Chosen

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Do you remember lining up in a row during gym class and choosing sides for some sort of game like dodgeball or softball? When I was in school it seemed like the same kids were always chosen last. I cannot imagine what they felt. Some of you might be able to relate to what they were feeling. You know what it’s like to not be chosen or to be chosen last. Some of you know what it’s like to be rejected. A spouse, a friend or maybe even your parents have made you feel anything but loved or wanted. Today, we’re back in the Book of Ephesians, and what we’re going to discover is that we are loved by God and that He has chosen us before the creation of the world! You’re a masterpiece, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, and now, God declares that you are chosen! You’re SOMEBODY!

How you see yourself matters. If we have a wrong view of ourselves, we will live a life that is contrary to God’s will and plan for our lives. Our identity and our esteem must be rooted in who God says we are! It is only when we know who we are from God’s perspective can we determine how to live our lives. So far in our study of Ephesians, we have seen that those who are in Christ are masterpieces, created by God for His glory and the good of others. He declares that you and I are saints – set apart from the world and made holy by the perfect righteousness of Christ. We have been blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in the heavens – we have everything for life and godliness! And today we will discover and explore that fact that those who are in Christ have been chosen by God!

Ephesians 1:3-4

“Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens in Christ. For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him…”

Paul begins in verse four by declaring “For He chose us in him…” You could translate the word for to read because. You and I know that every spiritual blessing is ours because we were chosen by God. He wants to remind us that God is the one who is taking action here. The gospel always begins with God! He continues by saying that God has chosen us in Christ.

Before I unpack the word chosen, let me address who He has chosen. This letter was written to the church at Ephesus. Therefore, the vast majority of the recipients were Gentiles –  people who were not Jewish.  Gentiles were despised by the Jews and therefore, excluded from the worship, rights, and privileges of Israel.  The Jews thought of them as the enemies of God! In spite of what the Jews said about them, they were now part of God’s family. Paul is writing to a group of individuals who were told for the majority of their lives that they didn’t belong; that they could never gain full access to God! He is addressing their identity which was defined and therefore, found, in Christ.

Paul could relate to the Gentiles’ struggle with accepting this great truth. Although he was a Jew, he knew that he was a great sinner, one undeserving of God’s love. He declared in Ephesians 3:8 that the grace of God was extended to him, the least of all the saints. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he writes, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-and I am the worst of them.” Paul never lost the amazement of being chosen by God not only to be adopted into His family but to be an apostle-a witness to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:8; Gal. 1:4)!

Chosen. It has a beautiful ring to it, doesn’t it? God Himself, the creator of the universe, chose you. Technically the word means “to pick out or choose out for one’s self.” God called you and me out of darkness, out of Adam, into Christ, for Himself and His glory. You and I were chosen by God for God.

In John 15:16 Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Jesus said we did not choose Him. We couldn’t. We were so trapped in our sin, so blinded to the truth, that we had no desire to seek after God (RO 3:10-11). In John 6:44 Jesus declared, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” Everything, including our salvation, begins with God. He does the choosing. He decides to draw us unto Himself. God creates within you a hunger for Jesus and His righteousness!

It gets better. God’s decision to choose the Gentiles and to bestow upon them every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms wasn’t some random or recent thought. No, Paul is declaring that God loved them, and chose them, long ago, even before He made the world… before the foundation of the world. God’s original plan, crafted before the world was created, was to include both Jews and Gentiles into His family! Before God laid the foundation of the world, He was at work choosing a people for Himself.

Before the world was ever established, God knew you and loved you. You were chosen by God before the first bird chirped. Before the first star was hung in the universe. Before the first drop of rain fell or before the first snowflake was shaped by God, you were chosen by Him. He chose you before you cleaned up your life, before you “got right.” This means that God chose you, devised a rescue plan for you, before the fall and before there was ever a need for rescue. There’s the grace we spoke of last week!

But why? Our text says that God chose us so that we would be holy and blameless. To some Christians, holy means a manner of dress, restrictions of activities, or a measure of pride in the fact that certain sins don’t tempt them. Holy doesn’t mean any of them. In the original language the word used for holy means “dedicated to God, sacred, reserved for God and His service.” You and I have been chosen by God to live for His glory and the good of others (1 Cor. 10:31).

The word blameless means that we are to be without flaw or blemish. The idea takes us back to Old Testament worship and God’s requirement that all sacrifices be without blemish. Anything with a blemish was disqualified as an acceptable offering to God. Our problem is that we could never be blameless on our own. Scripture declares that you and I have sinned, fallen short of God’s glory (RO 3:23). That’s why Jesus had to come to earth – to make us blameless. He did this by being our substitute upon the cross. As He paid for our sins, we were clothed with His righteousness. God now sees those who are in Christ as being blameless!

So That…

Those of us who are in Christ have been chosen by God for a specific purpose – to present ourselves before Him as holy and blameless. This great truth should produce within us five things:

Assurance. Because salvation begins with God and is accomplished by God, you can be sure that what God starts He will finish. The truth is that every Christian struggles at some point with their salvation. Why? Because the closer you grow to God, the more you are aware of your sin. As we continually enter into the presence of God we will see the depth of our sinfulness and begin to wonder, “Am I genuinely saved?” Jesus speaks to this question in John 6:37-39, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will never cast out.” Jesus is the good shepherd. He loses none of His sheep. Not even one. All He starts with, He ends with.

Power. The truth that we have been chosen by God and that our salvation is secured by Him gives us the power or the strength we need to get back up after our failures. Knowing that God finishes what He starts, we can be sure that even though today was consumed by defeat, God’s decree for our tomorrow is victory! Ephesians 2:10 declares that we are God’s creation, created in Him for good works. God has determined to mold and shape us for His glory and for His service – the burden of fixing our lives is not ours to carry. It is His. He is molding us and shaping us into the image of His Son. The good works that God has for you were chosen by Him. And, because He determined that this is how you should live your life, He has provided you with the power to do so!

Humility. You and I are Christians by grace alone and not because of anything that we have done. God has chosen to redeem us and use us for His glory. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 declares, “The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous than all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you…” 1 Corinthians 1:27 declares that God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise! God’s preference is to turn fools into Christians. God chose us. (What does that say about you and me?) How does that make you feel? Not proud I’m sure. Humble I hope.

Hope in the midst of your trials. God is working in us to shape you into the image of His Son. His desire is to shape us into an instrument for His glory. That means everything in life is dedicated to that purpose. He declares in Romans 8 that He can bring good out of all things. James declared that we should “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials” Why? Because God uses the trials of life to mold and shape us! These momentary afflictions are in reality a blessing from God – they give us hope. They reveal that God loves us and that He has a plan for our lives! He disciplines those that He loves.

Boldness in sharing the Gospel. Because God has chosen to embrace Gentiles like you and me, because He has chosen to take sinners like us and mold them into the image of His Son, we should be compelled to share the gospel with others. We must declare to the hopeless and the helpless that long before they were born God decided to give them every spiritual blessing in the heavens through Christ Jesus. To those that feel unloved or rejected by the world we must cry out that God loves them! How do we know He loves us? Look to the cross!

Conclusion

This morning my goal was to help each of every one of us see that God has chosen to make us His very own in His Son Christ Jesus.

  • To those who feel unloved or unworthy of being loved, let me declare to you that God loves you. You were chosen to be loved by Him long before the world began. You matter to Him. He loves you with an everlasting love. He sent His Son to rescue you from your sin.

 

  • To those of you who are struggling with sin, God declares that it is His job to mold you and shape you. He is working right now in your life to transform you into the image of His Son Jesus. Victory is yours in Christ Jesus.

 

  • To those of you who do not know Jesus as your Lord and Savior… can I ask you “Why not say yes to Jesus?” God has so much to offer you. He wants to transform your life so that you might live for His glory. He wants you to experience His love and find purpose in life. He desires that none would perish, but that all would find life in Christ.

Are you ready to experience genuine love? Are you ready to be transformed? Are you ready for a change? Are you ready to experience victory? Then say “Yes” to Jesus.

 

 

Spiritual Blessings

Spiritual blessings

You’re Rich!

Countless farmers in Kansas are hitting the jackpot! But instead of purchasing a winning lottery ticket, it’s all about owning the right piece of land. John Walker, a 63-year old farmer who has been harvesting wheat in the small town of Anthony Kansas since he was six years old, has received $1.5 million over the past year after leasing out the mineral rights to 2,000 acres of his land. Walker also received 1.5 million dollars from the oil company just for the right to look for oil! Some have said that Mr. Walker became a millionaire overnight. But did he? Actually, he has always been a millionaire… he just hadn’t accessed what he already had.

I believe that this is a picture of many who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. They’re living as spiritual paupers, when in reality, God made them rich when they came to faith in Christ. The Father has so much to offer us. In Ephesians 1:3 the Apostle Paul declares that God has already blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. You and I, just like those folks in Kansas, are rich! We have everything we need for life and godliness.

In Ephesians 1:3 the Apostle Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”

 

Spiritual Blessings: You and I, because of the fall of Adam, experience difficulty in this life. Some struggle to pay their bills, feed their families or provide adequate housing for their families. What we want from God are material blessings, not spiritual ones! We want jobs that pay us an enormous amount of money and we sure don’t want to work hard to earn it. We want stuff, lots of it, and it should be nice stuff! Did I mention we want nice homes as well? And nice cars? Oh yea, we want nice clothes too. There you go, God… bless us materially!

But Paul isn’t talking about material blessings. He’s talking about spiritual blessings. While God promises to meet our basic physical needs, He knows that our deepest need is spiritual, to be rightly related to Him. So, He blesses us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places – in Christ. That’s why you and I are to begin with, and always focus upon, the spiritual. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:1-2, “So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.”

Jesus in Matthew 6:33 declares that you and I are to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What are the things that God will provide? Food, clothing, long life – the necessities of life. Material blessings are the fruit of the spiritual blessings God has made available to us.

When I think of spiritual blessings I think of the blessings made available to God’s children in Christ. I think of three specific blessings: faith, grace, and strength. Grace is the undeserved favor of God. It is the provision of salvation and all of God’s riches to a rebellious, undeserving, child by a holy, gracious God. It is the means by which one has their relationship with God, which was broken by sin, restored. The Bible teaches that we rejected God and His ways, that we willfully sinned against Him. The consequence of our rebellion is death and eternal separation from God in the lake of fire. We rebelled against God willfully. Grace is God reaching down to a rebellious child in an effort to restore their broken relationship and to pour out all of the riches of heaven upon His child.

As an expression of His love and grace, God sent His Son Jesus to die upon a cross and pay for our sins. He was our substitute. Through His grace, God gives to us what we don’t deserve. We do not have to strive or struggle through this life to prove ourselves for the next. We could never be good enough to earn God’s love or to have our relationship restored. We are people without hope – Sinners in need of grace. God’s grace causes His love to transcend our sin and deliver to us the full measure of His blessings.

Faith. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” Faith is an unshakeable confidence, given by the Holy Spirit, that God will actually do what He says and that He will do what we ask in the name of Christ. By faith, I believe that I am saved from my sin. By faith, I believe that God will provide for all of my needs. By faith, I believe that God hears and answers my prayers. By faith, I stand upon the promises of God when life seems to be out of control. By faith, I give the Lord 10% of my finances. By faith, I live in obedience to the Word of God.

We tend to look at the blessings of the Lord as potentially ours, but God sees them as positively ours! Like a key in the ignition switch of a car, faith ignites the heart of God and releases His love, wisdom, power, and presence into any situation or circumstance. God promised Joshua that every inch of the promised land that he would set his foot upon belonged to the nation Israel – but there was a condition – they would have to move forward with God in faith. The nation Israel, like you and I, had all the faith they needed. Paul declares in Romans 12:3 that God that God has distributed a measure of faith to every true follower of Jesus. God expects us to have faith; it is how we see the unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). What was at question for Israel in the days of Joshua and for us, is “Are we willing to take God at His Word – to cross over into the promised land and engage the enemy?” Will we walk by faith or by sight?

Strength. In John 14:12 Jesus stated that whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these. “Greater” works than Jesus? Have you ever raised the dead or made a crippled man walk? Have you multiplied a happy meal to feed thousands? Nope. I think what Jesus was saying was that there is something greater than physical miracles – there are spiritual works of God that are greater. The greatest? The mighty work of transformation. On the day of Pentecost, more people were saved than throughout Jesus’ entire life. Leading someone to forgiveness of sins, you see, is a greater work than feeding a crowd, because the feeding is temporary and salvation is eternal!

Jesus, in Acts 1:8, declared that the Spirit would come upon His disciples and when it did, they would receive the power they needed to take the gospel to all of creation. If you are a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit lives inside of you to empower you to participate in God’s mission. The life God has called us to is impossible for us to achieve our own strength. His task for us is way beyond our own abilities, talents, and strength.

The strength to walk like Jesus and to do the very things that He did comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within us. His strength allows us to stand in times of difficulty, endure heartache and sorrow, resist temptation, and remain steadfast when the enemy comes against us. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!

Faith. Grace. Strength. These three blessings of God are an unbeatable combination: the ability to believe… the confidence to act… the power to share the gospel. Everything becomes accessible and possible when these spiritual blessings are active in us. When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and surrender to Him as our Lord, we don’t just get a few spiritual blessings. We get them all. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “…no eyes has seen and no ear has heard, and what has never come into a man’s heart, is what God has prepared for those who love Him.” What we need to learn in our walk with the Lord is how to access and walk in what is already ours.

 

 

 

Who Are You?

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The tragedy of modern-day Christianity is our utter ignorance of who we are in Christ Jesus. Even though Jesus has done everything necessary to make us acceptable to God and to gain us access to His throne, too many of us still doubt God’s love for us or whether He will really hear and answer our prayers. Many wonder if they are worthy of being used by God in ministry. We wonder in our hearts, “How could God love me, knowing what I am and what I struggle with?” We struggle to find the abundant life promised by Jesus because we find our identity in the wrong things.

How do you think God sees you right now? I’ve heard a variety of answers. Some would say, “God sees me as a sinner who tries not to sin… but ends up sinning over and over again.” Some have said, “God sees me as a hypocrite.” Others would say, “God sees me as a failure and I am sure that He feels sick when He sees me; disgusted. Disappointed.” Their personal identity and their self-worth are based on their failures and struggles with sin. Others will determine their identities through their appearance, occupation, abilities, family relationships, friends or in their possessions. The problem is that when the thing that they find their identity in changes, they are crushed, even defeated.

A small child colors a picture with crayons and takes it to her mother. Mom oohs and ahhs and says, “That’s beautiful! You’re a genius. I bet someday you will grow up and be a famous artist!” The little girl feels wonderful inside. Her identity at that moment is found in her mother’s approval. Later that day she determines to take her artwork a step farther and colors a much larger picture on the wall in her bedroom. In her mind, she’s thinking that a larger picture equals greater love and acceptance from her mother. Mom comes in and blows a gasket, screaming “You stupid kid! What were you thinking?” This is very confusing to the child. One minute she’s a genius. Now she’s stupid. One minute she’s a great artist and now she’s a vandal!

Later in High School, she excels in music. People at church applaud when she sings, telling her she has the voice of an angel. Her parents have the warm fuzzies when they hear this and so does she. But what happens when she moves to a larger church and discovers that she’s just average? Suddenly she’s depressed. Feels rejected. She’s crushed once again.

But it doesn’t end there. Later in life, she has children of her own and finds great fulfillment in being their mother. It makes her feel good. But what happens when they grow up, move out, and establish homes of their own? What will she feel then? What happens if one of her children disappoint her? What if one of them gets arrested? Suddenly she’s a failure and once again she’s crushed.

God promises us a life beyond amazing and it is found in where, or with whom, we find our identity. If you find your identity in the approval of others – or in our abilities or in our appearance – we will be disappointed. We will never experience the abundant life God has planned for us. What I am trying to say is that if you let God define who you are, you will find the lasting peace and the fullness of joy your heart desires. What matters is how God sees you.

The Apostle Paul, writing in Ephesians 1:1-2 declares that we are saints. Saints are people who have been made holy by God. Every true follower of Jesus is a saint. Every Christian has been set apart from the world and made holy by the perfect righteousness of Christ. As a matter of fact, after our conversion from death to life in Christ Jesus, we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ (Isa. 61:10).  God sees us as someone who has never sinned and who has always obeyed! Because of who we are in Christ we can come into God’s presence with confidence, knowing that He will welcome us and hear our prayers!

This Is You

When we really understand our identity in Christ—who we are in Him—it changes the way we think and live. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” That same verse in The Living Bible says, “When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand-new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!” Do you know how special you are in God’s eyes? Here’s what the Bible says about YOU once you have a new identity in Christ:

  • You are His own special possession. (1 Peter 2:9, Deuteronomy 14:2)
  • You are chosen, handpicked by the God who created the universe. (1 Peter 2:9, Jeremiah 1:5, Ephesians 1:3-4)
  • You are treasured. (Deuteronomy 7:6 14:2, 26:18)
  • You are irreplaceable. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
  • You are loved with an everlasting love. (1 John 4:19, 4:10, 3:16, Romans 5:8, 8:35-39)
  • You are worth dying for. (1 John 3:16, Romans 5:7-9)
  • You are forgiven. (Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:9, Romans 8:1, 33-39)
  • You are His child. (1 John 3:1, Galatians 3:26)
  • You are secured for all eternity. (2 Corinthians 1:22, John 10:28-29)
  • You are set free. (Romans 6:18, Galatians 5:1)
  • You are precious to Him. (Isaiah 43:4)
  • You are set apart. (John 15:16, 19, I Peter 2:9)
  • You have been invited to join Him in His mission to redeem the world (Matt. 28:19-20)

Just think about that for a minute. Don’t skim over it. Don’t read them like they’re the same words you heard in Sunday school. This is YOU. If you’re in Christ, this is who YOU are. This is your permanent identity. It can never be removed, messed up, forsaken, taken away, or changed.

Paul opens his letter to the church at Ephesus, “To the faithful saints in Christ Jesus at Ephesus.” There are just two types of people in this world. There are those that are in Adam and those that are in Christ. Their identity is determined by with whom they are identified. We read in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.”

What does it mean then, to be in Christ or to be in Adam? First, to be “in” someone means that he is the head of your family. As such, he gives you his name, his inheritance, his destiny and most of all, his nature. Every human being is born into this world “in Adam.” That means we are born with the same nature, name, inheritance, and destiny that Adam possessed at the fall. We are born spiritually dead, with a sinful nature, destined to spend eternity in hell unless something changes.

The alternative is to be “in Christ.” Those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior are in Christ. They share His name, His inheritance, His destiny, and in His nature. Check out what Romans 5:18 declares: “So then, as through one trespass there is one condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is life-giving justification. For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through one man’s obedience the many were made righteous.”

Read this carefully: At the moment of our conversion the Holy Spirit of God baptizes us into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This is something that happens instantaneously to every Christian the moment of their spiritual birth: They are now totally identified with Christ.

As a result, they are no longer in Adam, but rather, In Christ. When Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 5:17 that we are new creations, he wasn’t referring to our behavior. He was talking about our identity. We are now in Christ! As I learn to live within my new identity my behavior will change. Before my conversion, I was in Adam – dead in my trespasses and sin. But now, I am in Christ – spiritually alive, loved by God, chosen to join His mission and to proclaim the gospel. I am a masterpiece, hand-crafted by God in my mother’s womb. Those truths should impact my life!

Who are you?

Let me ask again, “Who are you?” Better yet, “How does God see you?” Are you in Christ – sharing His name, His inheritance, His destiny, and in His nature? Do you see that you are loved with an everlasting love? Do you realize that you can come boldly into God’s presence with your concerns? Do you see that God has a plan for your life?

Or, are you in Adam? If so, the Bible declares that you will inherit his destiny unless something changes. Are you ready for a change? Are you tired of allowing the world to define who you are? If you acknowledge your need for a Savior; if you confess that you are a sinner who has rejected God and His rightful place in your life and if you believe that Jesus is the sinless Son of God and that His death upon the cross paid for the sins of humanity, you can be moved from being in Adam to being in Christ. You can be saved from your sin and its punishment. All you have to do is ask God to save you from your sins and, with the power of the Holy Spirit, repent (turn) from your sins. Salvation is a gift received by grace through faith in the work of Jesus upon the cross!

You can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin as my substitute and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer today be sure that you tell someone in your life who walks with Jesus. They will want to rejoice with you and guide you through a few steps to help you understand better what you did.

 

Family Renewal Weekend

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Marble Springs Baptist Church would like to invite you and your family to join us for our Family Renewal Weekend, beginning October 26th and continuing until Sunday morning, October 29th. Our guest speaker will be Dr. David Wheeler, Professor of Evangelism at Liberty University School of Divinity. David is a gifted communicator, highly published author, and a passionate servant for the Father. We are sure that you will enjoy him! Here is a glimpse of the weekend’s activities:

Man Church

On Thursday evening, October 26th, David will be our featured speaker for an event we are calling Man Church. The event is a worship service designed just for guys (Children-Seniors). We will begin at 5:45 p.m. with some outdoor activities and will share a meal at 6:15. Our worship will begin at 7 p.m. In this session, David will be challenging men to man up and be the spiritual leaders their families need. It will be a great event, and we would love to have men of all ages join us. If you plan to attend, could you let us know? We want to make sure we have enough food! The office phone number is 828-837-5332.

Family Night

On Friday evening, October 27th, David will be speaking to the family from Proverbs 22:6. In his message, he will provide four essential principles for establishing a godly family in an age of uncertainty. Our worship service will begin at 7 p.m. Childcare will be available for children up to age 8.  For more information or for transportation, please call the church office at 828-837-5332.

Youth Night

On Saturday evening, October 28th, David will be speaking to our youth (grades 6-12), calling them to redefine normal by fully saying yes to God in every part of their lives. Our activities will begin at 5 p.m. with a great time of recreation (Bubble Soccer, Bounce houses, tricycle races, and plenty of food). Our worship service begins at 7 p.m. and will be led by youth from various churches in the county. For more information or for a ride to the event, please contact James Vaught at 828-837-5332.

Sunday Morning

We will conclude our weekend on Sunday morning, October 29th. David will be speaking to the whole church beginning at 11 a.m., answering the question, “How do you face an uncertain tomorrow?” Following our worship service, we will have a covered-dish meal. Please make plans to join us!

 

Across from the Dollar General Store in Marble – http://www.marblesprings.org

Do You Believe?

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Do you believe in miracles? Big and small? Do you believe that God can alter the course of history and the course of your life? I do. He does it all the time. Every day people are being physically healed. Everyday food and money show up at just the right moment. Every day, all over the world, people’s lives are being transformed – addictions are being broken, marriages are being restored, rebellious children are coming home.

Think about the miracles performed by Jesus. Water was turned into wine. He healed the sick. He healed an invalid. He fed the 5,000 with a boy’s lunch. He walked on water and He calmed the storm. A man born blind was given sight.  A man who had been dead for four days was brought back to life! And then, in John 14:12 Jesus declared, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.”

The miracles of Jesus are more than historical facts. Every miracle not only reveals what Jesus did, past tense. They reveal what He wants to do in your life, present tense. What He’s done before, He wants to do again. And if we live like the Scriptures define, God will do what He did.

For the Glory of God

Most of the miracles recorded in Scripture require a catalyst – someone willing to be used by God to usher in the miraculous. That’s where you and I come in. God wants to use us to usher in the miraculous. But there are certain requirements that you and I must meet. First, we need to place all that we are, and all that we have into the hands of Jesus. Second, I shared that God is in the business of connecting His followers with those in need of a miracle through divine appointments. Followers of Jesus must be in tune with the Spirit of God. Next, I shared with you that the people God uses for His glory and the good of others believe beyond a shadow of doubt that God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or dream of!

John 11:1-44 – The Raising of Lazarus From the Dead

John begins our story by identifying Lazarus, by declaring that he was from Bethany of Judea and that he was the brother of Mary and Martha. You remember them, don’t you? The two sisters who were complete opposites? One was a worker bee – the other, much more relational – the one who wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus. We discover that Lazarus is sick; so sick that his sisters send someone to tell Jesus. We don’t know what’s wrong with him, only that he was near death. Their message was simple, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” They believed that Jesus was not only capable of healing their brother, but that His love for Lazarus would compel Him to heal him.

Jesus hears their message and declares in verse 4, “This sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified in it.” Jesus wasn’t saying that Lazarus wouldn’t die. Most likely he was already dead. What He was saying was that the end result, the final outcome, would not be death, but rather, the glory of God! Sometimes sickness and even death may be the will of God because it brings Him glory. In this case, Lazarus’s circumstances would bring glory to God.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed two more days in the place that He was (Verse 6). Now that sounds a little unloving to me. What about you? Why would Jesus not heal Him on the spot? He has already proven that He didn’t have to be present to heal someone. Why didn’t Jesus leave immediately and travel the day’s journey to Bethany? I have a few suggestions. First, God’s delays strengthen our faith. They force us to trust Him. Second, the delay actually affirmed that Lazarus was dead. An important key to God’s future glory. And finally, His delay reminds us that Jesus worked on the Father’s timetable, not man’s.

After two days had passed, Jesus informs His disciples that they were headed to Bethany which was close to Jerusalem. The disciples were quick to point out that the religious leaders were determined to kill him! Jesus replies in verse 9, “Aren’t there twelve hours in a day?”  Just as no one can lengthen or shorten a day, Jesus was saying that no one can lengthen or shorten His ministry and life on earth. God is sovereign and He has an appointed time for all things; including Jesus’ death and departure.

Jesus then declares to His disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am on my way to wake him.” Lazarus was dead but Jesus was going to raise him from the dead! The delay served a purpose. Verse 15 tells us that the delay would strengthen the faith of the disciples. The resurrection of Lazarus from the dead would do far more to strengthen the disciples’ faith than a healing alone would have done. Jesus was pointing out that the disciples needed a powerful miracle to strengthen their faith.

When they arrived in Bethany they discovered that Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. The Jews believed that the soul of a dead person hovered around the body for three days hoping to reenter it and that on the fourth day after the body had begun to decompose, it departed. Only then was a death irreversible. Lazarus had begun to decompose. He was dead.

When Mary and Martha heard that Jesus was coming into the village, Martha, the busy one, ran to meet Jesus. When she saw Him, she declared in verse 21, “Lord, had you been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Obviously, she was heartbroken over his death but I don’t think she was rebuking Jesus. I believe that she was declaring her belief in His ability to heal the sick. I am sure that the idea of Jesus raising her brother from the dead had never crossed her mind! Jesus responds, “Your brother will rise again.”

She acknowledges that Lazarus would rise from the dead in the future on the last day. Jesus points out that He is the resurrection and the life, challenging her to trust Him as the one who had power over death. Boy, was she in for a surprise!

Martha departs and Mary returns for a similar conversation. When Jesus saw her crying, and the crowd with her, He became angry. Why? To be honest, I am not sure, but I believe that it has something to do with the fact that death and sorrow were not part of the Father’s original plan. Man had chosen to sin and in doing so, brought suffering into the world. That makes Him angry.

Where have you put him?” He asks. As they led Jesus to the grave, scripture says that Jesus wept. Jesus didn’t burst into tears and start wailing like the mourners but rather, He burst into tears quietly. His love for Lazarus was real and the terrible impact of sin upon the world was enough to break His heart.  When they got to the cave where Lazarus was buried He commands them to remove the stone. Now that’s not a good idea. As a matter of fact, Martha reminds Jesus, “Lord, he already stinks. It’s been four days.”

Jesus responds with a mild rebuke, “Did I not say that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Jesus is challenging Martha and Mary to stop focusing on their problem, the death of their brother, and to focus on Him. We do that as well. When things go wrong we tend to focus on the problem and not upon the greatness of our God. Reassured by Jesus’ words, she gives her consent to move the stone.

After the stone was rolled away, Jesus raised His eyes to heaven and spoke to the Father, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent me.” Concluding His prayer Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And at the exact moment, Lazarus came out of the tomb. Alive!

Okay, let me give it to you straight. Lazarus didn’t walk out of the tomb, he came out doing the bunny hop! When the Jews buried someone they first tied their ankles together. And then, they tied their arms to the side of their body. Then they wrapped the deceased in strips of linen cloth. Lots of it! (About 100 pounds of them) Some scholars believe that they paid special attention to the head, wrapping it with cloth until it measured more than a foot in diameter. I bet you’re thinking like me – sounds like a mummy! Right? I thought so.

Based on what I just told you about Jewish burial customs, it seems to me that that two miracles happened that day, not one. First, Lazarus was brought back to life. The man with the stinking flesh came back to life and his decaying body was restored! But how did Lazarus get out of the tomb? He was in something like a full body cast! That’s the second miracle. Lazarus didn’t walk out of the tomb. He hopped out. Now that’s funny!

Do you believe this?

At the end of verse 26, after declaring that He was the resurrection and the life, Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe this?” Martha’s response was simple but life-altering, “Yes Lord, I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” That’s the question God is asking you and me today, “Do you believe?” The answer determines your eternal destiny. In Romans 10:9 God declares, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Saved from what? Saved from the punishment you deserve for your sin. Saved from death. Saved from a broken relationship with God. Saved from spending an eternity in the lake of fire, separated from God. If you believe.

God raises the dead from the grave. He raises broken dreams from the dead. He resurrects bad relationships. And, He raises marriages from the ashes. He is a God of second chances and like Lazarus, God wants to give you a second chance. If you will let Him, He will give you your life back.  If you believe.

You can receive God’s free gift of salvation by praying a prayer like the one below. Although praying the prayer doesn’t save you, it should reflect the desire of your heart. And, if it is your desire, the Bible states that you are saved from your sin:

Dear God, I’m a sinner and know that my sins have destroyed our relationship. I acknowledge that I deserve death, separation from you for eternity. I’m sorry for my sins. I want to turn from my sins but cannot do so in my own power. I believe Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe He died on a cross for my sin and that You raised Him to life. I trust Him as my Savior and desire to follow Him as Lord from this day forward. Jesus, I put my trust in You and I submit my life to You. Holy Spirit, come into my life and be my guide. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

Do You Want to Get Well?

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We all have challenges to face. Life isn’t the way we pictured it. We all struggle with sin and with disappointment. Maybe your marriage is a wreck. Maybe your kids are giving you fits. Maybe it has something to do with work. Or, with your finances. Maybe you, like the invalid in our text, have been in a bad situation for years. I believe that God wants to work a miracle in your life. He wants so much more for each of us than we can imagine. If we’re going to experience the miraculous some things have got to change. You cannot keep on doing what you have always done and expect different results!

In John 5, we read that Jesus and His disciples had traveled to Jerusalem for one of the mandatory religious festivals. By the sheep-gate, which is located in the north-east corner of the city, near the Temple, there was a two-pool complex about the size of a football field. It was called the Pool of Bethsaida. It had five porches around it to keep people out of the weather. It was a natural gathering place for the people of Jerusalem – especially the blind, the lame and the paralyzed.

Those in need of healing came there every day because they believed that if the water was stirred, moved if you will, and if you were the first person into the pool, you would experience healing. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Rumor had it that the water was stirred by an angel. Not sure if it’s true. We’re not even sure if anyone was ever healed by being first. What I do know is that when things get bad, you and I are more apt to try anything if we think it will bring healing!

There was a man there who had been sick for 38 years. Not sure what his ailment was; he may have been paralyzed or extremely weak. What we do know is that he has been there a long time and that he couldn’t get himself into the pool when the stirring occurred. Sadly, he believed that his only hope was getting into the pool before anyone else. He was so weak that it wasn’t going to happen. And yet, every day like clockwork he went to the pool in hopes of being healed.

Does it sound familiar to you? How many people do you know who keep on doing the same things over and over again believing that it will one day produce different results? That’s the definition of insanity. We do it all the time. We know something has got to change. We know that our marriages need to get better, that we have to address our addictions, or that our kids need to be straightened out – but we keep on doing what we have always done expecting different results.

If you want God to do something new in your life, you cannot keep doing the same old thing. Jesus is calling out to you and me that “with God all things are possible.” He’s calling you to a step of faith, a new way of life. Healing comes on God’s terms, not ours. If we’re going to experience the miraculous, you and I will need to do a few things.

First, you have to determine if you really want to change. Jesus asked the invalid, “Do you want to change?” At first glance, it may seem like a silly question – of course he does! But think through this with me. Do you really want your marriage to be stronger? Do you really want to raise godly children? Do you want what God wants for your life and your family? No matter what goal you’re trying to achieve or what problem you’re trying to solve, you have to want to change – you have to be willing to pay the price. And, to pay the price, you have to see what life can be like with God in control. God declared in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you… plans for your well-being, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” God has a plan for your life!

Second, you and I need an accurate understanding of who God is and what He is capable of. The invalid didn’t have a clue who Jesus was. On that day he had no idea that the one standing before him was the Messiah, the only begotten Son of God, who turned water into wine, who gave sight to the blind and healed the sick. John 1:3 tells us that all things were created by Jesus! The one who spoke the world into existence can change your life – Jesus can make the impossible possible. In Matthew 16, Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” He then followed up with the big question, “Who do you say that I am?” Who is Jesus to you? Is He Lord and Master?

Third, we must recognize how helpless we are apart from God which means we must be honest about our condition. In Psalm 51 David cried out to God, “Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:2-4). He didn’t try to excuse himself or sugarcoat things, and neither should we. The greatest holdup to healing in your life might be you!

Fourth, if you want God to do a new thing in your life you cannot keep on doing the same old things. The man in our text had been an invalid for 38 years. And I imagine, for many of those years he kept coming to the pool, thinking that today was going to be the day. What was he thinking? If you’re way isn’t working don’t you think it’s time to do things God’s way?  In Isaiah 55:8-9 God declares, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Fifth, you have to realize that healing comes on God’s terms and not ours. Jesus commanded the invalid to get up, pick up your bedroll and walk. The directions were clear. Stand up on your own two feet. Bend over and pick up your mat. And now, walk. Could you imagine what was going through his mind? He hadn’t walked in 38 years! He didn’t know how to walk nor did he have the muscle strength to do so. No matter what your situation is, God’s Word has clear instructions on how to handle it. The question isn’t whether you’re capable of doing what needs to be done, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. The question is, “Will you follow His instructions?” God promises in Psalm 37:5, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desire of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him, and he will act.”

Do you want to get well?

  • Decide – is it time to get well?
  • Take inventory – who is God to you?
  • Be honest – you cannot fix things on your own
  • Stop doing what you’ve always done
  • Choose to live in obedience to the will of God

 

Divine Appointments

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I believe in miracles. Big ones and small ones. Ones where God shows up and others where God shows off. I am a believer in the miraculous. I also believe that many, if not most of the miracles recorded in Scripture require a catalyst – someone willing to be used by God to usher in the miraculous – a miracle worker. Today we continue our quest to live in the miraculous by looking at a second principle regarding the miraculous:  God is in the business of connecting His followers with those in need of a miracle through divine appointments. I am saying that more times than not, God has you right where He wants you.

There was a group from a church on a mission trip to the Galapagos Islands which are located off of the coast of Ecuador. Long before they had left on their trip the group had been praying that God would set up divine appointments for each member of the team. They had been hopping the islands for a week, sharing the gospel with people who had never heard of Jesus. On one particular day, the team got up early for a forty-five-minute bus trip across the island of Santa Cruz to catch a ferry to a neighboring island. Only one paved road connected the port city and the ferry, with virtually no civilization in between them. That’s why they were surprised to see a hitch-hiker by the side of the road. The bus driver stopped and picked up a middle-aged man named Raul.

Raul could have sat anywhere he wanted to on the bus, there was plenty of room. As it was, he sat down next to Adam, one of the nicest and most caring people on the trip. He was also one of the few people on the bus who spoke Spanish fluently. In the midst of their conversation, Raul shared with Adam that he had thought seriously about committing suicide the night before, that he had gone as far as to tie heavy cement bricks to his feet as he sat on an ocean pier. He explained to Adam that his wife of 30 years had left him. Adam did more than listen to Raul; he understood how he felt since a few years earlier his wife of 15 years had left him and he too was suicidal at the time. Raul asked him, “How did you get through it?” Adam told him that he had turned to Jesus Christ and that Christ has given him a new life.

Raul explained that he felt like God had never been there for him, asking, “Where was God yesterday when my wife left me?” Adam pointed out that God had been there the whole time and that He was there especially now. He pointed out that God had sent a busload of Americans to his island and it was that bus that had picked him. He explained that the road had very little traffic. What were the odds of them being there when he needed them? He explained that Raul had sat next to a man who not only understood the pain of abandonment but next to one who was fluent in his language as well. God had brought Raul to the road and Adam to the island so that Raul could hear the gospel. On a human level, the two should never have met. You cannot manufacture those kinds of meetings.

We read in Acts 8:4-8 that the persecution of the early church by Saul drove Philip, one of the original deacons, to Samaria where he shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. The crowds paid attention and many people came to faith in Christ! The demon possessed were set free, the paralyzed walked again, and the sick were healed. Luke declares that as a result of Philip’s ministry there was great joy in the city! God had, through persecution, placed Philip right where He needed him.

We read in Acts 8:26 that an angel of God spoke to Philip in the midst of his success, commanding him to “get up and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Now there are a few things that are a little bit strange about this request. First, there are two roads to Gaza. The one the angel tells Philip to take is the desert road, the one seldom used by people. He could not have picked an emptier stretch of road. Second, God is calling Philip to leave what appears to be a vibrant, life-giving ministry, to go somewhere else. Finally, God doesn’t tell him where he’s going.  Why would God command this successful missionary to pack up his bags and travel south to a seldom-used road in the heat of the day?

Strange as it may appear to the human mind, Philip gets up and obeys – immediately. You recall I said that God uses ordinary people, people who are willing to put all that they are and all that they have into the hands of Jesus? Philip is one of those guys. God knew that there would be a man, a foreigner, traveling that deserted road who had a hunger for truth and a need for the Gospel. He also knew that the man would receive the gospel and take the good news of Jesus back to his country. Philip knew none of that. All he knew was that God had spoken and that he needed to obey.

As Philip traveled south he came across an Ethiopian man who was a eunuch and a high official of the queen of Ethiopia. He was a man of power and prestige. He was also a man who had a vast emptiness in his soul. He had been to Jerusalem on a spiritual pilgrimage but had discovered nothing. He had gone away just as empty as he had come. Because he was a eunuch he was unable to participate in the Jewish worship services. At best, he would have been allowed to attend the synagogues and study the scriptures. Because he was a eunuch and a foreigner he would have been an outsider forever.

As he traveled back to his country he was reading a scroll which contained the book of Isaiah. As Philip watched this man pass by, the Spirit of God commanded him to “Go and join that chariot.” As he approached the eunuch, Philip heard him reading from the book of Isaiah so he asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” To which he replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

The Eunuch invited Philip to join him in his chariot. Once he was situated Philip explained to him that Isaiah was speaking of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – of Jesus Christ. He shared with him that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s standards and that what we deserve for our rebellion is death – complete and total separation from God. He shared with him that God demonstrated His love for us however by sending His Son Jesus to die upon a cross for our sins, that Jesus hung upon that cross as our substitute. He then shared with him that if he were to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, he could be saved from the penalty for his sins. How do I know? Look at the eunuch’s response in verse 37. He declares, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!” The eunuch then ordered the chariot to stop and they both went into a pool of water where Philip baptized the eunuch!

Let me pause for a minute and ask you, “What are the odds of a man who fully understands the gospel meeting up with a man who is not only seeking God but reading a specific passage in the Book of Isaiah that describes the life of Jesus? What are the odds? What are the odds that Philip would finish his explanation of the gospel right where there was a pool of water deep enough for a baptism? Slim to none apart from God. But with God, all things are possible.

God is in the business of connecting His followers with those in need of a miracle. To put it another way, God uses divine appointments to bring hope to the hopeless. Philip hears an angel of the Lord speak and he obeys. He meets an Ethiopian eunuch on the way, interprets a passage of Scripture, shares the gospel, and baptizes him all on the same day! Oh, don’t let me forget, God then transports Philip to another place (Think Star Trek – Beam me up Scotty!) while the eunuch takes the gospel to his country.

From our text today we can find four “Be’s” that will place us in the position where God can use us for His glory and the good of the lost.

First, be listening for the Spirit to speak. Be alert. We read in verse 26, “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip…” I believe that most people will never have this type of an experience because they are not good listeners! They’re not regularly tuned into the voice of God. How do you get there? First, turn down the noise. Get alone with God so that you can hear from Him. Turn off the distractions. Seek His face daily. Second, adjust your dial to God’s voice. Get into the Word of God! Third, pray for lost people by name. They’re all around us! Finally, ask God to grant you divine appointments. Let Him know you are a willing vessel!

Second, be active in the world. Philip left a vibrant ministry in Samaria. In doing so, he put himself in a place where God could use him. I am saying that you and I need to get out of the house! Get involved with the ministries of your church, go to football games, get involved in the life of your community. Why? Because the lost aren’t going to come to your house and ask you for help! Jesus said GO! To not be involved in the making of disciples, to not intentionally invest your life in the lost, is a sin.

Third, be expectant. You and I must believe that God is not only passionate about the lost, we must believe that God orchestrates divine appointments to connect the lost and the hurting with His followers. Philip was traveling on the road to Gaza when he saw the Ethiopian man. He was so passionate about sharing the gospel, so hungry to be used by God that the angel was able to direct his steps. I believe that God is at work in the lives of those who don’t know Him. And, because I believe that, I try to identify where God is at work in the people I meet!

Fourth, be equipped. We read in verse 35 that after the Ethiopian confessed that he didn’t understand the text and that Philip “proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that scripture.” 1 Peter 3:15 commands us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.”

God uses divine appointments and everyday folks to reach people and experience the miraculous. Case in point: A man on a business trip was assigned a middle seat on an airplane. Tired and wanting sleep, he was irritated when the young girl with Down Syndrome seated next to him kept asking questions: “Mister, do you brush your teeth?” “Yes,” he replied. “That’s good,” she said, “People who don’t – LOSE their teeth.”

Then she asked, “Mister, do you smoke?” “No,” he answered. “Good, because people who DO get sick,” she said. After a brief silence, she turned to him again, “Mister, do you know Jesus?” “Yes, I DO,” he answered. “That’s good,” she added. “People who DO, go to heaven.” Though deeply touched, he settled back, hoping there would be no more questions. Just then she asked, “Mister…will you ask the man next to you if HE brushes HIS teeth?”

Well, you know what happened next. When she came to the question about Jesus, the second man answered, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.” And for the remainder of the flight, the first man got to share his faith with the second man – all because of a little girl with unusual persistence. God makes Himself known through ordinary people who make themselves available to God.

Living in the Miraculous

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There are days in life that define who you are and set direction for your life. We might not understand their significance at the moment, but the hand of God is clearly upon them. For me those days are marked in my mind with permanent ink: The day I married my wife. The day we left Wisconsin for Tennessee. The day I gave my life to Jesus, and the day God called us to be missionaries for the North American Mission Board. Scattered among those days, sprinkled like raindrops on the windshield of a car, are a wealth of miracles – miraculous moments orchestrated by God that were made possible by ordinary people who had been transformed by the gospel. They were people who heard the voice of God and obeyed His call to live life for the Father’s glory and the good of others.

You see I believe in miracles. Big ones and small ones. Ones where God shows up and others where God shows off. I am believer and am grateful for those who help make them happen.

In downtown Birmingham Alabama is a ministry called The Dream Center which has an amazing ministry to prostitutes. The prostitutes in Birmingham know where to go when they have a problem or are in need. One morning, as the director was walking out the front door of her home, she felt a prompting to go back into her home and grab a pair of wooly socks. It was so strange, and so clear, that she knew it was God. So, she turned around, grabbed the wooly socks, tucked them into her purse and headed to the dream center.

When she got to the center she found a prostitute passed out on the front steps. She carried the woman inside and called 911. As she held the woman in her arms, she slowly woke up. That’s when the director asked her, “Can I get you anything?” Without hesitation, the shivering woman said, “A pair of wooly socks.” (Come on now, what are the chances?) That’s when the director reached into her purse and pulled out the pair of wooly socks. The woman cracked a smile and softly declared, “They even match my outfit!”

The Catalyst

One of the things that I have noticed in Scripture is that many, if not most, of the miracles recorded require a catalyst – someone willing to be used by God to usher in the miraculous – a miracle worker. The paralytic needed four friends to carry him to Jesus and to lower him through the roof. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was needed at the first miracle. She didn’t tell her Son what to do, she simply pointed out that there wasn’t any wine and got Jesus involved. The Philippian jailer needed the praises of Paul and Silas to find salvation. The right words spoken at the right time, or a step of obedience when the Spirit nudges, may be all that another needs to experience the power of God in their lives.

Hebrews 10:24 commands you and I to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” To spur someone is to nudge them in the right direction. Sometimes it’s a pat on the back. Sometimes it is a kick in the pants. But either way, I can assure you that all around you are people who need a nudge towards God’s best! And it starts with you and I getting involved in people’s lives and obeying the nudges of the Holy Spirit.

Feeding the 5,000

Miracles were given by God to accomplish a variety of objectives. Some were done to confirm the truthfulness of the gospel message, others to bring help to those in need. Some miracles served to remove hindrances to people’s ministries… All were done to bring glory to God. In John 6 there is the story of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus had been in Jerusalem where he ticked off the religious folks by healing a crippled man on the Sabbath. As a result, they began to persecute Him.

Sometime later Jesus, needing rest, crossed over to the far eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. Jesus goes up on a mountain top and sits down with His disciples. Looking up, He saw a huge crowd coming their way. He turned to Phillip, who had been raised close by, and asks him, “Where can we get enough food to feed them?” Now Jesus knew the answer. He was just testing Philip and the rest of His disciples. His goal was to strengthen their faith, to help them see that He was undeniably the Messiah and the Son of God.

Philip, knowing that there wasn’t any place to get that much bread, points out the obvious – “We don’t have enough money… it would take almost a year’s worth of wages!” Rather than focusing upon Jesus, who had already done some amazing miracles, Philip confesses that the situation was hopeless. You know the feeling, don’t you? The night’s darker than it has ever been. It appears that all hope is gone. Sure, God works miracles, but this case is different. It’s so dark. Listen to me, hope isn’t gone. Sure, it’s dark but God knows what you’re going through. Jesus knew that there wasn’t enough money or a place to buy bread. It’s how He likes it! It’s when He does His best work.

Andrew, unlike Philip, at least tried to find a solution. He tells Jesus that there’s a boy in the crowd who brought a lunch! “He’s got five loaves and two fish!” he declared. In verse 9 Andrew states, “But how far will that go with so many people?” I’m sure that the rest of the disciples agreed with Philip and Andrew. Not one of them responded by affirming the power of Jesus to provide. They had forgotten the turning of water into wine and the healing of the official’s son in Cana of Galilee. They had forgotten the healings performed by Jesus at the pool of Bethesda. Each and every one of them failed the test of their faith.

Jesus, instead of rebuking them for their lack of faith, puts them to work. “Have them sit on the grass…” Their faith may have failed, but not their obedience. Despite their doubts, they obeyed Jesus’ command and sat about 5,000 men and their families upon the grass. (The total of people sitting on the grass was more like 20,000 people!) Jesus rang the dinner bell even though there wasn’t anything at the table.  Jesus then took the boy’s lunch and thanked His Father for the meal they were about to eat! He thanks God for what hasn’t happened yet! Now that’s faith!!!

The disciples took the broken bread and fish from Jesus and begin to distribute them to the crowd. Don’t miss verse 11 which declares that they gave the people as much as they wanted! When they all had enough to eat, Jesus commands His disciples, “Gather the pieces left over. Let nothing be wasted.” Guess how much was left? Twelve baskets full – one for each disciple! In an amazing display of God’s abundant grace, the leftovers far exceeded the boys small lunch. Jesus not only fed the crowd, but He provided the next day’s meal for the disciples.

Living As A Catalyst for The Miraculous

Did you catch the miracle in the text? No, it’s not the feeding of 20,000 plus people. No, it’s not the provision of the twelve baskets of food for His disciples. The greatest miracle is that the boy shared his lunch! Now that’s huge. Kids don’t share. Their favorite word is “mine.” I’m sure that he could see that two fish couldn’t satisfy the crowd and yet, he placed what he had in the hands of Jesus. God doesn’t do the supernatural until we do the unnatural. The 20,000 had their bellies filled, the disciples got lunch for tomorrow, and the boy – he became a catalyst for the miraculous!

If we’re going to see God do miraculous things in our community – if we’re going to see broken families restored and addictions defeated, we need people like this child. We need people willing to place all that they are and all that have in the hands of Jesus. God desires to use us to be a catalyst for the miraculous. He calls the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the strong and the weak to the role. There are some principles in our text that will help us experience the miraculous.

First, seek intimacy with God, not miracles. As Jesus went about the region of Galilee performing miracles more and more people followed Him seeking a blessing for their lives. I understand the desire. Everyone has needs. But if you and I are going to experience the miraculous we must seek intimacy with God, not miracles – we must follow Jesus. I am convinced that if you follow Jesus close enough, and long enough, and far enough you’ll experience the miraculous. The crowd came for a moment, for a quick fix. The disciples however walked with Jesus daily.

Second, we must learn to recognize the voice of God and obey the nudges of the Holy Spirit. We read in John 10:3-5, “The shepherd calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought all His own outside, He goes ahead of them. The sheep follow Him because they recognize His voice. They will never follow a stranger; instead they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize the voice of strangers.” As we seek intimacy with God we will learn to recognize the voice of God and, as we do, He will lead us into the miraculous. His Spirit desires to direct our lives. Although Jesus’ disciples failed the test of their faith, they were still obedient to His commands. He directed them into the miraculous.

Third, place what you have, no matter how little, into the hands of Jesus. Jesus was able to feed the crowd and provide for His disciples because a small boy placed what little he had into the hands of Jesus. It starts with the offering of our lives. Jesus said in Mark 9:35 that if anyone desires to be great in God’s eyes, he must be the servant of all. He must be willing to sacrifice all that he is and all that he has for the glory of God and the good of others. God doesn’t do the supernatural until we do the unnatural.

Fourth, praise God and give thanks for the things you don’t have yet. Jesus rang the dinner bell, gathering the crowd in the grass in groups of 50 and 100 before He had the food! He broke the bread and began to distribute it among the people before it had multiplied. He did the same with the fish – you can’t cut two fish into 20,000 pieces! Take your eyes off the size of the task and your abilities and focus upon the greatness of God and His ability to provide. Celebrate His provision in advance.

Finally, count and share the blessings of God. This may sound like a no brainer but we need to learn how to identify exactly what God is doing in our midst. In our text 5,000 men were fed with 5 loaves of bread and two fish. They ate all they wanted and there were 12 baskets of leftovers, one for each disciple. It’s important that we identify and celebrate what God is doing in our lives! Speaking about the miraculous is how we loan our faith to others. Our testimonies of what God has done for us become prophesies of what God will do for others in the future!

Miracles still happen today. God uses ordinary people who are surrendered to His will to do the miraculous. The key? Follow Jesus, obey the nudges of the Spirit, place all that you are and all that you have in the Father’s hand, praise God in advance and finally, tell His story – give Him the glory He deserves! If you do you too will experience the miraculous!

As Jesus Has Done To Me

Open bible with man and cross

The gospel of Jesus Christ does more than just save us from the penalty of our sins… it transforms our lives and how we relate to others. In Matthew 18:21-33 Jesus illustrates for us the simple truth that it is impossible to experience the gospel and not see and treat others differently. Our text opens just after Jesus had just taught on how to deal with relational conflict. He states that if someone sins against you, you’re to go to them in private and seek reconciliation. If that doesn’t work you take witnesses and then if all else fails, bring them before the church. Peter must have been processing what Jesus said because he comes to Jesus with a question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Peter is asking a legitimate question. If someone sins against us continually, is there a point where we draw the line – where we stop forgiving them?

Jesus’s answer must have floored Peter.  “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.” Peter thought he was showing great love when he suggested that he forgive 7 times and now Jesus is saying that the standard was 490 times! I imagine Peter was thinking, “I can’t keep track of 490 offenses!” And to that Jesus would reply, “That’s the point. There is no limit to the amount of forgiveness we are to extend to others.” Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:5 that love keeps no record of wrong.

Jesus, beginning in verse 23 of Matthew 18, uses a parable to reinforce the principle of forgiveness by telling the story of a King who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. One of the servants seemed to have created quite a tab! Maybe he stole it, we’re not sure. What is sure is that he owed the king 10 million dollars! The servant seemed to have spent it all and therefore, he couldn’t pay the king back. To settle the account the King commanded that the servant and his entire family be sold into slavery to pay at least a portion of the debt. Sadly, his family would have been in debt for generations.

The servant responded by throwing himself on the ground and crying out hysterically for time to pay the bill. I imagine those standing around felt uncomfortable, maybe embarrassed for the servant. And then something rather strange happened, “Then the master of that servant had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.”

What? That’s right. The King looked at the man and, filled with compassion, forgave him of his debt. Every penny. All ten million! He took his bill and stamped it paid in full. Was it deserved? Nope. Did he earn it? Nope. No one could believe it – especially the servant. He was set free. He felt like a man who had just dodged a bullet. Shortly after leaving the presence of the king he runs into a co-worker – one who owed him $3. We read in verse 28, “That servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’” Instead of extending grace or sharing with his friend the joy of his release – he sought justice. I bet you’re thinking, “How could a man forgiven of a ten million debt treat someone who owed him $3 like that?” And that is exactly Jesus’ point. The debtor falls to his knees and begs for mercy. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The creditor in this case, however, wasn’t willing – no compassion. He threw this one into jail until he could pay what he owed.

The parable doesn’t end there. Some other servants of the king saw what was going on. They were disgusted. So, they went and reported what they saw to the King. Calling the servant into his presence, the King declared, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The king begins by pointing out that the forgiveness he had received wasn’t deserved – it had been a gift – given at the request of the servant. He begged for forgiveness. Sound familiar? While you and I were yet sinners Christ died for us. As our substitute, Jesus paid our debt. Did we deserve it? Nope. It was an undeserved gift granted to a rebellious child.

I love the King’s question, “In light of the forgiveness you have received, shouldn’t you extend forgiveness to others?” For those of us who have had their sins forgiven by Jesus, how can we, who have been forgiven so much, not forgive others? It is impossible to experience the gospel and not see and treat others differently. As Christ has done for us, we will do to others. Why? Because the love of Christ compels us!

The key to extending grace to others is related to our understanding of the depth of our own sin. The Bible states that we all, like sheep, have gone astray. Each and every one of us has sinned against God – that there isn’t one righteous one among us. We have sinned against God with our lies, with our gossip, and with our gluttony. We have sinned against God with our anger, our lust, our greed and our pride. We skip church, fail to tithe, refuse to invest in others, and let the hungry go unfed. We’ve committed adultery and murder in our hearts. We have failed to live by faith, to share the gospel, and refuse to forgive others. We live in a world that uses God’s name in vain, rejects the authority of God, and worships idols as we have remained silent. We have sinned and sinned greatly.

The apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15 describes himself as the “chief” of all sinners. How could he describe himself that way? What about Judas? What about the Romans? There seems to be a lot of people in history who were greater sinners than Paul. And yet, Paul was telling the truth. From his perspective, he was number one. He was better acquainted with his own sins than he was with the sins of anyone else. When Paul thought of people who needed grace, he thought first of himself, not others.

Typically, most people tend to see others, and not themselves, as the chief sinner. We’re quick to see the depth of sin in others while failing to see our own sin. At the heart of our struggles is the inner desire to see others punished for their sin. How else will they learn from their sin and begin to clean up their lives? Can I ask a question? How did God transform you? Did He punish you for your sin? Nope. Not even close. He extended grace and mercy when we didn’t deserve either. God changed us by pouring out undeserved kindness upon us. While we were yet sinners Christ came and hung in our place. When we experienced the grace of God as expressed upon the cross we were changed.

And that’s how we should treat others. That’s how we help others change. Paul wrote in Romans 12:19-21, “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

Paul is saying that when someone sins against you or if you encounter someone trapped in sin, show them kindness – feed them and give them something to drink. My favorite line is the last, “conquer evil with good.” As Jesus has been to you, you are to be to others. I believe that when the world experiences grace and not condemnation from the church, they will be shocked into an awareness of the gospel! Jesus, in Luke 6:27-29, states, “But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also.

Jesus says that we are to love those who seek to harm us. We’re to bless those who curse us. We’re to pray for those who mistreat us. He goes so far as to say, “If someone hits you on the cheek, offer them the other cheek.” Let me be clear, Jesus isn’t calling us to be pacifists. He isn’t saying that if someone hits us in the face, encourage them to hit us again. In Jewish culture, one’s cheek represents a person’s relationship with another. Kissing someone’s cheek was a sign of peace and fellowship. Striking someone’s cheek meant that you were attacking or dishonoring the relationship.

When Jesus said that you and I were to turn to them the other cheek He was saying that we are to seek the reestablishment of the relationship. The goal is restoration, not retaliation. And restoration comes best through grace and mercy. If someone attacks you, forgive them and then, bless them. Bring them a gift. Take them out to eat. Pray for them. Encourage them. As Jesus has been to you, you are to be to others. Paul says it’s like heaping fiery coals on their heads.

I know that this is difficult. From our human perspective, maybe impossible. But you and I are commanded by God to love people as Jesus loved them. Our love for others isn’t based on merit. The love of Christ compels us to love others. When we realize that we’re the chief sinner, not them, it’s easier to show compassion. You may be thinking, “They don’t deserve it!” That’s the point. Jesus loved us in spite of our depravity. He extended grace, not punishment. Did we deserve it? No. It took most of us some time to understand and accept the love of God as well. Jesus’ love came to us a long time before we changed. His love was unconditional. Undeserved.

As Jesus has been to me, I will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, be to others.

The Gospel According to Zacchaeus

zacchaeus

Jesus came for those who were sick and poor. He came for the lost and the hurting. In Luke 5:31 Jesus declared, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” We can’t earn God’s acceptance, any more than we can earn our salvation. Yet Jesus gives it to us, willingly—no matter who we are or what we’ve done. Jesus came for ragamuffins – people like us – the beat-up, burnt-out, ragged and too dirty by sin to sit at the Father’s feet on our own. He smiles upon us—the chosen objects of His ‘furious love.’ He accepts those people who know they will never be perfect.

Scripture, as well as history, is filled with the stories of ragamuffins who find love and life at the feet of Jesus. One such man is Zacchaeus the tax collector. Talk about a troubled man! A tax collector was a greedy combination of embezzler and extortionist, a traitor to his people and a sinner of the worst sort. That is why they are lumped together with prostitutes and other sinners. Jesus Himself uses tax collectors in parables designed to shock His hearers (Luke 18:10). Although Jesus counted a tax collector among his disciples (Luke 5:27), the most notorious tax collector in the Bible was Zacchaeus.

The story about Zacchaeus begins in the city of Jericho, a prosperous trade city on the road from Perea to Jerusalem. A considerable amount of traffic passed through Jericho on their way somewhere.  Jesus, like so many others, was passing through. He was on His way to Jerusalem for the last time and he attracted a great deal of attention. He was known far and wide because of His miracles. People longed to see Him, maybe to be healed. On the day that Jesus arrived the streets were crowded with throngs of people. Among them was the tax collector Zacchaeus. He was despised by the people, by his family, and by his neighbors. Nobody liked a tax collector.

Like many others, he had come that day to see Jesus. His problem was that he was short. He wasn’t able to see Jesus because of the large crowd (verse 3). They were in His way and they sure weren’t going to let him get closer to Jesus. Nobody was going to move over and allow him to see. Zacchaeus must have really wanted to see Jesus. Since he couldn’t see over the heads of the people or around them, he ran ahead and climbed into a sycamore tree which had low horizontal branches (verse 4).

I’ve always wondered why he wanted to see Jesus, why a man of his stature would climb a tree. Maybe he had a heavy heart, finding that his wealth and his greedy lifestyle to be unfulfilling and unsatisfying. Maybe he was tired of being hated by his community. Maybe he had discovered that there is little or no satisfaction in the things of this world. No matter what the reason was – up the tree he went.

When Jesus came by, He looked up into the tree, and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.” Jesus knew his name and was talking to him! Zacchaeus quickly descended from the tree. I can almost hear the leaves breaking off and the branches creaking—as he let himself down out of the tree. Zacchaeus came down “with joy”— absolutely thrilled that Jesus was coming to his house. It may have been the first time since he had been a little child at his mother’s knee, that he had heard his name pronounced in tones of kindness. At any rate, Jesus and the tax collector strode off to his house.

Not everybody was joyful on this occasion, however. When the crowds saw what was happening, they complained by saying, “He (Jesus) has gone to be the guest with a man that is a sinner” (verse 7). Those who murmured were undoubtedly religious folk, the Pharisees. Jesus had shocked them by inviting himself to be the guest of this notorious sinner. They could not understand how Jesus could associate with sinners like Zacchaeus. This was almost like Billy Graham coming to town, and staying with the owner of a downtown booze joint! The people of Jericho had failed to see that Jesus had a soft spot in his heart for people like Zacchaeus.

Exactly what Jesus said to Zacchaeus when they arrived at his house is not given in the text. Zacchaeus was so deeply impressed however that he rose to his feet, and he said, “Here and now I am giving half of my possessions to the poor!” Instead of the passion to get, he now had a passion to give. His grip on material things was loosened, and he was ready to give away much of his fortune. He had been transformed. He was a new creation.

Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house” (verse 9). Zacchaeus became a follower of Jesus Christ that day. He repented of his sins and made restitution for his wrong-doing. A great spiritual miracle had taken place in the heart of Zacchaeus. The beauty of the lesson is that Jesus can do the same for any human being anywhere on earth—when there are genuine belief and repentance. It’s why He came. In the final verse of our lesson, Jesus declares, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

I imagined this week what it would be like to talk to Zacchaeus if I were to meet him in heaven. What story would he tell me? How would Zacchaeus describe the gospel? If Zacchaeus could tell us something today about the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Zacchaeus would have three points, “He saw me, He welcomed me, and He changed me.”

He saw me. As Jesus walked through Jericho He was surrounded by a large number of people. Many were in need of healing. I imagine His mind was focused on what was about to happen in Jerusalem. Were His disciples ready? Was this the only plan or would God spare Him of the agony upon the cross? And yet, Jesus saw him. Out of all those people, one man stood out. I imagine that the gospel according to Zacchaeus would begin with the declaration, “Jesus saw me.”  We know that Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree, but I am saying that Jesus saw the real Zacchaeus – the tax collector, the sinner, the one who was hated by all – and loved him anyway. The crowd saw him as a vile sinner to be treated with distrust. Jesus saw him as a child of God in need of grace, a man blinded to the truth of the gospel by the enemy.

I also believe that Jesus saw that His Father was at work in Zacchaeus’ life. There were religious leaders all around, dressed in their finest garments, out in the market place. But God wasn’t at work in their lives. They had shut Him out. He was at work in the one least suspected of becoming a child of God. Zacchaeus was looking for Jesus. Maybe he sensed that Jesus was the only one who could get him out of this way of living. Maybe he thought Jesus was the only one who would accept him; love him.

All around us are tax collectors. In our community, certain people are avoided because of their political views, their moral behavior, or their lifestyles. Some are avoided because of where they live. Do we see them as God sees them? Do we see them as being beyond hope, as being contagious? Or, do we see them as Jesus sees them? Jesus loves them, He died for them upon the cross. They need to hear the Gospel message.

Second, Zacchaeus’ gospel would include the fact that Jesus welcomed him into His life. We read in verse 5 that after Jesus saw Zacchaeus He declared, Zacchaeus, hurry and come down because today it is necessary for me to stay at your house.” Jesus informed this sinful man that he was coming to dinner! Now Jesus wasn’t barging in, He was welcoming Zacchaeus into a relationship with Him. He was affirming his worth as a person. We understand that Zacchaeus’ story was a story of sin and isolation. People hated him and therefore, avoided him. And, I understand that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, to the cross, to His great High Priestly work of dying for our sins. And yet, it was during this time that Jesus’ story crossed Zacchaeus’ story. Jesus invited Zacchaeus into His world. They shared a meal – and life!

In this passage, Jesus commits a great social error: He goes to dine with a tax collector. In Luke 19:7 it says, “But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, ‘He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.’” It was legally forbidden to mingle with sinners who were outside the law. Can you imagine how Zacchaeus felt? How many times do you think Zacchaeus sat at home, all alone, wondering if anyone cared? Can you feel his loneliness? I think you can. Look around you. There are people who are wondering if anyone cares. They’re crying out. Maybe it’s you. In Zacchaeus’ Gospel, Jesus willingly hangs out with messed up people.

Finally, Zacchaeus’ Gospel doesn’t end with, “He welcomed me.” I am sure that Zacchaeus’ gospel would include, “He changed me!” Look at what Zacchaeus said after meeting with Jesus. “Look, I’ll give half of my possessions to the poor, Lord! And if I exhorted anything from anyone, I’ll pay back four times as much!” Zacchaeus was a changed man. He went from being one of the most selfish men in ancient Israel to the most generous-instantaneously, without being commanded to. He’s not giving away money because he has to-he’s giving money away because he wants to. The touch of Jesus changed Zacchaeus. He developed. He became human.

What caused the change? The simple answer is that Jesus treated Zacchaeus as one who was made in the image of God – one worth dying for- not like a sinner. Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the tree when everyone else shut him out. Zacchaeus wasn’t changed by a command of Jesus, but by an experience with Jesus. Transformation comes as we hear and appropriate the gospel into our lives. Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the place of shame and into a place of honor, and then He took Zacchaeus’ place on the tree.

The gospel of Zacchaeus declares that anyone, in any situation, coming out of any kind of past can be transformed and changed into a new creation in Christ. The truth is that those who curse God today may be preaching Him tomorrow. There may be some here this morning that will leave today new creations in Christ, like Zacchaeus, changed by the compassion of a loving Savior. Do you need His touch today? We all do! And He never withholds His love, His touch to those who cry out for Him. He always sees, always welcomes, and He always changes us.

Some of you have been hanging out in a Sycamore tree, looking, searching, hoping to catch a glimpse of mercy. He is with you. The Savior who came for us from heaven, the one who died in our place, and who rose again that we might have life – is right there with you. Why don’t you come on down? Why don’t you, in your heart of hearts, right now, accept His divine invitation? He sees you, He welcomes you, and He will transform you. You will not be the same.