Friday, May 31, 2024

What is the greatest single event of history?

What is the greatest single event of history? Could it perhaps be the renaissance, when so many beautiful inventions and works of art were created? Was it the inventions of the 20th century that made life so much easier? Or perhaps medical advances, or scientific discoveries?

To me, all these events pale in comparison to one event that happened, two thousand years ago on a hill called Calvary, where a man named Jesus was nailed to a cross, who hung and slowly died, was buried, and left in a tomb for three days. And then on the 3rd day the impossible happened. And far from being an isolated miraculous event, it’s implications would be the seeds that would take root and transform the entire world.

We’re considering the scriptures today, 1st Corinthians 15, if you want to open in your Bibles there. It says in 1st Corinthians 15:3-4 that Christ had to die, be buried for 3 days, and that Jesus had to rise from the dead. This brings several questions to mind.

1. Why did Jesus have to die? 
2. Why did Jesus have to rise from the dead? 
3. If Jesus really rose from the dead, how should we live? Three questions, and we’ll consider the answers to each of them. The entire Christian worldview, as an expression of ultimate reality, rests on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The entire Christian faith worldwide is based around faith in Jesus as God come to Earth to save us, and Easter is about his resurrection.

First question: Why did Jesus have to die? Jesus was born into the world, but Jesus existed from the very first few verses of the Bible, where God said to himself, “Let us make humanity in our own image” (Genesis 1:26). Jesus was part of that creative process, in what we call the “God-head” or the trinity, which is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But the Son being the very image of God, was born, of the virgin Mary, into the world in a human body. He lived a life in which he became a representative for humanity, under the laws of God, living them perfectly, completely free from sin.

I think 2nd Corinthians 5:21 sums up very well what Christ did for us, it says: “For our sake he(God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” So not only did Jesus live a perfect life, no easy task, but He also went to the cross for each of us, becoming our sin. Why? Because Jesus decided he would step in personally, to delete our sins. Jesus died on the cross in our place, taking the punishment we justly deserved, and took it upon himself.

It’s as if we stood in a court room, and the judge was reading off a list of the crimes: all my sins, the drugs I’d taken, the pains I’d cause my parents, things I’d done to friends, people I had the chance to help and didn’t help, and I know as the judge reads the charges, that I’m guilty, and I deserve to be punished. And as the gavel is pounded, and the guards come to take me away, all hope is lost. Then Jesus walks into the court room, and up to the judge and says, “This man, Justin, is mine, and because I love him so much, the crimes you’ve just read off, instead of Justin being punished, punish me instead and set him free.” And the judge agrees, and I’m set free. And the guards take Jesus instead. That is the answer to the first question, why Jesus had to die. Because I owed a debt I couldn’t pay.

Secondly, why did Jesus have to rise from the dead? If Jesus had stayed dead, we could all write him off. Well, he was just a good moral teacher, and the world did what the world does to good people. He was a good guy, but he wasn’t really God. And we can all go on with our lives and forget about Christ. But here’s the thing: Jesus did the impossible. Jesus resurrected from the dead.

Now, it’s natural to doubt something like the resurrection. Maybe we think it sounds more like science fiction than fact? But the greatest miracle God ever performed was not the resurrection of Jesus. The greatest miracle God ever performed was creating the universe, the galaxies, and this Earth. God’s greatest miracle was creating plants, animals, and humans. If you struggle to believe in miracles, let me remind you: You’re in one right now. Each of us are miracles. A single cell in your body is more complex than New York city, according to biologists.

Jesus is alive in heaven right now. If he were physically standing here, you would see the holes in his hands and feet where the nails pierced him. Jesus is alive. That’s why we celebrate Easter, resurrection Sunday. Because He’s saved us from judgment, condemnation, and from outer darkness, from hell.

Jesus resurrected to show his disciples and the world that He was and is truly God. Yet Jesus also resurrected to communicate something to each of us: Since God raised Jesus from the dead, He can and will raise us from the dead after we die.

The greatest problem of humanity is death itself. Everyone dies. And from the earliest times of humanity, we’ve wondered, can man live forever? Where is the fountain of youth? Jesus is the fountain of youth. Jesus has authority over death. And if we’ll believe in Him, and turn from sin and follow Him with our whole heart and life, we will live forever.

1st Corinthians 15:2 says “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.”

I find it very interesting that Paul specifically encourages us to continue in the faith. It’s not enough to believe once and then drift away. We must continuously hold to the word of life, week by week, and year by year. That’s why we attend church weekly, and Bible study, and pray and read the scriptures daily. We must cling to the word of life and persevere in it. It’s not one and done.

Now I think it’s important to mention that there is a lot of skepticism and doubt thrown at the Bible today. People say it’s just a book of myths, it’s not real, it didn’t really happen. That’s also what I used to think, until I really researched the Bible and its historical and archaeological verifications. And I realized the Bible is the most amazing, and well accredited book in human history. I think Charles Colson summed it up well when he said: “The Bible- banned, burned, beloved. More widely read, more frequently attacked than any other book in history. Generations of intellectuals have attempted to discredit it; dictators of every age have outlawed it and executed those who read it. Yet soldiers carry it into battle believing it is more powerful than their weapons. Fragments of it smuggled into solitary prison cells have transformed ruthless killers into gentle saints.” The Bible has been attacked by every generation, I think for this reason: It calls us out about who we really are. And that makes a lot of people angry. But let me assure you: You can trust every word in the Bible is the accurate word of God.

Verses 3 through 7 of 1st Corinthians 15 outline the truth of the gospel, that Jesus lived, died, was buried, and resurrected from the dead. This first letter to the Corinthians was written around AD 55, by the apostle Paul to a church in ancient Rome, in the city of Corinth. And Paul specifically tells them that Jesus appeared after his death to over five hundred people, most of whom were still alive when he wrote this letter. So Paul is telling the people in Corinth: Listen, I’m telling you the truth, Jesus rose from the dead. And if you don’t believe me, ask any of these five hundred people who saw him after his death. That’s powerful evidence.

After appearing to his closest disciples, and then to 500 witnesses, Jesus appeared to Thomas. Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus was alive. He said, “I will not believe unless I put my fingers in his wounds. So Jesus one day walked in the door, and walked right up to Thomas and said, “Put your fingers in my hands and in my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20:24-29). And some of us here may still be doubting, and Jesus says to us today: Here I am. Stop doubting and believe.” Because it’s true.

Jesus is risen from the dead. Because he’s here right now. He’s present with us. The evidence is all around us. He’s changed billions of lives. But he’s also changed my life, personally. I was near death, in the emergency room, now I’m healthy, full of life, because Jesus lives. I said yes. Will you say yes? We celebrate his resurrection every Easter. He lives today.

Last question: How should we then live? This is a big question.

I think we can break it down into four areas. Jesus calls us to a radical new lifestyle. And Jesus expects a lot from us.

Firstly, Jesus expects us to turn in repentance from all the past sins we’ve struggled with. We must repent, and believe in Christ (Mark 1:13) To repent means to turn away from evil, and to do good.

Secondly, He calls us to truly love others. Not just say we love them, or feel love toward them, but to love in action, through service. When we each die, we’ll go before Christ and he’ll want to know if we loved people. If we didn’t love, but were cold and sterile, we will have no place in his kingdom. Love, it’s so simple, yet so profound. He calls us to actions done in love.

Thirdly, Jesus tells us we must forgive all those who have harmed us.

Now, It’s easy to say “I forgive everybody.” But what about the people who have recently hurt us? Yes, God calls you to forgive them too. Even the people who have hurt you very, very deeply. Even people who have done unspeakable evil to us. If you have unforgiveness in your heart, anger, resentment toward others, please leave it behind today. Forgive them, because Christ has forgiven you. We’ll have no inheritance with Christ, if we hang on to unforgiveness.

To sum up, to live as Christ tells us to live, we must: 1. Turn away from all sin, and fight off all active sin in our lives.

2. Love those around us with true love in action

3. Forgive completely those who have done terrible wrongs to us.

Fourthly and finally, we must truly devote our lives to God.

Heaven is real, and hell is real. Our God is a God of love, but also a God of justice. So believe in the risen Jesus, and live a radically different life in response to that. Trust in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and live out the true Christian life through turning from sin, loving people, forgiving people, and being devoted to Christ.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Finding Rest in the Presence of God

Does God seem far away? Many feel God is far off. They wonder… Can you really experience God? Can you really sense God’s presence? Can you really know God deeply? The answer to those 3 questions is yes.

We can experience God’s presence outside of us, and within us. God isn’t far off. He’s so close we can hardly imagine it.

To know Jesus Christ, to have received Jesus as savior, we now have peace with God. And we begin a journey through this life and toward heaven. As we live day by day we engage in deep relationship with God our Father.

We pray to God. We talk to God. We experience God’s presence. We enjoy fellowship with God.

We’ve learned to increasingly look to the Spirit, and not our own soul, to be led by God.

Now I want to take us to a moment in the journey of Israel through the wilderness. Moses was leading them through the wilderness toward the promised land. God had given them His law, the ten commandments, but the Israelites had made a golden calf and worshiped the false idol, and so God punished them for their sin.

But even after this grievous event, there is hope for Israel. I think we understand that grief of sin! We’ve all been in that place where we realize, oh no, I just sinned against God. I did something very bad. And we feel convicted by the Spirit within us.

So we come to God, and confess our sins, we express sorrow, and we repent, we commit in Christ to not commit that sin again. We make a plan to stay free.

Similarly, Moses is trying to make things right for Israel. So Moses is in this terrible situation, having seen the people betray God and worship an idol. So he goes to meet with God about the situation.

And it says this, "Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” -Exodus 33:7-11

Moses would constantly go to God, and meet with God. All the people would watch him as he went, and they would worship God while Moses met with the Lord. Isn’t that amazing?

God would then speak with Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Moses was a friend of God! But notice Joshua, Joshua did not leave the tent. Joshua just stayed in the tent, he wanted to be with God all the time. Can we learn to be like Joshua who sought God's presence continuously? 

For Moses and Israel, God was with them in the tent of meeting. But for us as new testament Christians we have the Lord God Almighty living within us. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us. We have become ourselves, body, soul, and spirit, the temple of God (1st Cor 6:19-20).

So, to meet with God, we simply must turn within to His presence within us, and meet with God there.

Jeanne Guyon in her book has constantly referred to the concept of turning our attention to the presence of God within us. We meet with God who is with us. We have had experiences of an outward presence of God. But what about the inward presence of God?

He is so close to us. He is closer than we could imagine.

Point number one, God desires to meet with us, and the cloud of his presence surely descends from outside us, but more so, from within us. God desires to meet with us as a friend, and speak to us.

Your part in that is to turn to Him. Constantly. Jeanne Guyon makes it clear that we should continuously turn to Him. Brother Lawrence taught something similar in his famous book "Practicing the Presence of God."

From time to time we get distracted, and we lose our sense of God’s presence. So we learn to turn again to that presence and focus in on God.

As we do that more and more, we find what David wrote about the Lord, from Psalm 16:8, “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

King David had learned to always have an eye on the Lord, all the time. That's wisdom! 

Next, Madam Guyon writes… “To form the act of turning within, that is the goal! When this act has been formed in you, it will express itself as a continual abiding in your spirit and a continuous exchange of love between you and the Lord. Once this goal is attained, there is no longer any need to seek after it by outward acts. You may forget the outward act of trying to love the Lord and to be loved by Him. Instead, just continue on as you are. You should simply remain near to God by this continuous inner abiding.” -Jeanne Guyon, p. 110

Point number two, the goal in turning inward toward God is that we would learn to do it over and over and over again until it’s constant.

That happens slowly for some Christians over years of practice to continuously focus on God, as it says in Hebrews 12:2 “fixing our eyes on Jesus…” we learn to turn our eyes to Jesus over and over again, but the goal is, that we would find a “constant state” where we are continuously abiding in the presence of God. Other Christians may find that place much sooner, by God's grace.

Moses has gone to meet with God about the present situation. And here is their conversation in Exodus 33:12-14, "Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

God says to Moses, I’m going with you. My Presence. The joy of my presence.

It reminds me of Psalm 16:11 David says about God, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” -Psalm 16:11

Point three, to walk with God, we walk in God’s presence, and we find a pathway, and we find joy in life.

But it doesn’t stop there., God also says, “I will give you rest.” Complete rest. Real rest. Wonderful rest.

It’s been an ordeal for Moses. It’s going to be tough going forward. But God says I will give you rest from all your pains and struggles.

We turn inward toward God within us, toward the Spirit, and focus our attention, focus our eyes on Jesus within, we find rest. Our soul calms down, we focus on the Spirit, and we find rest in God.

Point 4, God gives us rest. Is this rest idle? No it is not. It’s not sleeping rest, or taking a nap rest. It’s active rest.

God keeps drawing Moses toward himself. There is a magnetic pull for Moses toward God. It’s the same with us, with God’s Spirit inside of us, we are constantly pulled toward God more and more as we practice going to God when he calls.

When I feel a nudge to pray, I go pray, then the nudge is stronger next time. If I say no, then it’s a bit weaker next time. So we should learn to continuously turn toward God in prayer, practice, and reading of the word of God.

It’s a journey, deeper and deeper into the fullness of God’s presence and power. We grow closer and closer to God in relationship, and eventually we go to be with God in the next life.

The word of God says that the Lord gives the Spirit without limit (John 3:34). We can get as close to God in this life through the Spirit as we want to. There’s no limit to the depths of God and knowing God more and more.

And that will continue on into paradise, the new Jerusalem, the adventure continues to know God more and more deeply… as Jeanne Guyon writes..

"If you were to fall into the sea, and were that sea infinite, you would fall from one depth to another for all eternity. This is how it is with a Christian who is in that place of continuous abiding. He is not even aware of his descent, and yet he is sinking with inconceivable swiftness to the most inward depths of God” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 112

I think that’s what heaven is like, each day is even better, as we draw nearer and nearer to God, deeper into His depths, for all eternity. That’s the greatest adventure imaginable, are you ready for that?

Yet at the same time, there is another path, a nightmare, for those who reject God and choose sin. There is hell, the lake of fire, which is I think a different kind of journey, a journey of going further and further away from God, for all eternity.

The word of God talks about the “bottomless pit” (Rev 9:2) where Satan will be cast, and he will fall for all eternity, there is no bottom to that pit, he will just keep falling, an endless sinking, for eternity. Don’t join the enemy there.

Choose the journey toward God through Christ. That’s the road to take. And the adventure continues after death.

That’s our fifth point today, the adventure is to turn toward God and search out his depths (infinitely). But the greatest sorrow is to fall from God (forever).

All of this can be related to a sailing ship. This is a journey. And anyone knows that launching a sailing ship out is not easy. There is a lot of work involved in getting that ship out of port, away from the dock, and out into the deep waters. That takes strenuous activity.

Remember that when it feels hard to pray or hard to read the word or when you don't want to go to church or when you feel far from God. Launching out at first is sometimes hard. Push through. 

That’s our sixth point, sometimes launching out is hard, but be persistent, and you’ll find that place of catching the wind.

“The writer of Ecclesiastes said it: "To everything there is a season." (Ecclesiastes 3:1) This is especially true of your soul. Every state of
transformation the soul passes through has a beginning, a progress, and a consummation. To stop at the beginning of any one of these stages is foolish. You must go through a period of learning, then a period of progress. At first you toil diligently, but at last you reap the fruit of your labor!” -Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p.113

But as we do the work of seeking God and faithfully following, we eventually find we break through, we row and row and row to get out to open sea, but then at last, we stop rowing, and we open the sails on the ship, and the wind takes the ship, and the captain of the ship simply holds the helm, turning it gently toward the right direction.

That’s what it means to be led by the Spirit not by the soul. The soul is strenuous activity, exhausting, and empty. But when we open the sails and let the Spirit lead, we flow freely.

Point number 7, this is what it means to find rest before God. We are tuned to the presence of God within continually, we are led by the Spirit, and we are empowered by God, and this is not sleep. This is active. It’s blowing on the winds of God, like an eagle rising up, soaring on the winds, at rest, yet flying. The ship at rest, yet moving at a steady pace.

“Now, as you begin to move into Him, He will gradually gain possession of your heart. He gains it in the same way—little by little—that the gentle breeze fills the sails and moves the ship forward. When the winds are favorable, the pilot rests from his work. The pilot rests and leaves the ship to be moved by the wind. Oh, what progress they make without becoming the least bit tired!”

-Jeanne Guyon, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, p. 114

One last thought, remember God is near. Whether you feel or sense God or turn within to Him constantly, he is certainly there either way. Does turning our eyes to Jesus and setting the Lord ever before us cause a seismic shift? It certainly does. But He is with us, even when we don’t sense it.

Review of Main Points:
1. God desires to meet with us.

2. The goal in turning inward toward God is that we would learn to do it over and over and over again until it’s constant.

3. To walk with God, we walk in God’s presence, and we find a pathway, and we find joy in life.

4. God gives us rest.

5. The adventure to turn toward God and search out his depths. But the greatest sorrow is to fall from God forever.

6. Sometimes launching out is hard, but be persistent, and you’ll reap a harvest of spiritual growth.

7. Real rest before God is active rest, like a sailing ship moving by the wind blowing in it's sails. So it is when we rest in the leading of the Spirit. 

Seasons of Grieving: When Grief turns to Joy

Grief and joy, two intense extremes. What is grief? 

“Author Edgar Jackson poignantly describes grief: Grief is teaching yourself to go to bed without saying good night to the one who had died. Grief is the helpless wishing that things were different when you know they are not and never will be again. Grief is a whole cluster of adjustments, apprehensions, and uncertainties that strike life in its forward progress and make it difficult to redirect the energies of life.”  -Charles Swindoll, Growing Strong, p. 171.

What about joy?

As a third-century man was anticipating death, he penned these last words to a friend: "It's a bad world, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people are the Christians--and I am one of them." -Today In The Word, June, 1988, p. 18.

We’re going back in time to a moment in history that is very important. It’s the moment when Jesus had gathered with his disciples, and they’re in a hidden place, and he’s explaining to them the things that are going to happen next.

Jesus is in fact giving them bad news. And this bad news is affecting them.

Jesus says in John 16:1-3, “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”

The reason Jesus is giving them this information ahead of time is to prepare them for it. When they are persecuted, they can remember, wait, Jesus told us this would happen. And then they won’t fall away. They’ll stand firm.

Jesus even says in verse 4, “I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.”

Years from now, when Peter and the other disciples are arrested and harassed and beaten by the Jewish authorities, they will think back to that conversation with Jesus and say, that’s right, the Lord told us this would happen.

They will then know, it’s normal to feel this way, it’s understandable that this is happening. I can handle this. It’s going to be ok. Often we panic when bad things happen, we assume things are out of control. But God's word reminds us, it's to be expected. We can react in foreknowledge, knowing it is well.

Today we’re talking about the topic of grief and joy. Grief and joy are emotions that surround transitions. Anytime a change is happening, we experience grief.

It doesn’t have to be a negative change either, it can be a positive change. It can be a job promotion. It can be a new baby. It can be a victory. But even with positive changes we can experience grief surrounding the changes in our lives.

I know for myself, as I prepare to move, I find myself feeling depressed at times, feeling uncertain, feeling troubled, and this weekend, my wife and I were doing fun things outdoors, going for bike rides, walks, bon fires, and I found myself pre-occupied with uncomfortable feelings. I couldn’t fully enjoy what we were doing. I felt myself grieved.

How do you deal with grief? I know many of us used to drink or use drugs, or have a smoke, or party, but we can’t do that anymore. We’re different now. So how do we deal with grief?

We have to face it head on. And that will take courage.

“In a sermon, Bill Hybels shared this story: A friend of mine has a brain-damaged daughter. Sometimes the sadness she feels over her daughter's condition overwhelms her, as it did recently. She wrote me this letter and gave me permission to quote from it:

". . . I can hardly bear it sometimes. My most recent wave of grief came just last year before her sixteenth birthday. As the day approached, I found myself brooding over all the things that she would never be able to do. What did I do? What I've learned to do again and again: I did what I believe is the only thing to do to conquer grief, and that is to embrace it. . . I cried and cried and cried, and faced the truth of my grief head on."

People who face their feelings and express them freely begin the journey toward hope.” -article from Preaching Today.

Talk about the grief. Pray about the grief. Bring your grief before God’s throne. Think about it. Express it. Consider what it means. Walk through the emotions. Spend time grieving. All of this takes courage. It’s easier to just hide from it in a bottle, or a hobby or a distraction. We hide from it by ignoring it and pretending it isn’t there. But that won’t bring healing.

Jesus notices the grieving of his disciples.

He says to them, “...but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away.” -John 16:5-7

His disciples are so grieved they are not even paying attention. They aren’t asking Jesus where he’s going. They’re just so hurt that he’s leaving.

They are filled with grief. Jesus again is explaining the future to the disciples. The disciples are broken in these moments. Devastated. They love Jesus and they don’t understand what is happening.

But they are learning they must face the grief head on. They are in it. They must walk through it.

And Jesus explains that on the other side of grief, they will find that the change is actually good. It’s God's plan. It’s the right thing.

In my times of darkest grief, which have been many in my life, I’m grateful to the Holy Spirit who is with me, in me, in my mind and heart, communicating to me constantly about God, the truth, and justice.

As Jesus says in 7-11: “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

The Holy Spirit ministers to us in grief, often through another person, or in our minds and hearts, or through the word of God.

The Lord continues, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” -John 16:12-15

God will often answer my negative thoughts, God will speak immediate truth:

It’s not worth it – God says I’ve given you good work to do.

It won’t matter – God says it matters more than you realize

It won’t work – God says it’s already certain

It isn’t good enough – God says I approve of your service

It’ll never be ok – God says in my timing you’ll find peace

I can’t do it – God says with me you can do all things

I don’t have the strength – God says my power is made perfect in weakness

The Holy Spirit is always speaking to us. Sometimes it’s an encouraging word. Sometimes it’s a challenging word. But He’s speaking. And when the Spirit speaks, you know you’re hearing from God.

Next we see the disciples finally beginning to question Jesus about what he means.

"Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” –John 16:16-20

Jesus knows that when he is crucified the world is going to celebrate. The world is going to rejoice that they finally got rid of Jesus. And he knows the disciples will mourn bitterly.

But Jesus knows that when he’s crucified that won’t be the end. It’s just the beginning. Because 3 days later Jesus will rise from the dead and be alive again.

And in those moments, Jesus knows, the disciples grief will turn to joy.

Similarly, in the big transitions in your life, the big moments of change, difficulty, grief, struggle, you mourn for a season. You grieve. You weep and shake in the difficulty. You come home each day thinking, “How can I keep going?”

But then after a certain amount of time, your grief slowly turns to hope, peace, even joy.

My wife and I just got married two months ago. And its been such a big transition in our lives. Huge transition. It’s throwing both of our routines into chaos. We’re both in our thirties, we’re set in our ways. And both of us are grieving in a way. Even though it’s a great change, it’s a blessing, it’s wonderful, it’s marriage. We both love it. But the change itself is hard.

But we talked yesterday, both just feeling out of whack, out of step, and we talked and said well in a few months we’re going to find a new normal. New patterns. And our struggle with turn to peace and a new comfort with the new patterns we’re forming now.

How does that work exactly? How can someone go from profound grief or pain, to joy and peace?

Jesus explains it will in verses 21-22, “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

One of the most painful things in planet Earth is a woman giving birth. I’ve never felt the pain myself but I understand it’s brutal beyond words. But, when she holds that new baby in her arms, she forgets the pain, because joy overcomes the pain, so much so that the pain isn’t even remembered.

Joy overcomes grief. That’s a pattern in life. When I got saved in 2012, suddenly, what had been the most profound season of grieving in my life switched to a new season of profound joy.

A new joy the disciples get to experience is to pray in Jesus name.

Jesus teaches them about this next, he says, “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” -John 16:23-27

What will make the disciples joy complete? By praying in Jesus name. Ask and you will receive, Jesus says.

It’s not just because Jesus is going to ask for us when we pray in His name. No, that’s not how that works. We ask in Jesus name, because that goes directly to God the Father, and God the Father loves us dearly, and will answer that prayer Himself.

What happens when we pray in Jesus name? People get healed. Souls get saved. People get delivered from addictions. The depressed are encouraged. Corruption is exposed in the world. Movies and music get made. Artwork gets created. Movements thrive. Churches grow. All because we pray in Jesus name.

And in all that, we find joy as we do God’s will. We find our joy made complete as we participate in the bringing of God’s kingdom to Earth. And when we pray in Jesus name, that’s what we do.

In any transition in our lives we want to run to prayer in Jesus name again and again and again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been so messed up and upset and angry or hurting badly and I ran to God in prayer and found such encouragement and peace.

Lastly, Jesus says, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”–John 16:28-33

I want to draw your attention to the last verse there, Jesus says that we can have peace in all these difficult transitions.

Yes, there will be seasons of grief. Yes, there will be times of joy. But in all of it, we can find a place of peace.

We will have trouble in the world. That is certain. Trouble, problems, changes, difficulties, transitions, but, Jesus has set the stage. Jesus has overcome the world system. He has defeated the enemy. He has made the way for us to heaven. We just have to walk it.

So we should take heart.

How can we have peace Jesus says? Only he says, “In me.” Only in Jesus can we have peace.

When you find yourself pressed by change and grief, take heart. Encourage your own heart. Remind your heart of the promises of God. Turn your eyes to Jesus. And the troubles of this world will turn strangely dim, in the light of his mercy and grace.

In conclusion, understand that in grief, in change, you’ll feel like you can’t stand it. You’ll feel like it’s too much. You’ll want to give up. You’ll feel overwhelmed. But don’t give up.

Many do give up. And they get left caught in the grief, and the grief never ends. They get stuck in the process, and the grief becomes a constant companion. Or they run, and miss the blessing, because they ran back to their old ways, instead of facing the change boldly, bravely, and head on.

They missed the grief, and instead of healing they buried it. So in the future they'll have to go back and dig it up again, to find healing. Because grief buried grows a weed in the mind that affects the present. Is that you today? Then it's time to go back and dig up those pains, to bring them into the light of Christ, for healing. 

But, if you face the grief boldly and walk through the pain patiently, waiting weeks, months, even years, eventually you’ll find your grief slowly turned to joy. And in the end, you’ll find a place of peace, as the process is complete. And it’ll be the new normal. And you’ll have this peace that transcends all understanding, because you didn’t give up. You kept up the fight. And you’ve found the prize of joy and contentment and peace.

Review of Main Points:
1. Change brings grief – difficult emotions surround transitions

2. Face Grief head on – go through it to find healing, if we avoid it and bury it we'll have to dig it up later

3. The Holy Spirit ministers to us in Grief – let the Spirit speak truth into your situation

4. Grief will turn to Joy – after we’ve gone through the grief we find joy on the other side, if we've been bold to face it

5. Joy overcomes Grief – Joy takes over so much that we forget about the grief

6. Joy is made complete in God’s kingdom come – prayer in Jesus name is the key

7. We can have peace beyond the transitions of life, in Christ – peace is the final end point after difficult changes

Monday, May 20, 2024

Remain in Christ to the End: Abiding in the Vine

Jim Bright, an organizational psychologist did a survey asking people to give answers on different questions related to change, and how they react to change. The results were fascinating.

“1. One in three people would avoid change if they could.

Would you normally avoid change if you could?

If you said yes, then you'd join the 34% of respondents who agreed or completely agreed with that sentiment.

2. Over 76.51% of people said they could be fearless in a situation if they need to be.

Would you be fearless if you needed to be? Have you seen others being fearless?

5. Almost 1 in 3 people say that if they do not see immediate results for their efforts they usually give up and do something else.

32.2% say they do not persist if they do not see immediate progress, a further 21.3% are ambivalent. Less than half of people indicate they would persist in the face of a lack of immediate progress.” -Jim Bright, Jan 30th 2015, Results from an Online Survey

How does change affect you? Would you be able to persist in changes even if you didn’t see much positive progress at first?

The results from the survey that Jim Bright did are hardly scientific, just answers given by people online who decided to take the test, but the results are still interesting.

Examining the life of Jesus, at the moments before Jesus would go to the cross, we see change on a massive level. So we’re examining how the disciples respond to change. And how Jesus attempts to prepare his disciples for the change.

Jesus and his disciples had gathered in a private room to celebrate the Passover meal together. And Jesus had given his disciples many instructions about Himself, the Holy Spirit, and the future.

But then at the end of chapter 14 of John’s gospel Jesus said, “Come let us go from this place.”

He gathered the disciples and left. And I tend to think he must’ve come to a wall with a vine growing in it, or perhaps he walked through a vineyard with his disciples in the night.

And then he said this, in John chapter 15 verses 1-4, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

The Lord knows that a big change is going to take place. And all he is doing in these chapters of John is getting his disciples ready for the change.

Notice it says in verse 3 that you are "already clean" because of the word Jesus spoke to them.

We as a church, as Christians, right now, at this moment in time, are clean, branches in the vine, and all in all stable in our faith.

The question is how do we continue that journey into the future? And Jesus gives us the answer in verse 4: "Remain in me,"
 Jesus says, and he continues and says, “As I also remain in you.”

Jesus remains in us, therefore the command is "remain in Him. This is synergistic. Jesus remains in us after we have Him as savior. Most leave it there, and you get an incomplete theology. They skip where Jesus gives the command: "Remain in me." 

We cannot bear fruit apart from the vine, which is Jesus. So we must remain in the vine.

A branch generates fruit because it’s being fed by the vine it’s attached to. Could a branch ever generate fruit while it’s disconnected from the vine, sitting on the ground? No, it would certainly shrivel up and die.

First point today, you as a Christian, must, must, must remain in the vine, remain in Jesus Christ. And in all that, it must also mean remaining in the church, the body of Christ.

There are no lone wolf Christians. Stay together, stay connected, stay strong, fed by the vine, bearing fruit for Jesus.

Next, we get a warning, from John 15:5-8, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” –John 15:5-8

What happens to a Christian who does not remain in Christ? They drift off (Hebrews 2:1) They get complacent. They get caught in sins. They stop gathering with the saints. They stop praying and reading the word.

Such a branch that does not remain is thrown away and withers. Such branches are thrown into the fire and burned.

What does that mean exactly? It means that a Christian that falls away withers and fades away, they crumble.

It’s a very stark reminder of the need to remain in Christ. Abide, the word is. Which means, to remain.

It would make me so sad, if I were to visit in a few years, and I were to find you having forsaken the faith, at the bar, angry and miserable, broken, wishing you’d stuck with it. Don’t let that be you. Never leave the vine. Stick it out to the end. To the very last day, repeat it to yourself, “I’m a Christian to the very end.”

It didn’t take years of me being away for me to see church members go that route. I saw it over the last five years. They left the fellowship, for some reason, or another. Maybe it was a secret sin. Maybe they just got tired of the Christian life. And the enemy targeted them once they left. They were an easy target, all alone in the wilderness. And soon, sins took over their life again, and they found themselves deep into the world again, wishing they could get back, but they couldn’t.

A former church member called me once, and she said I wish I could get back, but I can't. Something inside her had changed. It’s like when an alcoholic in 12 step groups relapses. They may have had years of sobriety, but once you’ve relapsed again, for some reason it’s so hard to get back into the sobriety life. I experienced that myself. Similarly, when a Christian falls away, it can be so hard to get back, because something fundamental has shifted within.

Don’t let that be you. Persevere in the faith. Abide in the vine. Stay close to the shepherd. Keep gathering with the rest of the sheep. Don’t drift off.

And if you do, if you remain in Christ, it also says, if God’s word remains in us, ask whatever we wish, and it will be done for us.

Ask for God to heal someone. Ask for God to deliver someone from sin. Ask God to change our country. Ask God to save someone from addiction. And God answers our prayers.

Ultimately then, God the Father gets the glory, and our actions prove that we really are disciples of Jesus.

Next Jesus tells the disciples this in verses 9-14, “9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Love each other. And the example is, look to how Jesus loved the disciples. He said love each other as I have loved you.

Our third point today is: Real love is the evidence that we are really Christians in the vine.

That’s a beautiful moment for someone, when they realize, something really is special about you. They watch your actions. They watch how you speak. What you do. And slowly but surely, they watch it all, and one day they sit back, and say to themselves, wow, they really are Christians. And they will often then think, Jesus must be real. I see it in their lives.

Conversely, when someone watches our lives, and they see that our actions don’t really match our words… They see us mistreat someone. They see us act selfishly. They see us ignore the needs of people around us. They see us cuss, or steal, or lie. And then that same person sits back and says, well, I guess they really aren’t special or different. They are just liars. And their faith is a sham. So they think to themselves, I guess there is no Jesus after all.

I’m sure we’ve all been on both sides of that one. I know theres been times I’ve failed to represent Christ correctly. And that’s sad. But there have been times as well, when someone noticed the love of Christ in me.

Small actions done with love can make a big difference. They may change someone story forever in fact.

Next Jesus says this in verses 15-17, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”

Friends, you know the word of God. You’ve been taught the word of God. It’s running through your veins. The blood of Jesus is flowing through you.

You are not simply servants of God, though you are, you are more than that, you are friends of God.

Jesus has made known to us everything from the Father, and I as your overseer have tried to faithfully teach you the word. So you do know the word.

You are friends of God. And you must remember that God chose you. He chose you to be here, now, at this moment in time, part of The Salvation Army church. You belong here. This is your church.

God chose you. And he appointed you to bear fruit for Him. To walk in the good deeds he planned for you to do, before all time began.

Things may change. Services change. Groups change. But the fellowship of the saints continues.

Fourth point, Friend of God, you were called here. Always remember that. He may call you somewhere else in the future, but right now, you belong here, and he brought you here for a reason.

Next Jesus warns the disciples of coming persecution, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” –John 15:18-20

Fifth point today, persecutions will come, and future victories will come. You will continue to spread the gospel throughout Shiawassee county. Many will hate you for it and attempt to persecute you for it.

Jesus was persecuted, so we should expect persecution as well.

We don’t know what the future will bring. I don’t know what will happen in the coming years, as this facility changes into a 360 life center.

I do know that God will remain with you if you continue to abide in Him, wherever he leads you.

You will face persecution. Wolves will come into the sheep-fold and attempt to destroy the sheep. But cling close to the Shepherd, and he will protect you. The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion, resist him standing firm in the faith, and he will flee from you.

At the same time, Jesus also says, if many obeyed Jesus teachings, which is true, many did, then many will also obey the teachings of God you bring to them.

So there is also hope for great victories in the future.

There are people in this community who desperately need you to bring the gospel to them, to tell them about what Jesus Christ did for you, so they can believe that Jesus can save them too.

You will see women get saved from addictions and brokenness, you will see men get saved from sorrows and sins. You will see events that will prosper. You will see ministries that help meet human needs. You will see yourself rise up, and carry the gospel to the lost.

The chapter concludes this way, ““They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” –John 15:21-27

In conclusion today, we must always remember that we as Christians are led by the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us.

As things change in this church, as things change in this community, in Michigan, in the world, as the world gets darker, as we get closer to the end times, more and more we must look to the Holy Spirit to lead us. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the right directions as we submit to His leadings. Men may lie to us, deceive us, try to lead us astray, governments may try to manipulate us, church movements may go astray, but we must steadfastly remain led by the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and engaged in the work the Holy Spirit gives us to do.

The Holy Spirit will testify to us about Jesus again and again, reminding us of all the things Jesus taught us. And therefore we must testify about Jesus to the world, because we know all about Jesus and His life. We’ve been taught by our leaders, and by ourselves, from the word, and so we must share it with others.

Let’s Review Our Main Points:
1. Remain with Christ – after salvation comes constant abiding throughout our lives

2. Branches that don’t remain wither and fade away – too many Christians allow sin or drifting to cause them to fall away

3. Real love is the evidence that we are Christians in the vine – our fruit proves that we are his disciples

4. Friend of God, You were called here – Jesus chose you to be here, and bear fruit as part of this community

5. Persecutions & victories will come – you will face persecution, you will also find new victories

And lastly, remember, the Holy Spirit will guide you, remind you of the words of Jesus, and empower you to carry the gospel to those who need it most.

Can you work against yourself? Is the final question I ask you. Remember the survey, and the results on change. Can you stop yourself from giving up? From wanting to quit? From overreacting in your sorrow?

Remember, all the disciples, aside from John, left Jesus and hid, Jesus’ top Lt. Peter denied his master three times. But Jesus helped them to come back together, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost prepared the disciples for a mission to change the world forever.

When the transitions come, remember, abide in the vine, hold close to Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, to keep you close, even in the pain and troubles that transitions bring. Pray to Him, and He will help you in those times, when big changes rock your world. You’ll find Jesus is the rock, and you’ll come through safely in the end.

Monday, May 13, 2024

How to Align Your Soul with the Spirit: Discerning God's Voice from your Inner Voice

I remember early on as a Christian I had a dream. I had listening to different ministries and churches and I was just learning the faith. I remember having a dream one night that I was at this church, big, with many people.

But it all felt dead, empty, and I left the building. Outside the building I saw this beautiful river down in this valley. And I felt drawn to the river. I saw in the river people swimming in the river. And I did the same and began swimming in the river. And it was joyous. And I found purpose in that river. A path to guide me.

I never knew what that dream meant until recently I was thinking about it as a I prepared this message. Most of the modern church is not really led by the Spirit. They are led by the soul. They do what they want to do, and call it Christian. But to be truly Christian is to be led by the Spirit, not by the soul of man. The church today must learn to swim the river of the leading of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise we will never know the power of God and the path of His will. 

Have you ever had an experience where you knew that God was telling you to do something? Go pray with that person. Send that person an encouraging message. Pray for this person right now. Go and visit that friend and help them.

But part of you resists the leading of God. And you ask yourself, “Did God really say that? Or am I just making that up in my own mind?”

So you begin to wrestle back and forth, should I do it, should I not do it? What do I do? You feel the conviction of the Spirit more and more. And eventually hopefully you decide, alright, I’m going to do that. And you go do it.

What was happening there? You were wrestling within between your soul and your spirit. Your spirit received instructions from God and told you what you needed to do. But your soul got in the way and started questioning and resisting the leading of the Spirit of God.

This has happened to me many, many times! I’m sure it has for you. Now how about this one, have you ever been super excited and felt that you needed to go minister to this person, but then it went really bad and it was clear after, that it wasn’t God at all, but your own self? Again, the soul got in the way, and attempted to speak for the spirit.

But before we go further let’s talk about the structure of you as a human being.

Did you know that God reveals himself to us in three ways, as God the Father, as Jesus Christ the son of God, and as the Holy Spirit, the indwelling presence of God.

That’s interesting isn’t it?

You also are made up of different parts, you have a soul, your spirit, and your physical body.

That’s our first point today, you are soul, spirit, and body, as one.

Your physical body is just that, your body, your flesh and blood, and cells and organs and your five senses.

Your soul is you, the word for soul in the Greek actually means “breath.” Because it says in Genesis 2:7 that God breathed the breath of life into the man, he gave man a soul.

When a woman gets pregnant, the child is born as flesh, as a baby, but God puts a soul into that body.

So your soul is you. A puff of air you might say. Breathed out by God.

You also have your spirit. Your spirit is your higher self, your intuition, your inner light, your desire for something greater, your connection to God.

Before becoming a Christian, all three were very broken, soul, body, spirit. The soul was darkened and sinful. The spirit was focused on earthly things, broken, unable to connect with God, and the body was cursed and subject to physical death.

But once becoming a Christian, the soul begins a process of change, the body hopes for the promised resurrection after death, and the spirit is filled with the Holy Spirit and learns to be in connection to God.

Second point, even as a Christian we still battle between the Spirit and the self. The Spirit within calls us to live for God, but the flesh within wants us to focus on ourselves and our own needs.

The soul wants to go it’s own way. I battle that myself from time to time. I want to do what I want to do. But the Lord guides us to die to self, and live by the Spirit’s leading.

That happens every time I’m in conflict within between what my soul wants and what my spirit wants. And when I let the spirit lead the way, the soul comes into alignment with the spirit and they act as one.

That’s really the topic and goal for today: How do we bring our Soul into alignment with our spirit?

Secondarily, we are also looking at how this brings peace to our souls.

Jeanne Guyon gets into this topic of soul vs. Spirit in chapter 21 of her book. She says, “You see, when your soul is active on its own-that is, active apart from the activity of the Spirit-then by it’s very nature its activity is forced and strained! The soul’s effort in prayer is always that of anxiety and striving. This is actually to your advantage! You can easily distinguish when the soul is functioning.” -Jeanne Guyon, chapter 21, p. 94-95.

Third point, In prayer align the soul with the Spirit’s lead.

I can tell when I’m praying from the soul because it’s forced and awkward. But sometimes it’s necessary to start there. Then, at some point in the prayer as I begin to focus on the Spirit, the Spirit takes over, and the prayer suddenly becomes very natural.

“When the soul is responding to the Spirit, the action is free, easy and natural. It will seem that you are putting forth almost no effort at all.” -Jeanne Guyon, p. 95

So you’re probably wondering, when I pray, how do I let the Spirit lead? Honestly I think the best way is simply inviting Him, say, “Holy Spirit please guide these prayers.” And He will. God wants to be invited in. Other times though, you may not need to ask, it will happen naturally as you think about the Spirit, or as you simply draw near to God in your heart. It will come together beautifully.

Fourth point, hold your soul at peace. The soul will want to engage in strenuous effort and activity. Instead, hold the soul at peace.

Be still in the presence of the Lord, as the song says. Quiet the soul, and let the Spirit lead.

(2 slides – illustrations of soul led vs spirit led)

The soul will tend toward stress, anxiety, activity. Quiet that down, and draw near to God. And God will draw you. And you’ll find yourself drifting toward Him in your heart.

Quiet the soul, bring the soul to peace, which is stillness before God. Passiveness, simply wanting what God wants without any reservations.

Then, with the soul quiet, the goal is to operate from the spirit, and hear God’s Spirit and follow Him. But how do we do that?

As Jeanne Guyon wrote, “The Lord speaks to your spirit; He calls you to follow Him by drawing your center where there is only Himself. So your spirit is attracted first. You, in turn, follow the attraction of the center. You do so by turning your attention and all the powers of your soul on Him…” -Jeanne Guyon, Ch. 21, p. 97

How can I tell the difference between my internal voice and God’s leading? I’ve gotten myself into trouble a few times by thinking my internal voice was actually God’s voice.

So how do I tell the difference?

Fifth point, changes brought by God’s word will separate the voice of soul and spirit, so we can discern God’s voice from our own.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

The word of God is alive and active and able to divide between the soul and the spirit, to help you discern which is which.

As the word of God changes you, as you study it, learn it, and apply it your life, you will naturally know the voice of God from your own inner voice.

It’s a journey though. So if you aren’t there yet, don’t worry. Continue to diligently study God’s word, and God’s word will change you. Your own inner voice will grow more and more submissive to God’s leading.

The trouble occurs in the soul. The soul wants things to go a certain way. I want this outcome in this situation. So I will get in there and speak for God with my soul to try to manipulate what’s happening.

But I’ve noticed more and more as my reverence for God increases and my fear of the Lord increases, my own inner voices becomes more quiet. And I simply listen for the leading of God.

I’m not there yet myself. I still want my own way in situations. I’m desperate for a particular outcome. But from where I was two years ago, to today, it’s a world of difference. I misread God a lot less today.

I think in the end, we will at some point come to a mindset where we can really say, “I just want whatever God wants to happen.”

We allow God’s word to slowly separate the voice of the soul from the voice of the spirit, and then we submit the soul to the spirit.

It’s tough right. It’s surrender, total surrender of our will to God. “I just want whatever God wants.” What is the purpose of this molding and surrender?

Sixth point, the purpose in all this is restorative. Prep school for paradise.

Originally in the Garden of Eden, had the fall never taken place, we would naturally live every moment by the Spirit’s leading. Our souls would be entirely united with God in our spirit.

But because of the fall, man lost the ability to contain the life of God (p. 99). We became worldly minded, focused on jobs, bills, family, pride, stuff, ball games, and new tech. The soul, like Adam and Eve did, began to try to play god apart from god. And that doesn’t work.

Jesus Christ within, the Holy Spirit at work through us, all of this is training us, and getting us ready for life in heaven. A entirely new, permanent lifestyle of walking in union with God. That’s pleasure beyond imagining, exciting, creative, and joyous. It’s a state of joy. And the joys of heaven are new every day, each day it just keeps getting better. It’s not boring, it’s more exciting and wonderful than you could imagine.

You’ll live a day in the New Jerusalem and it will feel so balmy and perfect and beautiful, but you’ll know, tomorrow is going to be even better. Because it’s an adventure with God, that just keeps getting better and more amazing and wondrous and exciting each day.

The purpose of learning to align your soul with the Spirit is an instruction manual for living in heaven.

Point number seven, in allowing your soul to follow the Spirit, you will come into union with God.

Jeanne Guyon writes, “Now we have come to the final, deepest experience with God – the ultimate Christian experience. It is union with God.”

“The experience of union begins very simply when there is born in you a desire for God. And when is that? When the soul begins to turn inward to the life of the Spirit; when the soul begins to fall under the powerful, magnetic attraction of the Spirit. At this point, an earnest desire for union with God is born! Once your soul has begun to turn within to the Spirit, it moves nearer and nearer to God. This is the progress toward union.

Finally the soul is one spirit with Him. It is here at last that the soul, which has wandered so far away from God, returns again to the place for which it was created! You must enter this realm. Why? Because this is the purpose of all God’s working in you.” -Jeanne Guyon, Ch.21, p.102-103

Do you get it? It’s a journey. As a Christian you go from not being led by the Spirit really very much at all. To slowly desiring to follow God. To chasing after the Spirit more and more, slowly aligning your soul’s will with the Spirit’s lead. Finally, you’re one in spirit with the Lord. And you find yourself at the place where you were made to dwell, one with God, one with His leading. One with His purposes.

All God’s work in your, forgiveness of sins, the new birth, sanctification, spiritual growth, spiritual warfare, temptations, trials, joys and triumphs, all of it has this one purpose: To bring you into union with God, in a way that you follow His leading without any hesitation. Your soul is submitted to the Spirit, and it’s perfect. You go from stress and struggle in the soul, fighting against God’s leading, until we surrender, and surrender again, day by day, year by year, chasing the magnetic pull of the Spirit, until we find ourselves at one with the Spirit.

And who is this Spirit? It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. We find ourselves at one with our savior Jesus Christ, and in alignment with the Father in Heaven ultimately.

Review of Main Points:
1. You are soul, spirit, and body, as one.

2. Even as Christians we still battle between the soul & spirit.

3. Align the soul with the Spirit’s lead in Prayer

4. Hold your soul at peace, work from the spirit

5. Changes brought by God’s word will separate the voice of soul and spirit, so we can discern God’s voice from our own.

6. The purpose in all this is restorative, Prep school for paradise

7. In allowing your soul to follow your spirit, you will come into alignment with God, which is called “Union with God”

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Change is Hard: God's Authority over Transitions in our Lives

There is one constant in life, it’s change. Everything changes over time. I’ve experienced numerous changes over my life. Change is often hard and awkward at first. But it can also be something that brings a lot of positives.

But it never feels comfortable at the time. I remember when I first started my internship in Escanaba, Mi I was so nervous. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. But more than that I felt sorrowful. I felt actual grief. Just because things were so different.

I had moved away from my hometown, I was in a completely new area, and I didn’t know anyone. It was hard.

But early on I didn’t give up. Each day at work it felt awkward, but I kept reminding myself, you’re going to find your rhythm. Your going to find the beat.

And sure enough that’s exactly what happened. But it took a few months to get there. I slowly found a pattern that was comfortable for me, and I was so excited when it came together for me there.

In situations of change, the future is a giant question mark. It’s like being blindfolded and trying to go somewhere. You don’t know what to expect. You have to walk by faith.

It’s traumatic. It’s painful. And its in those times that we need to cling to the Master, Jesus, and listen to His words very carefully.

In hard times in your life, run to the word of God. Train yourself to do that. Open your Bible in the dark time. And let it speak into your situation.

Transitions occur in life. Transitions occur in America. Transitions occur in your own personal life. And transitions occur in the church. Not only that, transitions occur in the Bible.

So I want to draw your attention today to a situation where the disciples didn’t know what to expect next.

It comes from John chapter 14. Jesus has gathered his disciples for a special occasion, they are celebrating the Passover, but Jesus has revealed to them that things are about to change.

So Jesus gives them this encouraging word from John 14:1-2, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

Our first point today is that Jesus reminds them that there is a future. He reminds them of their faith. Keep believing Jesus says.

He reminds them, that the Father’s house has many rooms. And there is a place for each of them in heaven.

There is a future beyond transitions and change. When the dust settles, when the mysteries come forth, realize there is a future.

We can’t see it directly. We believe in God. We know he will continue to guide us. He will continue to guide this church. But it takes faith.

Faith in a future.

Now imagine if the disciples, after Jesus said this, got up and said well I don’t like that change, so I’m going to leave. And they stormed out the door. They would’ve missed everything.

But Jesus reminds them, control your emotions, don’t let your hearts be troubled.

When a traumatic change takes place we start to wonder if there is any future. We start to think well it’s all over. Well I might as well just give up. But Jesus reminds us, the future is bright, even in traumatic change.

Next, in verses 5-7: “Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Point number two, crisis brings questioning.

Lord, why is this happening? Lord, where are you? Lord, what should I do? Lord, I can’t stand how I feel right now.

There have been a handful of times in my life when I really was up against a wall and needed an answer. I just needed some word of encouragement from God. I felt such pressure, such concern, that it seemed impossible.

Like Thomas who asks Jesus the question, we ask God, “What do I do? I don’t know the way!”

It reminds me of a time I was on the trash detail at training college. And we had to maneuver the dumpsters to different locations, hook them up to trash depositors, pull the dumpsters with a pickup truck, and for some reason I felt intimidated by this process. I couldn’t quite figure it out. It was hitting some pressure point in me, that I felt inadequate.

And the two guys on it with me, the maintenance guys were getting more and more upset as I couldn’t figure it out. Finally one of the guys blew up at me and said, “You should’ve been able to figure this out by now, what’s wrong with you?” And he just really ripped into me. I got super upset and stormed out. And I felt so upset and angry and disturbed.

I felt inadequate. I felt anxious. I felt like I wanted to just up and quit the whole thing.

But it all got worked out. I finished the detail that semester. But did different things related to it.
But I blew up at the training principle, and got sent to counseling, and I remember the guy who I had had the fight with, as I was getting in the vehicle to drive to the counselor, he would come out and just look at me and laugh.

I had tried to get him in trouble, which was terrible of me, but I couldn’t’ believe how rudely he’d treated me.

It became this extremely tense and disturbing situation. And eventually I went to him and apologized for what I did. He never apologized. But it didn’t matter.

It was one of those situations where you just don’t know what to do. And you ask God why? Why this?

As a result God gives answers. Honestly, God gives answers. Sometimes he will be silent, it’s true. I think we think of God like that. He’s not gonna give us an answer. The answer is just faith it up more.

But that’s honestly not my experience. God has come to me in those high stress times and has given me such tender encouragement from His word. He’s given me so many nudges toward the truth.

And Jesus does the same for Thomas here, he says, I am the way.

In our problems, in our transitions, in change, Jesus is the way. Trust in Jesus.

Cling to Jesus. When everything is out of control, cling to Jesus even tighter. Run to the Father. Run to Jesus. Hug Him tighter.

Next, John 14:10-11, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.”

Jesus reminds his disciples that all things that are happening, all the changes are not random. It’s not some evil scheme. It’s not out of control. It’s not chaos. The change that is happening is in fact God’s perfect will.

If you can remember that during a transition then you will prosper.

But it’s when we start to think, “this isn’t fair” “this is wrong” “this is bad” that we start to get into trouble. We try to take control away from God. We try to take control. We try to claim some sort of conspiracy. But it’s not a conspiracy. It’s not an evil plot. It’s God’s perfect plan.

The best example I can give is the Salvation Army moves system. Every 3-5 years The Salvation Army moves officers from one place to another. Many will assume that the moves are done according to the will of man. But it’s not true. The moves are done according to the will of God.

Chelsey and I aren’t moving because we got married. We aren’t moving because Chelsey needs to be trained. We aren’t moving because its been x number of years. We’re moving because it’s God’s perfect will for the universe and planet Earth for us to move.

If we can understand God’s authority in these situations, we can be at peace. We can accept the change. We can prosper in change.

Whether I went to Escanaba, or Chicago, or St. Charles, or Albert Lea, St. Louis or Rochester, MN, or Owosso, Mi, I always knew that it was God’s perfect will for me to be there.

Did I wrestle in those times? Sure. Did I argue with God? I did from time to time. But did God always help me to accept His will? Yes He did.

Lastly, we see in verses 12-14, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Jesus tells His disciples that he has trained them to do great things, to do mighty works, to ask God for things and God will do them.

Point number four today, Change brings opportunities for great victories

The changes and transitions God brings are almost always intended to bring about greater ministry opportunities and greater victories for the future.

I remember going from Wausau, wi to Escanaba, Mi and wondering why God would bring this sort of change. But I quickly found myself excited with the ministry opportunities I had after the move.

Major Ralph there allowed me to preach half time and I was so excited. I had longed for years to preach sermons, and finally, finally, I got to get into the pulpit and preach a sermon from the word of God.

I was so excited. I got to preach sermons, I got to do weekly bible studies at the nursing home nearby, I got to assist with kids activities. I got to lead and plan a vacation bible school. I got to coordinate kettles. It was amazing. But God had to bring me through the storms of transition to get me there.

God will as well bring you through the storms of change, and you’ll go from sorrowful and upset, to excited and hopeful. But you have to let yourself walk through the difficulties of change to get to the blessings of change.

In conclusion, we must allow God in times of change, to hold us by the hand through the change. We must not run away, which may be our instinct. We should allow ourselves to grieve and wrestle with questions. But we should bring it all to God in prayer. We must remember God is in control in the confusion. We must believe that change can bring new blessings despite the pain.

On any journey, in any shift in our lives, we must remember that there is a way through it successfully. Its by way of Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. Jesus himself is the way through.

Though we may be tempted to give up, to run for the hills, to get bitter, to throw all our progress away, instead, in the difficulty we must turn our eyes to Jesus, and cling to him even tighter than ever.

1. There is a future in change – though we can’t the future we can believe God is with us in the transitions

2. Crisis brings questioning – we can bring our questions to God, and God encourages us through it all

3. God’s authority rests over transitions – we must learn to see change as coming directly from the throne of God, he is sovereign

4. Change brings opportunities for great victories – our sorrow will turn to rejoicing as we see what God does in transitional times

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Guard your Heart: Block the Evil, Bring in the Gold

Have you ever had a conversation or experience, or a moment in your life that you took to heart?

You took it to heart. It impacted you so deeply that it stayed with you through your whole life.

I remember numerous experiences in my life that I took to heart. It affected me in a way that it went deep down inside me. It went into my heart and changed my life forever.

There are also terrible negative experiences that I unfortunately “took to heart” as well and they damaged my heart. I'm sure the same is true for you.

But God can redeem anything. He can take something meant to hurt us and turn it into a testimony.

The goal every Sunday is that you would, during the service, take things to heart, whether it’s something said in a prayer, or a line from one of the worship songs, or a word during the sermon.

The goal is you would notice a nugget of truth throughout the service, and stop on it, and say: "That is something I’m going to take to heart."

So you see something very beautiful with growing Christians. They’ve gathered all these gold nuggets of truth, and fashioned them into beautiful things, and they are a tree decorated with hundreds of gold nuggets of biblical truth.

They’ve carefully listened to allow the word of God to really change their hearts over time.

I think we naturally have things that go into our mind from the message. That’s a good thing, we want knowledge for the mind, but something powerful happens when it hits the heart. Something in the message we "get." We realize how profound it is, and we allow it to sink into our heart.

Or not. 

That’s why you’ll see people who have gone to church for 30, 40, 50 years but they are still unsaved. It’s all gone in the mind. And it’s never gone into the heart. And so they’ve been in church for 40 years but they’ve never been changed by the message. They’ve never allowed it to go in.

There’s a scripture from Proverbs chapter 4 that helps us understand the heart.

It a prescription you might say, for a young believer, a prescription for good heart health.

What does your doctor say when you’re having heart issues? They give you a prescription. They give you a list of foods to eat, foods to not eat.

This is a prescription from God about how to minister to our hearts.

It says this, Proverbs 4:20-23, “My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body. Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.”

The first point today is that only God can really change your heart. If you don’t have Jesus in your heart today, then there’s no point in studying about how to keep your heart healthy or how to guard it or anything else, your heart is not able to do anything truly useful apart from Christ.

So what you’ve got to do is give your heart to Jesus right now, and invite God to change your heart.

As the scripture says, Psalm 51:10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

That’s the cry of the psalmist, and it finds it’s completion in Jesus Christ.

It say again in Ezekiel 36:26 ESV, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

So if you have a stone heart today, but you feel Jesus tugging at your heart, invite Him in today, become born again, and then you’ll be able to consider the next steps.

The second point for today is that we want to “keep the word of God in our hearts.”

Now that Jesus has given us a new heart, our job is to continue to feed the word of our God into our hearts.

We do this by studying the word, praying the scriptures, listening to the word read aloud, and by listening to sermons and messages.

We allow the word to affect our hearts. Or we block it from our heart, and it all goes into the mind, and that knowledge puffs us up with pride. But we never change. That's dangerous. Don't block the word, let it in! 

The third point for today is to “guard your heart with all diligence, for all you do flows from it.”

There are many influences in the world. I often see Christians who are young in their faith and they get stuck. They get stuck in sins. They get stuck in their walk. They stop growing.

And often what I see is that they’ve got a spout, a faucet running into the heart, and what’s coming from that faucet is filth and slime. And it’s pouring like a mighty river into their heart. And then they are shocked that they aren’t growing and are living double-minded and trapped in sin.

Turn off that spout! What is that spout? It’s the influences of the world that are being poured into your heart from television, movies, news media, radio, billboards, wrong friendships, wrong relationships, and worldly influences. You’ve got to turn off those sources and replace them all with Christian content, Christian movies, Christian sermons, Christian radio, Christian friendships, and Christian influences.

And as you do, you turn off the bad spigot and you turn on the pure spigot, and instead of filth, pure living water of God’s word is flowing into your heart and pretty soon you begin to grow in your faith once again.

Guard your heart. That’s the goal. Don’t let those things into your heart. Because once something gets control of your affections it’s very hard to get rid of, only Jesus can remove it once it’s there.

I’ll give you an example, at one point in my life, I let drugs into my heart. I really loved drugs. And once it’s there, something loved and cherished, it’s very hard to get rid of. I had to go to treatment, detox, and pray, and seek God, and it was a whole ordeal to get rid of it.

Another example, is you’ll see a woman who falls in love with a guy and she lets him into her heart. This is a beautiful thing when it’s done in marriage and happens in God’s will. But sex traffickers have discovered, that if they can get a woman to fall in love with them, they can then control that woman later, and turn them into a prostitute, and force them to work for them.

That’s the power of what we let into our hearts.

Next point, God can set you free even if it’s in your heart. So if you’ve allowed something into your heart that has control, surrender it to God, he can set you free. You may need treatment though. You may a need a bit of detox. You may need to go deep with a counselor or pastor. But don’t give up hope. You can be free.

So to review, let God’s word go deep into the heart.

At the same time guard your heart, because sin is knocking at the door, trying to get us addicted.

But there’s more to that scripture in Proverbs 4, in verses 24-27 it says, “Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”

Have you ever seen an old castle from the medieval era? There’s the main keep, and surrounding the keep is a wall, but then there is another longer wall along the outside, sort of a second line of defense.

Your heart is the keep. And you must guard it with the inner wall.

But there is a second level of defense, an outer wall, and here we see what the outer wall is. It's your senses. And there are gates where your senses take in information along the wall. We must guard these gates carefully. 

First, we need to guard the mouth gate.

Guard what you speak. I know this one from experience. I’ve been free from cussing for a while now. But there’s been a few times over the years where I got very upset and let a cuss out.

And it’s amazing how hard it was to get it gone again. Once you start cussing, or slandering others, or gossiping, it’s very hard to stop.

The word says the tongue is, "set on fire by hell." Once hell sets it afire, only a cold splash of the Holy Spirit can put it out. Without God's help, it just goes, burns and burns, like a blazing fire.

Guard what you say. Guard the mouth gate. Because once the mouth is uttering garbage, it’s hard to get it to stop, and that gate can lead to the inner gate, the heart.

It also says guard your eyes. “25 Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.”

Watch what you look at! That’s another pathway for the enemy to get bad things into your heart.

Guard the eye gate.

Watch what you look at. Watch what movies you view. Watch what you focus on. Keep your focus on the goal, which is Jesus Christ, and the gospel message.

I watched a movie recently, very popular, but I knew there was a nude scene in it somewhere. But I really wanted to see the movie, it was historical and interesting. So I carefully watched the movie trying to guard against the nude scene, but sure enough, it came on so quickly I couldn't block it, and even to this day that image remains in my mind of that scene. How terrible! We can't unsee the things we see. We can be forgiven. But our mind remembers. 

Lastly, guard your pathways, the place you go.

It says Proverbs 4:26-27, “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”

You know what they say, if you hang out at the barber shop long enough you’ll end up getting a haircut.

Guard the Foot gate.

Don’t hang out with the wrong people. Don’t hang out in the wrong places. Follow God’s leading for your life. You’ll know if you aren’t in the right place. You’ll know because God will tell you. You will sense it, "something isn't right here."

Don’t turn to the left or right, keep walking the path God has for you. That is the challenge in life.

Don’t get distracted. Keep walking God’s pathway. That’s another gate, where you go, where you walk, where you step, a gate that you must guard.

Guard the outer gates, your senses. Guard the inner gate, your heart. Allow in the right content, block the wrong content, and you will be stable as Christian. You'll gain victory over double-mindedness. You'll become a single-minded Christian. But if you allow in the filth along with the pure, you'll always find yourself double-minded and as a consequence, unstable in your walk with Christ. 

Review of Main Points:

1. Only God can truly change your heart (through Jesus Christ)

2. Keep the Word of God in your heart (Let the message affect your heart)

3. Guard your heart with all diligence (Block the filth from your heart)

4. God can remove something bad from your heart (Surrender it to Him)

5. Guard the Mouth Gate (Speak life, guard against evil speech)

6. Guard the Eye Gate (Look at what is good, avoid what is evil)

7. Guard the Foot Gate (Follow God’s path, avoid dangerous situations)