Help My Doubt

Faith seeking reason- Mark 9:24

The Christian Journey (3): Awakening

After such a crisis in Haiti over the past 2 weeks, and a visit from our missionaries from Spain last week, it is hard to remember that we are still at the beginning of a very New Year. This is still only the 3rd week of the year and to kick off 2010 I have started a new sermon series called “The Christian Journey”.

In the Introduction I suggested that “The Christian Journey” is like an airplane ride which ends in a terrible crash but continues as those who trust in Jesus float to the ground in parachutes and walk back to town and comfort the surviving family members of those who died.

In the second message, called “God’s Initiative”, I suggested that “The Christian Journey” is like a dating relationship between young men and young women. I told you about my planning and preparing for Anissa’s birthday dinner in which the man has traditionally been the assertive lover chasing after the woman and how God is always the One who first loved us.

Today I would like to continue talking about “The Christian Journey” by describing the way in which God “awakens” each one of us in His desire to save the world.

In order to understand how God “awakens” us we need begin by seeing what it means to be “asleep”. God reveals this truth to us in the beginning of His book- Genesis 3:1-7.

They key verse here is, God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die (Gen.3:3).’ ”

  • When God said “you will die” we understand that He meant a physical death.

22 And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever (Gen.3:22).”

Obviously, we are all very familiar with the fact that all humans die. What is important to understand here is that physical death is NOT normal. God did not create us to die after 80-90 years of life! God created us to live eternally and He is making a way lead us back into physical life.

  • God also meant more than just a physical “death”.

When God said, “you will surely die (Gen.3:3)”, He was also talking about a “spiritual” death. We know that God was talking about more than just physical death because sometimes He refers to sinful humans as being alive and dead at the same time: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:1)”.  So, when God said, “you will surely die (Gen.3:3)”, He was talking about a physical and “spiritual” death.

The best way I can think of to explain what living in spiritual death is like is to compare it with another human disability. For example, some children are born near-sighted. They have eyes but they don’t work right. In my family many of my kids began school without glasses and we noticed them with their faces in books or sitting right on top of the television at break times. We knew something was wrong. They could not fix themselves and, as they got older, the risks from this disability became more dangerous. In fact, unless someone tells her that other people have the ability to see, she will grow up thinking it is normal to be blind.

In the same way, all babies are born with a dead spirit. A dead spirit is like being born morally near-sighted. We see both good and evil to some extent but we cannot see clearly. We cannot correct our own spiritual disability and, as we get older, our choices become more harmful. We are not bad or evil for being born with a dead spirit but we all do have a moral disability and we eventually become sinful. In fact, unless someone tells us that other people have a moral backbone, we will grow up thinking that being spiritually dead is completely normal!

God created us spiritually alive and now He wants to raise us from spiritual death. Have you noticed your own spiritual disability? Can you see this is true of everyone?

The next logical question is, “how does God awaken us?” I’d like to answer that question by looking at John 16:5-11 (read).

  • The key verse this time is, 8When he comes, he will convict (e.g. awaken) the world of guilt (John 16:8)”. “How” does God awaken us? He does it by His invisible Holy Spirit bringing feelings of conviction in our hearts.

For example, my personal experience of awakening is a simple childhood memory. I was at a summer church camp at an evening campfire and the pastor was explaining something about Jesus. Suddenly I understood that I was living under a death curse from sin and only Jesus could cancel it. I often describe it as though someone turned on the “lights” because I had been in many church services and Sunday school classes but never understood that I was under the same death sentence as Adam unless Jesus saved me. I simply did not understand until God supernaturally woke me up. I lived as a typical kid in a Christian family feeling guilty when I disobeyed my parents, lied, swore, stole or broke any of the other Commandments. I thought the right thing to do was to obey more often and stop doing bad things. I thought God would let me into heaven if I did more good things than bad things. All I can say is that God’s Holy Spirit convicted (awakened) me of guilt.

As a church our job is to help the people that God awakens. For example, the Boy Scouts had to leave early Saturday morning to spend the day at Elk Lick. I got up at 5:30 and made some coffee and set the table for breakfast. At 6:00 I went upstairs to wake up Caleb. I walked into his room and put my hand on his bed lamp but saw him moving and moaning. I did not say a word and I decided not to turn the light on. He was awake!

In the same way, our church needs to prepare our sanctuary, small groups and wo/mens minstries to receive new people then go to people and see who is awake. Specifically, I have heard of some people who are

  1. showing a new interest in reading God’s word. They are not attending church yet but there is a hunger there which proves God is near.
  2. want to be visited and prayed for. They are not coming to church but there is a hunger which proves God is awakening.
  3. visit our church on Sunday but are not yet interested in small groups or membership. There is evidence that God is awakening.
  4. move from Sunday worship to small group relationships. There is a personal desire to know more and that is evidence that God is awakening.

We can not “awaken” people. God does that part. Our part is to get ready and look for those who are already awake.

“The Christian Journey” begins with God, like an aggressive lover, initiates a relationship with all humanity. To do so He also must, like a caring Father, wake us up.

  • Has God awakened you? If you realize that you need God and are hungry to know Him more then thank God for “waking” you up!
  • Have you seen God waking others up? If you know someone that God is waking up then encourage them to believe.

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7)”.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | God, Sermons | 2 Comments

Reimagining Church

I just finished watching a video of Bishop David Kendall, one of our denomination’s top leaders, introduce their vision for God’s direction in our future.

http://www.freemethodistchurch.org/sections/leadership/bishops/reimagining/Index.html

The musical worship is almost as long as the preaching in the beginning but, being located in a college town, their talent is admirable.

I am constantly challenged by preaching like this because it presses me to consider my priorities. This sermon’s message is clearly giving higher priority to “others”. That emphasis makes me nervous because I have seen damage done by evangslists who are assigned as pastors but neglect their sheep. Rarely have I heard a message which balances God’s concern for the world and the church.

I understand that God so loved the “world” but I also see how Jesus gave himself for the “church”. There are many scriptures that reveal God’s priority for both the lost and the redeemed. I am looking for a challenging balance in our vision for the future which does not neglect anyone.

There are more videos in this series and I look forward to seeing them all in preparation for our mega-annual conference this Spring.

January 16, 2010 Posted by | God | 1 Comment

The Christian Journey (2)- Initiative

The main thought we want to understand today is, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)”.

Traditionally, in the love affair between boys and girls, the boy asks the girl to go out to dinner. When I was a teen I planned to make a birthday dinner for Anissa at my parent’s house. I planned the menu (German pita pocket), the table setting (real dishes) and the lighting (candles). She is a traditional girl and waited for me to ask her out. Today many girls take the initiative to ask the boy because they don’t want to wait or the boy is too shy. God, however, is always the first to pursue a relationship with us.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

  • Before we were ever hungry God made food for us (Genesis 1).
  • Before we were cold God made cotton and leather and animal skins.
  • Before we were thirsty God made water.
  • Before we were guilty God made blood to be a payment for sins.

God has always been the first to prepare for and pursue a relationship with us. That’s Incredible! Why would God do that?

In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– 6to the praise of his glorious grace (Ephesians 1:5-6)

Love– God does not just love us a lot God is love. God has not just loved us for a long time God has never not loved us. God did not start loving us when He created us has always loved us and always will.

Pleasure– God experiences pleasure in relationship with us. He created us in His image and we experience pleasure because God experiences pleasure. When we worship Him every week with prayers and songs and loving one another that pleases God!

Grace– God loves to bless us more than we deserve. For example, when I was a boy my neighbor’s cat came over to my front porch and was relaxing in the sunshine. I reached down and pet him on his belly and he reached up in a split-second and cut me on my face. He made me bleed down the center of my nose into the top of my lip and I tried to kick him but missed. If you (child) went to the SPCA and knew the cat you adopted would cut you like that would you buy it anyway? God would.

God knew that many would hurt him and reject Him but he also knew that many would love and receive Him. God loves us so much that he thinks it is worth being rejected in order to share in an eternal relationship of love with us. God gets so much pleasure out of loving those of us who will be faithful that he was willing to be crucified in order to bring us together again. God is so gracious that he knew all of this before He created the world and He did it anyway.

“The Christian Journey” begins with the understanding that God is an aggressive lover of the humans he created. There has never been any doubt about God’s love for us. The only question is whether we will love Him or not. Are you?

Celebrate God’s grace with me today.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | God, Sermons | 2 Comments

The Christian Journey (1)- Intro.

Ray Comfort is a popular Christian evangelist of our day who likes to talk to people about God’s salvation as if it were a parachute. They say, “Imagine that you are flying in an airplane and the captain of the ship has just announced over the loudspeaker that ½ the engines have failed and there was a 50% chance that it would soon crash into the ground leaving no survivors”. The good news is that there are plenty of parachutes on board for everyone and the flight attendants would hand them out to anyone who wanted one with plenty of time to spare. As the stewardess walked around she was shocked to see that some people took a parachute but did not put it on. They said, “I want the parachute but I’ll wait because it would feel very bulky, awkward and uncomfortable to wear while sitting in the seat”. What was worse that some refused to take a parachute at all. They said, “I’ve heard this a million times and nothing bad ever happens”. The truth is, the plane will crash and only those who had already strapped the parachute on had time to jump to safety.

While we agree with the point that all those who resist or reject faith in Jesus will die an eternal death separated from God, I hope we can do more than just think about Jesus being a parachute as we enter this New Year. We want to know “the rest of the story”. We want to know what Jesus has to offer:

  • the grieving family members of dead sinners.
  • the depressed stewardess who has to go back to work and be treated like a prostitute every day.
  • the angry mechanics who have to listen to their boss blame them for a plane crash again.

We know Jesus is a parachute but we want to know what he has to offer when we need a fire extinguisher, a pillow or a really big aspirin.

Today we are beginning a new series of messages called, “The Christian Journey” and I hope to answer those kinds of questions. If I could write a book by that title I would add a colon and a subheading, “From Parachute to Pair-a-shoes”. Let’s start the Christian Journey by listening God’s word through Peter.

Remembering Simon Peter

Remember our spiritual brother and apostle called, “Simon Peter”? He was a simple man. If Peter lived in our generation I think he would have been very much like a good ole boy from Potter County. He did not live in Jerusalem, or any large city, but in a small town near the Sea of Galilee. He probably would have had some of the same negative feelings that we have about overcrowded, busy and noisy urban places. Peter was not highly educated, so he probably would have graduated from High School but not gone on to college. It’s not that he we dumb but he didn’t want to sit in a chair reading books all day. Peter was a worker. He worked with his brother and father in a family business that met their needs. He did not make a lot of money but he liked working with his family and was free to take the day off when he wanted to. That was important because Peter was also an impulsive young man.

  • When Jesus called him he left his work immediately.
  • When he saw Jesus on the water he asked to walk there too.
  • When he saw Jesus on the beach he dove in and ran to him.
  • When the temple guards arrested Jesus he attacked one of their servants with a knife.

Simon was a simple man but he was also the one Jesus named, “Peter”, the rock, and promised to build his church on his testimony.

Peter’s Testimony

After about 30 years of leadership experience Peter wrote a letter to many of the Christians who were living far outside of Israel. He said, “13Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:13-16).”F1 There are two of Peter’s words which I would like to draw your attention today.

Holiness

The first one is “holy (v.16)” and I think it is a hard word to understand.

  • My first thought when I hear the word is “holy cow”. Maybe some of us said it last week when we opened a Christmas present we were happy to see. “Holy Cow!” Maybe some of us said it silently in our minds when we opened a Christmas present were not happy to see. “Holy Cow!” Obviously, that is not what Peter meant when he said the word “holy”.
  • Peter was actually quoting an Old Testament Bible verse. It was from the book that Moses wrote for the family of Jacob’s son, Levi, who were in charge of working in tabernacle. They were in charge of teaching the people about God when they came to the church to worship. One (c) of the things God wanted them to do was, “2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. 3 ” ‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. 4 ” ‘Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:1-4).” When Peter told the Christians to “be holy” he was telling them to be like God.
  • Honestly speaking, most of us probably think it is impossible to be like God. But it is not impossible! For example, God said, “3 ” ‘Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths (Leviticus 19:3). God says clearly that in order for us to be “holy” we must respect our mother and father. We can do that! Children (a) can be “holy” by cleaning up their bedroom when they are told to. Teens (b) can be “holy” by doing their homework when they are told to. Adults (c) can be “holy” by taking care of their parents in their old age. We can be holy!

Peter said, “15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).” We can do that!

Obedient Children

There is another word I want to draw your attention to today. That word is, “children”. Peter said, “14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance (1 Peter 1:14)”.

  • Let’s think about a human father. Peter grew up as a child with a human father who loved him. He taught young  Simon how to read and write and probably disciplined him a lot when he was impulsive, got into fights and broke things. He taught his adult child to work as a team member on the family fishing boat. He also taught Simon to obey his Heavenly Father by following Jesus out of a heart of love.
  • Now let’s think about our Heavenly Father. God is holy but he is also a loving father. Just as human fathers want their children to learn how to read their ABC’s so also God wants his children need to learn how to read His word. Older children of God need to learn how to read and obey even tough books of Scripture- like Leviticus- and grow more holy. God wants us to obey, but, to obey as a loving Father who is giving good advice to His children.

Jesus offers us much more than just a parachute. He offers us adoption papers to become children in the family of God.

We are indeed on an airplane that is destined to crash and burn but there is a surprise ending. When we put the parachute on, jump out of the Hell-bound plane and pull the rip cord, the chute opens with bright colors which say, “Child of God”. We land safely on the ground and follow Jesus back into the world to help the survivors through funerals, work stress, relationship problems and real fire damage in the community. From parachute to pair of shoes, that’s The Christian Journey. That’s holiness.

Have you accepted God’s offer to be your parachute and save you from eternal Hell yet?

Have you accepted God’s offer to be your Heavenly Father and help people out of their living hell?

Let’s pause and pray about God’s call to be holy children in this New Year.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment