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We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, and then, I hope, we will each evaluate how we are actually doing.

Last week we focused on the first mark: Complete Yieldedness to God. I showed you how this has to be at the core of our Christian lives. And that’s because without this we remain stuck in our sins, failures and compromises. But with this we are able to move forward and experience the spiritual renewal that God has for each one of us.

Specifically today, we see how completely yielding ourselves to God is the key to restoring our relationships with God and with others. We begin with the first of these . . .

2. Renewed relationship with God

Our unyieldedness to God damages and eventually destroys our relationship with God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” Our undealt with sin, which we know about and continue to choose, creates an obstacle, a wall, a barrier between us and God.

1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him (God) while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” Its not possible to have a right relationship with God, while there are areas of our life where we choose not to submit to God.

So because of our unyieldedness, our relationship with God becomes distant, stale, and cold. As Paul says, we are “alienated from God” (Ephesians 4:18).

This shows up in different ways:

  • We have little if any sense of God’s presence in our lives. You know, God speaking to us, comforting us, guiding us, fellowshipping with us. God is distant.
  • We have little if any sense of devotion toward God. I’m talking about that sense of deep emotion that is connected with that which has the most value for us in all of life. Think of the devotion you have to your family. You feel strongly about them. Well, when we choose not to yield to God, we lose this for God.
  • We spend little if any time with God, that is, in prayer, reading the Scriptures, Christian fellowship and worship. Oh, we may come to church, but our heart doesn’t enter in. We’re just going through the motions. Its like with a person that you aren’t getting along with. You don’t really want to be around them. And if you see them you just go through the motions.

If this is where you find yourself, here’s . . .

What you should do to renew your relationship with God. As we talked about last week, yield yourself completely to God in every area of your life. And we do this through honest assessment of our lives and making hard choices of repentance.

And then, ask God to forgive your sins, your failures, and your compromises. Jesus’ blood was poured out on the cross “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). And you are a part of that many. He died for you.

The promise to us is that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Through what Jesus has done, and our receiving this gift by faith, the walls of our sin are broken down. The barriers are destroyed. We have –

Restored relationship with God:

  • We come to know and feel the presence of God in our lives. God is close to us, leading us and helping us.
  • We come to feel devotion for God. We have a deep passion and desire for God and to serve God.
  • We want to spend time with God; to be in God’s presence, to soak up all that God has for us from the Scriptures, times of prayer and worship and Christian fellowship. We can’t get enough of it.

This is the second mark of a vibrant Christian life. Renewed relationship with God in all these ways.

3. Renewed relationships with others

Our unyieldedness destroys our relationships with others. And this can happen in two different ways:

  • Our own wrongdoing can destroy relationships
  • Or our unwillingness to love and forgive those who have wronged us can destroy relationships

Either way our relationships with others become distant, stale and cold. They become characterized by things like bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:31. If this is where you are at, here’s –

What you should do to restore these relationships. Again, yield yourself completely to God – here in terms of how you have treated others, and how you have responded to those who have hurt you.

More specifically 1) Make things right with the one you have wronged. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you (you have wronged them), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24.

There is no guarantee that they will respond and the relationship will be restored, but do what you can to restore the relationship through repentance and love for them

2) Forgive those who have sinned against you. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3.

Again, there is no guarantee that they will repent and seek forgiveness. And without repentance on their part there can’t be restored relationship. But, do what you can to restore the relationship. Show love for them and be willing to forgive if they repent so that there can be true reconciliation.

I would just note here the seriousness of this. In both of these cases our relationships with others, has a decisive impact on our relationship with God.

Matthew 5:23-34 shows that our unrepentance for hurting others affects our relationship with God. Why do we first seek reconciliation? Because if we have sinned against someone and don’t seek to make it right, our relationship with God is broken. There is no need to try to bring your gift to give to God in worship. You have to first make it right with the other person.

Matthew 6:14-15 teaches us that our unwillingness to forgive others affects our relationship with God. Jesus said, “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.”

Our horizontal relationships with each other, affects our vertical relationship with God. This is really important. So if nothing else, this should spur us on to the goal, which is . . .

Restored relationships with others. This is when we set aside hatred and love each other from the heart. This is when we set aside bitterness and find forgiveness. This is when we put away hard-heartedness and find compassion and mercy.

As Paul said, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32.

This is where we love each other and are willing to lay down our lives for each other, to sacrifice for each other. As John says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters” – 1 John 3:16.

Restored relationships mean that we are humble before each other. As Paul says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” – Philippians 2:3.

And we live in peace with one another – As Jesus said, “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50.

This is the third mark of a healthy and faithful Christian life. I hope that you will look at both of these and evaluate where you are at. Do you have this kind of relationship with God? Do you have these kinds of relationships with others?

William Higgins

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We’re looking at the gospel, that God is doing something new in the world. And how God invites each of us to be a part of it. And the first way to do this is to . . .

1. Believe

Now, it’s obvious enough that something is wrong with the world. We see it every day, evil, injustice, suffering and death. And we don’t just see it, we experience it ourselves. Its in the news headlines all the time: wars, murders, theft, hunger and oppression. Human suffering is all around us.

But Jesus came with good news. God has begun to act through him to make all things new! He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand . . . ” – Mark 1:15. Jesus is saying, its begun; and its begun with my coming.

And God confirmed that he was right:

  • God worked through Jesus’ ministry in amazing ways to manifest the kingdom, through healings, the casting out of demons and transformed lives.
  • And God raised Jesus up from an unjust death and made him Lord of all things.

God’s kingdom has begun with Jesus – his ministry and especially with his resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection heralds the decisive inbreaking of God’s new creation; of resurrection life.

In Jesus, God has begun to do away with the old – the evil and the suffering of our world, including death, and God has begun to bring in the new – life, joy and peace. And Jesus calls us to “. . . believe the good news” – Mark 1:15.

To be a part of this new thing that God is doing, this new creation, choose to believe that God is making all things new through Jesus.

2. Turn

We not only experience evil in our lives, we also practice evil. We are by nature self-centered. And because of this we often harm others, we practice injustice, we are cruel to others. If we wonder why the world is like it is, we only need to look at ourselves. We are the problem.

So Jesus came to teach us a new way of living.

  • He lived a life of love for God, doing what God wanted not what he wanted. He was “God centered” in his attitudes and actions.
  • And he lived a life of humble service to others, sacrificially loving everyone, including his enemies who killed him. He was “other oriented” in his attitudes and actions.

And Jesus not only modeled this for us, he calls us to turn from our ways, to learn his new way. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” -Matthew 4:17.  He calls for a change of mind and heart that leads to a change in our attitudes and actions.

To be a part of God’s new creation, turn from your old life and follow the new way of Jesus.

3. Receive

God hates injustice and evil more than anyone; all the pain and suffering that it causes. That’s why God has decreed that the penalty for wrongdoing is death.

But the depth of God’s love for us is beyond understanding. And so as God looks at us, under his judgment, he has taken pity on us. God doesn’t want us to die.

So God sent Jesus to set us free from his own decree of death by dying in our place. Because of this, we are given another chance! Now we can be made new ourselves.

  • We are made new by receiving the forgiveness for our sins. All the old is wiped away. This allows us to begin a new relationship with God and to have a new start on life.
  • We are also made new by receiving the Spirit of God. The Spirit gives us a new heart and a new power to walk just like Jesus walked. We don’t have to live like we used to. We have new life.

Jesus calls us to receive these gifts of new life when he says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matthew 7:7

To be a part of God’s new creation, receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and the Holy Spirit.

4. Belong

Jesus didn’t just come to make individuals new. Jesus came to gather a new nation; a movement made up of people from all tribes and nations and languages – all made new through him. This community is different from all the nations of the earth because it is under his lordship.

And Jesus called his people to bring others in so they can belong as well. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20. Jesus wants everyone to be a part; to be baptized and to learn his ways.

This community is Jesus’ family. We become brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Like any family should, it will strengthen and encourage you as you follow Jesus in your new life.

To be a part of God’s new creation, belong to God’s new community.

5. Wait

That’s because God’s new creation will only be complete when Jesus returns on the final day.

  • Then evil, suffering and death will be destroyed forever.
  • Then there will be resurrection to eternal life, joy and peace.

Now, no one knows when this will happen. And God’s mercy is such that he delays, waiting for more to receive. And so we need to wait until God is finished. As Jesus said, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” – Mark 13:13.

As we wait we must continue to be faithful to:

  • Believe – for our faith will be tested.
  • Turn – from our failures and walk again in the way of Jesus.
  • Receive – forgiveness for our sins and the strengthening, renewing presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
  • Belong – to be a part and to be strengthened and to strengthen others in the community of Jesus.

If we do this, the Lord Jesus will gladly welcome us into God’s new creation, on that final day.

To be a part of God’s new creation, faithfully wait for Jesus to return.

————————–

This is the gospel, the good news of Jesus. I trust that wherever you are at – whether you need to believe, turn, receive, belong or continue faithfully waiting – that you will receive the word this morning by acting on it and moving forward.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Luke 15:11-32 this morning and the story of the prodigal son.

The point

. . . of this parable is easy enough to discern. The verses right before it set the context for understanding it: Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

  • Jesus is receiving and eating with repentant sinners; people who have intentionally disregarded God and knowingly done what was wrong.
  • The Pharisees do not approve of this; people who have tried to keep God’s will.

This is the situation that is being dealt with in the whole of Luke chapter 15.

Then in Luke 15:3-10 come the twin parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin – which comment on this situation. Yes, there are those who are not lost – the 99 sheep and the 9 coins, but when the one that was lost is found there is rejoicing. Even rejoicing in heaven among the angels.

Then in our text we have:

  • The younger son’s repentance which is celebrated
  • And the elder son, who grumbles about this

So, you can see how these all line up, and what corresponds to what:

prodigal context

So all these parables refer back to the situation of Jesus and the Pharisees and comment on it.

The point of our parable, then, is that it is right to welcome and celebrate sinners who repent.

  • The father celebrates his son’s repentance. In vs. 23-24 he said, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
  • The father tells his older son that it is right to do this. In v. 32 he said, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”

Now, beyond this central point – there is much that we can learn from this parable about repentance, and we have looked at it in this light.

There is also something to learn about how those who have sought to be faithful and have been serving God for years, should be welcoming to repentant sinners, and rejoice for them, despite their years of sin and failure.

And there is also much to be learned about God’s love. And this is our focus today. And to get to this, first we look at . .

The love of the father in this parable

He is actually the central figure of the story. It begins and ends with him, and he is the thread that holds the two parts together, first with his younger son and then his elder son. So lets look at his love:

1. The father’s love endures rejection. His son’s request was highly unusual, indeed insulting to the father. You only get your inheritance when your father is dead! And so the son is, as it were, treating his father as if he is already dead. And he just wants his money. He doesn’t care about his father, only what he can get out of him.

But the father grants his wish. V. 12 – says “he divided his property between them,” that is the two sons.

2. The father’s love accepts his son when he repents. Even though the father knew his son was wasting his own hard earned resources and squandering his good gifts . . ..

Even though he knew that his son was debasing himself:

  • using the money on prostitutes (v. 30)
  • sinking to the lowest possible point for a Jew, caring for pigs which are unclean animals
  • and being so hungry that he longed for their food . . ..

Even with all this, when the father saw his son coming v. 20 says,

  • he “felt compassion”
  • he “ran and embraced him”
  • he “kissed him”

This kind of display of affection was unusual in this cultural context. It shows the intensity of his love for his son. And this despite all that his son had done wrong.

The father’s love survived all the insult and pain and was there waiting for him as he returned from far away and from his foolishness. It was waiting to accept him.

3. The fathers’ love is full of mercy. He gives him so much more than he deserves, given all that he has done. V. 22 speaks of . . .

  • “the best robe”
  • “a ring” (a symbol of authority)
  • and “shoes”

All of these items speak to a certain social status. The father is proclaiming him to be his son and not a servant. (The son had only hoped to be accepted back as a servant).

And then the father welcomes him with a party – v. 23. The fattened calf is brought out, reserved only for the most special of occasions.

4. The father’s love is patient with the elder brothers grumbling. The elder son objected to the party. In fact, he insults his father by not taking part. Even though the father pleaded with him.

Yet the father is patient and only gently rebukes him. He says in v. 32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad . .  ..” The father is saying, ‘He’s your brother! And something amazingly good has just happened.’

5. The father’s love rewards the faithful service of his elder son. In v. 31 he says to his elder son who has worked for him so long and so hard, “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.”

This shows us again that sin has consequences. The younger son’s inheritance was still all gone. But the point here is that the father honors faithfulness. Everything the father has is his elder son’s. He is blessed for his faithfulness.

Our heavenly Father’s love for us

Now, the father in this parable certainly represents to us our heavenly Father. So let’s see what we can learn from him about the love of God:

1. God’s love endures our rejection of him. So often we dishonor God by making our own choices that go against God and God’s way. But yet, like the prodigal son, we want what we can get out of God. When we get in trouble or there is an emergency we call for God’s help.

But despite our all this, our heavenly father’s love for us endures.

2. God’s love accepts us when we repent. No matter how much we have rejected God, no matter how much we have debased ourselves, no matter how much we have squandered God’s gifts to us – when we come to our senses and come to him in repentance – God is there to welcome us with affection and love.

3. God’s love is full of mercy to us. Our heavenly father gives us so much more than we deserve. When we come in repentance –

  • He blesses us with gifts
  • He calls us his children
  • and there is rejoicing in heaven

None of which we deserve.

4. God’s love is patient with us when we grumble. Although we all live out the prodigal son’s story to some degree, since we understand that we have all sinned against God, we can also all find ourselves in the place of the elder son.

Perhaps you were raised as a Christian, or at least you’ve been a Christian for many years – serving God and seeking to do what is right.

And we become proud and un-accepting of those who have lived truly sinful lifestyles for years. All the attention and fuss that is made over them. We’ve been toiling in silence for years!

Yet God lovingly and gently admonishes us to rejoice with those who have come to their senses; to welcome them.

5. God’s love rewards us for faithful service. God’s grace to those who have wasted so much of their lives in sin, will not cheat anyone out of God’s blessings. No one needs to fret or be upset.

If we have truly been faithful, God will be faithful to bless us for all that we do for him.

So we learn much about God’s love to us in this parable – when we are walking in sin, when we come to God in repentance and when we are faithful as well. God loves us with an amazing love!

William Higgins

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We are continuing on in our series from 2 Chronicles today, picking up with Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah.

The basics

  • He began to reign at 12 years old – v. 1. Probably alongside his father for the first several years, as was common.
  • He reigned for 55 years – v. 1, the longest of any Judean king.
  • But, he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord – v. 2. In fact, he was so bad, we have to have a whole section to describe all of . . .

Manasseh’s sins

  • “He rebuilt the high places” – v. 3. These were local shrines throughout Judah, that his father had broken down in his reforms. These were most often for Canaanite worship.
  • “He erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs” – v. 3. These were Canaanite gods. Ba’al’s name means “lord.” He was the god of storms (and thus rain) as well as fertility. Asherah or Astarte was his companion, the goddess of many things, including fertility.
  • He “worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.” – v. 3; that is, the worship of stars and planets as gods. Vs. 4-5 tell us that he built altars in the Temple for this pagan worship, “in the two courts of the house of the Lord” it says, thus defiling the temple with his idolatry.
  • He practiced child sacrifice offering up some of his own sons – v. 6.
  • He “used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards.” – v. 6.
  • But his crowning act of unfaith-fulness is that he “put an idol in God’s temple of which God had said . . . ‘I will put my Name forever’” – v. 7. The contrast between God’s action of putting his name in the temple, and Manasseh action of putting an idol in the temple, is stark.

Also in v. 8, commenting on this action, the contrast between the faithful Davidic king who is “careful to do all that I have commanded . . . all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses,” the contrast between this and Manasseh, is clear. He blatantly went against God’s commands given through Moses and defiled the Temple.

This passage has a building crescendo of outrage to it. As v. 2 says, “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.” As v. 6 says, “He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger.” And as v. 9 says, he did “more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.”

The bottom line is that he was the worst king in all of Judah’s history. His “sin and unfaithfulness” (v. 19) was complete. He was the antithesis of his father, the righteous Hezekiah and he undid all of his reforms until things were worse than they were before Hezekiah.

Yet, despite all this, through the many years . . .

God tried to get through to Manasseh

God sent prophets to speak to him and the people:

  • v. 10 says, “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”
  • v. 18 also refers to “the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.”

Finally, since he didn’t listen, God put him in “distress.” v. 11 says, “Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.”

Its possible he took part in a rebellion against the Assyrian overlords, so they came after him and caught him. Whatever the case may be, it was the Lord who was behind this.

The Assyrians were brutal. They would put hooks through the nose or lips of a person, tie a rope onto them and lead them away as prisoners. Something like this happened to Manasseh. He was taken away in humiliation.

Now, sometimes when God puts us in distress, or disciplines us for our sin, it works. But sometimes it makes people even more hardened in their rebellion against God. In this case, the distress worked. It led to . . .

Manasseh’s repentance

v. 12 says, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” He was already humiliated before the Assyrian king, but now he humbles himself greatly before the king of all creation. Humiliation is what others do to you. You have to choose to humble yourself. And he chooses to do this before God.

v. 13 says, “He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.” This is a remarkable verse. God was moved by his prayer. Isn’t it an amazing thing that our prayers can move God?

And despite all that he had done, his idolatry and child sacrifice, God heard his plea, forgave him and saved him! He was sent back to Jerusalem.

Then Manasseh knew that Yahweh was the true God. After pursing every other god available, every other religious option, he comes back to the God of his fathers.

This is one of the most powerful stories of repentance, of turning one’s life around, of a true change of heart, in all of the Old Testament and indeed in all of the Scriptures.

When he got back to Jerusalem, he started doing what a Davidic king is supposed to do.

He took care of God’s people

  • He built a great outer wall around the whole eastern part of Jerusalem – v. 14
  • He also “put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah.” – v. 14

He got rid of the idols. v. 15 says,  “And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city.”

He had done great wrong with his idolatry and now he makes it right. His repentance finds expression in concrete actions. He stopped doing what he was doing wrong. And then also he started doing what was right . . .

He practiced true worship in the temple. v. 16 says, “He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

But we also have to say that his reform was limited in impact. V. 17 says, “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.”

It was focused on Jerusalem. The people outside of the city still used the high places, even though they worshipped God at them or were supposed to now.

It also didn’t take hold in people’s lives. It’s most likely that his repentance came nearer to the end of his reign, so that most of his life, most of his 55 years as king, he did evil and encouraged others to do evil – (which is why, even with his repentance, he is still later referred to in v. 22 as one who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord).

A whole generation would have been brought up in his idolatry, which would be hard to break. And this is why his son, who followed in his footsteps, found it easy to go back to Manasseh’s idolatrous practices.

Some lessons

1. We learn that sin has consequences. As Paul says in Galatians 6, ‘you reap what you sow.’

Now, not all trials come directly from our wrongdoing, but in this case it was because of his sin that he experienced distress in his life. He was taken away as a prisoner in humiliation. And God also disciplines us when we sin. God tries to get our attention; to wake us up.

With regard to his legacy, he is remembered as one who repented, but he is also remembered as one who lived most of his life in sin (33:22).

We learn from this that it’s always better to not sin in the first place, than to sin and then repent. There is always damage and pain and consequences that you can’t control, even with the grace of repentance. Manasseh repented, but his sins continued on in the generation to come. Sin has consequences. We must remember this.

2. How to repent. Manasseh “humbled himself greatly” before God – v. 12. That is, he lowered himself. He put aside arrogance and defensiveness and recognized his wrong. Then he “prayed to God” – v. 13. He confessed his sins. And then, he changed his behavior – v. 14–16. And this last part is necessary.

His repentance was not just a matter of the heart. Although it has to start there. He  didn’t just feel bad. It was not just a verbal thing. He didn’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Although this is necessary too. His repentance involved changed behavior. What he did wrong before he stopped doing. And he began to do what is right.

Repentance requires all three: the heart, the mouth and our actions.

3. Finally, we learn about the depth of God’s mercy. God was patient with Manasseh, seeking him out for so many years; speaking through prophets; putting him in distress; trying to get his attention.

And God does the same with us. We sin, we run, and we try to ignore. But God pursues us.

And we see God’s mercy in that God forgave Manasseh. When the worst king of Judah, whose sins and unfaithfulness were astounding; when this sinful man cried out in repentance, God heard, God forgave and God saved.

And if God can have mercy in such an extreme case, it shows us that God can have mercy on us too.

What a good and wonderful God we have! A God we don’t deserve, but a God who loves us nevertheless.

William Higgins

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First of all, I just want to say again how grateful I am for all who came out to work and support our VBS this year. It is encouraging to me to see how many of you came.

It is also a blessing to me to see you working in ministry and using your gifts to work for the kingdom. That’s what its all about, right? I don’t want to mention names, but we have some really gifted, creative, dedicated, hard working people here. And it is a blessing to see you in action.

It is true that we had a lot of kids this year. Wow! Perhaps you too are experiencing a bit of ‘post-traumatic VBS stress disorder.’ At times it seemed pretty chaotic and I wondered if the kids were going to take over and we would have to run for cover. And perhaps we will have to address what our capacity is.

But whether we have more or less, what I would like to say today is: When we see the kids running all over, and you’re trying to keep track of them, and keep them quiet and focused to teach them – you can wonder – “Are they getting it?” And closely behind this question you might ask, “Is it worth the work – all the labor and the stress?”

So I want to encourage you this morning by affirming to you that – Yes, it is worth it!

Lets look at Mark 4:26-29, the parable of the growing seed.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

This parable teaches us some lessons about the kingdom of God and I want us to apply them to what we have just done in VBS, although they apply to all kinds of ministry.

1. Our role is to scatter seed – v. 26. That is, we are to share with others the good news of Jesus; to spread the message of salvation and new life through him.

  • We did this by teaching and singing Christian songs, telling Bible stories, learning Scripture verses.
  • We hopefully also did this by how we treated the kids – welcoming them, caring for them, loving them – so that they could see the love of Jesus in us.

We want them to come to know and trust in Jesus, as a foundation for a life of following Jesus.

This is what we are called to do – scatter seed. And this is what we did. So we can feel good about that.

2. We don’t know how to make the seed grow – vs. 27-28. As the parable says, the sower “sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself . . ..”  With agriculture, especially in that day, you don’t know how a seed comes to life and grows, you just know that if you pant it, it does.

In the same way, we plant seeds for the kingdom. But the growth of the seed is something that is beyond us. Especially in the realm of the things of the Spirit, it is beyond our understanding or power to force those seeds of the kingdom to grow.

It is like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:6, perhaps reflecting on our parable in Mark 4. He planted seeds, but “God gave the growth.” God is the one who works to  make the seeds of the kingdom come to life.

  • In one way this can be frustrating because we want people to get it; to make the seed grow; to make them receive it.
  • But it is also liberating to realize that it is in God’s hands. We don’t have to take on the weight of the world.

We are successful when we are faithful to plant seeds for the kingdom. The growth, the numbers – what the world would focus on as “success” – is in God’s hands.

We fulfill our role and then we leave it to God as he works in the person to receive the message and act on it.

3. We have to remember that there is a process involved in terms of the seed growing – vs. 28-29.  I’m not sure that this is the point of the parable, but there is a lot of emphasis on this. Jesus talks about:

  • first the blade
  • then the ear
  • then the full grain
  • then the ripe grain and the harvest

Paul certainly picks up this idea, once again, in I Corinthians 3:6. He says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” There is a process, with different stages. We can take two things from this:

  • First, we shouldn’t expect someone to get it all at once. We are a part – perhaps small or big – in what God is trying to do in each one of these kids’ lives.
  • And second, from I Corinthians, God uses different people at different stages to further the growth. There is a team work part to this in the broader body of Christ.

We have done some work here this past week, and later we or others will come along to do more work in their lives, watering, tending, pulling weeds – to stretch the metaphor.

4. There will be a time of harvest – v. 29. As this verse says, “But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Now, in this parable the same man both plants and harvests. But often in kingdom work one will plant, others will work with the growth, and still others will harvest. There are lots of people involved.

So often we plant seeds in faith not knowing what will come of it. We have to trust God to use our efforts; to bring about the growth. And we will see the full results of our labors on the final day.

We just never know the real effect of what we are doing when we sow seeds for the kingdom.

It might seem to us, from the point of view of what our eyes can see, that nothing is happening. But from the point of view of the eyes of the Spirit, God is doing and will do an amazing thing with our labors.

What I am saying is that our efforts in planting seeds have an eternal significance, in these kids lives – those who come to church all the time and those from the neighborhood.

Even the one who is misbehaving badly, who appears to be not listening, who is acting out in rebellion or disrespectful. We are planting seeds for the kingdom in their lives.

I have heard a number of adults from the neighborhood talk about how they attended our VBS, some many years ago. One woman, maybe 60 years old, came in this week and asked to use the phone. When she found out that Cedar Street was having VBS she wanted to call her daughter to have the grandkids come. Why? She had come here when she was a kid. She remembered it. And she wanted her grandkids to receive as well.

Another woman, who is now a local pastor, told me that she came to Cedar Street’s VBS. Here she is, now a pastor – bearing fruit for the kingdom in lots of ways. Now, of course, many people sowed into her life, and she had her own home church. But we had, at least, some small part in that; the privilege of sowing kingdom seeds.

Which ones of the kids that you worked with will be touched, will have their lives transformed, might become a pastor or in some other way do great things for the kingdom?

And you know, it isn’t just the quiet one who is well behaved that God reaches. It is often exactly that one that is hard to deal with whom God will use in amazing ways in the future.

So as we think of the kids we have just interacted with – those from our congregation, those from the neighborhood – know this: we have planted seeds for the kingdom. Be encouraged! We are a part, whether small or big – in what God is doing in their lives; in making a difference in their lives.

May God work in each of them to bring about the growth. And may God use us and others in the process still to come.

And I encourage you to keep praying for them in the weeks and months to come.

William Higgins

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We are planning a special outreach event on March 22nd – Bring a Friend Sunday. That is, a friend who is not yet a Christian, or a Christian who doesn’t already have a home church.

The idea is to bring in some visitors and make some connections. We want to reach out.

So I want to share some teaching this morning to help us get focused on outreach and our need to be thinking, praying and acting to “Seek out the Lost.” This comes from Jesus’ example and his teaching.

1. Jesus’ purpose in coming was to seek out the lost

 This is what Jesus says about himself in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Jesus is teaching us that God sent him for this very reason. This was Jesus’ mission; the focus of his existence; why he came to earth.

The purpose of Jesus was “to seek out and save the lost.”

2. Jesus was not satisfied that some were lost

Remember the parable of lost sheep? Jesus said in Luke 15:4-5 – “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?”

And then remember the parable of the lost coin? Jesus said in Luke 15:8 – “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?”

These parables teach us, among other things, that

  • Jesus was not satisfied with the 99 sheep who were fine
  • Jesus was not content with the 9 coins already accounted for 

-all of us who come here regularly and seek to follow Jesus.

He was not satisfied because one was still missing.

3. Jesus worked hard to seek the lost

To use the language of the parable of the lost sheep, he had to “go after” the lost one – Luke 15:5.

He didn’t stand next to the 99 and yell out to the lost one, “come on over here!” He didn’t say, “that sheep knows where we are, let him come and join us if he wants to.”

As the parable pictures, he had to do something. He had to work. He left the 99. He went after the one, walking and looking, seeking it out.

To use the language of the parable of the lost coin, he had to “seek diligently” to find that which was lost –  Luke 15:8.

He didn’t figure that one day the coin would simply show up. That someone would stumble across it.

As the parable pictures, he did something. He had to work. He lit a lamp, he swept the house and he searched carefully.

Searching for what is lost requires work. It can be tiresome, inconvenient and frustrating, but Jesus did it nevertheless.

Jesus sought the lost even though it was hard work.

4. Jesus sought the lost even though many were undesirable or unlike him 

  • The sheep were no doubt dirty, muddy, bleeding or sick.
  • The coin was no doubt dusty, dirty and covered with cobwebs.

Jesus sought out tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes.

  • These were people that did things that were wrong and offensive.
  • These were people that were different from him; from a different background and a different social setting.

Yet he sought them and welcomed them – Luke 15:2.

Even though the lost were often undesirable and unlike him, Jesus sought them out anyway.

5. Jesus sought the lost even though others didn’t approve

Luke 15:2 says, “And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” And not only that, since Jesus was with sinners, they began to call him a glutton and a drunkard – Luke 7:34. It ruined his reputation.

But Jesus was not deterred, for though

  • He made some people mad
  • He made the angels in heaven rejoice

As Jesus said in Luke 15:10, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus sought the lost even though others did not approve.

6. Jesus sought the lost even though many rejected him

Mark 6:1-6 tells the story of how his hometown rejected him and they asked him, “Who do you think you are?”

Matthew 8:28-34 tells the story of how Jesus healed a demon possessed man, and how afterwards the people of the town asked Jesus to leave. “Can you leave us alone!”

The truth is most people ended up rejecting Jesus, but he sought out the lost anyway.

7. Jesus sought the lost because he loved them

Matthew 9:36 says, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus felt for them and their situation; he had compassion.

And so in Matthew 10:6 (right after this) he sends his disciples to “go . . . to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” His love moved him to send out his disciples to help him find the lost.

Jesus sought the lost because he loved them.

Sisters and brothers, as we see in this last verse . . .

We are to be like our Lord and seek out the lost as well

1. Like Jesus our purpose is to seek out the lost. Jesus sends us out to finish what he came to do. This is our mission statement; the very focus of our existence – to seek out the lost.

2. Like Jesus we cannot be satisfied that some are lost. We can’t be satisfied with the 99 sheep that are found, or with the 9 coins already in the purse. With those who already have found Jesus.

  • We cannot be satisfied because one is missing
  • We cannot be satisfied until what is lost is found

3. Like Jesus we are to work hard to seek out the lost. We have to go out. They will not come to us. They are, after all, lost. Which by definition means they don’t know their way back! They can’t find their way to us.

Searching can be tiresome, inconvenient and frustrating. But nevertheless, we are to do the work that is necessary to seek out the lost.

4. Like Jesus we are to seek the lost, even though many are undesirable or unlike us. They are dirty, as it were, from their very lostness (which, by the way, we were as well in our lostness). They come from different walks of life than we are familiar with.

Yet we are still to seek them out and welcome them.

5. Like Jesus we are to seek the lost even if some do not approve or grumble that we do so, or slander our reputation.

We do this because we know that the very angels of God rejoice when the lost are found.

6. Like Jesus we are to seek the lost, even if it brings us rejection. So that people say to us, “Who do you think you are?” Or, they tell us, “Go away!”

Most people will not respond to us, but we seek out the lost anyway.

7. Finally, like Jesus we are to seek the lost because we love them. They are harassed and helpless and need a Shepherd. And so we must act. And in acting we reveal our love for them.

We show them the path to Jesus and to new life and new hope.
______________

Now I know that many of us are intimidated by this, and so we are reluctant to reach out on our own.

And that’s why we are providing you with, what is a fairly simple way to do this – to invite a friend to church for a special service and a meal.

We want you to begin this week by thinking and praying about who you might ask. And then when you have the person or persons in mind, to begin to pray for them.

This is where you can start, and then next week, I’ll have some more information for you.

William Higgins

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We are talking about serving God and working to advance God’s kingdom this morning. Let me begin by saying that . .

Jesus was a man with a mission

He worked hard to promote the kingdom, to make it a reality on earth. As Matthew 9:35 says, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus gave himself to this completely and constantly. Serving God was his life focus and orientation. As he said in Luke 4:43 – “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

The Gospels tell us that Jesus

  • taught God’s way
  • healed the wounded
  • loved the loveless
  • served the needy

He served God in all these ways in order to spread God’s kingdom message and to build up God’s kingdom community.

Jesus also calls other people to be a part of his mission

During his earthly ministry we are familiar with how he frequently said to people, “Follow me.” Now this phrase included in it an invitation to repentance and faith in Jesus – but most especially it was a call to “Come and work with me to advance God’s kingdom.”  

Let’s look at one example of this in Mark 1:16-20:  

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

Jesus called many people when he walked this earth. And now that his earthly ministry is over,  Jesus calls us to work hard to spread the kingdom and finish the mission he began.

Drawing on the familiar parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), as well as other passages where Jesus talks about God’s mission, lets look at some 

Lessons we learn from Jesus about working for the kingdom

These are things we can take away from these scriptures that will help us, encourage us and equip us for the task.

1. Each of us are given tasks to advance God’s kingdom. Just as the servants in the parable of the talents were to take what was given them from their master and increase it, so we are each given kingdom responsibilities and we are to advance the kingdom in those areas. 

We all have responsibilities, according to our ability. Some have heavier duties, some lighter.

Please note: You are not released of your responsibilities because you have a pastor here now, a full time pastor, or a pastor supported financially by the church, however you want to say it. So please don’t think, “The pastor will take care of it all.” That’s a good way to send me over the edge, but more importantly and the focus here, is that it is an abdicating of your God given responsibilities.

A healthy church needs to have all of its parts working together to accomplish God’s mission. No one person can do it all, or even most of it.

Also note: You are not released of your responsibilities because you are retired. Indeed there is no retirement age in kingdom work. We work for a God who didn’t even begin to fully use Moses until he was eighty years old! Age is no barrier. No, as long as we have health and ability, we are to serve God in one way or another.

So don’t say, “We did our work and now its time for others to do the work.” It is good to make room for others to come along and work as well, but that doesn’t mean that you quit.

As long as the Lord gives you breath and you are able, that is how long you are to carry out your responsibilities to serve God and work for the kingdom.

So, each of us have been given tasks by God and we must work at them to promote the Kingdom.

2. These tasks can be anything that further God’s kingdom. Just as with Jesus’ example, we can

  • teach God’s way
  • heal the wounded
  • love the loveless
  • serve the needy

Whatever God assigns to us to spread his kingdom message and to build up his kingdom community.

So, find out what your gifts are and use them. Find out what God wants you to do, and what God has gifted you to do; what brings joy to you – and get busy at it!

But also, help out with whatever needs to be done, even if you don’t feel tremendously gifted, or called in that area. In any Christian community there are things that just need to be done for the community to work. And you don’t need a heavenly vision or a warm and fuzzy feeling to do it – just a servant’s heart. Give of yourself in these areas as well.

3. The focus of all our work is bearing witness to Jesus. It is about testifying to the coming of the kingdom with Jesus; it is about sharing who he is and the salvation he gives.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

  • We do this as individuals, sharing as we have opportunity about what Jesus has done in our lives; inviting people to church.
  • And we do this as a community. Jesus calls us “a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14) As a community, we live by a different standard than the world around us, and this is a witness to Jesus.

Let’s remember that Jesus tells us don’t put your lamp under a basket, but let your witness shine before others – Matthew 5:14. We don’t need to be fearful. And he tells us don’t be ashamed of him before the world – Mark 8:38. We are to share our faith in Jesus boldly with others.

4. The goal of our work is to make disciples of Jesus. In the words of Matthew 28:19-20, “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We are to bear witness to Jesus so that people will make the commitment to be a disciple themselves; to be a part of the kingdom of God. 

5. Jesus calls some to give their whole lives to working for the kingdom. They may have to leave family behind, and their career plans to help finish the work Jesus has begun.

As we saw in Mark 1:16-20, the first disciples did this. And in Mark 10:29 Jesus speaks of those who leave family and homes behind “for my sake and for the gospel.”

And might we not hope and pray that God would raise up from among us missionaries and pastors and others who will give their whole lives over to kingdom work? Are you open to hear what God has for you?

6. Jesus calls others to stay in their place in life and work for the kingdom. To the healed demoniac who wanted to be a traveling missionary with Jesus, he said in Luke 8:39 – “’Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”

It was God’s will for him not to go, but to stay home and serve and witness there.

7. We are to support those who give themselves fully to working for the kingdom. Jesus said, speaking of these, “the laborer deserves his wages.” – Luke 10:7. They can’t do what they are called to do without your support. And, by the way, we are still looking for more support for Gary and Denise for their work in The Gambia.

8. God’s Spirit gives us the power to work for his kingdom. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Spirit, so are we.

Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . ..”

We can’t do anything in our own strength. We need God working in and through us to accomplish something for the kingdom.

9. Be prepared to give an account. This brings us back to the parable of the talents. We have each been given tasks, and we will have to give an account for how we have done. The parable is meant to impress in our minds the exacting nature of our master.

It teaches us: Don’t be lazy, doing nothing to increase God’s kingdom; doing nothing to finish Jesus’ mission. For those who do nothing, will not enter the kingdom on that final day when Jesus returns. And the parable ends with this ringing in our ears in order make an impression on us.

Rather, find out what God wants you to do and work hard! Give your all for the work of God. Be a man or woman with a mission, just like Jesus.

And if you do, you will be blessed to have joy with Jesus for eternity. This is a reward that far surpasses anything we give up to work for him; anything we have to sacrifice to advance God’s kingdom

A final thought

We all go through times when we need to step back and take a rest, or move into another area. So this is not about making anyone feel guilty. We have to be aware of our limits, and I don’t want anyone to get burned out. All of our lives are so busy today. It is a part of our culture that we are always doing things. So we each need wisdom and there is no reason to judge the decisions of others.

But having said that, let me challenge you a bit: Are we really burning out because of doing too much work for the kingdom? Or is it because we over commit in other areas of our lives?

My plea is that you keep a “a final day perspective” – What will God really care about in terms of all you do when you stand before him on the final day?

What I am saying is, of all your many commitments, make serving God and working for the kingdom the top commitment. And schedule the rest of your lives around that.

William Higgins  (edited)

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