Monday, July 26, 2021

Removing the Cover from your Christian Relationship

I want to challenge you to develop a more authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. As much as we talk about how it's about a personal relationship, do we really take it far enough?  Do we really spend real time with God everyday?  Do we really dive deep into the word?  Do you in your prayer time actively seek the face of God? 

That is my challenge to you today. Go deeper with your walk with God.  Take it further.  Spend more time with God.  I'm saying challenge yourself to really spend time with Him.  Set a goal of 45 minutes a day, or an hour a day, or more. Fast and pray regularly. 

Develop the relationship and make it a passionate love relationship.  Go further with it.  Go deeper in with God.  That's what I'm challenging myself to do.  

I don't want to be a luke-warm Christian.  I don't want to be a hypocrite who pretends to be in relationship, but barely puts any work into it.  I want to be so in love with Jesus Christ that it bursts forth out of my being. 

I want to take it so far that it begins to feel unthinkable to ever sin. 

I want to have a zeal for evangelism and actively sharing the gospel every day. 

I hope that's what you want too. 

When you pray, seek God's face. Soak in His glorious presence. Delight in the Lord. Seek His will and plan for your life.

Seeking God's face is a practical thing you can do in prayer. What I do is repeat the phrase, "Lord, I seek your face." What this does is helps you access God's presence during prayer, and then once you've accessed God's presence you begin to sense His will for your life and what He is calling you to do. Seek His face.  Soak in His presence. Soaking is a practice of repeating the phrase "Lord, I delight in you." And as you do, you'll begin to feel the joy of the Lord wash over you, usually after about 20 minutes.  It's an amazing experience of washing in His presence. Try it. It's amazing. 

Live out holiness. Challenge yourself to grow spiritually. Be a real, on fire Christian who passionately loves Jesus and lives actively serving Him.

What would it take to have a daily conscious contact with God? What would it take to practice the presence of God everyday just like Brother Lawrence? That's what I want. A daily walk with God, where I'm living in the 4th dimension of existence, and every moment is guided by my relationship with God.  

I hope you want that too. Fight for that. Fight for your walk with Jesus.  Stoke your fire. Keep it burning brightly.  That's my challenge to you today! 

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Water, The Wilderness, & The Wedding

The grand mystery of our universe could be the wonder at the complexity of the stars and planets and galaxies. It could be the cells of the human body, DNA, or the united function of the human body systems, or the brain, it could be human works of art, or the mystery of how an unborn baby forms in the mother’s womb. Though these things are mysterious and enchanting, though they are beautiful and complicated and even strange to us, they all pale in comparison to the grand mystery of the life of Jesus Christ, the God-man.

Sometimes we brush over this too easily. We repeat it in our creeds and doctrines, Jesus Christ was the God-man, fully god, fully man, born of a virgin, come to save sinners. Right? It is true. But slow down a bit. Jesus is actually God inhabiting a human body, coming into the world. We have it written down and reported by people like Matthew, who was there to witness Jesus life personally, same as John, or people who gathered information after, like Luke or Mark.

But to understand how we should live as human beings, we have to understand the God-man, the person who it is said in the scriptures, made the universe, the earth, the animals, and the human race. It was all done through Jesus. Jesus was with God in the beginning, the bible tells us. What does that mean? Many have wondered at this.

Who is Jesus? That is the greatest and most important question of life itself. You need to find that out. You need to investigate that and understand that.

Last week we talked about the birth of Jesus, the circumstances surrounding his birth, and how the Christ was predicted throughout the Jewish Old Testament scriptures.

We have only the records of Jesus birth, and his dedication at the temple 6 days later, and then one solitary incident when he was 12 years old, and visiting Jerusalem for a festival. But other than these moments, we don’t get any information of Jesus’ life from birth to thirty years old. So we’re now jumping forward in time to Jesus at age 30, when he begins his public ministry. You could say that before this Jesus was in hiding, carefully preparing for the moment when God would call him to begin his mission.

During this time, you have two religious sects vying for spiritual authority over Israel, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. As you recall throughout the old testament Israel had struggled to obey God and the law of Moses. This led to great destruction and loss for Israel. Israel had split in two, then the north was conquered by Assyria, and the south was conquered by Babylon. But we know that 70 years later Israel returned from captivity in Babylon and rebuilt the country. So the latest attempt of Israel to stay right with God, is the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They have developed a sort of religious legalism. They’ve added all sorts of rules and regulations on top of the law of Moses, they call it the oral tradition. This is a desperate attempt, by a conquered people, to somehow get the people to honor God properly. But instead it’s turned into a legalism that is strangling the people of real relationship with God.

In this moment in history, a wild man named John the Baptist, is out in the wilderness calling people to repent of their sins. And he is baptizing them in the Jordan river.

One John is out there, preaching and baptizing, when Jesus of Nazareth appears, and steps down into the waters and speaks to John.

Matthew 3:13-17 says, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

This is one of the first records we get of Jesus early life. He is baptized by John, perhaps as a first moment to declare, so it begins. Immediately after this we see the wilderness experience:

Luke 4:1-13 says, “Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,* 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.

3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’* ”

5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.”

8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’* ”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. 11 And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’* ”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’* ” 13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.”

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. Jesus really had to prove that he had conquered sin, and was pure and righteous. So he was tested by Satan. And I think all of us end up being tempted by Satan, and God uses these moments as a test, to see if we really love Him, or the sins of the world. But Jesus overcomes Satan. He refuses the 3 temptations, and has victory over the adversary.

The next event we see is the wedding that Jesus attends. From John 2:1-12 (ERV) 2 Two days later there was a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee, and Jesus’ mother was there. 2 Jesus and his followers were also invited. 3 At the wedding there was not enough wine, so Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4 Jesus answered, “Dear woman, why are you telling me this? It is not yet time for me to begin my work.”

5 His mother said to the servants, “Do what he tells you.”

6 There were six large stone waterpots there that were used by the Jews in their washing ceremonies. Each one held about 20 or 30 gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them to the top.

8 Then he said to them, “Now dip out some water and take it to the man in charge of the feast.”

So they did what he said. 9 Then the man in charge tasted it, but the water had become wine. He did not know where the wine had come from, but the servants who brought the water knew. He called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “People always serve the best wine first. Later, when the guests are drunk, they serve the cheaper wine. But you have saved the best wine until now.”

11 This was the first of all the miraculous signs Jesus did. He did it in the town of Cana in Galilee. By this he showed his divine greatness, and his followers believed in him.

12 Then Jesus went to the town of Capernaum. His mother and brothers and his followers went with him. They all stayed there a few days.”

Jesus and his followers visit a wedding. Weddings in Jewish culture are very important. The celebration often lasts for days. It would involve feasting, wine, dancing, and singing. But the organizers run out of wine. And this is very embarrassing for the married couple. So Jesus mother Mary asks Jesus to help. But Jesus reminds his mother that he can’t reveal himself by performing miracles right now. Jesus knew he had to be very careful about the timing of the events of his ministry. But who can say no to mom? Not me. Nor did Jesus.

Jesus agreed to help, and saved the couple a great deal of embarrassment. It’s a great reminder that Jesus cares about the little things in our lives, not just the big things. He cares about fun and joyous times, and wants us to be happy. That is very comforting.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Messiah in the context of Jewish History

Normally when we talk about the arrival of the messiah we’re talking about it in the context of Christmas season and we end with a very colored picture, seeing Jesus in the context of Christmas trees, bells, candy canes, and lights. But today, I’d like to shift our perspective, and we shall try to see the coming of the messiah, in the context of the Old Testament history of Israel.

That’s what we’ve been studying the past few months, all the way from Genesis to Malachi.

What have we learned from Genesis and the fall to Esther and Nehemiah, and everything we’ve seen of Israel’s failure to follow God: We’ve learned that humanity struggles to properly follow God. One generation follows God, the next generation begins to turn away. The next generation doesn’t even remember that God exists.

But God’s plan is proceeding forward. Israel was formed. It was to be a nation that would be holy, special, a nation of priests. And it seems like the original plan was for the messiah to come, and lead the holy nation of priests to win the entire world of Gentiles to Christ. Obviously, it didn’t go quite as planned, but never-the-less here we are today, gentiles worshipping Jesus. So either way, God makes sure his plan moves forward.

The entire history of the world itself, turns on this moment. The entire purpose of this temporary human journey on this fallen Earth planet is for humanity to be brought back into right relationship with God.

But our sin was the big problem none of us could solve: We lie, we cheat, we steal, we manipulate others, we are selfish, lazy, and mean to others. We gossip, we kill, we mistreat and we fail to help those in need. Our sin is the great problem.

Adam and Eve sinned against God. And it began there. Today 6000 years later, sin is the problem. But 2000 years ago, a certain individual came into the world, to deal with the sin problem once and for all.

The entire Old Testament foreshadows and predicts the coming of a mysterious messiah figure, who would make everything. A messiah, a savior, someone who could become our hero, our savior, our friend, and our God.

After the events of Nehemiah and Ezra, we see a period of 400 years of silence in the Bible, before God speaks again. This is similar to when Israel was enslaved in Egypt. 400 years of silence. 400 years. And during this time, Israel is conquered by the Roman empire. The Roman empire at this point in history controls much of present day Europe, all the way across northern Africa, and the middle east, including Israel. The romans impose heavy taxes. Augustus is emperor of Rome at this time. And he orders a census. Fairly common, it’s a good way to find out how to tax people even more. This requires everyone to return to their own home town to register with the census.

During this cultural backdrop, we see a very strange thing happen one night. There is a new star in the night. A woman named Mary was told 9 months earlier, that she would carry the son of God in her belly. She would give birth to the son of God. Mary and her husband Joseph however are caught in the journey to return to their home town, Bethlehem, for the census.

They live in Nazareth. But they’re caught on the road, in Bethlehem, when Mary goes into labor. How often do we find ourselves in similar circumstances?

I would probably feel pretty upset. God is requiring us to do this, yet the Romans are forcing us to travel to our home town. We’re stuck on the road, with a pregnant wife, the road is dangerous, thieves can come and attack. And so it’s late at night, probably, and they finally arrive at Bethlehem, but they can’t find anywhere to stay. The hotels are all full up, probably from people traveling to their home towns to register for the census. Lots of people traveling. So they’re going from house to house. No one is answering. They got no room. Finally one person says, hey, you can go in my barn. At least you’ll have some shelter there. And the son of God, the king of the Earth is born in a manger. Crazy, right?

Given that Jesus is the messiah, the son of God, shouldn’t he be in a giant palace, the richest, the wealthiest, the wisest, with all the great scholars and wise men and women of the world right? Nope. That’s not how God does things. This world tends to want to ignore God, reject God, and even laugh at God. Our society is quite similar. Do you see the most influential people of Owosso in this church today? Or the wealthiest? Nope. Maybe in the past in America the rich and wealthy went to church to keep up appearances. But not really anymore. They prefer to ignore God or pretend God doesn’t exist. They pursue wealth and power. That’s the way of the world.

God doesn’t work that way. When Jesus came, he didn’t gather together the most powerful romans, or philosophers from Greece, or holiest Jewish rabbis, no, God is very different than that. Jesus came to a fishermen, a tax collector, a prostitute, beggars, blind and deaf people, that who Jesus comes to.

So guess what? If you’re here today, and you really believe in Jesus and really follow Jesus and love Jesus, you’ve found something more valuable than all the money in the world.

Because guess what? When Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon, or Elon Musk, owner of tesla, or Bill Gates, owner of Microsoft pass away, none of their money will go with them. And they will probably go to hell, because as far as I know, none of them claim to be Christians. That 212.4 billion dollars that belongs to Jeff Bezos, it will all be gone. None of it will matter.

You’ve found Jesus, you have more than all of those rich billionaires combined. Isn’t that amazing? And every good deed you do in life is material to build your mansion in heaven. So make sure you’re rich in good deeds in Christ, because you’ll have a beautiful ornate home in heaven.

A star in the night sky, Joseph and Mary hiding out in a barn, it’s a pretty humble moment isn’t it? But do you know about what happened when Mary first found out she was pregnant? Mary and Joseph were just dating at the time. It says from Matthew Chapter 2, 18-25 “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[d]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

Isn’t that pretty interesting? Joseph finds out she’s pregnant and say alright, I’m gonna divorce her. She obviously cheated on me. It’s not until he hears from God, that he changes his mind and decides he is still going to marry her. Sounds historical to me. Because it’s kind of embarrassing. It doesn’t sound legendary. It sounds like history.

So we bounce back to the moment of Jesus’ birth. Mary is giving birth, and there is a star hanging over the barn where shes doing so. And it says in Luke 2:8-20 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

So you’ve got shepherds, shepherds was like a job that people didn’t really think very highly of. Like, maybe garbage truck drivers, not to say that’s a bad profession, it’s a fine thing to do, it’s just not like, considered prestigious.

God works in mysterious ways that we can’t quite predict. He doesn’t get born in a palace, but a manger. But we know that in the next life Jesus will sit on a throne in a massive palace displaying the glory of God. But in this world, this sinful world controlled by the devil, God is born in a manger, as Jesus Christ, the son of God.

Jesus comes, God comes in human form, to become our new king, our new president, our new leader. He takes over where Adam left off. Adam messed things up. Adam and Eve fell into sin. They disobeyed God and tried to play god for themselves. They stole from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And humanity has been lost ever since. We try to play god. We try to run our own lives. And it just doesn’t work. We need God to run our lives.

Jesus comes to save us from our sins. He comes to deliver us from our sins. To wash away our sins. Jesus makes us new people. People fit for a new world. That’s the whole plan, leave this world, become part of a new world, the new universe, the new planet Earth, the new city of God. Paradise.

But we must be cautious to remember, what happened to Israel? In the Old Testament? Remember the repeating loop of sin? For a while they follow God, then they would fall away, begin following false gods, begin falling into sin, and they lost their way. The generation, that saw the escape from Egypt, saw the red sea parted, was the generation that fell away, and died in the wilderness, because they disobeyed God over and over.

We see that same cycle of sin repeating in our world today. It’s the same thing in the United States, in the past many followed Jesus, today most seem to reject Jesus, they don’t remember the miracles God has done in the past. They think they are wealthy because of their own ideas and because of their American hard work. But it isn’t true. God provided all this wealth and abundance around us in America. I was recently in Cancun, Mexico. We stayed in a beautiful part of Cancun, in the hotel district. This area is strictly protected, because it is very dangerous for visitors to come other parts of the area, where they could be stolen from, kidnapped, or swindled. We’re very lucky for the safety and abundance we have. Don’t take it for granted. Give God the glory.

Don’t fall back into sin. Continue to follow Jesus. Live a pure holy life, and we can escape the repeating cycle of sin that has destroyed so many in Israel’s past, and even in our own time.

Jesus changes everything. His coming changes everything for Israel, and for the world. We’ve finally made it to the new testament. And you’ll see just how everything is changed by the coming of this mysterious messiah.

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