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Posts Tagged ‘peace’

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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“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In our Scripture this morning, Jesus is talking about yokes. Now, we know about animal yokes. And, for instance, Paul talks about not being unequally yoked with this in mind. But in this passage Jesus is talking about human yokes – one’s that go across your shoulders to carry heavy things. Here is a modern day example:

yoke

A yoke something like this is described in Jeremiah 27:2, where it says, “make yourselves straps and yoke-bars and put them on your neck.”

A yoke is often used metaphorically to speak of being in subjection to someone – in Jeremiah it refers to being subjected to the Babylonian empire. And in the New Testament it is used to refer to slavery (1 Timothy 6:1).

Now let’s look at our verses.

1. Many of us are weary from our yokes, carrying heavy burdens

Jesus talks of “all who labor and are heavy laden.” The first word “labor” has to do with hard work and also the weariness that comes from it. The second word can also be translated as “burdened.” So the image is of a person with a yoke on, but the load is really heavy and it takes a lot of work just to move around. Think of the two buckets in our picture as bigger and loaded down with heavy rocks.

Jesus is certainly talking here about the traditions of the elders which the Pharisees added to the Law, or God’s will. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 23:4, where he says, “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear and lay them on people’s shoulders.” These are rules about how far you can walk on a Sabbath, rules about healing on the Sabbath and on and on (see the stories that come right after our verses). You name the activity in life and there were rules for it; lots of them. Rules, rules, rules. Rules that went beyond the Law of Moses, but you had to follow them to be accepted.

Well, Jesus rejected these traditions of the Elders (Matthew 15:6). He doesn’t load us down with a host of human rules; things that go beyond God’s will for our lives.

Maybe you are carrying a yoke today of human rules and expectations that are not God’s will for you. Maybe church rules about how to dress or how to worship that go beyond Scripture, churches are good at making up extra rules. Or maybe expectations for your life that others impose on you that have nothing to do with what God has called you to do.

And you are here this morning and you are tired of it. You are tired of being subjected to carrying this heavy burden around. Jesus is talking to you today in this passage!

There are other yokes and burdens, and I would just mention also the yoke of slavery to Sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:16-20). This is where we live our lives apart from God’s will, doing our own will, going along with the world and our friends. But sin once chosen becomes our master. It comes to control us and take over and it begins to ruin our lives – because sin brings misery and then death.

And you are here this morning and you are tired of the burdens of sin – the shame, the guilt. You are tired of disappointing and hurting others and hurting God – but you can’t break free.

You too have a yoke on, And maybe you are tired of it this morning; you are worn out. Well, Jesus is talking to you this morning in our passage!

Well, whatever yoke we may be carrying this morning –

2. Jesus invites each one of us to take up his yoke

I say each one of us, because he says, “Come to me all” who labor and are heavy laden. That’s all of us.

And he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” In the Old Testament, the Law was seen as a yoke that the people of God bore as they did God’s will (Jeremiah 2:20; 5:5). But here Jesus offers his teaching as the yoke to put on our shoulders – which is the correct interpretation of the Law, or God’s will. As he says in the verses just before ours, the Father has revealed all things to him. And this is what he teaches us.

And so to take on Jesus’ yoke is to live your life according to what he teaches. Not doing more than this by adding on extra human rules, or taking away from it so that we are walking in sin. It is to live according to just what Jesus teaches. We become disciples of Jesus. The word “learn” here is from the same word as the word “disciple.” We become students of Jesus. We study his teaching and example and we do what he says and models for us.

When we take on Jesus’ yoke –

3. Jesus will give us rest for our souls

Why will we find rest? Because of who Jesus is – v. 29 – “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” The first word “gentle” is really meek or lowly. The second word can also be translated as humble in heart. Jesus is not a slave driver. Indeed, he himself came and walked this earth as a servant. And he knows that being in charge means serving others, not lording it over them (Matthew 20:25-28).

We will also find rest because, as he says in v. 30 – “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “Easy” is better translated as “comfortable” or a yoke that fits just right. “Light” has to do with having little weight.

Now none of this means that following Jesus can’t be hard – there is still a yoke and a burden; there are hard things to do and you can suffer for it. But in comparison to being weighed down under slavery to sin or human traditions it is a comfortable yoke and a light weight. It is God’s will for our life. It is not less than this so that you are living in sin, and it is not more than this so that you are carrying the burdens of human rules. It is simply God’s will, perfectly revealed in Jesus.

And this is the gift promised by Jesus here – rest, v. 28 – “and I will give you rest.” v. 29 – “and you will find rest for your souls.” Rest here means the cessation of toilsome labor from carrying really heavy weights that we are not meant to bear. It means peace, wholeness and well-being – which comes from following Jesus. (Jeremiah 6:16). It means we have this deep in our hearts and souls. And it is connected to the Sabbath rest and how this foreshadows the rest we will have when the kingdom comes in its fullness. (Again, see the stories on the Sabbath that follow our text.)

I invite you this morning to come to Jesus and find this rest for yourselves . . .

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The title today is “Knowing our place in God’s plan.” Now the phrase “knowing our place” doesn’t sit well with many Americans, being free spirited and independent as we so often are. We don’t like this idea of having “a place.” We say, “I’ll be who I want to be and do whatever I want.”

But the Scriptures teach us that we will only find true peace when we find our place in God’s will for our lives. There is a paradox here: the one who does whatever they want is actually a slave; a slave of sin, which eventually makes us miserable and destroys us. But the one who is a slave of God, doing what God wants,  is free; free to find true peace and contentment.

That’s because God made us; God designed us to walk in his ways. And specifically God has given each one of us gifts and callings. And it is only when we align our lives to his will that we will know true contentment and joy. Even if things are hard, we can know we are right where we should be.

John the Baptist knew his place in God’s plan. He was crystal clear. So I want us to look at two passages from the Gospel of John to see what we can learn from him.

John 1:19-27

John is not the Christ. 19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

So this delegation from the powers-that-be come from Jerusalem to check John out because he is drawing big crowds. This was a cause of concern for them, since they were mindful of keeping the peace with the Roman overlords.

And as John answers all their questions, he reveals that he has a really clear understanding of who he is, and who he is not. Beginning in reverse order of who he is not – he is not “the prophet.” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 18:15-18 and how it speaks of a prophet like Moses who would come. And he is not Elijah, or at least he is not literally Elijah come from heaven after going there in a fiery chariot.

But most importantly he is not the Christ, or the Messiah. v. 20 – “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” He is very clear.

The lesson here for us regarding who we are not is that we also are not the Christ. This seems so basic that it shouldn’t have to be mentioned. And I don’t know anyone who would literally claim to be the Christ, apart from mental illness.

But there are some who, I think, have a “Messiah complex.” People, and yes, Christians, who think they are God’s gift to the world. Who have an all too high opinion of themselves. Who think that they know best about every situation; who have an answer to any problem; who think that everything hinges on them, and that without them things will just fall apart. They are here to save the day!

And then more commonly there is our simple self-centeredness. Where we live for ourselves and our self-interests. We make ourselves the Lord of our lives so that we are functionally claiming to be the Christ and Lord of ourselves and our domain. We don’t learn from Jesus, we don’t listen to Jesus, we don’t submit to Jesus. We just do what we want and what’s best for us.

In both of these cases we learn from John the Baptist that we too must submit ourselves to Christ and his Lordship.

  • He is the Savior, God’s gift to the world – not us.
  • He is Lord – and we are not.

This is the most basic first step in finding our place in God’s plan. We subordinate ourselves to him. This is the path to peace and joy.

Well even though he is not the Christ, John does have a role to play. He knows who he is not, but he also knows who he is. 22So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John is quoting Isaiah 40:3. He was given the unique role of preparing the way for Jesus as was prophesied by Isaiah. His job was to clear the obstacles out of the way for the coming of the Messiah. And he did this through calling people to repent of their sins and find forgiveness.

He is not the Christ, but he does have a role to play in God’s plan.

Our second lesson then is that we have a role in God’s plan too. In a parable in Matthew 25 Jesus makes the point that all of us have various responsibilities to work for him. Vs. 14-15 say, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability.”

In Romans 12:4-6 Paul teaches us that we each have been given gifts to serve God. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them”.

So we are to be clear about who we are not, but we also need to be clear about who we are – what God has called us to do, what gifts God has given to us. And we need to use them. What is your role? What is your specific place in God’s plan? I encourage you to find out; find your place and then do what God has called you to do.

John’s humility before Christ. 24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

There are several “comes after me” statements from John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. In 1:15 he says, “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.” In 1:30 he says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” And here we have, “He who comes after me – the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” In each case they refer to Jesus’ superior status or rank over John.

v. 27 is the most specific. To take off and put on someone’s shoes was considered slave work. And so John is saying that he is not even worthy to be a slave of Christ. Now, Jesus said of John that he was the greatest person in the period of the Old Covenant (Matthew 11:1). But even so, John knows his lowly place in relation to Jesus.

John models for us here how we are to be humble before Christ. Even though we have a role, and it may be a great one, we are under Christ. We too are not worthy to be Christ’s slave. We are as low as you can be. Not a master, not just a free person, not just a slave, but unworthy to be Christ’s slave.

As Jesus says in Luke 17:10, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” We are “unworthy servants.” This is our place in relation to Christ.

And then we come to our second passage –

John 3:26-30

Here we see that John’s place is to exalt Christ. 26And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” 27John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30He must increase, but I must decrease.”

When some heard of Jesus’ success, they thought John the Baptist might be jealous. But John recognizes that whatever our place is, it is given by God. “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.” He has his own place, given him from heaven, just as Jesus has his own place given from heaven.

He also makes the point that he is not in competition with Jesus – he is not the Christ as he has been clear all along. Rather his place is to go before Christ.

John describes himself as the friend of the bridegroom, who is Jesus. And as the friend he takes joy in the success of the bridegroom and his blessings. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s goal is to exalt Jesus, not himself.

He is content and filled with joy in doing this. As he says in v. 29, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

The lesson for us is that our place is to exalt Christ, not ourselves. Life is not about us; our accomplishments; our name; our legacy. Always striving, grasping, panting for more and more. It is about Christ and who he is and what he has done. We must decrease, and he must increase.

And like John, when we do this our joy will be complete. When we are in God’s place for us we will have joy, peace and contentment.

William Higgins

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Genesis 1:1-5

I want to share with you today on the topic of overcoming the chaos in our lives. Chaos is defined as a state of disorder and confusion, even total disorder and confusion. It means to be in disarray, to be in turmoil. To say it another way, it means that your life lacks order, peace and calm. Do you ever feel like your life is chaotic – that you yearn for order, peace and calm?

We are in Genesis chapter one today because, as we will see, this is where God overcomes the chaos at the beginning of creation. So we want to learn from this how God can overcome the chaos in our lives.

Let’s read Genesis 1:1-5, as a sample of what is going on in the whole chapter.

“1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

Chaos in Genesis 1

In vs. 1-3 we see several indicators of chaos:

1. The earth was “without form and void.” This is basically the definition of chaos.

2. “Darkness” was everywhere. Both darkness and formlessness are negative things in the Hebrew way of thinking.

3. “The deep” or “the waters” cover the earth. In the Scriptures “the waters” and “the deep” represent chaos and turmoil. They are associated with hard times (Psalm 69:14), evil or Satan (Yam, Rahab, Leviathan, Revelation 12:9), judgment (Psalm 104:6-7) and death (Psalm 18:16).

4. There is no life. Rather the earth is barren, bleak and desolate.

Next we see in this passage –

How God overcomes the chaos

 And he does this in two ways. First, through his Word. v. 3 – “And God said . . .” This phrase is used 10 times in Genesis 1. From our example, on the first day, God said, “Let there be light.” He is saying, ‘this is my purpose and will. This is what I want.’

By his word of command, God speaks out his will and his way to give order and structure to his creation.

From the New Testament we know that God’s word is God’s Son. In Colossians 1:16 Paul says this about him, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”

In John 1:1-3 John speaks of him in this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

God also overcomes the chaos through his Spirit. v. 2 says, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The Spirit is the power of God that brings God’s will into being.

So on the first day, God spoke out his will concerning the light, and then, “there was light. . . . And God separated the light from the darkness” – vs. 3-4. This is the working of God by his Spirit/power bringing to pass his word/will.

From the New Testament we know that God’s Spirit or power is God’s Holy Spirit. A person, not an impersonal force. The Holy Spirit acting to make God’s will come into reality.

How does God overcome chaos? God speaks out his will through his Word. And God brings it into reality by his Spirit. And because of his Word and Spirit there is:

  • order, not chaos
  • light, not darkness
  • victory over the waters and evil
  • life, not lifelessness

Now despite all this, there is still chaos in the creation. Our job as humans was to finish what God began. We were to subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). After all Satan was still loose. And then our rebellion against God (Genesis 3) introduced more chaos into the world. And so –

God is still working to overcome chaos

God is working to bring forth a new creation. This is going on at the cosmic level, and it certainly plays out in our individual lives.

We all have times of testing. We go through difficult life circumstances that bring us inner turmoil. These are times when:

  • our lives are disordered; they seem to be without direction or purpose
  • the darkness closes in on us.
  • the deep waters flood in and overwhelm us.
  • We feel lifeless, barren, bleak, hopeless

Well, just as God has acted for the whole world, so also he works in us. The same creative Word of Genesis 1, God’s Son, has become a human – Jesus, to teach us and to model for us God’s will and way. And the Holy Spirit has come to live within us to strengthen us and help us.

And so when your life is in chaos, when things around you are spinning out of control, when the deep waters are churning, look to the Word, to the Scriptures, to Jesus the living word made flesh. Learn from his teaching and example. He shows us God’s will and way.

As the Psalmist says to God, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – Psalm 119:105. God’s Word shows us the way when things around us are chaotic.

And so ask yourself, ‘Is my life in line with God’s Word?’ If you are knowingly walking in sin you’re opening the door wide to chaos – darkness, deep waters, lifelessness. Walk according to the Word.

And also, are you walking  in the path God has for you individually? We may not know all the details of God’s will for our lives, but he shows us the direction he has for us. Are you walking in that direction?

Look to the Word. This is what gives order and structure to your life when the world is chaotic. This is what gives you a path to walk on.

And also, look to the Spirit who lives within us as Christians. When we feel like we are being overwhelmed, the Spirit can strengthen us to move forward in God’s path for our lives. The Spirit can empower us to endure testing and trials, with God’s peace within us whatever is going on around us.

We can’t do this in our own strength. We can’t do it by ourselves. We have to rely on the Spirit to help us. As Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” This is how we can overcome.

When we allow the Word to guide us and the Spirit to help us, just as in Genesis 1, God will bring:

  • order out of our chaos
  • light out of our darkness
  • victory over our trials, Satan and death
  • new life out of lifelessness

We not only learn how God does all this in Genesis 1. We learn that he can do this. And if he can overcome the chaos of all creation, surely he can do this in your life and mine. God is able and we can thank God for this and take courage wherever we find ourselves.

William Higgins

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The church is an amazing thing. It’s made up of all kinds of different people – male and female, rich and poor, people from every tribe and tongue, and people with all different personalities. And these realities are true among us to some degree as well. We have different backgrounds and points of view that we bring with us into this congregation.

But according to Scripture –

We are all made one in Jesus

“Jesus is our peace,” having broken down the barriers that divide us (Ephesians 2:14) Paul says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28).

So now, although we are many different people, we are one body in Christ and members of one another. “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5).

And now, although we are from many different families, we are one family of brothers and sisters in the Lord.

  • Jesus teaches us that it is his disciples who are his true family (Matthew 12:48-50). These are his “brother and sister and mother.”
  • Paul says that we are “of the household of faith” – Galatians 6:10.

But we almost have to say these things by faith. For in truth –

We still have conflicts

This is why the New Testament talks so much about conflict and the need for peace. Those apostolic congregations needed it. Listen to these admonitions:

  • “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50
  • “Be at peace among yourselves” – 1 Thessalonians 5:13
  • “Live in harmony with one another” – Romans 12:16
  • “Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” – Romans 14:19

And there are others references that could be added. All of these calls for peace give the distinct impression that this is not something that just happens. Peace is something we have to work toward. It is something we have to work hard toward.

But also notice that in these verses the call is to peace, not just trying to cover over our conflicts so that no one thinks we have conflict, which is hypocrisy. Peace means being honest about it and working through our conflicts in love, so that we all have good relationships with each other and live in harmony.

We are to work hard at this so that we can work together as one body, and so that we can get along as one family.

Now, if I may say so, the problem today is that if there is conflict, instead of being at peace with one another, we just leave and go to another church down the street. We avoid conflict. We don’t do the hard work of loving each other enough to hang in there and sort things out.

Let me say more. I wonder what it would be like if there wasn’t a church on every corner. What if being committed to a church was like being committed to a marriage – where you have to work things out?

This is what God calls us to do. So let’s look at some ways to do this.

1. Grow in your love for others

This is a commitment each of us needs to make.

To remind us what love is, here are some phrases from 1 Corinthians 13, “Love is kind. Love is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful.”

And then in Colossians 3:14-15, Paul tell us to – “. . . put on (this) love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Love is the source of our peace. Let your love for each other grow cold, and you will see our peace disappear.

Here’s a different way to look at all this. God has put us together for a reason, so that we can grow in our love for each other. So maybe that person you can’t get along with is specifically here to help you grow. Maybe that person that rubs you the wrong way is here for your benefit; a gift of God to you, to help you learn to love more deeply.

And so if you go off to another church in order to avoid them (thinking perhaps that other churches don’t have such problems), maybe you are really running from God. And who knows? Maybe God will put someone just like them in the new church you go to – for your benefit.

Does the person annoy you? Ask God for more love. And ask God to give you his eyes for that person so that you can see what is good about that person and why God loves them. And pray for that person. This not only is a blessing for them, it is a tremendous way to change your heart and your attitudes toward the person.

We’ve got to grow in our love for one another.

2. Let love break down relationship barriers

We have to be careful not to let our differences divide us. For instance, those who are older and those who are younger – generational differences. Or those who live in the city and those who don’t. Or even something as simple as the youth letting what school they go to divide them.

We can’t just go off and be in our comfortable clicks, around those we like and who are like us. Such partiality is not consistent with the call to love each other. As James 2:8-9 says, “If you really fulfill . . . ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Love should push us to be with others. And our love should pull others into our circles. We are all a family here, brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is what defines us, not our differences.

3. Bear with one another

This is a particular part of love that I want to highlight here. 1 Corinthians 13 also says, “Love bears all things” and “Love is patient.” Paul says in Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another . . ..” We need all these things, but I am especially focused on patience and bearing with one another.

People can rub us the wrong way. And so we need patience. Patience means longsuffering, or the ability to suffer for a long time – in this case with other’s weaknesses. We need to learn to bear with each other’s quirks and idiosyncrasies (and of course, hope and pray they bear with ours).

A part of this is learning to overlook minor issues. Proverbs 19;11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” So don’t get angry over every little thing that happens. Be able to discern what is a minor issue and what has to be dealt with because it is truly important.

When there is real conflict –

4. Deal with the person involved

This principle is taught in Matthew 18:15. Go to the person in private to talk. Often the conflict is based on misunderstanding and can be settled easily.

This also makes sure we avoid two really big mistakes. 1) Judging by appearances. We assume we know what is going on based on what we can see from a distance. And we usually assume the worst of motives in others. But we don’t know the whole story. In John 7:24 Jesus says, “do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” You can’t do this until you talk to the person to find out what is going on.

2) Gossip. Don’t involve others inappropriately in the conflict. The issue is between the ones in conflict and so don’t go around telling everyone your point of view so that people start taking sides.

Both of these are real temptations, but we must learn to deal with the person face to face.

Also, when there is conflict –

5. Hear the other person’s point of view

It’s easy only to focus on making sure others know where we are coming from. But love compels us to seek to understand where the other person is coming from.

James 1:19 says in part, “Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak . . ..” Quick to listen to others, slow to say what we think. This isn’t something that comes naturally.

Finally, when there is conflict –

6. Find a way to work through the issue

If you need to, find a compromise. Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” It’s not just about us and getting what we want, there is also a concern for the other and their needs and desires.

If this fails, let some mature believers help. 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 tells us first of all, don’t take each other to a secular court! Then he asks in v. 5, “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers . . .?” Surely God has given congregations those who can help settle disputes. And we need to be open to a mediator or even an arranged settlement that puts an end to a conflict.

 

So these are some ways that we work at living in harmony with one another. I encourage you to act on them as there is need.

And remember, what makes us different from the world is not that we never have conflict. It is that we love each other enough to work through our issues and that we do this in a loving way. This is our witness to the world – that Jesus makes a difference in how we live.

William Higgins

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We are looking for a second time now at the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea from Mark 4:35-41. We are asking the question today, “Where’s the faith??”

A little review as we get started. Last week we saw how this story is primarily an unveiling of –

Who Jesus is

A storm, like Jesus was in, is associated with the powers of evil in Hebrew thought. And Yahweh is the one who has the power to subdue storms and all the powers of evil.

But as Mark 4 shows us, Jesus subdues the storm and the wind and the waves cease and there is calm. And Jesus does this, not by praying to God, but by the mere power of his words. And this caused confusion for the disciples, because only Yahweh can do this, but Jesus just did it!

And so v. 41 says, “they were filled with great fear (or awe) and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Who is this Jesus?? The answer of Mark’s gospel is that he is the Son of God; he is God with us. That’s why he can do what only God can do.

Today our focus is on what we learn from this story about faith in Jesus, and in particular by observing the –

Unbelief in this story

First of all, the disciples are in a time of trial. There is an intense storm and the boat is filling with water – v. 37.

We need to remember that “the waters” in the Old Testament don’t just represent evil in an abstract way, they are the powers of evil that assault us, test us and threaten us in a very personal way.

An example of this can be seen in Psalm 69:1-2. “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.”

In the same way the disciples here are threatened with death, for the boat was filling with water. Their lives are in danger and their faith is being put to the test.

In the midst of this the disciples display a lack of faith. Jesus was asleep in the boat. And so “they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’” – v. 38.

Here we have a portrait of unbelief:

1. They are afraid. In fact, they are in a panic, “We are perishing!!” When it comes to the mind, the opposite of faith is doubt. But when it comes to the heart the opposite of faith is fear. There is no trust in God and so you feel like you’re on your own and unable to take care of the problem. And this is what the disciples feel.

They must have believed that God’s plan for Jesus could be so easily thwarted that they would all die in the sea of Galilee.

2. They underestimate Jesus. They apparently just want him to pray to God for help. (As we see later in the story when he does perform a miracle they are totally shocked.)

They had low expectations of Jesus. And this is rooted in their lack of understanding of who Jesus is. If they had gotten who Jesus is – the Son of God – they would have known that he could easily take care of this and there was no need for fear.

Next we see how Jesus admonishes the disciples for their unbelief. First, of course, he subdued the storm. He spoke “and the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” – v. 39. (Jesus acted on his own here, despite their lack of faith, although usually faith is required on our part.)

After he subdued the storm he addressed the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” – v. 40. He highlights their fear and lack of faith in him. In fact, Jesus says here that they have “no faith.”

They had been with him and had seen enough that Jesus thinks they should have some idea of who he is by now.

And this is where the story ends. The disciples are left in awe of what Jesus just did. But don’t know how to explain it.

Now let me ask a question –

How should the disciples have acted?

What would it look like if they had faith? First, knowing who he is, they would have realized that Jesus is more than able to take care of them in any situation.

And second, instead of fear they would have had calm trust in the midst of the crisis. I think it is interesting that calming the storm was as nothing for Jesus. But getting his disciples to have calm trust was another thing all together.

But if they had calm trust, perhaps they would have awakened Jesus and said something like, “It’s bad and you need to take care of this. We know you can and we trust you to do it.”

This kind of response is what Jesus commended in the case of the Centurion. He said to Jesus, ‘you don’t need to come to my house. Just say the word and my servant will be healed.’ And Jesus was amazed by his faith. ‘Just take care of it Jesus.’

Alright let’s apply this to us –

How should we respond with faith in our times of trial?

Like the disciples we will go through deep waters. We will go through difficult times. You likely have things right now that are causing you distress and that test your faith. This is a part of the Christian life.

And like the disciples who found Jesus asleep, sometimes it seems like Jesus is unaware of our needs. We believe he is with us, but he doesn’t seem to be doing anything. What should we do?

1. Like the disciples, who came and woke Jesus – We need to call out to Jesus in prayer.

2. Remembering who Jesus is, We need to pray with faith. It is human to be afraid in times of crisis. We will be tempted to panic like the disciples. We will be tempted to complain like the disciples – ‘Why aren’t you doing anything Jesus?’

Instead of this, acknowledge that Jesus is able to take care of things. And put it in his hands. That’s praying with faith.

3. We need to act in faith. Because you know Jesus is able, and you have given it to him, you can have calm trust; a peace that passes understanding, as you wait for Jesus to act for you.

The subtitle today is –

Where’s the faith??

Is this how you respond in a time of trial? Would Jesus say to you in your trial, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” – v. 40. Or like the Centurion would Jesus be amazed by your faith?

I certainly don’t always respond with faith. Even while I was preparing this message I found myself doing what the disciples did – being afraid and underestimating Jesus.

But notice that the disciples are given another chance. Jesus continues to walk with them, he doesn’t cast them aside. And we are given more chances too. Jesus bears with us as we learn to know him and trust him more.

My prayer is that God will help us to have faith; that we will grow stronger and stronger in our faith as we journey on with Jesus. May we have the faith expressed in Psalm 46:1-3:

– Though the earth give way

– Though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea

– Though the waters roar and foam

– Though the mountains tremble at its swelling

We will not fear!

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.

William Higgins

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Fear or Faith?

Today I want us to think about fear and faith. Now usually we would say that the real enemy of faith is doubt, right? And maybe that’s correct, if we are talking about what goes on in our heads.

But, in terms of our hearts, I believe the real enemy of faith is fear. And this is our focus today. And what I want to say is that when it comes to being faithful to God, we have to choose between these two things.

Fear

– is an emotional response caused by a sense of impending threat or danger. Can you remember a time when you were truly afraid?

I remember almost drowning as a kid. I remember one night hearing what I thought was a voice in an old abandoned barn, which literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I also remember being so afraid before giving a sermon in college, that my legs were shaking. I was sitting in front of the congregation and I had to put my hands on my legs to make them stop.

Fear is a powerful force. In Psalm 55 David describes his fear concerning his enemies’ plots against him: “My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.” – Psalm 55:4-5. It affects every part of him. In his heart he feels anguish, terror, fear and horror. And his body is trembling. Fear is a powerful force.

And there are lots of things to be afraid of in the world today. You just have to listen to the news. And as they say, ‘its not paranoia when someone is actually trying to get you.’ Our fears are not all misplaced. There is much evil and suffering in the world.

The question is how will we respond to these dangers: with fear or with faith in God?

In Scripture we see that –

Jesus confronts our fears

And he does so because they keep us from doing God’s will. A part of fear is that it causes us to seek to escape from or avoid what we are afraid of. And so if we don’t trust God and give way to fear we will avoid doing God’s will in our lives – at least those things that God wants us to do which cause us fear. Fear will cause us not to do God’s will. We end up making our own choices to soothe our fears.

Here are a couple of examples of Jesus confronting our fears:

Fear of lack. We often fear that we will not have enough to provide for our material needs. And this leads us to do wrong things like gear our lives toward seeking material things and putting our faith in our stockpile of material things, to take care of us.

But Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” – Matthew 6:25. Instead of fear about your finances, beyond whatever practical steps you need to take, at the core, you must trust in God’s provision.

And then there is the fear of death. This is perhaps the ultimate fear. We saw recently how Peter’s fear of death led him to make wrong choices. He denied he knew Jesus – to save his skin.

Jesus tells us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . .” – Matthew 10:28, talking about persecutors. Instead of fearing for your life, you need to trust that God is watching over you and your life is in his hands.

There are many other fears we have:

  • fear of giving our lives over completely into Gods hands
  • fear of following a call to ministry
  • fear of stepping out of your comfort zone to serve God
  • fear of standing up for what is right before your peers
  • fear of witnessing to others about your faith in Jesus

The list could go on and on.

So let’s look now at –

How to overcome fear and trust God

1. You need to recognize the futility of your fear. It doesn’t actually help you. Jesus said, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” – Matthew 6:27. And then he goes on to say, “If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, (add an hour to your life) why are you anxious about the rest?” – Luke 12:26.

Fear as a response isn’t constructive. It doesn’t get us anywhere. In fact, it keeps us from being able to respond to the very real problems that face us.

2. Choose to trust in God. In our flesh we are weak and insecure. So, we will feel fear. But we can choose to trust in God nevertheless. What is important is not what we fell, but what we choose to do.

And God is worthy of our trust. After Jesus told us not to be afraid of death – he said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31.

God loves us and watches over us.  Yes, we will go through hard times and we will experience fear. But we can choose trust in God anyway, because he will bring us through it all.

3. Fight your fear. This is a matter of spiritual warfare. Satan will tell you to fear, so that you don’t do God’s will. And so you must tell him to leave in the name of Jesus. And as I said, the flesh will cause you to fear. And so you must receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will.

We have to rely on the authority of our Lord Jesus and the power of the Spirit to fight off our fears.

4. Nourish your faith in God. Jude 1:20 says, “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” There are things we can do to strengthen our faith:

  • Read and meditate on Scriptures that speak of God’s faithfulness
  • Remember past answers to prayer where God has come through for you
  • Keep your relationship with God strong through prayer and worship
  • Fellowship with other believers who can support and encourage you.

In all these ways we build up our faith in God, and thus overcome our fears.

And when we choose faith over fear –

We are free to serve God

We all remember the example of the disciples. When Jesus was arrested and killed they fled and hid in a room. John 20:19 says – “the doors . . . [were] locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews.” They thought they may be caught and killed like Jesus was.

But later, empowered by the Spirit, they were courageous to stand up for Jesus. Acts 4:13 tells us that the Jewish leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John” as they preached the gospel.

They chose faith in God over fear and were transformed. And we can do this too. We don’t have to hold back or waiver or cower in the corner. We can choose faith and be bold to do God’s will.

Finally, when we choose faith over fear –

We can have peace in our lives

– even in troubled times. I want to end with three Scriptures that speak to this:

Psalm 23:4 – “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” He is going through the “valley of the shadow of death” but he still is at peace because he knows God is watching over him.

John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” We will have troubles in the world, but Jesus gives us a peace that allows us not to be troubled in our hearts.

Philippians 4:6-7 – “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (That is, give it all into God’s hands). And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Instead of fear, we can have peace knowing that God will take care of our needs.

William Higgins

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