Help My Doubt

Faith seeking reason- Mark 9:24

The Christian Journey (6): Assurance

I want to begin today’s message by letting you in on a dirty little secret. Here it is: For the past 5 weeks I have been teaching you Free Methodist doctrine! “The Christian Journey” comes straight out of the 2007 Free Methodist Book of Discipline. I’m sorry for using the word “doctrine” but it’s true!

Review “The Christian Journey” from weeks gone by:

  1. God’s Initiative
  2. Awakening
  3. Repentance
  4. Faith

One of the reasons I want you to know that this is Free Methodist doctrine is because I am so proud of our teaching in regards to “assurance”. Some bible teachers believe that it is normal to become a Christian and still feel guilty and condemned. To that we say, “no way”! That’s NOT normal. In fact, I would like to read our doctrinal statement about assurance.

“God gives assurance of salvation and peace of heart to all who repent and put their faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). The Holy Spirit witnesses to their own spirits that they are forgiven of their sins and adopted into the family of God (Romans 8:16). Christians have peace with God through Jesus Christ because guilt is taken away and fear of judgment removed (Hebrews 6:11; 10.22). God continues to give assurance to believers through the Scriptures, the conscious presence of the Holy Spirit, and love for and fellowship with other Christians (1 John 3:14).”

“Assurance” is a gift from God to those who have been pursued by God, awakened, turned from their sins and trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Let’s look at this “assurance” more closely together.

Read Ezekiel 36:22-27.

Ezekiel reminds us that, in “The Christian Journey”, we can get sidetracked away from God. Verse 22 says, 22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone (how?). Now this is an old cycle of failure on the part of Israel but let’s review:

God saved (1) Israel out of slavery in Egypt and led them into the Promised Land so that they would be a light of salvation and peace to the world. For a while (2) Israel worshipped God and lived according to the 10 Commandments but, after a while, began worshipping false religions and living selfishly. Therefore God stopped (3) protecting them from the armies of their neighbors and let them become prisoners of war in Babylon/Iraq.

God did not give up on them though. He promised to (1) bring them back to Israel and to (2) punish the blood-hungry nations that abused them. That is what the Lord meant when he said, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things (v.22a)”. God promised to do these things so that (3) the world may see that He is a faithful, loving and forgiving God.

Israel had refused (1) their “assurance” of God’s salvation and blessing because they had, “profaned (His holy name) among the nations (v.22-23)”. In a previous (2) chapter we hear details about what that means: “You have profaned me among my people for a few handsful of barley and scraps of bread. By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not die and you have spared those who should not live (Ez.13:19)”. Israel had refused their “assurance” of God’s salvation and peace by lying, murdering and denying justice to victims of crime.

Without getting into the specifics of Israel’s history, let’s apply those generally to our experience:

First of all, we cannot experience the “assurance” of God’s salvation and peace when we lie. For example, we know that Satan (1), the “Father of Lies”, tempted Eve by saying, “you will not surely die (Genesis 3)”. The most basic lie, then, is to tell people that it is okay to disobey God/sin. In other words, the most dangerous lie we can tell other people (or ourselves) is that we can disobey God and still go to heaven. No! It doesn’t matter (2) which Command we are talking about- You shall not lie, make idols, use the Lord’s name in vain, honor the Sabbath Day, mother and father, murder or covet- If we want to experience the “assurance” of God’s salvation and peace then we must believe God’s word and obey Him.

Now, after talking about what we need to do to experience the “assurance” of God’s salvation and peace, we also need to remember that it is not just by being good.

God goes on to say through (1) Ezekiel, 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:27). In order to experience God’s “assurance” we need to receive God’s Spirit inside. After (2) Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave and returned to heaven, He sent His Holy Spirit into the hearts of His disciples at Pentecost and fulfilled God’s promise through Ezekiel. The apostle (3) Paul describes it by saying this in Romans 8:9-17 (read it).

Notice how many times he says what the Spirit does for us:

    1. we are controlled by the Spirit of God (v.9)
    2. our spirit is made alive (v.10)
    3. we have life in our mortal bodies (v.11)
    4. we live by the Spirit (v.13)
    5. we are led by the Spirit (v.14)
    6. we have the sprit of Sonship (v.15)
    7. the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (v.16)

Again, we can not experience the “assurance” of God’s salvation and peace just by being good. We must receive the spirit of God to change our hearts.

Paul (1) said, 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.F35 And by him we cry, “Abba,F36 Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Ro.8:12-16)”. As far as (2) “The Christian Journey” goes, then, “assurance” is understood to be a gift from God to those who have been pursued by God, awakened to our need, turned from our sins and trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It is a gift God gives us in our hearts when we receive Him.

In our church we are focusing/clarifying our (1) vision for ministry by making it our mission, “to help people find forgiveness, healing and maturity in Jesus Christ”. The “assurance” of God begins at forgiveness as we celebrate each Sunday but it grows as we live by the Spirit together in small groups and work together in neighborhood ministries. God has been blessing (2) our 3 groups this year and I am hopeful that we will experience more of God’s “assurance” as we continue to help people move beyond forgiveness into healing ministries of our small groups. Personally (3) I experienced the “assurance” of God much more personally after 15 years of faith when Christian friends taught me how to pray through my doubts. Sunday worship is important but nothing is more powerful than being able to talk personally and specifically with one or two Christian friends.

  • If you don’t have the assurance of God’s salvation and love then I encourage you to turn from sin, trust in Jesus and receive His Holy Spirit.
  • If you do have God’s assurance then celebrate (!) AND “help other people find forgiveness, healing and maturity in Jesus”.

15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:15-16).

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February 22, 2010 Posted by | God, Sermons | Leave a comment

Memorial Meditation

As a pastor, even though I know that God has made a way for eternal life, I have to admit that life on this side of eternity can be very confusing and painful.

Today I would like to talk about that painful confusion and share with you the experience of other man who questioned God but made it through.

Job may be the most famous man in Christian history that believers turn to for encouragement when life does not make sense. He was a good man who lost his family, farm and health in a very short period of time. He did not do anything wrong to deserve such violence and suffering but God allowed it to happen anyway. Job believed in God, but he very honest about his feelings when he said,

3 “May the day of my birth perish,
and the night it was said, ‘A boy is born!’
4 That day-may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine upon it (Job 3:3-4)
.

God gave us a record of Job’s life experience to encourage all future sufferers in their day of pain. It is hard to understand when someone SUFFERS:

  • While living a wise and responsible life;
  • While they are still young;
  • While receiving the best medical treatment available.

God wants us to know that it is okay to get angry when we see or experience human suffering and pain. Just like Job, we can go ahead and say:

  • It would be better to have never been born!” It makes sense that those who are never born avoid many years of trouble and pain.
  • May God above not care for the day I was born.” Notice, however, that in his suffering, Job never turns his back on God.

Job survived his trouble because he trusted God even when he was angry and confused.

The Good News about Job is that there is a happy ending! After a time of suffering Job prayed again to God saying:

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know (Job 42:3).

During times of suffering and pain it is good to remember that there are things “too wonderful” for us to know. Only God can know:

  • how much trouble one person can handle;
  • how to handle the invisible work of a real and living Satan;
  • how to turn suffering into an ever greater blessing.

In the end God blessed Job by returning everything he had lost- and then some! And so it can be for those of us who suffer in this life.

God promises a happy ending for all who entrust their lives to Him! Today we know that peace with God is found only through faith in His Son Jesus. If you have not yet learned to pray like Job I encourage you to find a good bible and an adult Christian you can trust. Be honest about your feelings in prayer but be careful never to turn your back on God. If you have learned to pray like Job I encourage you to keep up the good work.  You’re going to be okay.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Doubt, Sermons | Leave a comment

The Christian Journey (5): Faith

Once upon a time there was a middle-aged man who lived in a land far, far away. Although he was old enough to have his own family he still lived with his parents and helped with the family business. His father was a successful man and religiously devout, although his religion was a worship of man-made gods that supposedly controlled the wind, rain and fertility (e.g. plant & animal growth). One day while his adult son was going about his daily work, he heard the voice of God call him to leave his father’s home and go start his own family in some other country. As amazing as it seems to hear the voice of God and take a mysterious trip into a new country, the son agreed to follow God.

Abraham is our example of saving “faith” as we continue to review “The Christian Journey” today. He grew up in a non-Christian home, worshipped phony gods and idols of his father but later heard the voice of the living God call to leave. Abraham left his father, his false gods and followed the One True God.

However, “faith” or trust in God was not just a one-time experience for Abraham. As our Scripture for today will shows us, Abraham’s “faith” would be tested again.

1 After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.

2 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD , what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”


4 Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars-if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
6 Abram believed (faith) the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Abraham had trusted God enough to leave his father’s home and travel to a new country to start a family but there was a problem. No children. So Abraham’s faith was tested again. He had to decide whether he would continue to follow God even though God had not yet come through on His part of the agreement. Again, Abraham put his faith in God.

Abraham is our example of saving faith but, to be honest, it can be hard to see the connection between Abraham’s faith and our own faith. Most of us have not heard the voice of God call the way Abraham did. Most of us did not come from homes in which our fathers worshipped man-made idols. Most of us did not hear God promise to start a family after decades of infertility. However, if we look carefully we will see, throughout history, a pattern of God’s salvation, worked out in a similar way through faith in God.

Let’s look at the way Paul explained faith, more recently, to the church in Ephesus.

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in 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. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful natureF7 and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Let’s look at the similarities of faith described by Paul:

  1. Godless beginnings- the Ephesians had not worshipped the God of Israel;
  2. God’s call- God called the Ephesians to follow through the voice of Paul;
  3. Saving faith- many had turned to God through faith in Jesus;
  4. Ongoing faith- many were being tempted to leave their faith in Jesus.

God offers the same pattern of salvation to everyone based on the same faith. God is the same yesterday, today and forever.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Sermons | Leave a comment

Pondering February

Here’s a bit of trivial information…Did you know that if you search for the word “winter” in the Bible that you will find 15 verses? Here are a few of them:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease (Genesis 8:22).”

“It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter (Psalm 74:17)”.

“It was the ninth month and the king was sitting in the winter apartment, with a fire burning in the firepot in front of him (Jeremiah 36:22)”.

“Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20)”.

Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter (John 10:22)”.

“Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there (Acts 27:12)”.

I was surprised by the verse in Jeremiah. Can you imagine, way back when, people experiencing a winter similar to ours? For centuries God’s creation has experienced the blanketing of winter which makes life a challenge.

This winter I have already had times when I felt “cabin fever”. People I used to stop and talk with I am only waving to now. Muscles I used to exercise are getting soft now. My left hand seems to always be cold.

Think about God’s will for us in winter, pray about it and make plans to do the best you can. Remember that God created winter and it will continue until Jesus comes again. God bless our February!

February 1, 2010 Posted by | Ponderings | Leave a comment

The Christian Journey (4): Repentance

So far I have reviewed “The Christian Journey” from a very positive point of view. God is an aggressive lover and an awakening father but we must also understand the negative facts about our sins.

For example, in the 1st season of “The Waltons” they had a visit from a young preacher-in-training.

  • On the one hand “fire and brimstone” preaching of the past became like a restaurant that only sells vegetables. It is good food but there is much more to the food pyramid. In fact, I have heard that if one eats only vegetables they will become malnourished and their skin may turn yellow. It’s not good to eat only vegetables and it is not good to preach “fire-and-brimstone” every week.
  • On the other hand some pastors have stopped preaching repentance all together. They have taken vegetables off the menu. They have become like a fast-food restaurant serving it “your way right away” in “happy-meal” fashion. There are no vegetables in happy meals. There may be pickles and lettuce on the burger and tomatoes in the ketchup but their nutritional value is nearly meaningless. It is not good to eliminate vegetables from the menu and it is not good to eliminate repentance from weekly worship.

I am not suggesting that we need more pastors like that but I am suggesting that we need pastors to do it once in a while.

With that in mind we come to our Old Testament Scripture lesson through God’s prophet Ezekiel, which is definitely intended to be a little hard and hot. Read Ezekiel 33:10-11.

The context surrounding this section is simple. God just told Ezekiel (a), in the military sense, if a man is elected to be stand guard of a city for danger and sees an army advancing but does not sound an alarm then he shares in the blame for those who die. In our (b) modern sense it would be like having a security guard at an airport that sees a knife in the luggage scanner but lets the bag go on the airplane anyway. In the (c) spiritual sense it is like having a pastor or an adult Christian see another person living in obvious sin (e.g. 10 Commandments) but refuse to speak to the sinner. When God’s people fail to speak the truth in love then a whole nation can loose hope and say, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live (Ezekiel 33:10)?’” Ezekiel (e.g. ch.22) was faithful to tell Israel that their top 3 sins were idolatry, shedding of innocent blood and dishonoring parents.

Think of how that is similar to USA:

  • Idolatry (1) is exactly what we chose when we removed prayer and God’s word from schools. In God’s eyes that is spiritual divorce. Our country made a clear choice to stop teaching our children that our country is “one nation under God” of the Bible to whom we can and should pray. That’s idolatry (i.e. Commandment #1)! We have social problems in this country because we have an idolatry problem in this country. Just like Israel, “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them (Ezekiel 33:10)’”
  • America has also made a public policy in favor of (2) shedding innocent blood. The pro-abortion motto is that “no one can tell a woman what to do with her body”. Having already tossed God and His code of conduct out of government it should not surprise us to see moral behavior tossed out along with it (i.e. Commandment #6)! We chose to worship human governors instead of God so humans gave themselves power over life and death. “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them (Ezekiel 33:10)’”
  • The third (3) charge God made against Israel is a joke to most people today- dishonoring mothers and fathers (i.e. Commandment #5). The USA began by divorcing itself from God then decided it’s okay to kill babies and, it should be no surprise, that it goes still further to take away their rights to parental consents, corporal punishment and school curriculums. “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them (Ezekiel 33:10)’”

God’s solution is to, “11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD , I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn (i.e. repent) from their ways and live. Turn (i.e. repent)! Turn (i.e. repent) from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel (Ezekiel 33:11)?

In an older church the temptation is to spiritually “retire”. However, when it comes to our relationship with God, there is no room for retirement. Christianity is not like a job we can retire from after we reach middle-age. On the contrary, the older Christians are called on by God to teach and warn the younger wo/men. We need to teach our grand/children clearly that (1) the God of the Bible is true and all other religions are false. We need to fight against the evil policies that encourage (2) murder, the (3) destruction of godly families and (4) many other damning sins. Sin is “evil” and, unless we “turn” we deserve to “die” as a nation and as individuals!

The Good News is that God invites all sinners to “repent” and live. Jesus himself said so in his parable of the two sons. Read Matthew 21:28-32.

Let me try to make this very personal now. Jesus is teaching us about 2 kinds of people: those who say they will (1) work for the Father and then don’t and those who say they will not (2) work for the Father and then do.

  • The good news is that those who have a history of refusing to obey God can still do the Father’s will and enter the kingdom of God. We have all committed the same sins as tax collectors (e.g. steal, lie, covet) and prostitutes (i.e. lust, adultery) at least in our heart/mind. The question is not about the past but the present- whether we are willing to turn towards God and away from sin.
  • The bad news is that those who have a history of making promises to God can still fail to do the Father’s will and live outside the kingdom of God. My guess is that most of us fall into this category. Most of us have made promises to work for God and, maybe, even started doing some good work. The question, again, is not about the past but the present- whether we are willing to believe and continue turning towards Jesus today.

32Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him (Matthew 21:32). Sin is “evil” and, unless we “repent” we deserve to “die” as a nation and as individuals!

Repentance is a “turning” that we do in heart, soul and strength. Pastoral teaching confronts the mind but good preaching is also aimed at the heart. Let’s take a few moments to meditate on God’s word and consider how he is calling us to turn towards himself and away from sin today.

As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD , I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11)?’

February 1, 2010 Posted by | God, Sermons | Leave a comment