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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

Series on baptism

We are continuing on in our series on baptism this morning.

We know that baptism is important:

  • It was crucial for John the Baptist. Matthew 3:6 says, “They were baptized by John in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” This was the proper response to his prophetic ministry.
  • Jesus used the symbol of baptism. A little later in time, John 4:1-2 notes, “. . . Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples).”
  • Jesus commissioned his disciples, including us, to baptize. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . .” – Matthew 28:18-20.

But where does water baptism come from? And what does it mean? The answer is found in the water crossings that we looked at last time, and especially the Red Sea crossing. This is where it comes from, and this is how to understand what this symbolic water experience means.

From last week:

Slide2

You have a handout from last week – Passing through the waters chart  that summarizes the meaning of “the waters,” various water crossings and the five themes of water crossings and how water baptism fits with these ideas.

Today, I want to show you three ways that the New Testament makes this connection clear. So let’s dive in!

1. In the New Testament baptism is linked to these water crossings

The Flood is called a type of water baptism. 1 Peter 3:20-21 says,  “. . . eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you.” The word corresponds refers to an event that points forward to something in the future which is its counterpart. Another way to say it is that the flood gives us background and context for understanding what Christian water baptism is about.

The Red Sea crossing is called a baptism. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 – “ . . . our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” So here we have baptism language describing the Red sea crossing. Not only is it called a baptism, in the context of 1 Corinthians 10 it is used as an analogy to Christian baptism. These two things are alike.

So from these examples we can see that there’s a connection between water baptism and passing through the waters. Indeed, water baptism is a passing through the waters.

2. In the New Testament there is a historical connection with the Red Sea crossing

Remember that after the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea they went on to fail in their commitment to God in the wilderness. So, that generation of Israelites never went into the promised land. Thus when Joshua entered the promised land with the next generation they crossed through “the waters” again; through the Jordan river. The waters upstream were stopped and they walked through it on dry ground (Joshua 3).

This was a reenactment of the Red Sea crossing. God was symbolically reconstituting Israel after their failure in the wilderness. And then, low and behold John the Baptist comes baptizing people in the Jordan river! The symbolism is there to be seen. Like Joshua, John is calling for Israel to be reconstituted, to be made new. What I’m saying is that John was reenacting Joshua’s reenactment of the Red Sea crossing.

All we need to do, then, is recognize that Jesus continued John’s baptismal practices and we have an unbroken chain back to the Red Sea crossing:

  • Moses and the Red Sea
  • Joshua and the Jordan river
  • John the Baptist and the Jordan river
  • Jesus and Christian baptism

 Finally –

3. In the New Testament the five themes line up

 That is to say, the symbolism of Christian water baptism in the New Testament matches the five themes of water crossings that we looked at in the Old Testament.

  • The waters represent Satan, judgment, slavery to Sin and Death. These powers keep us away from God and seek to destroy us.
  • But God has intervened. Through Jesus God delivers us from Satan, judgment, slavery to sin and death. Because of what God has done, we are able to cross through to the other side.

1. When we come to the waters of baptism, we symbolically portray that we are leaving behind our old life through repentance. Our sinful past in the world is behind us now. This is our commitment.

As Peter says on the day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ . . .” Acts 2:38. Repentance means that we have a change of heart and mind so that we practice God’s will now. And repentance and baptism go together.

Here’s another way of saying it. Baptism portrays our death to sin – Romans 6:2-3. “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” This is another way of talking about “repentance” – our old life in sin has come to an end; it’s dead.

2. When we go through the waters of baptism we symbolically portray that we are set free and forgiven. All the powers of evil can’t touch us anymore because our sins are forgiven. They have no claim on us. That’s why we can go through the waters safely to the other side.

In a baptism context Paul talks about how we are set free from Sin & Death, which are personified as powers, who enslave us and seek to destroy us – Romans 6:7

Once again, Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. There is a connection between baptism and forgiveness.

3. As we come up out of the water on “the other shore,” as it were, we symbolically portray that we receive new life through the Spirit.

Baptism is associated with receiving the Spirit. After Peter’s invitation to baptism he says, “and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. Also, water baptism is connected to our receiving “newness of life” in Romans 6:1-4. I’ll say more about this later when we look at Spirit baptism.

4. When we come up out of the waters we symbolically portray that we are now a part of God’s people. We have switched communities and allegiances. We have left the world and we are now a part of the church.

This is the communal component of baptism. This is usually just assumed in the New Testament, but it does come out in several places. Luke says, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” Acts 2:41. These were added to the fellowship of believers, not just a spiritual, invisible reality but the actual, visible church of Jerusalem. They became a part of that congregation.

Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free. . .” –    1 Corinthians 12:13. Baptism incorporates us into a new community – the church.

5. When we come up out of the waters we symbolically portray that we commit to follow Jesus. We commit to a new way of life; to doing God’s will from now on just as Jesus has taught us.

Jesus talks about, “ . . . baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” – Matthew 28:19-20. Baptism is connected here to obedience to everything that Jesus teaches.

Peter calls baptism a “pledge of a good conscience toward God” in 1 Peter 3:21. This is covenental language, speaking to a commitment to do God’s will from now on.

 Slide3

I hope you can see in all this that baptism is rich in symbolic meaning and that it has to do with every part of beginning the Christian life. And anyone who comes to be baptized needs to understand what this all means and what they are saying when they go through it.

Let me end with a challenge. If there are any here who are not baptized this is an invitation to you. Is this what’s in your heart? If it is, I encourage you to seek this out as a public witness to your faith in Jesus. And I would be glad to talk to you.

And for those of us who are baptized, I ask, “Are you living out what water baptism means?” Maybe you did when you were baptized, but are you now? Make sure your life now lines up with what your baptism proclaimed.

For all of us, the world calls us to accept its symbols, its story, its values. But Jesus calls us to accept his symbols, his story, his values and to live out the reality of this before an ever watching world. Will you heed Jesus’ call this morning?

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We’re talking about something very practical today and for the next few weeks. How can I know I’m saved? How can you know that you’re saved? It’s a pretty important question.

Can you know for sure that God has forgiven your sins; that you are saved, right here and right now and that you are an heir of God’s eternal blessings? Or are you just hoping for the best?

Is the Christian life one that is characterized by confidence in where you stand with God?Or are we to always be insecure in our relationship with God?

We are talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. And let me say that I believe very strongly that you can know, and that you should know. We can have security in Christ.

Now, this doesn’t mean you won’t have occasional times of struggle or doubt. This is a part of a life of faith.

And certainly we are not to have a sense of assurance when we are knowingly and willfully rebelling against God. In the Scriptures, both Old Testament and New, words of assurance are given to those who are walking with God and finding forgiveness when they fail; assurance is given to those whose hearts are set on God, even though it’s hard.

But words of warning and judgment are given to those who choose the path of sin. So beware of false assurance. Beware of those who say, “Peace, peace – when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14). Who say everything is OK, don’t worry – even though you are choosing a lifestyle of sin.

But beyond this, yes, Christians are to be characterized as those who have great confidence and joyful assurance of their standing with God.

  • John says this, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” – 1 John 5:13. We can know.
  • The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16. We can have confidence in our relationship with God.

So, for the next few weeks, I want us to look at this topic and specifically three interconnected bases for our assurance of salvation. And today we begin with the assurance of God’s word.

And so, first of all, we need to know –

God’s promises or word to us regarding salvation

 Let me summarize these from the preaching found in the book of Acts.

1. God promises to forgive our sins. Peter says in his sermon on the day of Pentecost that God offers “the forgiveness of your sins” – Acts 2:38. Later, he says it this way, “that your sins may be blotted out” – Acts 3:19.

So this is good news! Our sins, which separate us from God and bring us death can be taken away! We can have a fresh start with God, and in life, because of what Jesus has done.

2. God promises to give us the Spirit. Peter speaks of this promise from God to his listeners on the day of Pentecost, when he says, “you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:38. And we see this gift bestowed in several of the stories in the book of Acts.

  • The Spirit gives us new life: we are born anew, we are a new creation in Christ, we are raised to new life in Christ, we have eternal life.
  • And the Spirit also gives us power to live differently.

So these are God’s promises of salvation to us. But it is also important that we hear God’s word about what is required of us. God’s promises often come with things we must do. And if we don’t meet the conditions, then we are being presumptuous with God’s promises.  Two things stand out here, from the book of Acts:

1. We need faith in Jesus. We need to believe that he is indeed the Messiah, who has brought us God’s salvation. Peter said to Cornelius “everyone who believes in him,” that is, Jesus receives salvation – Acts 10:43. Paul preached “faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” – Acts 20:21.

2. We need to repent. Peter talked about “turning . . . from your wickedness” – Acts 3:26. Paul’s message was, “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance” – Acts 26:20.

So this is God’s word to us, both promises of salvation and what he asks of us. Now we look at –

How God’s word gives us assurance

 Let’s suppose that you are here today and you don’t have confidence in your relationship with God; you don’t know that you have eternal life. Maybe it’s that you don’t feel saved. Maybe it’s that you are going through some difficult circumstances which make you question where you stand with God. Maybe someone is telling you that you need to do something beyond God’s word to be saved, and it raises doubts for you.

Here’s what you need to do – 1. Hear God’s word, just as you have today. God’ word says that when we come to Jesus in faith and repent of our sins, we will indeed be forgiven our sins and receive new life by the Spirit of God; we will be saved.

Hear God’s word on this, not just in your head, but deep in your heat. Let it come into your heart right now.

2. Agree with God’s word. And this is not just an intellectual thing in your mind. God’s word testifies to us of its truth in our hearts. Agree with this in your heart. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is alive and active.” It has a vitality and power to it. And when we receive it in our hearts, it comes alive and God speaks to us through it. God’s word speaks to our hearts with convincing and convicting power. And so we need to agree with this. “Yes, God. Your  word is true.”

What I am really saying is that God’s word creates faith within us, if we choose to agree with it, as God speaks in our hearts. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

How do I know I’m saved? Because I know from God’s word that when I have faith in Jesus and repent of my sins, my sins are forgiven and I have new life and a hope for the future. I accept and agree with what God says about me through his word.

3. Hold fast to God’s word. This means that when we don’t feel saved, or when our circumstances are difficult, or when others say things that don’t agree with God’s word that make us doubt our salvation – it means that we make a choice, and it is a choice, not to live by these feelings, circumstances, or the words of others. We choose to live our life based on God’s word and truth.

Does your assurance seem weak?

Perhaps this is where some are this morning. Well, then keep God’s word in your heart and mind. Read it, study it, meditate on it, confess it, act on it. For it is God’s living word that builds faith within us. And so absorb its powerful testimony and align yourself with it.

Yes, if you focus on your feelings, your circumstances, or what others say – your faith will be weak. But the more you let God’s word into your heart, the more your faith will grow, which means your sense of assurance will grow as well.

And then, finally –

Apply God’s word to any other concerns you might have

 Here are some examples . . .

Do God’s promises apply to me? Jesus said, “whoever comes to me I will never cast out” – John 6:37. Are you coming to Jesus? He will not turn you away. You will be accepted. Paul said, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” – Romans 10:13. The promise applies to all, including you.

Am I too sinful? Of course you are, that’s the point! But Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” – Mark 2:17. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . ..” – 1 Timothy 1:15. Believe and repent of all your sins and the promises are yours, regardless of your past. 

Will God fail me? Impossible! Paul said, “He who calls you is faithful” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24. This is at the core of God’s identity – faithfulness to his word and promises. As Paul also says, “he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” – 2 Timothy 2:13. This is simply who God is.

Let God’s word be the foundation of your assurance with God. Know with confidence where you stand with God, based on what he says! And if you don’t have a relationship with God today I encourage you to hear his word and act on it, even now.

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Series: Faith in God

Last time we talked about how, to have real faith, you need a word from God to stand on.  And when you don’t have a word to stand on, it’s called presumption, because you are presuming upon God to do something that he never said he would do. This leads us to have unwarranted confidence, which can lead to wrong actions, which leads to a mess.

As we saw, one of the things we need to do to avoid all this is to know what God’s promises are – their context, the scope of what they cover, and the conditions that are attached. We need to know what they mean. We need to know God’s will so that we can have faith in this and receive from God.

So today, I want to give you 10 promises that you can stand on; that apply to you. And I hope as we go through this, God will speak to you about where you need more of him and his blessings and that you will latch on to this by faith.  

1. God will forgive your sins

 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” – Matthew 6:14

The condition certainly stands out right at the beginning. We have to give grace to receive grace. But if we do this, God tells us here, he will forgive our sins. As Psalm 103:12 says, God will remove our sins “as far as the east is from the west.” As 1 John 1:9 says, God will “forgive us our sins and . . . cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Others may not forgive us, we may struggle to forgive ourselves, but in faith we can stand on this promise that we are indeed forgiven by God.

2. God will give you the Holy Spirit

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” – Luke 11:13

In Luke 11 Jesus talks about asking with persistence in our prayers. And then he ends this teaching with this verse. So he is saying, ‘If we persistently ask for the Spirit, God will answer.’

It is the Spirit who gives us life. It is the Spirit who makes God’s presence known to us. It is the Spirit who gives us God’s guidance and comfort. It is the Spirit who empowers us to do God’s will and to minister in his name. So, this is a promise we all need. We need to be continually filled with the Spirit as followers of Jesus.

3. God will give you eternal life

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16

This is a familiar and popular promise and rightfully so. Because of God’s love for us and  what Jesus has done for us, if we believe in Jesus, we will not be judged, but we will have eternal life. That is to say, right now. No waiting. God’s life comes into us and this will continue on forever.

4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” – John 8:36

Just before this, Jesus talks about how “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” But the promise is that Jesus is both able and willing to set us free; to break the chains of our bondage so that we can serve God and live a new life.

This doesn’t mean that it will always be easy, and that there won’t be hard choices and difficult times ahead. But Jesus will give us what we need to remain free.

If this is where you are, I encourage you to claim this promise by faith. Ask Jesus to come and set you free.

5. God will provide for your material needs

“But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33

Notice the condition: seek the kingdom and his righteousness. Give this more thought and time than worrying about how you will gather up what you need for this life. And then, Jesus tells us, God will provide.

Now this is no promise of great wealth. In this scripture here (Matthew 6) the promise is for food and clothing. Like in the Lord’s prayer, we ask for daily bread. The promise is that God will give us what we need, not what we want. But yet, God’s provision is all we truly need.

6. God will providentially watch over you

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

Jesus spoke this to the disciples while teaching them about persecution and the danger of death. Jesus promises that God watches over us as his disciples and knows what goes on in our lives, down to the details.

If we find ourselves in danger, and we are walking with God – we don’t need to fear. God knows what’s going on. Whether it goes badly for us, or we are rescued, we know that we are in God’s loving hands.

7. God will give you wisdom

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” – James 1:5

We need to ask, and we need to ask in faith as James goes on to say. But if we do this, God will give us guidance and good judgment in how to make decisions and how to live our lives. And who doesn’t need wisdom, really, every day of our lives? What a great promise!“It will be given.”

8. God will give you peace

Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, 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 understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7

We don’t need to be stressed out. Rather, we can lift up our burdens to the Lord, give them to him, and ask for his help. And the promise is that God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds to keep the stress away. Like a soldier keeping patrol.

Unless, of course we let our worries back in. We have to let go of them all, and give them to God knowing that he will take care of us.

9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you

“For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” – Matthew 17:20

 Jesus had commissioned and empowered the disciples to cast out demons as a part of their work. But they had a case they couldn’t handle. Why? Because they thought it was way too hard!

And so Jesus teaches them, and us, that whatever God calls us to do we will be able to do, if we simply trust in God to act for us in each situation. Even if it seems impossible, like moving a mountain from one place to another.

10. God will give you a blessed future

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven . . .. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

The promise is that Jesus will return. And when he does, all faithful Christians will be resurrected to new life, with a new body.

We have an amazing future ahead! Things might not be going well for us now, but we have blessings waiting for us. And we “will always be with the Lord.” We can keep this in mind when we are going through hard times. In faith, think on these things and be encouraged.

  1. God will forgive your sins.
  2. God will give you the Holy Spirit
  3. God will give you eternal life
  4. Jesus will set you free from bondage to sin
  5. God will provide for your material needs
  6. God will providentially watch over you
  7. God will give you wisdom
  8. God will give you peace
  9. Nothing God calls you to do will be impossible for you
  10. God will give you a blessed future

So these are some of the many “precious and very great promises” that God gives to us, to use the words of 2 Peter 1:4. We will not be presuming upon God if we ask for these things.

But we do have to trust in God to receive all that these verses talk about; to receive the blessings of God. As I have said several times now, without faith, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:7). But with faith, “all things are possible” (Mark 9:23). We can receive all that God has for us.

And let’s not be satisfied with what we have already received. We need to up our game! For instance, we need more of the Spirit, some of us need more deliverance, we all need more wisdom, peace in difficult times and power to do God’s will. Let’s raise our expectations and trust in God to act for us, standing on his promises.

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We’re talking about resentments today and how we need to deal with them. We have all been in situations where we weren’t treated right and have been tempted to become resentful – maybe it was with a family member, a friend, neighbors, co-workers or even fellow church members. And certainly as we move forward as a congregation we want to be united in mind and heart and have no residual resentments in our midst that might hinder God from working among us and through us.

A little exercise. I want you to look at everyone that is seated around you. Now look at me. If I may, let me say, this message is for you – and not for them. So don’t think to yourself, “I hope so and so is listening up! I’ll be waiting for their apology.” Let’s each examine our own lives and hearts this morning, in the light of God’s Word. What is God calling me to do? This is the right focus.

We begin with the question – 

What is resentment?

I believe this is a good short definition, “to continue to hold something against someone.” The basic idea comes out in a couple of verses that talk about forgiveness:

  • Jesus uses the phrase – “if you have anything against anyone.” – Mark 11:25
  • Paul says it this way- “if one has a complaint against another” – Colossians 3:13

Now, listen carefully. It is natural to have something against someone, if they have wronged you. That’s how we are made. We are moral creatures. It is the continuing to hold onto it, instead of dealing with it in a biblical way that is the key. That’s what these verses are talking about. 

When we continue to hold onto it, it becomes a grudge, a vendetta, a point of bitterness – what I am calling “a resentment.”

Let’s break this down some more by looking at –  

The three parts of resentment

When we are wronged, 1. we have a sense of unfairness; of injustice. We rightly feel that the other person owes us for what they have done.

2. This then leads to ill feelings, especially anger. Again, it is natural to have anger when you are wronged. But as Christians we have to be very careful what we do with our anger. Anger is meant to motivate us to act; it is meant to lead us to deal with the situation and to deal with it in a biblical way – face to face with the offender, in gentleness and so forth.

But when we don’t deal with the situation and find some kind of resolution – and most of us would rather jump off a cliff than deal with hurt and conflict face to face with someone; when we don’t deal with the situation in a biblical way, our anger, as it were, spoils within us and becomes a well-spring of resentment in our heart. And this leads to other ill feelings such as hatred and we eventually end with hard-heartedness.

3. Finally, these ill feelings manifest themselves in expressions of judgment and punishment. Some typical examples of this include: avoiding the person, cutting off the relationship, talking the person down (slander, gossip), criticizing and fault finding, verbal attacks and worse.

You move into punishing mode. You haven’t found resolution to your fundamental sense of unfairness and anger, so consciously, or not you take things into your own hands and are busy getting back at them.

Now, that we have looked at what resentment is, I want you to think for a moment, is anyone coming to mind that you have a resentment against? Keep that person before you as we move on.

The message today is that – 

We need to release our resentments

Instead of holding onto resentment and acting out on others in punishing mode,  Scripture teaches us that we are to choose love and forgiveness. Let’s look at how this works in three specific scenarios:

1. Someone wrongs you, but it’s not a big offense. It’s not a big deal. Here you can simply choose to overlook it. That is, just let it go. You don’t hold it against them.

Now if you find you can’t do this; that you have abiding anger, resentment or bitterness – then this is a sign you need to deal with the situation. But if not, just choose to let it go; release it.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” This is an act of love on your part.

2. A second scenario. Someone wrongs you and the person isn’t seeking forgiveness or reconciliation. Let’s say you have gone to them, as the Scriptures teach (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3), but they are unrepentant. In this case, you are to release the resentment and choose to walk in love. Release it into God’s hands. This is absolutely key. Give your anger over to God who will sort everything out and right all wrongs. Trust God to take care of this so you don’t need to take up the issue of payback or go into punishing mode.  

What you are really doing here is loving an enemy. For an enemy is precisely someone who harms you and has no repentance. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” – Luke 6:27-28 (NIV). So we return good for harm in all these examples. Instead of anger and punishing behaviors, we show them love.And we pray for them.

And I can testify that doing good to an enemy and praying for them can change our towards those who have harmed us. 

Now it is really hard to love an enemy. This is one-way love – from you to them. But it is a choice that we make, enabled by God’s grace.

In this scenario, even though the relationship is currently broken, our goal for the relationship is ultimately full forgiveness and reconciliation (two-way love), although this can only happen when they want this also, and when the issues are fairly dealt with.

3. Someone wrongs you and the person is repentant and is seeking forgiveness. Let’s say you have gone to them as the Scriptures teach or they have come to you as the Scriptures teach (Matthew 5:23-24) and the person is sorry and wants to make things right and commits to treat you right from now on. So things are dealt with, which should address the issue of your anger. In this case, you are to release the resentment and forgive so that the relationship can be restored.

Sometimes we still don’t want to. We want to hold onto our resentment and continue in punishing mode. But Scripture is clear on our need to forgive. Indeed, this is the situation that is addressed in most if not all passages that talk about the need to forgive.

  • “If your brother . . . repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3
  •  “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone . . .” – Mark 11:25
  • “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” This is a portrait of resentment. Rather we are to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” -Ephesians 4:31-32
  • “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other . . .” – Colossians 3:12-13 

Now this can be hard, but it is a choice that we make, whether we feel like it or not. The feelings will come later with God’s help. Sometimes we will have to continue to choose to release the resentment, because the temptation is always to take it back – even after a reconciliation has been reached. You have to let it go and don’t take it up again.  

Let me end by giving you –

Several reasons why you should release your resentments and choose instead love and forgiveness

 You are only a forgiven wrongdoer yourself. How can you hold resentment, when God has released his resentment against you, loved you and has now forgiven you? That’s why we are to forgive “one another, as God in Christ forgave you” – Ephesians 4:32. We have no ground to stand on to hold onto resentments we who only live by God’s grace and mercy.

Resentment will destroy you. No doubt you have heard the saying, “resentment is the poison you drink hoping for the other person to die.” But they don’t and it only destroys you. It poisons you.

  • It takes away your joy and peace. As Paul says about those who need to forgive, your life will be characterized by things like “bitterness” “wrath” “anger” “clamor” “slander” “malice” – Ephesians 4:31.
  • It will make you a slave of the person, the wrong, the situation that you are bitter about as you continually replay it in your mind.
  • It will make you self-focused as you think about how badly you have been treated – me, me, me. You become self-absorbed.

It twists and distorts us from being who God want us to be, into a negative, bitter person, walking around with a cloud over our head. So for your own sake get the poison out. Enter into the peace and joy that God wants for you  to have.  Choose love and forgiveness and be free!

Resentment will destroy your relationships with others. Everyone will fail us at some point. So if you can’t release your resentments your relationships with family, friends and fellow church members will remain weak, damaged or broken. And you will end up isolated and lonely.

To have strong relationships you need real love. And as Paul said “love is not resentful” – 1 Corinthians 13:5.

Resentment will destroy your relationship with God. This is the most serious and dangerous thing of all. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” What a great promise. But hear the warning as well – “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” – Matthew 6:14-15.

 

What resentments do you need to release this morning?

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The message today is very simple. God is a God of life and a God of blessing. And even though we so often fail and sin and mess things up so that there seems to be no hope, in grace, God offers us a new beginning.

Let’s start off with –

Some examples of new beginnings

– that God has given in the Scriptures.

1. Think of Adam and Eve. God made them and blessed them, and everything was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But they sinned and rebelled against God and were judged and exiled from the garden.

But God in his mercy offered them a new beginning. For through their son Seth came a new start. As Genesis 4:26 says, “at that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . (say it all together) “God made a new beginning.”

2. Think of the time of Noah. Genesis 6:5 says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (NRSV)

But God offered a new beginning through Noah and his family. They survived the judgment of the flood on callous evildoers. And God told Noah and his family, repeating the original commission to Adam and Eve, “be fruitful and multiply on the earth” (Genesis 8:17). Humanity began again.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

3. And then there was Abraham. The nations of the earth had forgotten God and were going their own way, worshiping different idols and false gods.

But God revealed himself to Abraham and his family. And God began a plan and made promises to use Abraham and his family to make himself known to the nations.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

4. And then there was Moses. Abraham’s lineage was in slavery in Egypt, captive in their suffering and not fulfilling their role.

So God raised up Moses to deliver them and to put into action the plan and promises he gave to Abraham. Moses led them to the promised land as a new nation, Israel.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

5. Remember the judges. Israel was unfaithful to God, worshiping idols and false gods and to fulfilling God’s plan. And they were enslaved to the rulers of the people around them.

But God raised up judges like Gideon and Samuel to call them to faithfulness. And he used them to deliver Israel from their oppression.

At many points during these years, things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

6. Remember King David. Israel wanted a king like the nations around them, even though this was not of God. And when God gave them their first king Saul, he turned out to be a disaster.

But then God raised up his servant David. And he led the people toward faithfulness to God. And he delivered them from their enemies.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

7. Finally, remember when Israel returned from exile. After many years of rebellion and sin, and not listening to the prophets, they were judged and carried away to Babylon for 70 years of exile.

But God acted to bring them back to their land to begin anew. He did this in accord with the promise in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” And God did give them a new start.

Things seemed truly hopeless, but . . . “God made a new beginning.”

And then we come to –

The new beginning

And this requires us to look at the big picture. God doesn’t just want to give new beginnings within history. God is really leading all things toward a a cosmic new beginning. God created the world, but the world has fallen under the powers of Sin, Satan and Death. But now, God is bringing forth a new creation. As he said in Isaiah 65:17-18, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create”

And God is doing this through his Son, Jesus, whom he sent for this very purpose.

All of the new beginnings we have looked at so far prepared the way for Jesus , who is a descendant of Seth, Noah, Abraham, David and the people of Israel. And Jesus is the fulfillment of all the promises given to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets.

Jesus became a human but he knew no sin. And so the powers of Sin, Satan and Death had not right to him. Yet, even though he was innocent, he was put to death on the cross. And because of this:

  • The powers of Sin, Satan and Death have been put down.
  • And Jesus has been raised up from the dead, vindicated and seated at the right hand of God with all authority over heaven and earth.

And he now gives us the blessings of salvation – the forgiveness of our sins and new life through the Spirit of God living within us. What I am saying is that in Jesus, the new creation has begun. And when he returns in glory he will raise us from the dead and the new creation will be completed.

Things seemed truly hopeless for the first creation, but . . . “God made a new beginning”; a new creation in Jesus Christ.

And so in light of all this, I ask you this morning –

Do you need a new beginning?

This God of new beginnings, who works throughout history to give new starts and who has brought forth a new creation through the resurrection of Jesus – this same God can give you a new beginning!

Have you failed God and others? Is your life a mess? Do you think that things are so bad – your situation, your sin, your guilt and shame – that it’s beyond hope?

Well, 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us – “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Right now this Easter day he can give you a new start., Your sin and guilt and shame can be wiped away and you can be a part of the new creation that God has begun in Jesus.

And when Jesus returns you will be raised to an unending life of righteousness, peace and joy in the presence of God. As Revelation 21:3-5 says, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

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I want to encourage you with a message this morning about how “Nothing is too difficult for the Lord!” And if you find yourself burdened down or overcome by difficulties this morning, I will give you a chance to respond by coming forward for prayer at the end.

Let’s begin by looking at two verses, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Jeremiah 32:27 says, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” The answer is obviously no. In context, God has given Jerusalem over to judgment and exile, but one day God will bring his people back to their land once again. And this is not too difficult for the Lord, nor is anything else that God purposes to do.

The second verse is Mark 10:27, where Jesus said, “All things are possible with God.” Even things that seem impossible to us, Jesus tells us, God can do. More specifically, God can save those who are in very difficult situations – if they step out in faith. 

Now in contrast to the Lord, we are very weak; mere humans. And when we find ourselves in hard times we struggle because we are weak. We are easily burdened, overcome, worn out and give up. And so my encouragement to you is this – in your weakness rely on the Lord, for whom nothing is too difficult; for whom all things are possible. He can save you; he is all powerful; he can give you the help that you need.

As we get into this let me say first of all that –

God’s power is made known through Jesus

This becomes evident in the story that is told in Mark 4:35-41

“On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they (the disciples) took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

As we see here, Jesus has incredible power, over nature itself. He speaks and the storm is calmed. He speaks and the disciples are saved. But this story shows us that Jesus’ power is, in fact, God’s power to save usFor in the Old Testament it is God alone who has power over the waters, and rebukes the sea and stills the waters (Psalm 104:7, Psalm 65:7). And yet this is what Jesus is doing here. So, like father, like son. This story shows us that Jesus is God’s instrument through whom God works to save us. And so, like father, like son, nothing is too difficult for Jesus and all things are possible with him.

For instance,

1. Jesus has the power to set us free from bondage to evil

 Regarding the power of the devil, Jesus cast out demons when he walked this earth. This is a story from Luke 4:33-37.

“And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’ And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.”

Regarding the power of Sin in John 8:34-36 Jesus said, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. . . . (but) if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

What is your situation as you gather here this last Sunday of September? Are you fighting with the powers of evil and Sin? Are you miserable and fed up? Are you struggling to move forward but can’t?

Well, Jesus still has the power to set people free! – right here and right now! For through his death and resurrection he has decisively defeated Satan himself and all the power of Sin.

And all this setting free is a preview of what’s to come; of what he will bring about at his second coming when, as the Book of Revelation tells us, Satan will be cast into the lake of fire (20:10) and “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes . . . neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (21:4). We will be free from all evil, pain and suffering.

Jesus set people free when he walked this earth and Jesus has the power to set us free both now and forever.

 2. Jesus has the power to bring us into right relationship with God

Jesus forgave people’ sins when he walked this earth. This is a story from Matthew 9:1-8.

“And getting into a boat Jesus crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.’ And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This man is blaspheming.’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority (or power) on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority (or power) to men.”

What is your situation here today as you have gathered to worship? Have you failed God? Have you failed others? Have you failed yourself? Have you done what is wrong, evil and shameful? So shameful that you hope no one ever finds out?

Well, although your sins keep you from God and his blessing in your life, Jesus still has the power to provide forgiveness! – right here and right now! For through his death and resurrection, forgiveness and new relationship with God is available to each one of us. We can know God and walk with God and hear God speak to us and lead us and experience the fullness of God’s love.

And all this new relationship is a preview of what;s to come; of what he will bring about at his second coming. For as the Book of Revelation tells us, in the New Jerusalem there is no need of a temple, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). We will have unhindered access to God and God’s presence.

Jesus brought people into relationship with God when he walked this earth and Jesus can bring us into right relationship with God both now and forever.

3. Jesus has the power to make us whole

When Jesus walked this earth he healed many people. This is a story from Matthew 15:29-31.

“Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel.”

What is your situation here today? Are you broken? Are you wounded?

Well, Jesus still has the power to make whole today! right here and right now! Whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual wholeness that you need. Through his death and resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit we can all experience a measure of the new life he has come to give.

And all this new life is a preview of what’s to come; of what he will bring about at his second coming, when we will all be raised from the dead with new, glorified bodies, fully whole and well and at peace. Amen? As God says in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (21:3). We live in a broken world, but God will make all things new.

Jesus had the power to make whole when he walked this earth and Jesus has the power to make us whole both now and forever.

The message today is that – Nothing is too difficult for Jesus! As long as we put our faith in him and let him do his work in our lives, all things are possible.

  • You can be set free from evil
  • You can be forgiven and know God
  • You can find wholeness and new life

Nothing is too difficult for the Lord.

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Last week we talked a bit about the topic of forgiving others from Mark 11:25 and how this affects our prayers getting answered. I want to pick up this theme of forgiveness today and remind each of us of this important teaching from Jesus. And I want us to do this by focusing on the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-25.

We will go through this passage in two different ways. First by means of an impromptu skit . . ..

Second, let’s go through this passage adding in some historical and cultural background to help us understand it.

Matthew 18:23-35

First of all, this is a parable of Jesus that tells us about how the kingdom of God works.

And also, all through it, economic terms are used to talk about how sin and forgiveness work. This was fairly common. Sin is seen as a debt that we owe to God that we cannot pay (Matthew 6:12). And also it can be a debt that we owe others – how we should have treated them but didn’t. Forgiveness, then, is to release someone’s debt, whether it be God or us releasing the debt.

“23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.”

The servant here works for the king in his royal court. And he owes the king a great deal of money. There are different ways to estimate this, but using our minimum wage, by my calculations he owed 3 billion 480 million dollars. [A denarius equals one day’s wage, which at minimum wage is $58 for an eight hour day. One talent equaled 6000 denarii, which then equals $340,000. Ten thousand talents then equals $3,480,000,000.]

This was an astronomical amount. For instance, all of the province of Judea only paid 600 talents in taxes for a whole year to Rome. But he owes 10,000 talents. Today we might say it like this – he owed a gazillion dollars.

“25And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.”

Being sold into slavery because of unpaid debt certainly happened in the ancient world. In this case his whole family and all his belongings were to be sold – although this would not even begin to touch the debt that he owed his master.

“26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

He calls out for mercy, somehow thinking that he can pay off his debt. And then surprisingly, the king has pity on him. He doesn’t even set up a payment plan, he wipes out the debt entirely. He is completely forgiven.

“28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.”

A hundred denarii would be $5,800 [A hundred days wages at $58 a day]. So the amount here is mind bogglingly lower than what he had owed his king.

When his fellow servant pleaded for patience, like he had, he completely disregards it. The fellow servant is sent to a debtor’s prison, where he would stay until he came up with the money, or his friends or family paid up for him.

“31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.”

The king’s servant is found out. He is rebuked by the king. His former debt is reinstated. And he is put in jail.

The word for jailers is actually “torturers.” The idea is that he will be tortured until he comes up with the money. Maybe he has some hidden somewhere.

But since his debt is insanely large, and since he would now have no friends to help him given his behavior, he will be in jail forever.

Jesus then bring home the point of the parable – “35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

God has forgiven us, and so we are to forgive others, Jesus says, “from your heart.” That is, not just outwardly, pretending or smoothing things over, but truly releasing their debt to us.

And if we don’t do this, God will treat us like the king treated the servant he had previously forgiven, which is a clear warning to us.

Let me highlight now –

Three key points

– from this passage, and from the teaching of Jesus on this topic in general. 1. We are to forgive those who sin against us.

  • Matthew 18:35 – “forgive from the heart”
  • Luke 17:3 – “forgive”
  • Luke 17:4 – “forgive”
  • Luke 6:37 – “forgive”
  • Mark 11:25 – “forgive”
  • Matthew 6:12; Luke 11:4 – in the context of the Lord’s prayer, we acknowledge that “we have forgiven our debtors.”

If someone comes to us in true repentance and asks (here begs) for mercy, Jesus tells us to forgive. Don’t hold their debt over them. Don’t hold their sin against them so that you seek to punish them. Don’t hold on to bitterness and resentment.

2. Why should we forgive? It is, after all, often very difficult to forgive. We are not just talking about trivial things here. This has to do with people who truly mistreat and wound us, and those we love.

This causes pain and anger, and we naturally want justice. So we have to work to give this pain and anger over to God so that we can find love and a heart of mercy for the one who has done wrong.

This is not easy, or necessarily a one-time event. It is often a process. And certainly the relationship will need time to heal and to rebuild trust, especially if the wound is severe.

When Jesus presented his teaching on forgiveness in Luke 17 the disciples responded by saying “increase our faith,” because they thought that this was impossible to do.

So with all this, why should we forgive? The answer is that if you don’t, you will not be forgiven. This is what Matthew 18 teaches. In fact, the servant’s former debt was reinstated in full.

  • Luke 6:37 says, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” The reverse being clear that if you don’t, if you condemn, you will be condemned.
  • Mark 11:25 tells us that we must forgive, “so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
  • Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

And when our sins are not forgiven this destroys our relationship with God. Just as with the servant in our story in relation to his king.

3. Why won’t God forgive us, if we don’t forgive? Certainly what the servant did was wrong. This is why when the others heard about it, they were “distressed.” And this is why the king called him “wicked” in v. 32

It was certainly self-centered. He wanted mercy for himself because that benefited him. And he wanted justice for his fellow servant  because that benefited him. He was always guided by his self-interest. 

And he certainly didn’t understand that one who has been forgiven has no ground to stand on to ask for justice. To receive grace is to acknowledge that you yourself can’t live up to the standard of justice. And so to demand it for others is to undercut the very grace that makes your life possible.

But at the core we are bumping into a fundamental principle of the kingdom of God. Our relationship with God is always interconnected with our relationships with others. They affect one another back and forth.

 •  So when God forgives us we are to forgive others. And if we do this, God will continue to forgive us. Our relationship with God affects our relationship with others. As the king tells the servant in v. 33, “should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And as Jesus said in Luke 6:36 – “Be merciful even as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

 •  But if we treat others with justice, then this is how God will treat us. As Jesus said in Luke 6:38, measure for measure. The measure you give to others is the measure you will get from God. Our relationship with others affects our relationship with God. If you give mercy to others, you will get mercy from God. If you give justice to others, you will get justice from God – and your sins will be held against you.

So let’s not be like the unforgiving servant. But rather let us be merciful to others, just as we have received mercy from God.

William Higgins 

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