relax. Adrenaline decreases, and correct thinking can begin.

Jesus wrote on the ground during the pause.

I don’t know what he wrote.

Some wonder if He wrote the names of the accusers, or if He wrote the sins of the accusers.

We are not told, but we do know that He wrote.

He wants to write in our hearts, today, too. He wants to create in us, pure hearts.

The Woman

This woman was accused of being caught in the act of Adultery.

So, where was the man? He, too, would be guilty.

As we see, the presence of the solitary woman suggests that reverence for the Law was not important to the Teachers of the Law or the Pharisees at that moment, but they needed someone.

They needed a victim in order to entrap Jesus.

  1. The Accusation

I’ve already referred to the accusation, but here I refer, again.

This time, I refer to it in light of today’s situation in our divided nation.

Racism is still a problem in America

The statues act like lightning rods for people on many different sides.

We must remember that those who support historic statues are not all racists.

Let me repeat this:

To support the statues does not make one a racist.

And there may very well be racists who don’t care about the statues, either.

Not everyone sees every issue in the same way.

  • Not every black person sees this in the same way.
  • Nor do all Whites see it in the same way.

Some feel it stronger than others.

I recall when I was in Chase City, we had an integrated church. We had one regular black family, a black woman and a black and white couple.

A minister from a denomination that is PROUDLY/supposedly against racial discrimination told me

“Your church would grow if you got rid of that black family.”

I was shocked.

People wrote racial comments on the sidewalk in front of this black family’s home. They felt racism.

We felt it with them.

I asked some young African-American adults in Chase City about racism. They said that they didn’t feel any problem with racism, but that their parents and grandparents did.

The accusation still stands, though:

America still has problems with racism, though many have tried to overcome it.

Once a white couple began to say horrible things against me and my family.

They were offended and no longer wanted to associate with us.

I was shocked, as they falsely accused us of snubbing them, and in retaliation, they chose to snub us.

I’ve tried to keep opportunities for communication with one in the couple.

We met for coffee, and he tore into me about my job as a pastor.

He said that pastors are political, and that we only care about ourselves and money.

Later, he sent me a text message:

The Church needs to address racism, and not ignore it.”

I thought, where did that come from?

The church is either

  • like the woman caught in adultery, standing alone without the other partner.
  • Or the Church is in the role of Jesus, and people who claim to care our democracy and rights, accuse us.

How will we know if we have satisfied their accusations?

The Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees

We who are in the Church, especially us leaders, need to be leading the Church as God leads us,

  • not to be bullied into a certain direction,
  • and not to respond with a “knee-jerk” reaction.

What we do, affects those around us.

Even those who are not part of our church.

The Pharisees and Teachers wanted to be the ones on top,

but people were so busy listening to and following Jesus,

that the Pharisees were losing their position…losing control.

I learned about racism in my church, growing up.

It was not an Assemblies of God church, but from a denomination that proudly waves the flag of progressiveness.

I recall when I was young, and at our church in the country, as soon as we drove up, the women would go into the church building, and the men and boys would stand around outside.

Some of the men would be smoking big stinky cigars, too.

Our pastor was well known in the denomination.

This denomination usually is vocally against racism.

The pastor was an author and had held an important position in the denomination.

He had a good reputation with one of the nearby seminaries, and when he had to be away, the seminary sent students to preach.

One Sunday, while the women were inside the building and the men were outside, we were waiting for the seminary student.

Into the parking lot came a big two-toned car.

Out stepped a tall and handsome young man in a flashy outfit.

It was the early 1970s.

My dad, brother and I went over to greet him.

We all assumed he was the seminary student.

The other men in the parking lot stared.

Women began approaching the door, and peeking outside.

I heard the organist say, “The seminary knows better than to send us a black man.”

Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that the tall man was also a black man.

While we spoke to him, my brother asked how his classes were at seminary.

“I’m not from the seminary.”

“Really, we thought you were the student preacher, today.” 

“No,” he replied. “I awoke today and God told me to go to your church, so here I am.”

The seminary student arrived, a little later, and we all went in to listen to his sermon.

I don’t recall anything the student said, but I do recall that for the first time in my life, I was in an integrated church, at least for one Sunday.

  1. The Results

The results of the story in the Gospel of John is that Jesus followed the Law, but gave a condition:

That he who was without sin, throw the first stone.

This resulted in the people dropping their stones and leaving.

Jesus asked the woman where were her accusers,

to which she answered that there were none,

so Jesus said,

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”                                     John 8:11

Jesus did not excuse the sin, but told her to leave her sin.

We who are being accused of not speaking out against racism enough, are probably guilty.

But those who are accusing us, are guilty of other things, too.

Instead of accusing, let’s restore.

Jesus saved that woman from being stoned,

but he also told her to not continue in a life of adultery.

He offered restoration.

Can we repent of our racism?

Or can we repent of our silence on this issue?

Yes, some people are overly sensitive to racism, but others are desensitized.

We need to be addressing this issue, but not only in our pulpits, we need to address it in our hearts.

We need pure hearts, created by God.

When I went to university, I had two black roommates.

I was excited. But in time, I found it was so easy to offend one of them over racial issues.

I didn’t see it, and I needed to learn, but at the same time, he needed to not be so overly sensitive.

My other roommate was a strong follower of Jesus, and we talked some about these issues. He offered grace when I was unintentionally awkward.

This week we talked about racism in our staff meeting.

It was our final meeting with our intern, Marina.

She said that her generation wants to hear more from the Church about issues that are dividing our society.

She suggested that we interview an African-American, about the issue.

Frank Christian is a friend of mine.

I think I’ve known him for over 35 years.

He is from West End Assembly of God.

And he, Frances-his wife, and Shannon-their daughter, are volunteers with us at our ESL Conversation Café on Tuesdays. Their son, Jonathan, was a friend of our son, Colin.

INTERVIEW

Peyton: How do African-Americans experience racism in America, today?

Frank: [response]

Peyton: How have you experienced racism, personally?

Frank: [response]

Peyton: What has been your response to racism?

Frank: [response] 

Peyton: How can the local church address racism in your experience and opinion?

Frank: [response]

In Frank’s responses, we see that he doesn’t act like some.

He was changed by Jesus.

We, too, can be changed.

We need to ask God,

“How am I dividing or uniting my community over the issue of racism?”

“How can I honor You, and glorify Your Name in relation to this issue?”

Bystanders:

It seems, nothing is mentioned of the bystanders after verse 2

Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts.

People were listening. His disciples, followers and others who were there for worship.

What happened to the people whom Jesus was teaching?

Were they silent?

Perhaps they were intimidated by the situation.

Or did they join the accusers?

Who is left in the scene?

John only mentions Jesus and the woman.

Whatever the case, some of the bystanders may have remained, and some may have been caught up in the frenzy of the moment.

  • Ready to accuse,
  • ready to defend a position,
  • ready to be political,
  • ready to be religious.

Are we going to be bystanders who join the protesters?

Are we going to be bystanders who join the accusers?

Are we going to be bystanders who remain silent?

Or, are we going to be bystanders who become agents for change, looking for peaceful ways to prophetically speak to society.

  • Helping the racist see the truth.
  • Freeing the victims of racism.
  • Helping all to be free in Jesus.

I said in the beginning:

Racism will be addressed, but restoration will be the goal.

Racism is evil.

I looked online for some biblical views on racism.

I noticed that the Huff Post had two hits that came up, consecutively:

The first hit was that the Bible should not be twisted and misused to justify racism, but that the truth of the Bible is against Racism.

The next said the opposite, that the Bible is guilty of justifying racism.

Yes, on the surface, we can justify almost anything with the Bible,

but when we have a pure heart from God,

then we should see that the Bible is actually ANTI-Racism.

I am reminded of the word I began with, today.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
                                   Psalm 51:10-12

  • Are our hearts pure before God and man?
  • Are our spirits deliberate and steadfast in light of our divided society?
  • Are we remaining in God’s presence and sharing His presence with others?
  • Are we living in fellowship with His Holy Spirit?
  • Are we people who share the Joy of Salvation with others?
  • Are we sustained by a willing spirit that follows God’s will?

Let’s pray

Posted in Sermons, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Be the Restoration

I’m so thankful for you, our congregation here at River of Life. Thank you for your service to the Lord, and for your service to this community.

You are showing this community that you Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.

The community might not recognize this, yet, but that is what you are showing and practicing.

Do you realize that you have reached out to and touched an immigrant family here, and, indirectly touched their larger family on the other side of the world though your love.

We’ve done this as a church through our missionaries, but now we are reaching out to those God has moved here.

That is because, we, River of Life church aspire to be a church of …

River of Life Community Church:

  • We are Contributors, not Consumers;
  • We are not Spectators, but Participants.

And we invite the community to join us as contributors and as participants.

We are reaching the community, and in particular, we want to reach out to the international community (which is not being actively reached out to by most churches at this time).

In reaching out, we must continue to build up and be a Genuine Church.

A church needs to operate according to God’s plan and heart, that sees through the eyes of God that transformation and reformation can come to this community.

Our community IS changing, whether we like it or not, but if we wait until the change becomes more evident to begin addressing the changes, then we have waited too long.

Restoration is a spiritual process

This week, our sidewalks were power-washed, and they look great! They were restored. Don’t they look great?

The Word of God is all about renewal, refreshment and restoration.

Even something new, requires renewing from time to time.

Last week we considered Romans 12:1, 2 that stated we are not to be conformed to the world’s image, but to be transformed by renewing our minds.

Our minds need renewal, just as the sidewalks need restoration.

Our hearts need to be restored and even recreated due to the influences around us.

We need this cleansing not only because we are victims, but we sometimes are participants in the destruction around us.

  • We have wrong thoughts, and continue thinking them.
  • We say wrong things, and keep separating from others
  • We have calluses on our hands from handling the bricks with which we metaphorically construct walls.

I believe that Jesus came to die for our sins and to be raised from the dead, as the first of the resurrection.

 But I believe that until He returns or until we pass on into eternity, we have the task of serving the Lord here on earth.

Jesus established on earth something very special, and this continues on in the Church.

The Church is often criticized for not living up to the expectations of people.

  • We are too strict or
    • not strict enough.
  • We are too formal or
    • too relaxed.
  • We are too narrow or
    • not narrow enough.

I got a phone call from someone, yesterday, disagreeing with me for “Liking” an something on Facebook.

Yet, it’s interesting, I’ve also received calls when I didn’t like a Facebook announcement.

This neighborhood called “Lakeside” has an interesting demographic that is not listed on any survey that I know of, other than hearing from the people who live here:

There are probably hundreds of people in this community who used to follow God, but have turned away from Him.

Some of them were pastors, or pastor’s children, believe it or not.

Last week, I mentioned a story of a man whose family left the church because they wanted to play soccer…and that may be the reason behind some of these people leaving church, too, but here are three other four other reasons that people leave churches:

  1. Sin…their sinful lifestyles
  2. Disillusionment… they could not find the answer to their questions in the church
  3. Lack of faith or No Faith… I heard someone say, “I used to believe, then I grew up”
  4. There are too many hypocrites in church (I have jokingly said when people give this excuse that we will gladly make room for more. J

I believe that we need to make it a point to reach out to this community (and the communities where each of us lives), and we need to be ready to receive back those who’ve been out of fellowship.

This past Tuesday, there were 53 people here for our international outreach.

But reaching out to the international community is just one aspect of our ministry vision.

As well, I want to see our church operating in a healthy manner that welcomes anyone and everyone.

We need to be Genuine Church.

“Genuine Church” is a term I began to use in Istanbul.

“A Genuine Church is a group of Jesus-followers who gather to worship God; build each other up in faith; and reach out to their immediate community and to the world.”

I did this because I wanted to show how our church, even though it was not orthodox and it wasn’t catholic, but it was genuine, too.

Protestantism is not as well known in other parts of the world, and yet, people from those parts of the world want to move to the West where Protestant Christianity is greater.

Occasionally I would preach about being the Genuine Church.

Some people thought I was appealing to the millennials who want “authenticity,” but I wasn’t intentionally doing that, I was intentionally trying to announce to the whole community what it means to be Church.

One Turkish man who was interested in following Jesus came to us.

He was in his mid-20s and I asked, “Why did you come here?”

His answer was, “because your church is the real church.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, until after a few weeks. We met for coffee each week and discipleship.

He put his faith in Jesus during our third meeting and a few weeks later I asked, again, “why did you come to our church?”

He said, “because I saw online that you are referred to as “Genuine.”

Then it dawned on me, he had seen the description that we gave to our church stating that we were “genuine.”

River of Life is a genuine church, too, and we want to get closer to the genuine as we get closer to Jesus.

One thing that we’ve noticed, lately, is that there seems to be a great sense of fellowship and camaraderie among us.

We fellowship before the service begins and after the service ends.

Many of us come on Tuesdays and on Wednesdays, because we want to be with each other and we want to learn more and serve more.

When I think about a “genuine church,” I often think about some of the New Testament churches.

The Philippian church is a good example.

Paul wrote to the Philippians because of a problem in their midst.

That may surprise you, since we often describe this as a thank you letter, but there was a big problem between two members of this church. Chapter 4 begins with that problem being addressed. At the end of chapter 4, Paul thanks them for their gift, and mentions that they had given at least twice before.

They were genuinely generous.

They had a genuine feud between two people in the church.

They were a genuine church.

I believe that because of the feud that Paul wrote the words that chapter 2 begins with:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:1-5

Since March, we have had the same theme of “Living on Purpose.” As we live on purpose, we need to think of how will we invite others to live on purpose, too.

Let’s pray

Pray

[pray through verse 1-5, above].

  1. Be United

We need to be with Christ, submitting to His leadership and united in His will.

Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Philippians 2:1, 2

Being united with someone or something takes an effort on both parties.

We have to be willing so follow Jesus in order to be united with Him, but what does Jesus have to do?

Nothing more, as He’s already done the greatest work.

He came to earth. He died on the cross. He arose from the dead. He invites us to follow Him.

But when we read this verse about being united with Christ, we must remember it is not written to individuals alone, but to the church.

We are to FIRST be united with Christ in order for this verse to make sense.

As believers and followers of Jesus we are united in Christ.

This unification brings us the comfort from His love, and the sharing of compassion with the Holy Spirit.

We have Jesus in common among us.

If we are united, we will stand, together.

We will think positive about each other, rather than to think negatively about each other.

For example, when we look at our phones and see that a certain person is calling us, don’t immediately think, “oh this is going to be bad,” but instead, pray, “Lord, help me to hear with your ears, and answer with your love.”

We are united with Christ, let’s therefore be united with each other.

In addition to being united, we need to be…

  1. Be Humble

That is much easier said than done, but we need to not be divided by our selfishness, but we need to be encouraged to work together.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3, 4

We need to truly be humble.

Ernie, Linda, Clover and I just attended a Christian leadership conference called the Global Leadership Summit from a church called Willow Creek in Chicago. The conference was shown at a local church. During the conference, we were told that Humility is the greatest value for the leader.

And the more I lead, the more I realize this must be true.

For two decades while on the mission field, we had to describe and model “servant-leadership,” which was not evident in those countries where we lived.

I need to learn more about being humble, and that is why I like to get on my knees before God, because it is an act of worship and an act of humility.

As the church, we must be willing to look to the interests of others, not only our own.

This may seem to be a waste of time (and possibly, it is, sometimes…people have asked me often, “Peyton, why do you waste your time trying to reach this person or that person?”),

But with each time of looking to the interests of others, rather than my own, I learn new things:

  1. What is precious to someone else
  2. What is really important to me
  3. How we can work together (sometimes I don’t learn this until after everything falls apart, sadly)

Humility says, “You are important to me.”

Humility understands that “I can learn from you.”

Humility submits to the reality that “we need each other.”

The person who called me, yesterday, to complain about my “liking” a Facebook post, is an extreme example of someone who no longer can allow people to have a difference of opinion. Sadly, this has broken this person’s relationship with other family members. I told the person to reach out to family, and don’t push them away.

We don’t have to condone sinful behavior, but we can still reach out to those whom we should love…especially our family.

Let’s find a way to reach out and find common ground interests between us and others, with eyes of a Christ-follower to someone else.

Pride says, “I am important to me…in fact, I am important to the whole world.”

Pride’s mantra is “I deserve this or that.”

Pride also says, “no one else can have an opinion.”

None of us would admit that we are like this, publicly, but if we ask those close to us to tell us the truth, then they might let us know that we don’t listen to other opinions.

That is a hard exercise.

If we don’t want to go through the exercise, then at least begin to go through the process of restoration from pride by consciously changing our ways, and enlisting the help of others.

Indeed, we are all important, but let us not have the wrong opinion about ourselves.

We are to be united, and be humble…truly, a group of proud people have trouble being united, but a group of humble people, too, can have trouble being united.

We need the best example: Christ

  1. Be Like Christ

We are to have the attitude and mindset of Jesus Christ.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11

This is a lovely and powerful statement about the nature of Jesus.

Some people call Him “Christ,” yet they don’t understand what that meant.

He was “anointed” by God to save.

And as the Anointed Savior, He is also God in the flesh, who left heaven for earth.

Jesus was/Is God, yet, He left His throne to be with us, and even to die for us.

He, in humility, united Himself with humanity, and came to us to save and restore us.

Jesus, God in flesh, is the restorer.

We are to be like Him, and the Scripture says that the Lord…

“restores my soul”  

Psalm 23:3a

There are many ways in which we can be like Jesus, but I believe that the Church, at large, needs us to go back to school, so to speak, and be restored…and to begin restoring people.

And the Scriptures continue to teach that we are to restore people who are caught in sin.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.

Galatians 6:1-5

Let us be United, Humble, Christ-Like Restorers of others.

In the coming weeks I want us to discuss this even more, and prayerfully move into that direction.

Yes, we are becoming an international church according to our outreach, but we are also called to be His Church with our hearts open to receive and restore.

 Be the Restoration

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Refugees, Sermons | Leave a comment

Even When it Hurts

With such a title, you can either grab a blanket and take a nap, or to put on your seat belts and get ready for a rough ride.

🙂

Today, we have experienced many things that happen in most churches: prayer; singing; fellowship; communion; giving, etc.  Now, we continue with our worship as we hear the Word of the Lord.   All that we do, together, here today is worship. In fact, all that we do, as followers of Jesus is either worship of God or a reflection of our belief and our fear in Him, through Jesus.

For today’s lesson, I will focus mainly upon two verses from Scripture.

But before that, let’s consider Creation.  God is the creator and we are the creature. We are the creation of God.  When God created the heavens and the earth, He did so by His Word, and after each point of creation He said,

“It was good.”

The only time He saw something that was “not good,” in the first two chapters of Genesis, was that it was not good for man to be alone.

When God created man and woman He declared them to be,

“Very good.”

We have been created in His image, meaning that we resemble/represent God in how we are put together.  In a physical sense, it doesn’t matter if we have piercings, tattoos, scars, cosmetics or sunburn, we are still in God’s image.  We can look at things and make a declaration of “it’s good” or “it’s not good?”

Yes, there is something inside of us that can recognize goodness and recognize what is not good. I think this relates to the image of God in which we are created.

We have been equipped with a conscience. Our conscience can sometimes be a good guide, but if we continuously turn away from God, then our consciences can be seared or branded with the image and imprint of the world, the flesh or even the devil.

This can come from continuous and habitual sin or from continuous and habitual focus upon negativity, paranoia, among other things.

Scripture teaches that we are kept in perfect peace when our minds and hearts are set upon the Lord.  Our minds are incredible, for with minds, mankind can build skyscrapers and even space ships that reach the moon. Our minds can be trained to understand different languages, and our minds can race with worry.

Scripture teaches we can test and understand God’s will. …”his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

But in order to do this, we must be transformed…changed…born anew, from above.

Jesus said

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. ” John 3:3

We speak about our coming to faith in Jesus as being born again, and that is true. But, we must remember that the Scriptures were written to “Born Again” believers,

  • and they contain strong words about turning from sin,
  • remaining away from sin;
  • turning to Jesus, and
  • remaining with Jesus.

While the Christian is born-anew, the enemies of the believer want to cause us to fall again, and again….and again.

As those who have put our faith in Jesus, we need to have our minds renewed, our spirits revived, our hearts brought into the focus of the image of God.  Then we can determine what is right and good.

I have alluded to a Scripture, already, but let us look at the Scripture, specifically, now:

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:1, 2

The title of my message is

“Even When It Hurts.”

Let’s Pray

Pray

  1. God’s Mercy

Please fill in the blank:

“No Pain—No _______ (what?)”

Gain.

Right.

At Crunch gym they have slogans on the walls like “Sweat is your body’s way of applauding.”

It takes work to accomplish anything in life it seems.  But, when it comes to our salvation, it TOOK work, ….notice the change in the verb tense from present tense i.e. “takes work” to past tense i.e. “took work.”

It takes work to succeed, but it TOOK work to be saved from hell

  • (yes, I do believe in the literal “hell” that the Bible teaches,
  • and I do believe in sin as the Bible teaches it…

but remember,

  • I also DO believe in the redemption through Jesus,
  • the forgiveness of sins and
  • the power of the Holy Spirit and
  • the Resurrection
  • as the Bible teaches).

When we want to accomplish something, we need to communicate with God about it.

Perhaps what we want to accomplish is not really His will.

I find it hard to believe it would be God’s will for some of the world live in opulence and wealth while much of the world is living in poverty.

I find it hard to believe that a fifth of the world’s population knows and believes in Jesus, while the other 4/5 are left to live in spiritual poverty.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy  (Romans 12:1a)

We who know Jesus, and even we who are spoiled, compared to much of the world…In view of God’s mercy.

We have a responsibility to act.

Remember 1 Peter 2:10, describes us this way:

…once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:10b

We have received mercy from God.

“Mercy” is a term we don’t use that often in our regular speech, though people sometimes use it in a humorous way.

Like in Roy Orbison’s song, “Pretty Woman,” the singer interjects

“Mercy”

as he sings about a beautiful woman.  He means that he is under her “spell,” so to speak, and has been overwhelmed by her beauty…or really that he is overwhelmed with lust.

“Mercy” is something that can be given by someone who holds power over someone else.

The weak do not extend mercy to the strong, but it is the other way around.

God, clearly, holds power over us, whether we believe in Him or not.

During natural disasters, believers and atheists often have something in common: when help is needed, we turn to God and beg for his mercy.  We who do believe in Him, understand the mercy of God as the Scripture is teaching.

Regarding mercy: it is one thing to lift the punishment from someone else, but to lift it by taking it upon Himself, as Jesus took our punishment upon Himself when He died upon the cross…that is a different form a mercy.

That is mercy, offered, even when it hurts.

Jesus has given us the best example of this.

ASTEROID ILLUSTRATION

Do you ever read in the news about large asteroids that came dangerously close to earth, and yet missed us?  Whenever I read those kinds of stories, I give thanks to God for His mercy.

And as advanced as we are, it’s terrifying usually that the astronomers see the asteroid AFTER it had already passed us…hence, had it actually collided with earth, no one would have seen it coming…no one except the One Who Has Mercy on us: The Lord God!

So, in view of God’s mercy, let’s worship Him and praise Him.

The last four weeks we’ve been looking at the Church on Purpose, … part of the theme called “Living on Purpose.” And today, we continue with our theme, for we need to be people of the church and individually who are praising God, in view of His mercy…Even When It Hurts.

  1. Living Sacrifices

Sacrifices were offered to God from the beginning of time, and continued even after Jesus’ death until the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. With the death of Jesus on the cross, sacrifices of animals were no longer necessary for worship, since Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Yet, worship and sacrifice work together.  We still are called upon to sacrifice, but not for forgiveness…our sacrifices indicate our desire to worship.  We sacrifice in the following ways as worshippers of Jesus:

  1. Tithes and offerings (truly, every congregation needs finances to operate and to be able to reach out to the community…if every church member gave at least 10% of their income to their local church, then the local church could serve the community even more, and perhaps our taxes would be reduced….well, I know I am thinking idealistically, but really, when we trust God with 90% of our income, He is honored, and He does help us to live on 90%).

Giving of our finances is not easy, and it even hurts. It means we might not be able to afford as big a car, or as big a house, because we worship the Lord by giving at least 10% (I know people who give 15%).

We sacrifice by (1) Tithes and offerings, and we also sacrifice by …

  1. Songs of Worship and Praise…congregationally and individually…let us be the people of God singing, and leading the community in worship.

Sometimes we don’t like the song choice, and I understand that.

But we need to still worship even when it hurts.

ILLUSTRATION

When I was pastor in Chase City, we stepped into a very difficult situation in which there had just been two splits and we could see the third one coming. The worship team at that time had a strange theology of worship. They believed that God could use them, even without any talent, to lead worship.

One example was that the song leader could not sing, but she believed that God’s Spirit would come upon her and her voice would improve….I never saw it, and never heard it. 🙂

As well, the guitarist had had no lessons. She had an expensive guitar, but would just play it open, with no chords, and no real rhythm.

There was a drummer who kept the beat, so it wasn’t all bad, and the background singers had really good voices.

So, I just painted a very painful picture of how the worship was for a few months at the church there, and I recall that when I would worship, I would often say to the Lord,

“Lord, I don’t like this music, but I love you, and I will worship you even though it hurts.”

Even when it hurts.

We worship with our (1) tithes and offerings and we worship with (2) Songs of worship and praise…and we worship with ….

  1. Our words…how we speak describes Who we worship and Who we fear…do we talk about ourselves? Our possessions? Our accomplishments? Our kids and grandkids? Certainly, it is not wrong to speak of those things in the right spirit, but we must give honor to God.

Are our words righteous or are they coarse?

Are we sharing words of life or bitterness?

For some reason, people who hurt and are hurt would rather share more hurt than to share something encouraging.

IT IS TYPICAL OF FALLEN HUMAN NATURE TO HURT RATHER THAN HEAL.

Praying for our enemies and asking God to bless those who come against us is not an easy or comfortable action, but it is what God calls us to do, because it helps to transform our minds.

  • Tithes & Offerings (2) songs of worship and praise (3) Our words and finally…
  1. Denying ourselves…this is why we need times of regular prayer and fasting.

Listen to these stats from the Washington Post

The average American …..

  • Sleeps 8.5 hours a day (clearly, I’m not average)
  • Works 7.5 hours daily
  • Enjoys Recreation 5 hours daily
  • Watches TV 3 hours daily
  • Commutes to work 44 minutes daily
  • Housekeeping 36 minutes daily
  • Grooms for 30 minutes daily
  • Reads 21 minutes daily
  • Thinks and relaxes 19 minutes daily
  • Participates in religious activity 11 minutes daily

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/06/20/ten-maps-that-show-how-much-time-americans-spend-grooming-eating-thinking-and-praying/?utm_term=.50c53d595fa8

Clearly, we are not seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

When people say that we need to make America a Christian nation, again, are we willing to decrease TV time or recreation time in order to increase our prayer time and service to God?

If we work hard, we get paid in the working world. As Christians, if we work hard at our faith and service to God, we realize that this doesn’t make us more saved, but we work and serve BECAUSE we are saved.

REMEMBER… “In View of God’s mercy.”

Sacrifices in the Old Testament were supposed to be of good and perfect animals.

People were to offer their best to God.

It hurts to offer our best.

ADAM JOKE

It reminds me of a conversation that Adam had with God about his soon to be created wife:

God: Adam, since you are lonely, I can create for you a wife who will clean up after you, cook for you, give you many children, take care of you and love you no matter what.

Adam: WOW! That sounds great God, what will it cost?

God: That will cost an arm and a leg

Adam (thinking): Well, what can I get for a rib?

🙂

Even when it hurts, let’s praise, worship and love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

In the worship that we offer in response to God’s mercy, we are also commanded to offer our best…this time our best is ourselves.

We don’t like being commanded (isn’t that LEGALISM?), and we don’t like strong suggestions.

No matter what generation we find ourselves in, we are still human, we have still all sinned and we have still all fallen short of God’s glory.

The Word of God calls us to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.

We are to be Holy and pleasing…that is, set apart

This is True and Proper for our worship.

Offering ourselves is the greatest worship.

Let’s recognize our bodies as His Temple, and let’s honor Him.

We abuse our Temples with substances, and too much of good things like food. Sometimes we pursue pleasure to the point that it is no longer pleasurable.

ILLUSTRATION

I recall a man whom I knew when I was a senior in High School. He studied with me at a class at our church for biblical counseling. He was VERY pumped up to help people solve their problems through the Bible. He began to serve at a Christian counseling center here in Richmond, and I went on to study at VCU.

I didn’t have any fellowship with my friend after the class, though I sometimes saw him at church.  In time, I realized that I no longer saw him.  I asked someone who knew him, what had happened, and was told something that surprised me:

He had not left church due to a moral failure.

Nor due to substance abuse,

Nor due to divorce, death or any other challenges in many lives.

And not because of a disagreement with the pastor’s vision …

🙂

He left church because he and his family devoted themselves to soccer, and had games on Sundays.

As far as I know, this family is not following God anymore.

You can say,

“Pastor, we can still be Christians without going to church on Sunday, right?”

to which I say, yes, you can be saved, but I wonder if the true understanding of a “Christian” can be given to someone who is not participating with the Body of Christ?

A living sacrifice says,

“Even though I want to play soccer, I will not let it interfere with my relationship with God or with His Church.”

We can fill in the blank with that.

It might seem that we are asking too much of some people.

But we are to be living sacrifices, and as living sacrifices, people often try to crawl off of the altar.

When everything falls apart around us,

with

  • our marriages,
  • jobs,
  • children,
  • finances,
  • possessions,
  • health

… we tend to blame God, and yet, we need to be people who like a living sacrifice, praise God, even when it hurts.

ILLUSTRATION

I recall a woman who was dying of cancer. She was from South America and came to Richmond because a doctor offered to treat her for free. Her son went to school with my oldest daughter.

This lady and her husband loved God with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength.

They spoke Spanish, so we needed an interpreter when we visited with them.

Once, the husband picked up a guitar and he and his dying wife sang a song in Spanish.

The interpretation was like this:

“I will worship you with everything I have,

but if I have no hands, I’ll worship You with my feet.

If I have no feet, I’ll still worship You with my life.

And if I die, I’ll still worship You, for I will be with You.”

Can we worship God, even when it hurts?

Can we follow Him, even when everyone turns away from us?

Even when Our prayers are not answered as we like…or as soon as we like.

Can we love Him, even when He seems to be silent?

Can we submit to His Perfect Will, even when our flesh doesn’t want to?

Can we bless our enemies even though we would rather curse them?

Can we praise Him even when we don’t feel like it?

Even when it hurts?

Let’s pray

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Church on Purpose: Assembled on Purpose to Declare and Praise

Premise:  Let’s see ourselves as the Church–assembled on purpose to lead worship

We are in a series called, “The Church on Purpose,” for, we have been assembled on purpose for God’s purposes.

Ernie talked about “fellowship” a couple weeks ago, and Marina spoke about evangelism last week.  Today, I want to speak about worship.

Worship” is something we do regularly, though not always in a “religious” manner. “Worship” is to declare the goodness of something,…so when we declare the goodness of a product like a car or even a home-cooked meal, we are in a simple way, “worshipping.” 

If we give too much attention to an object or a person, this can be dangerous, and idolatrous (idol-worship).

When the Church was born, there was great fellowship, as the Church shared possessions, food and time together. There was great evangelism, as thousands of people in one day transformed from

  • awaiting the Messiah
  • to acknowledging Jesus as Lord and
  • receiving the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

As well, worship was taking place on the Day of Pentecost when the Church was born. Just as when Jesus was born, there was worship from the angels, so on the Birthday of the Church, there was worship.

Let’s look at Acts 2.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Acts 2:1-13

Today’s Message is entitled:

“The Church: Assembled to Declare and Praise”

Let’s Pray

PRAY

  1. Declaring

“..we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Acts 2:11b

I want to share with you a story from long ago.

It was a simpler time before public wifi and widespread cellular telephones. Information was conveyed by word of mouth, and those who peddled impractical products used to contact potential clients via a household device that was connected to our walls: telephones. These were rotary phones and even pushbutton phones.

At 7:00 PM, all across America, telephones would ring as desperate employees of telemarketing companies tried to sell something we couldn’t see, touch, taste or smell, but we could hear the speech on the phone.

Do you remember those days?

I recall when I was much younger, and a tele-marketer called and said,

“Sir, I have a trivia question for you, and if you answer correctly, you will receive a free gift.”

This perked my interest, so I listened:

“Which state in America begins with the letter “a,” ends with the letter “a,” and every other letter is “a?”

Immediately, I answered,

Alabama!”

I was correct and was so glad that I would receive a free gift.

I was, then, informed that I would be receiving a gift certificate for their product.

I needed to wait, and they would send a driver to me.

😦

I didn’t want their gift certificate, so I declined to give my address.

I was disappointed.

The salesman had peaked my interest with the challenge of the trivia question.

Two weeks ago, Ernie challenged us to build each other up in fellowship, and last week, Marina exhorted us to prophesy and speak to the “dry bones’ and the “dead people,” who need life and live and work all around us.

Building up and speaking to is great and right, but what will we speak, with what will be build? It is interesting to me that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, and 30000 “dead people” came alive, in the spiritual sense.

As well, Peter preached without notes!

🙂

Now, there is nothing wrong with notes, in fact, they help to make sure we stay on the course that the Holy Spirit prepared for us, for He is involved in the preparation of the message, too, and not just in the delivery.

Though Peter had no notes, he had been prepared through three years of ministry and by being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

Peter was declaring while he was preaching.

Don’t you love it when we are listening to a sermon, and we recognize it as worship?

I recall even watching an infamous preacher whom I do not recommend, but on one occasion someone had me watch a video of his sermon, and it was inspiring and worshipful.

My soul said, “amen,” “yes” and “that’s so true” on several occasions, which shocked me,

Since, usually, this preacher seems to be after the donations poor people on fixed incomes.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every sermon were like that?

But, wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Christian, too, were like that?

Not like the telemarketer who peaks our interest only to make us think we won something that we really don’t need.

Instead, let us be those who share something that is real and necessary…let our worship overflow with the reality of Jesus.

That when we encounter each other,

  • we are encouraging the fellowship,
  • we are speaking to dry bones
  • and we are declaring the wonders of God?

After several decades of following Jesus in an age in which mankind had become very depraved,

Peter wrote these words to describe you and me:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9, 10

Who are we?

The chosen, royal, holy, people/priesthood and nation of God…we are His special possession

Why are we?

We are who we are that we may declare his praises.

What kind of Praises do we declare?

In Acts 2, they were called the …

  1. Wonders of God

“..we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Acts 2:11b

When we look at the words of worship in the Scriptures, we see two basic reasons for worship:

  1. Response for God’s Provision
  2. Response because of Who God IS

In 1 Peter, he writes that we have been called out of darkness. Thus, we worship, thanking God for salvation.

The term “church” in Greek is ekklesia, and it means the “called out.” And in this verse we see the elements of that “calling out.” Peter states that we’ve been “called…out of darkness.”

Do we remember this, daily?

We’ve been called out of darkness!

Praise the Lord!

  • Some people are called out of a false religion,
  • others are called out of idolatrous living,
  • and others are called out of dependency upon anything other than Jesus.

We are called to come out of the darkness and to stay out of the darkness.

God overcomes darkness.

God’s first act of creation was “light,” and with that came a change from darkness to light.

We who have been called out of darkness, must rejoice and give thanks!

God is good!

Let’s thank Him, now!

[PAUSE AND PRAISE]

We are not only called out of darkness, but we are called into his wonderful light.

God doesn’t call us out of darkness and then have no plan for us.

His plan is that we would live in His light.

Peter invites us to BE the church.

We have been

  • called out of darkness, and
  • not into a building,
  • but into His light.

We respond to God’s provisions, whether they are healing, restoration, actions, and even when it is an overwhelming sense of God’s wonderful presence.

But we also need to be declarers of God, because of Who He Is.

As we read through the book of Revelation, we realize that there is worship taking place in heaven all of the time, and this is what we will hear there:

“‘Holy, holy, holy

is the Lord God Almighty,’

who was, and is, and is to come.”

Revelation 4:8b

We sometimes are shy to respond when God does something for us if there are others around, and yet, if we receive a great blessing such as

  • healing from cancer;
  • or a heathen child returns to faith;
  • or if a miraculous provision of money bailed us out of a tremendous problem,

we would probably spontaneously begin to erupt in worship and praise like a volcano.

Let’s worship and declare in our hearts.

Let’s worship and declare in our homes.

Let’s worship and declare in our cars.

Let’s worship and declare in our church building

Let’s worship and declare, together, in various ways and places.

Let’s worship and declare to those around us.

Let our worship and declaration prophesy over the dry bones and dead people.

Let our words of declaration, praise and worship build up our fellowship.

Let us declare so that all may hear.

  1. In Our Own Tongues

“..we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Acts 2:11b

On the Day of Pentecost, the 120 were speaking in at least 15 different languages about the wonders of God.

On that day, worshippers had come from all over the Jewish-migrant world to Jerusalem.

They represented various languages, but they were surprised to hear these Galileans praising God in their language.

What was it like to hear in their language for the first time the praises of God inside the walls of Jerusalem?

At least they were Jews and therefore believers in the One God, but for polytheists, hearing about worshiping only is not the norm in their language.

Hearing that Jesus is the Son of God is not welcomed in many languages and cultures.

But people need to hear this in their heart languages.

This is what brings about the transformation.

Once we believe in Jesus, and His Spirit begins to reside in us, our hearts hear a language that is greater than any other.

God speaks to us in ways that we would not have thought, previously.

We hear the wonders of God in our languages!

<<Story from the Mission Field (*names have been changed for protection)>>

I want to tell you the story of a friend, I’ll call her “Farida.”*

In 2000, we arrived back in Almaty, Kazakhstan, for our second term of missionary service.

We arrived to a church called “Joyful News” which we had planted in 1998.

On one of the first Sundays that we had returned, there were two ladies who came forward for prayer to receive Jesus at the end of a worship service:

Aziza* and Farida.*

They both were crying when they came forward, because the power of God had touched them.

We prayed with them, and the woman who brought them was going to help disciple them (Gulya* had become a believer through our ministry in 1997).

The next Sunday, I didn’t see either of the ladies.

I asked Gulya* who brought them, and she said that Aziza* had changed her mind and didn’t want to follow Jesus due to the pressures of family.

Then she pointed to Farida.*

Farida* looked like her whole world had collapsed.

And it had.

We cannot promise like a telemarketer, but we must help people see the need for Jesus, even though their lives can fall apart, literally, once they believe in Him.

That week,

  • her girlfriend, Aziza,* turned away from Christ and from Farida* for continuing to follow Jesus;
  • and Farida* lost her job;
  • and she realized that she was pregnant;
  • and her husband had told her that they could not afford another child, so she had to abort the baby…she would not abort the baby because she knew that it was wrong in her spirit;
  • so her husband abandoned her and his family;
  • then the landlord threw her and her kids out.

It sounds almost like the Book of Job for Farida.*

I asked, “What job did Farida* have?”

“She is a cook,” I was told.

Now that was interesting, since that week in my office, my students, staff and I had determined that we would do better if we hired a cook who could prepare food from scratch.

So, we were looking for a cook.

The next day we had a cook, Farida!* And she became one of our students, too. She found her own place to live (very poor, but warm and secure)

It was incredible. She grew spiritually and her baby grew, too.

Farida already had two children: Farid* and Alma.*

Alma* was from her second husband, who had just abandoned them, but Farid* was from her first husband, who had stolen her (yes, women my age were stolen in parts of Kazakhstan).

After a short while, they divorced.

Farid* did not like his step-father. His step-father had trouble keeping a job and he and Farid* didn’t get along.

One evening, we were at Gulya’s* home. We were having a small group meeting.

Bek,* Gulya’s* husband, had been a Christian for about four years was really pushing Farid to put his faith in Isa (the Kazakh name for Jesus).

I felt bad, but prayed in the Spirit for him.

I hoped that Farid* really understood Jesus.

Afterwards, Farida*, Farid* and Alma* went home.

When they got home, Farida’s husband was there.

Jerkin* is his name, and Farid* looked at Yerkin* and said,

“Mom has a new life now. I have a new life now. You need a new life, too.”

And Yerkin* repented and began to follow Jesus.

He soon found a job delivering bread and believe it or not, he is still delivering for that company.

Here is a photo of them from last September, and you see Galia,* the baby that should have been aborted, is at the table, too (Farid* is married and lives in a different place, now).

Why do I tell this story?

Because it wasn’t just evangelism and fellowship that made a difference in Farida’s* life and the lives of all of the others, but it was that they worshiped Jesus with their lives, because they saw others worship Jesus.

If Jesus is truly worth worshipping, then He is worth following!

<<>>

This Farida*, heard the Word of the Lord and became a priest to her family, prophesying over dead bones and building up the fellowship of her life.

She shared in her heart language, Kazakh, and several dozen people are now in the kingdom of God because of her.

Our ESL Conversation Café is a means of sharing the wonders of God with others.

We are sharing to those around us in language and culture that they can understand.

This goes way back to Exodus:

[4] ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. [5] Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, [6] you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” 

Exodus 19:4-6

We are to be a kingdom of priests, for the whole world.

Priests lead worship.

We are to be that holy nation for the blessing of all of the nations.

A Holy Nation of Royal Priests

  1. Who are we?

The Bible describes us in this way:

Chosen People

Royal Priesthood

Holy Nation

God’s Special Possession

Declarers

Chosen…picked, collected, received, acknowledged, acquired, redeemed, saved

People…not individual, but people, group, family, civilization, generation

Royal…kingly, majestic, prince-like

Priesthood…ministers, servants, subjects with responsibilities

Holy….set apart for God’s purpose and glory

Nation…ethnicity, society, kingdom

God’s Special Possession…favorite, “especially fond of each of us”

Declarers … we are called to, we are called so that, we are called-therefore,

We praise Him on Purpose

We praise Him by default…not on purpose…God will be glorified.

Why are we?

How Are We?

Are we people who are recognize that we are part of the people of God?

Are we those who know

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

But this verse reiterates who we are and Whose we are.

God’s people…made up of various nations…various backgrounds

Some may have Jewish heritage, but we are no longer limited by blood line because Jesus baked for us

We are assembled on purpose to declare and praise

Premise:  Let’s see ourselves as the Church–assembled on purpose to lead worship

We are…

Assembled on Purpose to Declare and Praise

Let’s Pray

 

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