TINY BUT MIGHTY A single snowflake is just a tiny, beautiful six-sided ice crystal. It is so light and insignificant it will melt in your hand. Alone it’s not much. But when you put trillions of them together like in some of the blizzards up north, they can shut down a major city and an entire region.
Alone, we’re not much, but with the unity of the Spirit and the passion to show God’s love, our message can transform an entire region for Christ. Matthew 22:34-40.
THE REST OF THE STORY Jesus has been performing marvelous deeds since the beginning of the beginning. He told the Jews that “before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus has been performing trillions of miracles in this vast universe that we don’t even realize. One of the joys of Heaven will be for us to learn about all the other marvelous miracles that Jesus performed. Final message in the John: Believe and Live! series. John 20:30-31; 21:24-25.
SECOND CHANCES God is the God of the second chance—He’s the God of the third fourth and hundredth chance. If you have failed the Lord in the past, remember that Jesus can restore you. The devil comes to kill, steal, and destroy. He’s the great destroyer. But Jesus is the great restorer. He took a murderer like Moses and used him. He took an adulterer like David and used him. He took Christ-hating Jewish terrorist by the named Saul and gave him a new name, Paul, and used him mightily. And God can use you. He is the great restorer. John 21:15-23.
We can accomplish anything in this world. We can receive the greatest accolades, have the highest education, make the most money, have the best position—do all of these things. But never will it equate to fullness in your life or true satisfaction because it’s just a moment in time. John 21:1-14.
There are two forces at work in the Christian life, and you have to keep these two in perfect balance. There is union and communion. Union occurs when we first come to Christ and He moves into our life. That’s union. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. It is a relationship that can never be severed. But there is also communion in which we staying close fellowship with Jesus. John 21:1-14.
ST. THOMAS OF INDIA History is full of seekers like Thomas who investigated and became believers. Church history reports that Thomas went to current day India to spread the Gospel. He preached for twenty years until he was martyred. Today, the patron saint of India is St. Thomas. And when the Dutch Trading Company landed on an island in the Caribbean, they named it Saint Thomas and established the St. Thomas Church there. So Honest Thomas had a great impact on God’s Kingdom. John 20:19-29.
Mary thought Jesus was the gardener so she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, please show me where you put him and I will get him.” That’s love. Maybe Mary weighed 110 pounds. Let’s assume Jesus weighed 180, and John tells us that Nicodemus and Joseph had wrapped His body in 75 additional pounds of aloe and spices. So this little woman was willing to heft a corpse weighing over 250 pounds on her shoulder and carry it back inside the tomb. That’s love. Her hope was shattered, and her faith was absent, but her love was still there. John 20:1-18.
GET IN THE BOAT Do not let us be a church that rows away into eternity covering our eyes and ears so we can’t hear the screams of the people who are lost and dying around us. Let’s be a church that pursues them, that loves our neighbor in such a way that we can look at them and say, “There is plenty of room for you. Get in the boat.” Matthew 13:1-9.
WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE? It is hard to find authenticity in this world. It’s hard to know what is true, it is hard to know what’s genuine. It seems as if that all of us are expecting some sort of angle. Even the way that you watch the news, even the way that you deal with others. At times we like we have some sort of guard up against our neighbor, against those around us, because we are assuming that they are working with some type of angle in mind. Mark 10:35-45.
JESUS’ REMOVAL FROM THE CROSS The Bible tells us that Jesus had two unlikely undertakers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. You might expect family members or disciples to step forward and claim the body, but instead these two respected members of the Jewish Sanhedrin collected the body of Jesus from the cross. It was not an easy or a pretty job. First, they had to climb up and either remove the nails or removed Jesus hands and feet from the nails embedded in the cross. Then they had to lower His mangled body. Jesus’ back had been ripped apart with a whip, Water and blood had flowed from the wound in His side. Then they had to remove the razor-sharp crown of thorns. John 19:38-42.
DEATH BY INCONVENIENCE To me it is the height of hypocrisy that the Jewish leaders were so concerned about sunset messing with their religious holiday that they appealed to Pilate to hasten the death of the three men being crucified. They didn’t want a bloody body to inconvenience them from their religious acts. John 19:28-37.
KNOWING Can you imagine living your whole life anticipating the most horrible death possible? No doubt Jesus saw hundreds of Roman crucifixions as He was growing up. He must have thought, “That’s me someday.” Every time Joseph planed a rough piece of wood, Jesus probably thought about the cross. Every time Joseph pounded nails in wood, Jesus surely thought of the last time His human ears would hear that sound. John 19:28-30.
INCONCEIVABLE The Gospel writers don’t go into minute detail about the crucifixion because all of their First-Century readers had witnessed the horror of crucifixion with their own eyes. We really don’t have a modern frame of reference for it. It would be like me going back to the time of Jesus and saying there was a head-on collision on Loop 49 and none of the passengers were wearing seatbelts. You get the picture—but they wouldn’t. We can’t begin to imagine the wickedness and cruelty of Roman crucifixion. John 19:17-27.
Are you going to be like the first thief or are you going to be like the second? Are you going to be like the soldiers who are just gambling for their eternity? Or are you going to be like the first thief who says, “Listen, I just need you to get me through this.” John 19:17-27.
With that act of symbolically washing his hands, Pilate thought he would be vindicated. He thought that he would never be associated with the death of Jesus. But let me show you what is tragically ironic. The one man who wanted to be absolved of any guilt is the name that has been spoken millions of times connecting him to the death of Jesus. I’m referring to the Apostle’s Creed. This creed has been recited millions of times, and is being recited today in Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and many other churches. John 19:5-16.
The crown of thorns was a prophecy of the majestic crown Jesus will wear when He returns. When Jesus came the first time, He came as the gentle Jesus, meek and mild. When He returns it will be a conquering King. When He came the first time it was as the Lamb of God, when He returns it will be as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. John 19:1-5.
The sentence that was due Barabbas was transferred to Jesus so that Barabbas may have a new life. And that same gift is for every single person who trusts in him. John 18:33-40.
REAL IDENTITY Barabbas was a bad dude. But he got the break of a life-time. An innocent man took his place on the cross. I am Barabbas. You are Barabbas. We are all guilty sinners. And we deserve to receive God’s judgment against sin. But like Barabbas, we have a substitute. Jesus died in our place. John 18:33-40.
THE PATH We see two completely different stories between Judas and Peter. Both men failed. Both slipped into sin. But Judas hid and went into the shadows of the night to end his life. Peter ran toward the light in order to have life. Which path are you on? John 18:15-18; 25-27
FALLING BEHIND Peter followed Jesus at a distance to the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house. That’s an indication that we find ourselves in trouble when we don’t follow the Lord closely. If you followed the Lord closely at one time, but you have hung back and now you follow the Lord at a distance, before long you find yourself hanging out with the wrong crowd. And soon you find yourself doing the wrong thing. John 18:15-18; 25-27
CUP OF HORRORS What was in that cup that Jesus found to be so unpleasant? To drink a cup means to go through an experience. Inside that cup Jesus knew there was terrible physical pain. He knew over the next few hours He would be tortured and crucified. Also inside that cup was isolation. All His disciples would forsake Him, and He would face the cross alone. Even on the cross, He endured isolation from His Father. But I think the most horrifying content of that cup were sins of all the world. He would bear all the sins in His body on the cross. All the lies, murders, rapes, and hatred of the world would stain His sinless soul. John 18:1-11.
UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY When you look at unity in the church as described in Revelation, you see a whole lot of different flavors. John describes one body of worshipers at the throne of Jesus: a single multitude, united, yet a multitude made of people from every distinct nation, tribe, people, and language. United, but not uniform. Full of flavor, variety, and uniqueness, stirred together to worship the one true King. John 17:20-26
We can only be satisfied with the joy that comes from Christ. If we want to be good soldiers for Christ, we can’t find satisfaction in the world. We have to understand that we are going to be set apart, we are going to be sanctified to continue growth, but always, when we are growing as a church we will always be going as a church with the gospel of Jesus. John 17:11-19.
PASCAL’S WAGER Is death the end and there is no afterlife as Dr. Stephen Hawking claimed or as Billy Graham said, is there an afterlife where we may spend eternity with God in a place called heaven? Both of them cannot be correct. And the most important decision in your short life is to decide which position is correct. John 17:1-12.
THE FRIEND At the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that starting that night, He would call them friends, not servants. It is a revolutionary truth that we can be friends with our Creator. Abraham was called a friend of God. The Bible said Moses spoke to God face to face as a man speaks to a friend. When Jesus was told that Lazarus had died, He said, “Our friend, Lazarus has gone to sleep, but I’m going to wake him up.” John 15:12-27. Audio TBA.
The world is watching the church right now like never before. This is an opportunity for us to show a true joy. You can shut down the church house, but you never take away the joy that is found in Jesus Christ, because our joy is not dependent on our circumstance or what is happening around us. Our joy is found in the fact that Jesus Christ took the plight of man and made a way for us to be reunited with God once again. John 15:9-17.
PAUSE FOR PEACE The world doesn’t understand peace. People talk about world peace, and that’s a noble goal. It’s always a good answer in a beauty contest. But according to an article in The New York Times, out of almost 4,000 years of recorded human history, there have only been about 200 years of peace—and those years of peace are just pauses for the armies to reload. John 14:27-31.
CAUTION When we petition the Lord, we need to be very careful about how we are using the Lord’s name. One of the most elusive ways we can use the Lord’s name in vain is in our prayer life. We are praying for things that are not of God’s desire or His will. We need to be cautious of how we pray in the name of the Lord. John 14:12-26.
ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY One reason people are on edge is because there is so much uncertainty. What if I, or someone I love contract the virus? Am I still going to have a job? Will I be able to retire? When will this pandemic be over? Will life ever be the same again? There is a lot of uncertainty in our world right now. If we just could get some kind of assurance that life will work out—then maybe we can hold on. I want to remind you than in the midst of so much uncertainty there are some things you can be absolutely certain about: God loves you and Jesus died to give you eternal life. John 14:1-11.
ON THE ROAD AGAIN After the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus recognized him, they were so fired up they got up and returned to Jerusalem–seven miles. It’s uphill in that direction, but I can imagine they literally ran. What had been a road of despair was now a road of rejoicing. When they found the eleven disciples, they couldn’t keep silent. “It’s true! We’ve seen the Lord! He is ALIVE!” And there was celebration on the first Easter evening—and we’ve been celebrating ever since! Their hearts were on fire. The spark from one heart ignited the hearts of others. Luke 24:13-29.
MISTAKEN People make two big mistakes about what they think love is. Some think love is a feeling. Although love produces feelings, Jesus taught us that love isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. He chose to lay down His life. Some people make the mistake of thinking love is some uncontrollable force. “I just fell out of love with that person.” You don’t fall out of love; you fall out of trees. Or they say, “I couldn’t help it, I fell in love with that person.” You don’t fall in love; you fall in holes. John 13:31-35.
COLLEGE DROPOUT Judas spent three years attending Jesus University. His mind was full of biblical truth. Judas heard all the parables and teachings of Jesus. He knew more about what Jesus taught than we do because only a small percentage of what Jesus did and said are in the Gospel accounts. Judas’ problem wasn’t information, it was transformation. He hadn’t been transformed. John 13:18-30; 36-38.
SECURITY Once you come to Christ, that relationship is secure forever. God is your Father and you are a child of God. Nothing can change the relationship. But as we walk in a dirty world, we sometimes still stumble into sin. So to stay in fellowship with the Lord we come to Him and regularly confess our sins to Him. John 13:1-17.
MAMA BEAR MENTALITY Have you considered how love can drive out fear? There are several stories about supernatural courage and strength that takes place in a mother when her children are in danger of any sort. It is similar in our relationship: God’s love for us helps remove fear in our lives. Knowing that God loves us and that all things work together for good to them that love Him, we find strength to face fear with faith. 2 Timothy 1:7. Audio: David O. Dykes; Transcript: Michael Gossett.
PHARISEE FEAR There is no such thing as a private or secret follower of Jesus. According to John, this does not and cannot exist. The person who disguises their faith is the self-proclaimed believer who has an intellectual faith but not one that has taken root in their heart. This group of followers chose to fear the Pharisees instead of following the Savior. John 12:37-50.
POLAR OPPOSITES There are three different ways people react to the preaching of the cross. (1) Some are repelled by the thought of a messy, bloody cross. They want a nice clean, sanitary religion. (2) Others have no response. They have no interest in hearing about how a man died on a Roman cross two thousand years ago. (3) For many, the cross is like a magnet, drawing them to it. John 12:27-36.
Love your personal enemies with your actions, your speech and your heart.
REDEEMER When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the Jews were looking for another military Messiah. But Jesus rode a donkey to show that He wasn’t a Hammer, He was a Redeemer. A radical revolutionary kills others for his cause but a loving Redeemer lays down His life so that others may live. John 12:12-19.
LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF FELLOWSHIP Jesus gave Lazarus life, then He gave Him liberty, and now Lazarus is enjoying a fellowship meal with Jesus. Some people think the Christian life is like a funeral but it’s more like a feast. He invites you from the spiritual tomb of your lostness to the spiritual table of fellowship with Him. John 11:28-44.
WHEN YOU CAN’T JUST SIT THERE Sometimes when we experience a disappointment or a setback, we want to hide out and just be alone. It was part of the Jewish mourning custom that Martha should have stayed in her home sitting Shiva for seven days after Lazarus died. But when she got word that Jesus was on the way, she couldn’t sit still. She ran to Jesus. John 11:17-27.
2019 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
THE LAZARUS LESSON Jesus’ delay in going to Lazarus was a lesson He was trying to teach His disciples and us—that death is like sleeping. It is not to be feared any more than lying down and pulling up the covers under your chin to sleep. Jesus took the sting of fear out of death. John 11:1-16.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE The truth about Jesus isn’t just something to believe. It isn’t a set of facts to inform you, it is life-giving truth that transforms you. Belief that doesn’t affect your behavior isn’t true belief. If you believe Jesus is God it will affect the way you approach your marriage, your singleness, or being a parent or grandparent. It will transform your job, your hobbies, and how you handle God’s money. And believing in Jesus will affect your relationship with everyone you meet. John 10:29-42.
Reaching our Muslim neighbors for Christ. Luke 19:10.
WORKING NON-STOP Have you ever started something you couldn’t finish? I have and probably so have you. But God has never started something He couldn’t finish. He began a good work in you and He will persevere until the day of Jesus: That means either the day you die and meet Jesus or the day Jesus returns. Either way, He won’t stop working on you. John 10:22-29.
Jesus knew He was going to die, but He also knew the time and the place He would die. He was in complete control. That’s why He said He would lay down His life for the sheep. They couldn’t kill Him until He was ready to lay down his life. He said, “No man takes my life from me. I lay it down willingly.” John 10:10-21.
IT’S PERSONAL Our Good Shepherd deals with each one of us individually. Have you noticed all the personal encounters Jesus had in this study? He was one-on-one with Nicodemus. He spoke to the woman at the well. He spoke to the paralyzed man at the Pool of Bethesda. He dealt personally with the man who was blind from birth. Jesus redeems individuals, not groups. John 10:1-10.
FRIENDS OR JESUS? So if you are going to stand up for Jesus, prepare to be rejected. Many Christians, especially young people and young adults, can’t resist the peer pressure. They want to be accepted by their friends, so they make a decision to reject the truth of the Bible to go along with the popular culture’s definition of truth. If you stand for truth, like this blind man did, you are going to be kicked out of the popular crowd. John 9:13-38.
When Jesus called the disciples to follow Him, He didn’t hang around and wait for their answer. He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” He kept on walking. They had to act at that moment or the opportunity would be gone. Audio: Michael Gossett; Transcript: David O. Dykes.
SEPARATION ANXIETY You and I have an understanding of what death is, but death is essentially known as separation. This is the moment where the spiritual part of the person is separated from their physical part. The question for most people is not necessarily about the spiritual and physical separation but rather the concern is what is going to take place after this separation occurs. And this is where most of the focus of all human ideology comes. John 8:48-59.
SPIN DOCTOR The first recorded words of the devil are found in Genesis 3:1. He asked Eve a question. “Did God REALLY say you can’t eat from ANY tree in the Garden?” That’s not what God had said. So we see from the first that the devil tries to twist God’s words. And the devil always puts a question mark about the statements of God.
DEALING IN ABSOLUTES Today, truth is subjective and personal. People say, “There are no absolute truths. Whatever I feel to be true is my truth. And my truth may not be your truth.” But think about the contradiction. For someone to insist that there are no absolute truths is a statement of an absolute truth.
THE JESUS FLASHLIGHT Just as we need a good light to read, we need the illumination of Jesus to empower us to understand the Word of God. Before a person comes to Christ, their understanding is darkened. But as they begin to truly seek the Lord, He begins to illuminate their minds. The light comes on. I’ve had people tell me they read the Bible for years and I couldn’t understand it, and then one day it was as if someone turned on the light and suddenly it started to make sense.” That is the illuminating power of Jesus.
What’s that in your hand today? Is it a rock and you find yourself being obsessed with a sense of always being cynical and hypercritical? You can’t have an open hand of grace as long as you’re holding on to a rock in your fist. The message the Holy Spirit has for some of you today is to drop your rocks.
If you want to know what’s filling a person’s heart listen to what they talk about. If it’s a certain music filling their heart, they’ll talk about it. If it’s a hobby like golf or horseshoes they’ll talk about it. If it’s the latest television series, they’ll talk about it. If their heart is full of Jesus, they’ll talk about Him. I don’t mean that’s all you’ll talk about—but if you never or seldom speak about Jesus, you need to check your heart.
Those who know God intimately have come to see that He often allows us to face adversity in order to conform us to the image of Christ. God determined from the beginning that we should be shaped into the image of His Son. Part of this plan involves the painful removal of those things in our lives that don’t reflect this image.
I can stand up here and say anything, but that doesn’t make it true. I can say, “I’m a tree. I’m a flowering pear tree.” And if I insisted on saying that you’d say, “No, you’re not a flowering tree. You’re a blooming idiot.” The reason I’m not a tree is that I don’t have the inner nature of a tree. A person can say, “I’m a Christian.” But saying doesn’t make it so unless they have had their hearts changed by Jesus.
The manger is empty so we can be filled with the truth about God. The cross is empty so we can be filled with forgiveness. And the tomb is empty so we can be filled with hope. To put it another way, the manger, the cross, and the tomb are all empty so that Heaven can be filled with people who trust Jesus.
We live in a culture where the world, the devil and the flesh are doing everything possible to draw us away from Jesus. We can be drawn in two different directions. Have you ever been at the ocean and you’re in the surf near the shore? The waves are pulling you toward shore and the undertow is pulling you in the other direction. On the surface, there is so much in our culture trying to distract you and draw you away from Jesus.
We live in a hungry world. Every creature has an open mouth wanting to be fed. From the baby bird in the nest to the eagle soaring in the sky; from the minnow in the creek to the whale in the ocean; from the mouse nibbling on a crumb to the mighty elephant in jungle; every creature has to be fed. In fact, most creatures in the animal world devote most of their lives to finding food. But physical food only satisfies us temporarily.
When the disciples were caught in the storm at sea, they couldn’t see Jesus, but the good news was that Jesus could see the disciples. When you’re going through a dark struggle, you may look around and ask, “God where are you?” You may not think you can see God, but you can be certain that God sees you and He cares for you.
In the miracle of the fishes and loaves, there were five thousand men, plus women and children. All of them had been following Jesus all day. It was late and they were tired and hungry. On the surface, you would think their main problem was a lack of food. But that was just the surface problem; there was a deeper spiritual problem.
There’s a great deal of misunderstanding of what eternal life is. Many of us grew up on the good old King James Version which often translated it “everlasting life.” So it’s easy to get the idea that eternal life is talking about a length of existence. Eternal life really is a quality of life.
I’m always looking for ways to help you understand how the Holy Spirit lives in you. I usually drink coffee in the morning, but a few weeks ago, I was in a restaurant for breakfast and I ordered a cup of hot tea. The server brought a cup of hot water with a tea bag on the saucer beside the cup. I unwrapped the tea bag and started dipping it into the hot water. In that moment, the power of that tea was infused into the water and it changed it. Within a few minutes, the plain, tasteless water was transformed into something totally different. It looked, smelled and tasted differently. Just having the tea bag beside the cup of water didn’t change anything. It was only when it was in the water that it infused it. I was reminded that I am totally incapable of reproducing the life of Jesus in my personality. In order to live the Christian life, His life and power has to be infused into my personality. When you put a tea bag in hot water, you don’t even call it water any more. You call it tea.
Are you willing to leave your comfort zone to trust God completely? God didn’t save you to make your comfortable, but you make you obedient. You’ll never go on a mission trip is you’re not willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never start tithing until you are willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never start travailing in prayer until you are willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never vocally share your faith with others until you’re willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never volunteer to serve the Lord if you aren’t willing to leave your comfort zone.
We are surrounded by people who are living miserable lives. They have no peace, no joy, and no hope of life getting any better. It’s our job to tell them, “You know, I used to be like that, but what a wonderful change in my life has occurred since Jesus came into my heart.” If you’ve been changed, you’ll want to share your story.
Sometimes we fall into the same trap of thinking that worship is about a place, practice, or posture. It is not. It’s about the Lord. We call this the Worship Center, but there’s nothing more holy or sacred about this place than your prayer closet where you worship the Lord all alone. Or there’s nothing more sacred about this place you’re your kitchen table where you have family devotions. My automobile is a worship center, because every Sunday morning on my way here I am singing praises to God.
2013 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
Whether you are looking for satisfaction in possessions, pleasure, prestige, or power–you will never be satisfied. All those pursuits are like the liquid water Jesus spoke about: You can drink it and feel refreshed momentarily but you will still get thirsty again. But He offers something so radical and powerful that once you experience it, you will find absolute and total satisfaction.
To borrow some baseball lingo, the Samaritan woman wasn’t close to being in the ballpark of the Kingdom of God. She was socially, racially, and morally way off base. But Jesus knocked it out of the park by telling her about living water. And for the Samaritan woman, it was a whole new ball game.
The Pharisees not only had to keep the laws of the Torah, but also obey all the laws written to explain the laws of the Torah. For instance, it was determined that tying a knot on the Sabbath constituted work. But there was an exception. A woman could tie a sash around her waist to remain modest. So this exception led to a loophole. If a man needed to get water from the well on a Sabbath and the bucket wasn’t tied to the rope, he couldn’t tie the rope; that was work. But he could tie one end of a woman’s sash to the rope and the other end to the bucket. That’s a loophole.
We don’t want to follow the example of these lousy best men. We want to be like John the Baptist. We are friends of the groom, and we should commit our lives to making the bridegroom famous. Remember it’s not about me and it’s not about you—it’s all about Jesus. And when you come to understand who you are in relationship with Jesus, all your other relationships will be healthier.
Once we hear the truth about the good news of God’s forgiveness, it is like someone turning on a light in our soul. We’ve all seen the cartoons where a light bulb flashes on above a character’s head when they have an idea. That’s what happens when we receive the truth about Jesus. It’s like walking out of the darkness into the light. Suddenly, we can see everything clearly. Salvation occurs when Jesus moves us from the darkness into His glorious light.
The reason the Bible is such a long book is because God never gave up on us. It is the story of His repeated efforts to restore this loving relationship that our sin had broken. Otherwise the Bible could have been a short book. God created human beings because He wanted to love them. They didn’t love Him back. The end. But instead He kept trying and wouldn’t give up—and He won’t give up on you.
Here is one of the best examples of God’s grace in the Old Testament. The Israelites, who had a proven track record of rebellion, unbelief, and nagging didn’t deserve a cure for the snake bites. But because it is God’s nature, God graciously provided a means for healing. He had Moses make a brass snake and put it on a pole. Then God said, “Whoever looks at the serpent will be healed.”
Jesus cleaned house. He had the right to do it. It was the right of ownership. It was His Father’s house. If I come over to your house and it’s dirty, I’m not going to start cleaning it up. But I see something in my house that needs cleaning up I will take care of it as soon as my wife tells me to!
I like the fact that this was a quiet miracle. Because miracles don’t have to be loud to be miracles. There was no word of command, no hysterical shouting, no laying on of hands, or the binding of Satan. There was no hocus-pocus or mumbo jumbo. Jesus didn’t even touch the water. The water simply became wine.
John the Baptist was a curious looking preacher. His attire was unusual, too. There was much about him that created curiosity as well. He had never cut his hair or beard. He wore a camel hair coat with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild honey. Matthew and Mark tell us that huge crowds flocked out into the desert to hear him. Yet John the Baptist was so humble even he didn’t realize the full extent of how God was using him as the forerunner of the Messiah.
Everyone you meet this week is in one of three positions regarding the light. Some are walking in the light as He is in the light. Those folks know the Lord. Some you meet aren’t walking IN the light, but they are walking TOWARD the light. They are interested in knowing the truth about Jesus. Your job is to lovingly point them to Jesus. But then you are going to meet some people who have turned their backs and are walking away from the light. And they are at risk of dying without ever finding the truth about salvation.
When it comes to praise, we can’t just THINK praiseworthy thoughts about God, we must express these thoughts with our lips—it must be verbal and vocal. It’s not enough to have a feeling of gratitude to God; you don’t complete the praise requirement until it is sung or spoken. An inner attitude of gratitude is the root of praise, but it doesn’t become praise it until it becomes the fruit of praise expressed by our lips.
Is death the end and there is no afterlife as Dr. Stephen Hawking claimed? Or as Dr. Billy Graham said, is there an afterlife where we may spend eternity with God in a place called heaven? Both of them cannot be correct. And the most important decision in your short life is to decide which position is correct.
God put us in this world to deliver his message to others. And we do this by putting our faith to work. Hospitality, prison ministry, and marriage may seem to be three random topics. But they all show us how believers relate to others. First, our relationship to strangers should be one of hospitality. Second, our relationship with prisoners and those mistreated should be one of compassion and caring. And third, our relationship in marriage should be one of commitment and purity.
Bitterness is created when you harbor a hurt in your heart. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Bitterness writes down every single slight and offense. Bitterness is like an iceberg. You can only see the cold top of an iceberg, but most of it is submerged Bitterness exists when you have a cold heart toward someone, yet most of the resentment is still below the surface.
Have you ever had this experience? You’re reading along in the Bible, and you are studying a passage of scripture you’ve read many times before. And suddenly, you see truth in that passage you had never experienced before. That has happened to me hundreds of times. Do you know what is happening? God is breathing life into His Word in your presence.
Stephen tells us Moses was forty years old when he made a momentous decision. He could continue to live in palace and enjoy all fringe benefits of being the grandson of the Pharaoh but he decided to turn his back on the trappings of royalty and identify with the plight of the Hebrew slaves. He knew that choice would cause him to suffer alongside them.
It wasn’t so much how Jacob started, but how he finished the race. Maybe you’ve left a trail of mistakes behind you as well. But God can change your life without changing your name. There’s still time to grab hold of His grace and let him turn you from a cheater to someone who is a blessing to others.
Every relationship you have here with Believers will be deepened and enhanced in Heaven. Yes, you will know your loved ones who are in heaven. You will maintain your distinct identity. People want to know, “How old will I be in heaven?” Ready for the answer? You will be the perfect age. And you will know people of faith in Heaven that you’ve never met before. You’ll get to ask David how tall Goliath really was. You can ask Jonah what it was like to sleep on a foam blubber mattress for three nights. You can ask Ruth to tell you her love story with Boaz.
Let’s face it. God must have an interesting sense of humor. He chose a couple of super seniors to begin his chosen nation. We know God laughs because Psalms 2 says that he who sits enthroned in the heavens laughs. If we had been making that plan we would have chosen a couple of young twenty-something’s.
God has placed us in a wicked and corrupt culture and we are to do what Noah did. We don’t need to build an ark, because we already have one. Jesus is our ark who will carry us safely through the waters of God’s final judgment. So our job is to warn the people around us that there is going to be a final judgment against sin. And don’t be surprised if people mock you the same way they mocked Noah.
God didn’t primarily save us to serve Him. He has an innumerable company of angels to serve Him. He created us to have fellowship with Him. God doesn’t want you to think of Him as some impersonal force on the backside of the universe who doesn’t care about your life. He wants you to know Him intimately as a loving Father who cares about the details of your life. He wants you to walk with Him every day.
Scientists have devoted centuries of studies trying to figure out HOW the universe was created. But the Bible isn’t so concerned with HOW it happened, it’s more about WHY God created the universe. Scientists aren’t even interested in the “why,” they just want to know the “how.” God created the heavens and the earth. Then He created plants and animals. And finally, His ultimate creation was a man and woman. If you can understand why God made them, then you can understand why God made you—it’s the same reason.
What’s the difference between a deserter and a disciple? It’s the difference between a son and a pig. A son may wander away from his father, but he will always be the child of his father and have his nature. Sons return, but pigs love the mud too much to leave. Believers sin, but we feel filthy when we sin. A make-believer can wallow in sin like a pig in mud and never feel bad.
We used to live in a world that was totally literal. You had literal friends and literal experiences. But today we live in a virtual world. You can have virtual friends and you can have virtual experiences. Some people today are looking for a virtual church experience but the writer of Hebrews stresses that we need to have a literal experience of gathering with other believers.
Let me give you three words to describe our culture without Christ. They are darkened, they are depraved, and they are doomed without Christ. There are fifteen blocks in Hollywood that feature 2,600 stars listing the names of people our culture calls stars. But in God’s accounting, the real stars are His children who allow the light of the word of God to shine through their lives.
Our founders believed in absolute moral truth. They believed there is a basis of right and wrong. Truth is not relative. Truth isn’t what the King or the British Parliament decreed. The Bible teaches there is a God-given sense of right and wrong placed in every human heart: A conscience. This truth is self-evident.
Shadows are real, but they are dead. If I walked up to you to greet you and you tried to shake hands with my shadow I would infer one of two things: A) that you are probably crazy, or B) you like my shadow more than you like me. How the heart of Jesus must have been broken when some many of the Jewish people loved the shadow of legalism more that the substance of the Son of the Living God.
We see the important role that blood atonement plays in the Old Testament and the New Testament. This trail of blood redemption begins in the first pages of the Bible and goes all the way to the last pages of Revelation. As we trace this scarlet thread through the pages of scripture we will keep circling back to the key verse that speaks about the importance of the shedding of blood.
Some of you are on a life-long guilt trip, and that’s one trip you should cancel. Too many Christians lose their joy and effectiveness because they spend all their time looking in the rear-view mirror, regretting all their past mistakes. The reason that rearview mirror is so small and that windshield in front is so large is because where you’ve been isn’t nearly as important as where you’re going!
Have you ever told a lie? The first time you told a lie, you felt badly about it. But the next time you told it, the lie came a little easier. We have all known people who were so good at lying that they can look you right in the eye and lie without any sign of moral compunction or remorse. They have convinced themselves that telling a little lie is actually not so bad.
Thank God we are no longer under the Old Covenant. God has given us a new covenant that is New and Improved. The faith of the Bible is all about newness. We read about it in a new Testament; we enter through a new birth; we become a new creation; we receive a new name; and one day we’ll live in a new heaven and a new earth. And on the last page of our Bible Jesus says, “Behold, I make ALL things new!”
It is all seen in God’s affinity for the number three. In the Bible, numbers mean something. Three is the number of God. Of course, we know there is one God but He reveals Himself through His triune nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are created in God’s image in that we are a tri-unity as well. We are body, soul, and spirit. We are one person, but like the tabernacle pattern, we are comprised of three elements. This triune theme is repeated throughout God’s creation.
In 2007, Discovery Channel aired a show called “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” claiming Jesus’ tomb had been found. One of the most implausible things about the claims of this show is that IF Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a son, what would be the odds of them naming him after the betrayer of Jesus, Judas? That would be as likely as a couple Holocaust survivors naming their son Adolph Hitler Goldberg. But on this Easter, let’s entertain the possibility that they found the bones of Jesus. What would it mean?
How were people saved in the Old Testament? Not by keeping the law. They were saved the same way we are, by faith. They had faith in God’s plan for redemption. We know God’s plan for redemption is named Jesus. They couldn’t see Jesus clearly yet, but they had faith that God would deliver His people and forgive their sins. They had faith that God had a better priest, a better bridge, and His name was Jesus.
Melchizedek was unusual because he was both a priest and a king. Later, when Israel had a king, the king could never be a priest, and a priest could never be a king. They came from two separate tribes. But Melchizedek was both. That’s why he is a great picture of Jesus. His name represented both righteousness and peace. And Jesus is the source of our righteousness and peace.
Loving your neighbor as you love yourself simply means you see yourself as God sees you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, but we are all made with flaws. But God loves us in spite of our imperfections. You and I are trophies of His grace. When you see yourself as a sinner saved by grace, but deeply loved by God, you are free to love others.
I not only believe in the security of the believer, but I believe in the insecurity of the unbeliever. There might be people whose names are on a church roll but they haven’t darkened the doors of a church in decades. If they are hiding behind a “once saved always saved” belief, they are deceiving themselves.
The only way you can move toward spiritual maturity is to constantly get into the Word of God. Listen to it; read it; study it; memorize it; and meditate on it. If you’ve been a believer for more than ten years, and you’re still a baby Christian, I pray that God will give you a sense of holy dissatisfaction.
2016 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
Here’s the challenge all of us face in the years to come. Will we hold onto our Biblical faith, or will we let go and grab hold of the popular, shifting values of anything-goes-as-long-as-I’m-not-hurting-you morality? Are you willing to grip firmly and to hold onto the truth of the faith we profess? We live in a culture that will try to rip that belief out of your hands and heart, so hold on firmly!
There are several similarities between the life of Moses and the life of Jesus. But while there are similarities, there is no real comparison because Jesus is incomparable. Actually, Moses looked through the prophetic telescope and predicted the coming of Jesus. The greatest difference between Moses and Jesus was that Moses was a man. He was a great man, but he was just a man. Jesus was the one and only God-man. Moses delivered God’s law, but Jesus did something much greater; He demonstrated God’s grace.
Since the cross, the devil has been a toothless lion, but he still tries to make you miserable. Lions aren’t the fastest animals in the jungle, so they have to sneak up on their prey. In the same way, the devil is sneaky in the way he attacks believers. He often disguises himself as an angel of light. Lions roar to paralyze their prey with fear. In the same way, fear is still one of Satan’s greatest tools. He roams and he roars, but he can’t touch you without God’s permission, so don’t fear him.
To say we’re all God’s children is an attractive, tolerant way to speak about people today, but it’s not in the Bible. We are all part of the family of mankind, but we aren’t all part of the family of God. We are all God’s creatures (created by God), and God loves everyone and wants them to be saved, but only those who put their faith in Jesus Christ become His children.
Drifting is something that happens slowly and gradually. But here’s the truth about spiritual drifting: You never drift toward holiness, you drift toward ungodliness. You never drift into faithfulness, you drift toward faithlessness; you never drift toward goodness, you drift toward wickedness.
Many of the popular depictions and figurines of angels are fashioned after the Greek god Cupid. But in the Bible, angels are most often portrayed as men wearing brilliant white garments. Ordinary isn’t the best adjective, because angels are extraordinary, but only two special categories of heavenly beings are described as having wings. In Isaiah 6, the Seraphim are described as having six wings. In Ezekiel 10, Cherubim are described as having four wings. God’s ordinary angels are never described as having wings.
We’re living again in days of moral darkness and moral decay. It’s not the first time in our history that our culture has slipped into moral decline. The impetus for every spiritual awakening is when God’s people got outside the four walls of the church and showed their culture God’s love in practical ways.
We’re living again in days of moral darkness and moral decay. It’s not the first time in our history that our culture has slipped into moral decline. The impetus for every spiritual awakening is when God’s people got outside the four walls of the church and showed their culture God’s love in practical ways.
Falling away from the Lord doesn’t happen overnight. It happens gradually over a period of time. Peter found himself walking with the wrong crowd. Then he stood with them, and then he sat down by the fire with them. If you find yourself walking with the wrong crowd, turn around. Don’t stand, and then for sure, don’t sit down with them. It’s hard to stand up and confess Jesus when you are with people who don’t share your beliefs.
There were two stages to the trial of Jesus, the Jewish trial before Caiaphas and the Roman trial before Pilate. The Jewish trial was actually illegal, because the Jewish Talmud stated, “The members of the court may not alertly and intelligently hear the testimony against the accused during the hours of darkness.” This trial was taking place in the wee hours of the morning, after midnight. As you might imagine, there have been dozens of lawsuits filed before the current Israeli Supreme Court proposing the legal charges against Jesus be dropped on the basis of the trial at night. To this point the Israeli Supreme Court has declined to hear any of those cases.
The night before the cross. Jesus gathered with His Disciples for a night of firsts and lasts. You might say it was last official Passover meal, and at the same time it was the first Lord’s Supper meal. Here we are two thousand years later, part of millions of Christians who still connect with the Lord through the bread and the cup.
Never miss the opportunity to worship. You never know when will be the last chance to worship God. This lesson also applies to showing love and appreciation to people as well. Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love him or her, because you never know when you’ll have another chance.
In the Old Testament, Israel is symbolized by a fig tree. The fig tree was cut off at the root, but we have lived in a period of time, when the leaves started growing again. When the nation of Israel was destroyed in 70 A.D., the Jewish people were scattered to all the nations of the earth. But in the early 1900s a few brave Jews started returning to the Holy Land.
Some people want to be recognized for their religious acts—and if they don’t get public recognition, they are gone. That’s show-off religion. Jesus had something to say about those who practice show-off religion: They will be punished most severely. The sins of these religious leaders were not the gross sins of the flesh; they were the sins of pride, greed, selfishness, and hostility. These are what may be called “religious sins.”
The members of the church in Jerusalem had such a positive impact on their community; it says they enjoyed the favor of all the people. The word favor means these healthy believers were a blessing to the people around them. Once they came to know Christ, they wanted others to experience the abundant life and joy they were enjoying.
Worship should always be God-centered not person-centered. Our choir and praise team aren’t up here performing to you. They are leading all of us to sing songs of joy to an audience of One. Worship is primarily to express our love and adoration to God. But there is a side-effect of worship: It creates an atmosphere of joy.
We are a nation of hoarders. We keep much more stuff than we need and store it in closets, attics, and garages. And then when those places get full, we store our stuff in self-storage units. God created us to be a channel of his wealth, not a container. God gives to you and He wants you to give it away—and you can’t outgive God.
If you would make that your daily practice, it would change your life. You may be thinking that you’re too busy. John Wesley’s mother, Susana, had 16 children. She used to sit down in the kitchen and pull her apron over her head. All the children knew this meant they must be quiet because their mother was spending time alone with God. Every morning, we need to pull the apron over our heads and block out the distractions of life and commune with God in prayer.
Here’s a sad thing about America. It’s okay to be passionate about anything except God. You can be passionate about movies; thousands dressed up in Star Wars costumes to watch the latest movie in the series. You can be passionate about sports; millions of Americans wear the jerseys and caps of their favorite college or professional teams. You can be passionate about politics; and that will be dominating the news for the next eleven months. You can be passionate about cooking, about exercise, about fashion, or about your hobby. But to be passionate about God—that’s a no-no in America. People will call you a fanatic, a nut case.
2015 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
Can you think of one person right now who you find it very hard to love? You may be tempted to think of four or five, but just focus on one person. This person just rubs you the wrong way. Maybe he or she has wronged you or hurt you. Are you thinking of this person right now? By the way, have your ever considered somebody may be thinking of you right now?
In Heaven, our relationship with the Living God will be so powerful our earthly relationships will seem to be insignificant in comparison. And contrary to popular folklore, when we die, we DO NOT become angels—we become LIKE the angels. Our transformed bodies, our eternal bodies, will be like the resurrection body of Jesus.
There was a time when Christianity was part of the accepted mainstream culture of our nation. But our nation has allowed an ill wind to fill our sails and we have sailed into the uncharted waters of moral relativity and wickedness. As our nation sails further away from God and His Word, we may all be forced with the choice to obey God rather than our government, but we must be willing to pay the price of civil disobedience.
Forgiveness is an active choice. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from our memory with the passing of time. We all forget things like names, telephone numbers, and birthdays. It’s amazing how some men can forget their wedding anniversary but can remember the score of the 1983 Super Bowl! The sad thing is when it comes to people who have offended us, we have total recall.
When the winds of adversity blow into your life is that what happens to you? “There goes my faith in God.” When mountains too tall to climb stand in your way and block your progress is that your response? “There goes my faith in God.” The solution to any problem in your life is simply this: Have faith in God. The answer to any need in your life is: Have faith in God.
Let’s talk about God’s current address. If you’re a Christian, you are His temple. So what comes to your mind when I say, “God won’t live in a dirty house?” If Jesus lives in you, grace means you’re not a dirty house. You are a child of God. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Oh, you and might occasionally have a dirty thought or say a dirty word, but you’re not a dirty house. Being clean is a state of grace, not based on your behavior. God has declared you holy and righteous based on your faith in Jesus.
Jesus chose a donkey intentionally. Why didn’t He ride in on a stallion? A beautiful horse is a magnificent animal. It has large beautiful eyes, a flowing mane, a shining coat, and long graceful legs. A donkey isn’t a thoroughbred horse. It’s a plain, small, ugly animal. Nobody ever called a donkey beautiful. They have floppy ears that are too large, and sad eyes, like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. And when a donkey lets out a loud bray, it usually makes us laugh. In Jesus’ day, horses were the Ferraris; donkeys were the used Ford Pintos.
There are about 10 million legally blind people in America today. Most of those are visually impaired with correctable vision. But many live in total darkness. Bartimaeus was not only blind; he was a beggar. Everyday Bart sat beside the road holding out his hand and asking for money. So when he heard Jesus was passing nearby, he shouted out to Jesus for help in spite of the crowd’s attempt to silence him.
Whenever you study the Bible you should always ask yourself these two words: SO WHAT? Now that I’ve learned this, what changes will this make in my life? Here’s a good answer: Because Jesus gave His life away for us, we should give our lives away in service to others. I’m so glad that when Jesus approached the cross He didn’t stop and ask, “What’s in it for me?” He knew what was in it for us—our salvation and our liberation. So, take off your WIIFM t-shirt and start living a life of service to others.
Our job as parents and grandparents is to create a desire in our kids for the things of God. It is to show them that the things of God are sweet and nourishing to them. And once you create that desire in them to know God, they never really lose it. They may fight against it and rebel, but that desire is there as much as a baby grows up wanting to drink nourishment.
If you are a single person, God wants you to honor Him with a life of sexual purity. Teenagers, God wants you to honor Him with abstinence until you are married. Married folks, God wants you to be true to your mate. Your identity should never be found in your sexual preferences. It should be found in Jesus Christ.
I don’t know if you have felt the burden, but this country is in severe trouble. Maybe it can last another 200 years, but the dangers lurk out there. Any one of them could bring us down and I never thought that was possible until after 9/11. We saw what just a few planes did to stop this country for several days. We’ve had God’s protective hand over this country and we’re about to do enough that we lose the hand protecting. We have turned from God’s way.
When Jesus was on the mountain, the Bible says He was transfigured. Jesus was changed from an ordinary looking man into a figure of light with brilliant beams radiating from his body. The reason His clothes became white was from the light emanating from His body. This is a very important event in Jesus’ life, because it confirms He was not merely a man. He was God in the flesh. For most of His 33 years of human existence, His human flesh obscured and veiled His Deity. But at this time, His true divine nature was revealed.
Your soul is infinitely more precious and valuable than anything or anybody in this life. It will last when the sun, moon, and stars have all gone cold and dark. Your soul will exist when the entire universe is gone and replaced by a new heaven and a new earth. Your soul is worth more than all the banks and Fortune 500 corporations combined. The worth of all the stocks, bonds, gold, silver, diamonds, oil, and gas in the world can’t compare with the value of your soul, because your soul will go on, endless, timeless, and measureless into the future.
The New Testament records Jesus healing seven different blind men. And in each case He employed a different method. God is a God of variety. He seldom saves two people the same way. Some people come to Christ in a dramatic way with tears and anguish. Others are so full of joy they laugh at the point of regeneration. Others just quietly place their faith in Jesus. God saved the Apostle Paul by shining a bright light from heaven that knocked him off his feet. There’s not another account of a similar conversion experience.
If the resurrection is a lie, the disciples KNEW it was a lie. What was their motive? People knowingly lie when they think there is some selfish advantage to be gained. If the resurrection story was a hoax, did the disciples get wealth or fame, or pleasure from it? In fact, they gained the opposite. They were hated, scorned, persecuted, tortured, boiled alive, roasted, beheaded, disemboweled and fed to lions—hardly a list of perks. And tradition tells us that the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down.
I think the crowd turned on Jesus because He didn’t fulfill their expectations of a real Messiah. They were still looking for a military hero to deliver them from the hated Romans. They missed the point that He was riding a lowly donkey. They were looking for a general like Judas the Hammer. Over the next few days, it became obvious Jesus wasn’t a military revolutionary. He was a suffering servant who was going to be handed over to the Romans. He failed them, and they turned on Him in vicious rejection.
What if we started seeing supernatural miracles occur here every Sunday morning, do you think more people would believe? Let’s imagine, for instance, that every Sunday God gave me the ability to levitate and float around this room while I preached. We’d have bigger crowds but we wouldn’t have more believers.
There are all different kinds of sighs. There’s a sigh of relief when the doctor tells us that the tumor is benign. There’s a sigh of fatigue after we’ve finished a long, hard job. And there is the sigh of anguish and grief when someone we care about is longer with us. This past week, we had to put our 12-year-old Boxer, Boomer, down because she had gotten too sick to function. A day afterwards, I was driving in my car, and found myself just going, “Sigh…poor old Boomer. I’m going to miss her greeting me every afternoon.” Life is one long bridge of sighs.
No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself.
Because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure? On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee.
“ But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. ”
But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?
On the other hand, we denounce with righteous indignation and dislike men who are so beguiled and demoralized by the charms of pleasure of the moment, so blinded by desire, that they cannot foresee the pain and trouble that are bound to ensue; and equal blame belongs to those who fail in their duty through weakness of will, which is the same as saying through shrinking from toil and pain. These cases are perfectly simple and easy to distinguish. In a free hour, when our power of choice is untrammelled and when nothing prevents our being able to do what we like best, every pleasure is to be welcomed and every pain avoided. But in certain circumstances and owing to the claims of duty or the obligations of business it will frequently occur that pleasures have to be repudiated and annoyances accepted. The wise man therefore always holds in these matters to this principle of selection: he rejects pleasures to secure other greater pleasures, or else he endures pains to avoid worse pains.But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising.
Have you ever thought about the miraculous power of a seed to increase and enlarge? Consider a watermelon seed. One seed weighs about 1/6 of a gram. But that seed can be planted and will suck so much moisture and nutrients out of the ground that it can grow into a huge watermelon. Some watermelons grow to be 100 pounds. That’s about 300,000 times the weight of the seed. And in that watermelon you will find about 300 seeds, that if each of them were planted and grew melons, that first seed would have multiplied its weight by 122 million times! That’s the power of a seed.
Jesus said there are two places where we can direct our vision. We can open our eyes in wonder to what God is doing and we’ll be people of light. Or we can squint at all the stuff around us and try to hoard as much as we can. When it comes to managing the money God has entrusted to you, where is your focus?
In the movie series, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Captain Jack Sparrow had an unusual compass. It didn’t point North. He explains it to Elizabeth. Jack says, “True enough, this compass does not point North.” Elizabeth says, “Where does it point?” Jack replies, “It points to the thing you want the most in this world.” In one movie it points to the Black Pearl. In another movie, it pointed to a bottle of rum Jack wanted, and then it pointed to the Fountain of Youth. If you had Jack Sparrow’s compass in your hand today, what would it point to? Jesus said that treasure has the same effect on your heart. He said, “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” Your treasure has a magnetic attraction to your heart.
We are a generation that is piling up more and more toys based on the misconception that this life is all there is. Everyone in the millennial generation recognizes what these four letters mean: YOLO. It means You Only Live Once. That’s a half-truth, and a half-truth is a full lie. Yes, you only live once physically, the Bible says that. But the Bible goes on to say that after this life, there is eternity. The Bible says it is appointed unto man or woman ONCE to die and after that, the judgment.
When it comes to God and money there are some strange ideas floating around out there. Many people are confused. Three different theological positions concerning money.
I’ve been a student of faith for many years, and I still consider myself in the first grade of faith. There’s so much more I need to know. But I have learned three things about faith. First, without faith it is impossible to please God. Second, God always rewards our faith. And third, God always tests our faith.
2014 Christmas Program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
How many people will be declared righteous by performing religious acts? Zero. How many mouths will be able to give an excuse for their behavior? Zero. How many of us will be held accountable to God? All of us. So with this truth, Jesus moves on to address the true nature of sin and righteousness and it has nothing to do with the way you wash your hands or whether you eat catfish or not.
The disciples were afraid the boat was going to sink and they were going to drown. They were afraid of going into the water, and the water going into them, and then they would die. So don’t miss this important truth: The very thing they feared the most, the water, was under the feet of Jesus. And leads to a very important life lesson: Any problem over my head is already under his feet.
Jesus took the minnows and muffins and turned it into an all-you-can-eat buffet. It fed 5,000 men and their families and the Bible says they were all filled, satisfied. If the little boy had kept his lunch to himself he would have only had two minnows and five muffins. That might not have filled up a growing boy. But because he gave it to Jesus, he got to eat all he wanted.
The Baptist preacher, John, publicly preached that it was both illegal and immoral for Herod to be sleeping with his niece and sister-in-law. This public disgrace infuriated Herod’s wife, Herodias, and she demanded that Herod kill him. But Herod recognized that John was a man of God, so to make his wife happy, he arrested John and put him in jail—but that didn’t satisfy Herodias.
The Bible is full of stories of personal failure. Abraham was a liar but he shook of the dust and became the father of a great nation. Moses was a murderer, but he shook of the dust and became a great leader. David was a womanizer and an accessory to murder, but he shook it off to finish strong. Peter cursed and denied Jesus three times in one night, but he repented and shook off the dust and became the leader of the first church.
The people of Nazareth had a dead faith. They doubted Jesus was the Son of God, and there were no miracles done there. The Centurion had a dynamic faith and God rewarded that faith with a miracle. When you face any challenge in life, you’re going to approach it with either doubt or faith and it’s your choice.
Jairus was desperate to get Jesus to his dying daughter in time, but Jesus stopped along the way to heal a sick woman. A day is a like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day with the Lord. And when you get in a hurry for God to answer your prayer, don’t be surprised if God isn’t in a hurry. Jairus had to learn that lesson, and it’s a lesson for all of us.
When the woman suffering from bleeding grasped Jesus’ robe, the Bible says, “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him.” I studied this miracle for many years before I picked up on this amazing nugget of truth. There were dozens of people crowding around Jesus. How did Jesus know someone touched Him in faith? He told Peter He literally felt healing power flow out of His body. That really opened my eyes to the fact that every time Jesus performed a miracle, power flowed out of him.
If Jesus was willing to cross a dangerous, stormy body of water just to help one troubled man, you need to know He cares for you in the same way. He crossed the great gulf between heaven and earth to bring hope, healing and forgiveness to you. If you had been the only one who needed help, He would have made the trip just for you.
Sometimes life is good. It’s like a summertime when the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high. Your daddy’s rich and your momma’s good looking. There’s certainly no reason to cry when life is like that. And it’s also not a time when your faith is tested. Instead, God tests our faith during the difficult times when the living is hard. Fish aren’t jumping and the cotton is burned. And you have no idea what’s going on with your daddy and momma. That’s when God tests our faith.
The spiritual impact of a Bible message isn’t based on the content of the message; it depends on how the Word is HEARD and RECEIVED. Jesus repeated this phrase many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In this powerful parable Jesus shows us there’s a wrong way and a right way to receive God’s Word.
Knowing Jesus isn’t the same thing as knowing facts about Jesus. I know facts about Abraham Lincoln, but I don’t know Abraham Lincoln. I know facts about Dwight D. Eisenhower, and I can say, “I like Ike.” But I never had the privilege of meeting President Eisenhower. But I met Jesus when I was nine years old and he’s more real to me than the carpet on this floor. He’s more real to me than the wood, concrete, and steel in this building. Because one day, all this will be gone, but Jesus will still be large and in charge.
Some people look at the Korean War and wonder: What was the use? It seems we wasted our time in Korea. That’s looking at it from man’s perspective. Let’s look the Korean War from heaven’s perspective for a moment. There was a terrible war going on, but we sent almost 2,000 chaplains to Korea. They preached the gospel to the people of Korea, especially the children. When the war started, only 2% of South Koreans were Christians, today 32% of South Koreans are followers of Jesus. The work of our military chaplains had an amazing impact on the children who would grow up and become the leaders a generation later.
So, what is the unforgivable sin? Let me tell you what it is NOT. It is not murder. Moses was a murderer and he’ll be in heaven. The unforgivable sin is not adultery. King David committed adultery and God forgave him. It’s not divorce. The woman at the well had multiple divorces and she was forgiven. It is not suicide. Suicide is self-murder and it is no different from homicide—both are forgivable. Once you are a Christian, you don’t have to confess every single sin you commit in order to go to heaven. We confess our sins to stay in fellowship with God, but when you surrender your life to Christ, every past sin you’ve committed and every future sin you will ever commit is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.
The Bible says Jesus called His disciples “that they might be with Him.” Jesus wanted to hang out with these guys so He could pour His life into them. The primary responsibility of a disciple is NOT to go out and work for Jesus; it is to get alone with Jesus and spend time with Him. The way we do that today is by spending time in personal prayer and Bible study.
Some people think all anger is sinful, and they have a hard time justifying that Jesus got angry, because Jesus was supposed to be sinless. He was. The Bible talks about different kinds of anger. Some anger is harmful and destructive. But there is a kind of anger that is holy and just.
The religious whiners of Jesus’ day didn’t like His teaching because it was so revolutionary. It was new. He said things they never heard before. His new teaching shocked and offended them. The religious leaders could not handle this new wine Jesus was offering. They were like the inflexible old wineskins. Their attitudes were “If it is new, it can’t be true!” Every time Jesus said or did something new you could almost hear the sound of straining and stretching until “pop!”—so they killed the messenger instead of accepting the message.
Becoming a Christian can be summarized into three words: Admit, submit, and commit. Jesus is a doctor for those of us who are suffering from the fatal sickness of sin. But before you’ll ever go to the doctor, you’ve got to admit that you have a problem. You must admit you are sinner. Then you have to submit to the doctor’s care. You must submit your wounded heart to the Healer. Then you’ve got commit yourself to the doctor’s plan. You need to take the medicine every day; or follow the treatment regimen every day. You’ve got to be committed to the cure. In the same way, you’ve got to commit to follow Jesus every day.
Part of our job as followers of Jesus is to build skylights to bring light to dark places. I think the main focus of this miracle should be on those four unnamed friends who brought their paralyzed buddy to Jesus. These four guys formed the Faith Skylight Company by believing if they could somehow get their friend to Jesus that Jesus could make a difference in his life. I think God wants everyone of us to be employed in the Faith Skylight Company.
Our sin sickness operates in the same way leprosy does. Although we are born with a tendency to sin, our first sins are usually what we would call minor. However, unless we allow Jesus to fix our sin problem early in life, sin grows and spreads like a metastasis until it consumes us. The growth of sin in a person’s life can sometimes happen so slowly that they don’t even notice it.
So who killed Jesus? You might say the Jewish leaders did; the Roman government did; I did; and God did. But when it comes to CSI, the Cross Scene Investigation, we’ve got to simply close the case. Because when it comes down to it, when you ask, “Who Killed Jesus?” It’s a moot point, because He isn’t dead! He’s alive today. You can’t have a murder trial if the supposed murder victim is alive.
The Bible says Barabbas was part of the insurrection movement against the Romans and had committed murder in the process. There was a roman cross waiting for him. But in the last moment, he suddenly found himself free, and Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross that had been prepared for him. To be honest, I’ve never liked Barabbas. I’ve always been a little angry about this guy. He was a murderer and he got off Scot-free. I want the crowd to yell, “Release Jesus!! Crucify Barabbas!” But instead they yell, “Release Barabbas! Crucify Jesus!” Barabbas, a scoundrel, a sinner, a murderer, was declared innocent and Jesus took his place on a cross meant for him. When I look inside myself I realize the reason I don’t really like Barabbas is because I am Barabbas. We’re in the same sandals. You are Barabbas, too. We’re the guilty ones. We’re the scoundrels, but we get to go free and Jesus died in our place.
I’ve heard of the Garden of Gethsemane most of my life, but it was only a few years ago I learned the meaning of Gethsemane. Gethsemane is a parable of what Jesus endured. The olive tree is called the tree of life because it provides oil for light, medicine, food, and soap. To harvest olives, cloths were spread under the branches, and then the harvesters took heavy sticks and beat the branches to make the olives fall onto the cloths. That reminds me that Jesus was beaten with wooden sticks by both the Jewish guard and the Roman soldiers.
When Jesus announced that one of the twelve disciples would betray him, the disciples didn’t suspect Judas. He was the treasurer of the group, the one you trust the most. Each one honestly wondered if they would betray Jesus. In Luke’s account, Peter was the only who spoke and bragged that he would die with Jesus, but he would never leave him. And we know how that boast turned out, cock-a-doodle-do. And that night, one disciple betrayed Jesus and another disciple denied Jesus three times. But before the night was over, all the other disciples ran away into the night leaving Jesus alone.
Jesus led a busy life. He was always in action. And yet, though He was busy redeeming the world, Jesus saw the value of setting aside a time to be alone with His Father in prayer. There are seventeen different accounts of Jesus praying in the four gospels. And he often sought solitude for His prayers.
Think about Jesus’ temptation for a moment. Remember, Jesus was God in the flesh. He was the creator of the heavens and the earth. Jesus created Lucifer and all the other angels. He had the power of life and death. So, Jesus could have just snapped His holy finger and Satan would have disappeared, forever. So, why did Jesus endure forty days of fasting, and then this temptation? He did it for our sake.
Remember, the word “baptize” means “to immerse.” There is a baptism that is more important than baptism in water. It is baptism in or with the Holy Spirit. Water baptism in an outward act that symbolizes the cleansing of your sins but it only touches your body. Spirit baptism is an inner act that literally purifies your soul and spirit; you become Holy because the Spirit of God is Holy. That’s why He is called the Holy Spirit.
This is a religious area. With almost 500 churches in Smith County, you’d think that this area would be the purest, most moral, most ethical, most law- abiding place on the planet. But there’s a difference between religion and righteousness. I think when Jesus looks at Tyler He feels the same way he did when he looked at Jerusalem. It’s a city full of religious people, but many people who don’t really know God.
There is a fundamental difference between performing random acts of kindness and intentional acts of kindness that point people to God. The question is, “Who gets the credit?” If you perform a random act of kindness to someone, and say nothing, then you get the credit. If you perform an anonymous act of kindness, the force of human goodness gets the credit. But if you perform an act of kindness in the name of Jesus, you are pointing people to God.
God doesn’t just want your first fifteen minutes of a day; He wants you to acknowledge His presence 24/7. He wants you to pray without ceasing. And God doesn’t just want you to serve the Lord here at church two or three hours a week, He wants you to serve Him every day and in every way. And God isn’t just interested in getting 10% of our wealth. What He really wants is YOU–all of you.
2013 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
We’re all familiar with weather warning systems. When a hurricane or tornado appears to be approaching a community, the National Weather Service will issue a warning for residents to evacuate or to take cover. Early warning systems save lives. God has an early warning system as well. Sometimes a believer gets involved in dangerous behavior or starts down a spiritually unhealthy pathway. At that point God activates His early warning system. Guess who that is? According to the Bible we are to be the early warning system to help a Christian veering off track from God’s will.
Laziness is contagious. Part of human nature is that if you do nothing, you’ll always drift in the wrong direction. You have to actively drive in the right direction. I call this phenomenon the gravity of depravity. If you find a friend chilling out on the sofa eating Cheetos and drinking a Coke, you might have the thought that you need to pull them up to their feet and go work out. But if they decide to pull you down to their level it’s a lot easier for them—they have gravity working with them—that’s the gravity of depravity. That’s why you soon find yourself chilling on the sofa with orange lips.
Through the years I’ve had people say that they just don’t have faith. But people exercise faith every day. When you sit down and eat a meal you didn’t prepare, you’re trusting that the cook didn’t put poison in it. When you get on a plane, you’re trusting the aircraft manufacturer and the skill of the pilot. Every time you send an email, you trust it will be delivered. When you sit in a chair, you trust it to hold you up. That’s what it means to believe in Jesus. It doesn’t mean just believing the facts about Jesus. You can give mental affirmation to the fact that there was a historical character named Jesus who was born in Bethlehem and was crucified in Jerusalem. But you must be willing to trust him just as you trust a chair that you sit.
Some people pray in generalities. They may say, “I’m praying for you.” Or, “God bless my family.” Some people pray so generally that they never know if God answers their prayer. But there is a kind of intercessory prayer that employs laser-guided prayer requests. It sends God coordinates for very specific requests. In this passage Paul designates four laser targets for our prayers.
You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t just STAND there, DO something.” But we can turn that around when it comes to the Christian life. “Don’t just DO something; STAND there.” Because the Christian life doesn’t start with action, it starts with conviction and belief—standing on truth. That truth always leads to action, but first we must stand firm on what we believe. As Martin Luther said when he was charged as a heretic by the Catholic Church, “Here we stand. We do no other. God help us.” Someone said that if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
The most powerful weapon in the universe is the Word of God. Paul said the breath of Jesus will defeat the Antichrist. Now, maybe you’ve knocked people over with your breath after you’ve eaten garlic and onions, but Paul is referring to the spoken Word of Jesus. The Antichrist might have a massive armament of nuclear and biological weapons, but they will be useless against the Word that Jesus speaks.
We live in a wicked world today. But can you imagine how wicked this world would be if suddenly there were no churches? There is moral corruption everywhere, but we’re the salt of the earth. Salt was used to preserve fish and to slow down decay. Our presence in the world today is slowing down the process of moral decay. There is spiritual darkness everywhere, but we’re the light of the world. Imagine the chaos and wickedness when the light is turned off.
So what does God want with us? He wants to make us worthy of His calling. He wants to empower us to bear His fruit. He wants to glorify the name of Jesus in our lives. Many people believe that this life is all there is, so their goal is to live it up, because they think they’ll only have about 70 to 80 years to stuff in as much fun as possible. But this life isn’t all there is.
Three of the most valuable Christian virtues are faith, hope, and love. You can see all three here in this passage. Faith reaches upward to God in response to His grace; Love reaches outward to others in response to God’s grace; Hope reaches forward into the future to trust God regardless of the circumstances. Perseverance is another word for spiritual stamina. Stamina is the ability to keep on going even when you’re tired.
We’re all in the process of being changed. None of us are there yet. That’s why we should be patient with each other. But when God looks at you and me, He sees not what we are now, but what we will be when He’s finished with us. That’s the power of an artist. They can look at an empty canvas and see a picture. An architect can look at a piece of property and see a building.
Buddhism won’t get you to heaven. There isn’t even any doctrine of heaven in Buddhism. Nirvana is reaching a state of blissful nothingness, whatever that means. Buddha couldn’t even explain it. With that introduction, I want to expose you to a much better eightfold path given in the Bible. This path won’t take you heaven. Jesus is the only way, or path, to heaven. He’s the one-way path to heaven. But once you’re on that path, this eightfold path of attitudes and actions will lead to a blessed life.
We’ve heard a lot lately about the “stand your ground” law. The Bible isn’t talking about a legal term; it’s talking standing firm spiritually. Notice Paul says there is going to be a day of evil that will come. I was reading this passage not long ago and the Lord impressed on my heart that every one of us are going to have a day that will be the worst day of our lives. It will be THE day of evil for you. Some people have already had the worst day they’ll ever live. Did you stand firm? For others, that day hasn’t come yet. So stay dress up in God’s armor so you can stand your ground when your world falls apart.
Imagine you were leaving for a trip and you posted on your Facebook page that you’re going to be gone for two weeks on vacation and your alarm system is broken, and nobody is staying in your home. And then you post, “I hope nobody takes the $50,000 cash I have hidden in my freezer.” Now, if you return home, you shouldn’t be surprised if that money was gone. Jesus is coming suddenly, and without warning. He’s coming like a thief in the night. But we have been warned in scripture, so we should not be surprised.
Many people are confused about the second coming of Christ, because there are passages that speak of Jesus coming as a thief in the night, suddenly and secretively. Then there are other verses that speak of Jesus coming in glory and every eye will see him. So which one is it? Yes. It’s both. When Jesus comes secretively, that’s the rapture—and He only comes in the clouds and we are caught up to be with Him. But seven years later Jesus will return in glory leading a heavenly army to defeat the Antichrist at Jerusalem. Those of us who have been raised from the dead or raptured will return with Jesus as part of His army. But don’t worry; you won’t need to fight. It will be the world’s shortest battle.
If you die in the Lord, the moment you die on planet earth, the angels will escort your soul and spirit to be with the Lord. Your loved ones who died in Christ are already there, and you’ll see them and you’ll know them. But for those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, death is a scary prospect.
I’ve stood at the graves of my mother and father. I’ve stood at the grave of many of my Christian friends. And I’m here to say that because of Jesus Christ, I stood there with a sense of hope. I knew that it wasn’t the last time I would see my parents, or my friends. I knew that I wasn’t saying goodbye forever. I was simply saying, “I’ll see you soon.” For those of us who know Christ, that’s what we have that the world doesn’t have, HOPE at the graveside.
Is your ladder of success leaning against the wrong wall? A selfish ambition is striving to do what YOU want to do and can be unfulfilling. A holy ambition is striving to do what GOD wants you to do. If you strive to BE the person God wants you to be, then you’ll be doing the things He wants you to do. A holy ambition doesn’t mean you grovel in the ashes of obscurity. It means you are productive for God.
“Why should I be sexually pure?” Because it is essential for you to walk in fellowship with a holy and pure God. Sex is like a powerful river. It’s a beautiful thing, when it is kept within the boundaries of marriage. But when it goes beyond God’s barriers, the result is always disaster.
Satan and his demons will try to hinder you, but they can only do what God allows them to do. One of the biggest mistakes Christians make in relation to Satan is that they consider him to have unlimited power. Lucifer is a fallen angel; he isn’t the dark side of the force. He isn’t omnipotent. Only God is omnipotent. Satan doesn’t have unlimited power. God permits Satan to tempt us and to challenge us because He knows when we endure adversity, it builds our character.
According to the world’s standard, Paul was a failure. He was unpopular. There was usually a mob after him. He spent more time in jail than he did in hotels. He was shipwrecked, beaten, and stoned. According to Ignatius, when Nero was Emperor, Paul was locked in the Mamartine prison in Rome. He was taken from the prison and beheaded, which was a benefit afforded him as a Roman citizen. Beheading was quick death, unlike crucifixion. The moment his head was severed from his body, he was absent from the body and present with the Lord. A failure? Think again. Today we name our sons Paul and our dogs Nero. Why? Because God can turn human failure into heavenly favor.
Faith is one step with two consequences. When a person turns to God, they are turning from their sinful past. Take your hand and place it front of your face with the palm facing you. Now, turn your hand around so the palm is facing away from you. The backside of your hand is now facing you, and the palm is facing away. That isn’t two separate actions; it was only one. Even so, you cannot turn to Christ without turning away from your sin. That turning is repentance. Four different ways we should model the Christian life to others.
Are you tempted to give up and quit? Maybe God has given you a dream or a vision and it hasn’t happened yet. You want to give up—but don’t. Hang in there. Maybe you’ve been praying for something to happen for a long time and God hasn’t answered your prayer—don’t give up. Keep on praying. Keep on trusting. You may be in a bad situation, and you don’t know how you’re going to make it. Hang in there and hang on. Don’t give up!
Before you make a trip, helps to know everything you can about your destination. That’s why we have travel guides. They tell you the best places to stay, the best places to eat, and a list of the activities that are available to you. If you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, Heaven isn’t a vacation destination; it’s an eternal destination. It’s the hometown of Jesus and He’s there now. So, what will there be to do in Heaven?
Where will you be five nanoseconds after you die? Some people might answer, “I don’t care.” But you will care five seconds after you die. Others answer, “I don’t know.” How sad not to have assurance of eternal life. But if you have placed your faith in Jesus you can say with assurance, “I’ll be away from this body and at home with the Lord—forever!”
Imagine you are planning an expensive two-week vacation to Costa Rica. The easiest thing to do is use a travel agent and let them plan the trip for you. But most of us want to do some of our own research online. So you go online to learn everything you can about Costa Rica. But when you Google Costa Rica there are only three words on the website. These words are, “Beautiful, Wonderful, Paradise.” You wouldn’t be satisfied. You’d want to know more about the place. You want to know the history, the climate, the language, the currency, the places to eat and the places to stay. Those are some of the details of heaven we’re going to be examining in this series.
A Christian once asked me, “Why should I go to church?” I thought for a moment and said, “You don’t go to church; you ARE the church.” Church is not a place; it’s what exists when believers gather together. A fully devoted follower of Jesus consistently gathers together with other believers.
Throughout this series I’ve said that unless there is a spiritual awakening, America will face the judgment of God. In some ways, we are already experiencing His judgment in these very days. He doesn’t have to send some supernatural visitation from heaven to judge us. We are simply reaping the bitter fruit of six decades of pushing God off the public square in America.
When your world is falling apart and a foreign country is threatening to conquer your country, it would be easy to live by fear. But Habakkuk shows us that there is another way; we can live by faith. His prophecy begins with an “Oh, no! Things are awful!” And he ends with “Oh, yeah! God is in control!”
2012 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
God has blessed America, because, like Israel, we were established with a deep sense of honor and reverence for God. But also like Israel, we have turned away from God. The prophet Zephaniah tells us what happens to nations that forsake God. In this short but powerful prophecy, he first describes the judgment of God; then he describes the hope that people find when they seek God.
People have asked me what I thought about the election this past week, so here goes: I pledge to pray for President Obama and respect the office of President, because God’s word is clear that we should pray for those in authority over us. However, I believe America missed a good chance to put our nation back on track to God and to Biblical morality. But instead of stemming the flow of blood from the abortion clinics, instead of protecting the sanctity of marriage, we have thumbed our nose at God. As we stand at both a fiscal cliff and a moral cliff, America has voted. We’re moving forward. And when you’re on a cliff, forward is the only direction you should avoid.
Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was a living parable of God’s relationship with Israel and with any nation that wanders from Him. Hosea is preaching came from his own personal experience of love, pain, and redemption. He told the Israelites that, like an unfaithful wife, they were guilty of spiritual adultery. Hosea could say with passion and honesty, “I know how God feels, because I felt the same way. You have broken the heart of God who loves you!”
As I read the prophecy of Amos, I can’t help but notice the similarities between ancient Israel and modern America. It was a time of great prosperity for Israel, but it was also a time of great immorality. But in the midst of it all, they just didn’t really care. They were complacent. Do you care about the direction of our nation? Are you alarmed that our nation’s moral foundation has been cracking for the past few decades? The sad truth is many Christians don’t even care enough to vote. You should let your voice and your vote be heard.
Conservative estimates tell us there are a hundred million people today professing to be born again, evangelical Christians. Where’s our impact? Imagine a hundred million Jonahs walking around in a culture, in the marketplace, in the government, in the schools, in the health clubs, in the neighborhoods. A hundred million people filled with resurrection power as though alive from the dead. That’s what the world is waiting to see and that’s the hope for America today.
It is true that locusts of all kinds come and eat up things valuable to us. They may be literal insect locusts, or they may be the financial or emotional locusts that destroy our savings or our sanity. They may be the judicial or legislative locusts that strip away the leaves from the tree our founders planted. But whatever kind of locust you’ve faced in the past. God gives an amazing promise in Joel. He says, “I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.” (Joel 2:25)
The main truth we can glean from both the Major and Minor Prophets is that God not only deals with individuals, He also deals with nations. Edom is a long-forgotten nation, but Israel is in existence today and is in the news almost daily. As we examine the message of Obadiah, let’s consider God’s Word to America, and then God’s Word to me.
When we’re crucified with Christ, we’ll be like that thief on the cross. He longer cared about what people thought about him. They could have yelled that he was ugly and stupid, but it didn’t bother him, because he was crucified with Christ. He didn’t fear arousing the wrath of the Romans for talking to Jesus, because he was crucified with Christ.
There are some burdens we need to share, and some we need to bear alone. But we all have one burden in common. It’s the heaviest burden that we’ll ever carry: It’s the burden of GUILT we bear because we are sinners. That burden is too heavy for me to bear alone. It’s too heavy for us to share it together. There’s only One who can carry that burden, and He has already carried it to the cross.
The biggest mistake you can make about the Fruit of the Spirit is to think you can manufacture love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Fruit can’t be manufactured. You can’t manufacture Spiritual Fruit either. It comes supernaturally when there is a proper mix of the Life of the Son, the power of the Holy Spirit, and your willingness.
Is your life like a car and Jesus is a passenger? Jesus was in my life, but I had the steering wheel. I’d sometimes see a detour and flip on the blinker and Jesus would say, “Don’t go down that road!” I’d say, “Who’s driving? Me or you?” Then I’d always end up lost and stuck in the mud of my poor decisions. I’d say, “Jesus please give me directions to get back on the main road.” My life was a continual series of bad detours. But on that night I truly surrendered to Jesus as Lord, I said, “Jesus, let’s swap places. I want You to have the steering wheel.” At that moment I became the passenger and He became the driver. Through the years I’ve seen plenty of flashing billboards directing me to go down the wrong road, and I’ve said, “Hey, what about that? Let’s try that road!” And Jesus simply says in reply, “Who’s driving? Me or You?
Gentleness isn’t weakness; it’s strength under control. Gentleness means you don’t use strength to hurt those who are weaker. It’s true physically, and it’s true emotionally. If you’re ever in a confrontation where you could verbally or intellectually destroy the person who disagrees with you, gentleness prevents you from hurting them. Gentleness means you don’t get in someone’s face and yell at them. People are fragile; they need to be handled with care.
You have to move that “Our God is faithful!” understanding from your head to your heart. You have to TRUST that He is faithful. Sometimes when trouble and tragedy afflict us we wonder what God is doing. But these are the very times when you have to TRUST that God is faithful to keep His promises to us. He has a plan for your life—a plan to prosper you, not to hurt you; a plan to give you hope and a future.
We think we’re good because we compare ourselves to others. We look at our neighbors, our coworkers, and our friends and if we’re a little better than them, we feel we’re pretty good people. You’re using the wrong standard if you compare yourself to other people. God’s standard is perfect goodness and complete holiness. If you use the wrong standard, then all comparison is useless.
Presented by the Celebration Choir & Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks, featuring special guest Adam Paul Williams
The kindest thing you can do for a person is to introduce them to Jesus. And sometimes the easiest way to do it is by performing some act of kindness to them in Jesus’ name. Kindness is an evangelistic tool. You may not know the four laws or the seven steps, but you can show kindness in Jesus’ name.
Sometimes Jesus calms the storms of life, but most often He calms our hearts in the midst of life’s storms. We all know that a hurricane is a devastating force of nature. But at the center of every hurricane there’s an eye, where it’s calm and peaceful. The sun is shining, the air is still, and even birds fly around in the eye of the storm. Peter was in the eye of the hurricane that night in prison. And when you know that God cares for you, you can be in the peaceful eye of the storm while all around you the storm rages.
When you wake up every morning, you have a choice. You can wallow in the ashes of the world, or choose the beauty that God offers. You can give in to mourning, or you can have the oil of joy covering you. Are you burdened down with a spirit of heaviness? You can choose to put on the garment of praise. Joy is a choice!
The apostle Paul lists fifteen different sins, but he concludes the list with the words, “and the like.” That means the list isn’t exhaustive: If you don’t find your pet sin listed, that doesn’t mean you get a pass. The fifteen different weeds of the flesh fall into four general categories. A comparison of the weeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
I believe that when you come to Christ, God forgives every sin you’ve ever committed and every sin you’ll ever commit. So if I’m forgiven, then why should I run from sin? One word: Consequences. Forgiveness is God removing the penalty of my sin problem—eternity in hell. But as a Christian I still have to face the consequences of my sin in this life. Moses sinned against God by showing pride and disobedience. He was forgiven, and he’s in heaven, but he sinned, he suffered the consequence of never entering Canaan. King David sinned against God, and he was forgiven, and he’s in heaven how. But because of his sin, he suffered tragedy and heartache in his family.
How many of you have ever seen a falling star, raise your hand. Really? I doubt what you saw was a star. Our sun is a star, and stars don’t “fall.” What you saw was a piece of space junk, a meteor. It wasn’t a star falling. If you see a star falling, we’re in trouble. And if you think you saw a Christian who fell from salvation, chances are they weren’t a Christian in the first place.
When we live under the liberty of grace, we admit we are powerless to help ourselves. There’s a reason why that’s the first statement in the 12 steps of AA and in Celebrate Recovery. When a person is in bondage to an addiction, they will remain in chains as long as they try to help themselves. They think, “I can fix this. I can do better. I can live better.” But it’s only when they admit that they are powerless, that they begin the journey to wholeness, healing, and restoration. The same is true about the Christian life.
Isaac was born supernaturally—there’s no way a 90-year-old woman could give birth. The thought of that was laughable. It was a miracle birth that had to be the divine intervention of God. That’s what grace is. Grace is knowing that it is humanly impossible for me to be good enough for God, so instead God must intervene supernaturally at the cross to perform a miracle. Jesus became sin for me so that I may become the righteousness of God.
This planet is littered with the graves and tombs of millions of people—some are famous tombs, but the majority is obscure. The pyramids in Egypt are really tombs, the Taj Mahal in India is a mausoleum, and the Ming Dynasty emperors are buried in massive tombs, with each complex covering almost 100 acres. Go to the tombs of religious teachers and call roll: Mohammad? “Here.” Buddha? “Here.” Moses? “Here.” Confucius? “Here.” Jesus? (silence) Jesus? All we hear is the echo from an empty tomb. Even if you’re a skeptic, you’ve got to answer the question: What happened to the body of Jesus?
There are some Christians who believe you can lose your salvation. They think there is something a Christian can do that would cause them to longer be a child of God. We believe there’s nothing we can do to become a child of God, so there’s nothing you can do to lose that position. Once God has placed you into His family by a new birth, no one or nothing can cause you to lose your relationship with Him. You don’t have to work to keep your salvation; He is keeping you.
You might have grown up in a small family, or a large family. You might have come from a blended family or a broken family, but we all understand the meaning of the word, “family.” We were once slaves to sin, but now we’re siblings—we are brothers and sisters in Christ. You and I are spiritual siblings because we have the same Father.
Yes, we may have different colored skin. Yes, we might have different jobs, and positions of leadership. And yes, there are differences between men and women. But IN CHRIST these differences don’t define who we are. The only two categories that really matter in the world are: Are you IN CHRIST, or not? At the cross, Jesus destroyed all the made-made barriers of hostility.
We think the door to freedom and happiness can be picked open by our own efforts, when Jesus has already declared us to be free. You may be sweating and straining at the thoughts of facing a holy God. You may be locked up by your fear of the future, tormented by the fact that you can’t DO everything you think you should be doing for God. And meanwhile, through His grace, God has already unlocked the door to freedom.
How do you find time every day to submit to the leadership of the Spirit in our “hurry-up” world? There is value in God’s daily will for us, yet we do not trust or seek it.
Many times in today’s society, we don’t turn first to Jesus or lead others to do so. We must be committed to the truth of Scripture and necessity of faith in Christ and trust him with our problems and with our friends’ salvation.
It’s hard to trust God in hard times until we see that he redeems all he allows. In a hurting culture, when we meet needs in Jesus’ name, we earn the right to share his love.
In a skeptical culture, where we separate the spiritual and the secular, our lives must prove the reality of our faith by seeing the transforming purpose and power of God’s Kingdom. A discussion of how to be a Kingdom Christian in every dimension and influence of your life.
In a self-sufficient culture, God will matter to others if He matters to us. Find out how you can be filled with the Holy Spirit why we need it.
We’re surrounded by dead people who go to great lengths to look alive. And in some respects, they may look better than some of us. They can work out, and have six-pack abs, but unless they know Jesus, they’re dead. They can spend money and wear nicer clothes, and live in nicer houses, and drive in nicer cars, but unless Jesus has come into their hearts to give them life, they’re dead. Just like a cut-off Christmas tree.
Just as our bodies get tired, our souls can get weary as well. Just as our bodies can experience pain, so can our souls. It’s just a different kind of pain. And soul pain and exhaustion is harder to pinpoint and treat than physical problems. When there’s a problem with your body, you go to a doctor and he or she prescribes medication or performs surgery. But the pain and fatigue in your soul isn’t as easy to treat and some emotional pain is unavoidable.
In a 24-hour period your heart will beat more than 100,000 times. You have so many blood vessels that if they were all stretched out end-to-end they would wrap around the equator. Twice. So in an average day your blood travels 168,000 miles. You will move and use over 700 muscles, and generate 450 tons of energy. In an average day you will speak 4,800 words, if you are a man—slightly more for the ladies! Your body contains overs 10 trillion cells and each one is more complex and intricate than the New York City power grid. You really ARE fearfully and wonderfully made. To claim that you are a biological accident is about as likely as an explosion in a junkyard miraculously resulting in a perfect Boeing 747.
Since I’ve lived here, I’ve met people who moved here from other areas. I’ve heard people say, “I came down from Minnesota, Praise the Lord.” Or, “I came down from Boston where we park the car by the harbor.” I’ve had people say, “Oh, right, I came down from Canada, you betcha,’ where I went out from my house.” I’ve even had people tell me, “I came down from Oklahoma.” (And they sound just like Texans). But here’s my point: In all these years of meeting people, I’ve never ONCE had anyone say, “Oh, I came down from heaven.” But Jesus made that claim about Himself multiple times. An examination of Jesus’ Christmas journey.
Most of us struggle with the pure grace of God because we feel better about ourselves if we can do something to earn God’s favor. The idea of grace goes against our human nature. Everything in our nature says, “Try hard. Work hard. Earn acceptance with God.” But salvation is not by trying; it is by trusting.
2011 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
Christ in you changes your life. This is only a cup of hot water, but when I drop this tea bag in it, it changes the color and the nature of the water. For the water to exist now is for tea to exist. If the water could talk it might say, “It is no longer I (water) but tea lives in me.” Not many people drink hot water—there isn’t much taste there. But water turned into tea becomes a delicious drink. The tea adds value. Even so, in the Christian life, Christ in you changes your nature. He changes your life from being bland and boring to be exciting and thrilling.
Justified margins means the left margin and the right margin are both straight; they agree. Justified people are those who have been made right with God. Here are God’s standard on the left—absolute perfection—straight up. And here we are on the right—our lives are ragged. Religion or legalism is the attempt to JUSTIFY our lives with God’s perfect standard. But we can’t justify our lives to God’s standard. Thankfully, God does the justification. It is His act, not ours!
Of these three characters, whose sandals are you wearing? Are you like Paul and you need to help someone who has stumbled? Or are you in the sandals of Barnabas and you’re following the wrong leader? Or perhaps, like Peter, you need to examine your life and make sure your conduct matches what you believe about the gospel.
The legalism that exists today isn’t about keeping Jewish festivals as much as it is thinking that a Christian can earn God’s love and acceptance by what they do or don’t do. Legalism is the belief that if I can just keep all my spiritual plates spinning, then I can earn more of God’s favor.
Most people spend their lives trying to please others, but Paul challenges us to the take the road less traveled and live our lives to please God. That’s a pretty important matter to settle in your own life. Are you living to please others, or to serve God? A comparison of people-pleasing versus the blessings we receive when we live to please God.
Jesus’ last words from the cross weren’t “EARN THIS.” His last words were a shout of triumph, “It is finished!” Sadly some Christians spend every day of their lives feeling like they have to live in a way to earn the sacrifice of Jesus. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He was saying there was nothing else we could ever do to be saved.
Galatians is a short book—only six chapters. You can easily read it in a half-hour. But don’t be deceived by its size. A tiny stick of dynamite can blow up a big building. That’s more than a figure of speech; it’s a metaphor for the book itself. Galatians is spiritual dynamite. Learn how to achieve freedom from fear, doubt and guilt through grace.
The absence of a body alone is not a compelling argument for the resurrection. But when you combine it with the fact that a living, breathing Jesus appeared on several occasions to His disciples, you either have to say the account is fictional, or Jesus really came back from the dead.
When Jesus died on the cross, four things happened simultaneously: Old Testament scriptural prophecy was fulfilled, darkness covered the earth, the Temple curtain was torn and an earthquake raised the dead. But the main miracle of the cross, the unseen miracle, was Jesus took the punishment for sin in my place.
If one angel warrior could kill 185,000 soldiers, then 72,000 angel warriors could kill 13.2 billion soldiers. That’s over twice the population of the earth today! And the night Jesus spoke these words, it is estimated there were less than one billion people on earth. In other words, if Jesus had given the word, these angel warriors could have literally wiped out the entire population of the planet.
We know from John’s account that the perfume Mary anointed Jesus with was worth 300 denarii, which is equal to a year’s wages. So figure your annual salary, and you begin to have an idea about how expensive this gift was. But she poured it all out on Jesus in an act of worship. To Mary, no expense would be spared. Her great love for Jesus could only be expressed by giving her most prized possession. Breaking the bottle symbolized her brokenness before the Lord.
In Israel, shepherds often had sheep and goats in the same flock during the day, but at night, the shepherd separated the sheep and the goats. The sheep, which are more defenseless, were herded into a stonewalled sheepfold. The goats, which are more aggressive by nature, were left outside the sheepfold. It was a common sight in Israel to see a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats; and this is the powerful picture Jesus uses to describe how He will judge all people at the end of the world.
The parable of the talents is about money, but the application is about managing ALL the resources God has given you. In addition to your money, God has given you health, time, talent, energy, abilities, influence, and relationships. This is not just about money management; it’s about life management. But it all starts with acknowledging that everything I have is a gift from God. I don’t own it; I just manage it.
It is my strong belief that America is a great nation but America is in trouble. We are on a downward spiral. Our foundations are eroding as our moral foundation is decaying. We have lost our moral compass. And unless we, the younger generations, reclaim the values, the dignity, the decency, and the diligence of this greatest generation, America may not survive very far into the 21st century.
You can’t borrow someone else’s faith. You can learn from my faith, but you can’t use my faith. Even though I’m saved, I cannot become your Savior. Even though you have received the Grace of God, you can’t impart the grace of God to anyone else. I can give my life for you, but I can’t live your life, and you can’t live mine. God has children, but He has no grandchildren. You can’t borrow faith from your parents or grandparents. They can instill God’s Word in your heart and train you in the things of God, but they can’t give you their faith. You have to choose to follow Jesus on your own.
Are you more concerned about your own needs than the needs of others? In the eyes of the world, greatness is determined by how many servants a person has, but in God’s economy greatness is defined by how many people we serve. Too many people have their eyes on the sky looking for the return of Jesus. Let me ask you the same question the angels asked the disciples: Why do you stand gazing into heaven? Jesus is coming back, so get busy serving God by serving others.
The Bible says at any moment, the Lord Jesus could return in a flash, in a twinkling of an eye. God has placed warning signs all along the road. Warning! Repent immediately. This message is just another warning. For those of us who have heeded His warning, and put our faith in Jesus, we will escape His judgment against sin. But some people just laugh at the Bible and refuse to heed God’s Warning.
Most of us had the childhood experience of riding in the car heading on vacation. We were excited but we didn’t really have an understanding of when we would arrive. So we would yell up to our dad or mom driving, “How much longer? Are we there yet?” And they would often reply, “We’re ten minutes closer than the last time you asked!” That’s a little bit how I feel about the return of Christ. We don’t really know when it’s going to happen, so we ask our Father. “How much longer?” And He smiles and says, “Closer than when you asked the last time.” I’m not a genius but I feel safe in making this prediction about when Jesus will return: Sooner than yesterday. We can’t know the exact day, but we can know the season. Pay attention: The fig tree has sprouted leaves; the Israeli flag flies over Jerusalem; and the gospel is going to all people groups.
God is interested in how you manage His money, and He wants you to honor Him with the tithe. He’s interested in every area of your personal life. The websites you look at matter to God. The drugs you’re taking? They matter to God. The gossip you’re spreading? It matters to God. How you care for His temple, your body? It matters to God. Your personal morality matters to God, but if your concern for personal morality doesn’t lead you to help hurting people, you’ve missed the point.
Do you think, “I’m a pretty good person?” Or do you say, “I’m not perfect, but I’m better than most people, or at least some people?” Or do you say, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace?” Maybe you should say, “I’m not what I OUGHT to be, and I’m not what I WANT to be, and I’m not what I’m GOING to be, but thank God because of His grace, I’m not what I USED to be.” I’m just a sinner saved by grace. If you can say that, then you might NOT be a hypocrite—just a recovering hypocrite who doesn’t need a mask anymore.
The scarlet thread runs from Genesis to the cross, but it doesn’t end there. Satan tried to cut it off at the cross, but the scarlet thread continued into a cold dark tomb. Today, this scarlet thread is God’s lifeline to you. He has tossed it to you. Will you grab it? The scarlet thread runs through the Bible, but when you let it run through your heart, then you can know without a doubt that you’ll spend eternity in the presence of God.
What kind of perfect environment do you picture? If you love the beach, you might picture a perfect beachfront with no litter, undertow, sharks or crabs! Heaven is better than that. If you’re a golfer, you might picture being able to play Augusta National and every drive splits the fairway and every putt rattles into the cup. Heaven is better than that. If you love hiking you might picture a perfect mountain trail with no briars or snakes, and you don’t get tired as you carry a 100-pound pack uphill. Heaven is better than that. Imagine what you can, and Heaven is better than that.
Some people hold two or more passports because they are citizens of two or more countries. In this passage of scripture Jesus reminds us that we hold dual citizenships. He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” By that statement He indicated that all of us live in relationship to an earthly government. He also said, “Give to God what is God’s.” In addition to our relationship to an earthly government, we must also consider our relationship with God. So, if you’re a Christian, you live in relationship with Caesar, the government and with God. It’s like holding two passports.
The message of this parable is powerful but simple. “Many are invited but few are chosen.” To rephrase that, “All are invited, but only a few CHOOSE to accept the invitation.” God has given you an invitation to join Him for eternity. He provides the clothing of the righteousness of Jesus. If you accept his gracious offer, then you will enjoy the presence of the King of Kings for all eternity. However, if you refuse God’s offer of grace, then you will spend eternity separated from Him in a place called hell.
Someone said each of Jesus’ parables is like a window. You can look through the parable and see the world in a different way. But if you really look at a window instead of through it, you will often catch your own reflection in the glass. When you truly “get it” you’ll always see yourself in the parables of Jesus.
The more you talk ABOUT your mountain, the bigger it gets. It grows and grows until sometimes you really do turn a molehill into a mountain. And if you don’t speak to your mountain it will speak to you—it will taunt you, “Look at me! You can’t get past me! You’ll never be healthy! You’ll never get out of debt. You’ll never kick that habit!” So try speaking directly to the mountain; you don’t have to yell. Just say with faith, “Mountain, there’s not enough room for both of us in this life, so you gotta go!”
the Bible teaches we were all blind until Jesus touched our lives and gave us the light of salvation. And you and I live with people who are spiritually blind. They are stumbling over themselves trying to find spiritual truth through crystals, meditation, or the newest and latest new age fad. Satan has blinded their minds.
When we think about what the vineyard workers were paid, our immediate reaction to that story is, “Hey, that’s not fair!” Jesus didn’t say this is what the kingdom of this world is like. He said this is what the Kingdom of heaven is like. Heaven uses different math than the world uses. Jesus leaves the 99 sheep to go after the one lost one—the world doesn’t operate that way. Jesus said that a widow’s two pennies were more valuable than all the gold given in the Temple one day. The world would call that fuzzy math, but the Bible calls it grace.
When Moses faced the Red Sea in front of him and an army chasing him, he faced an impossible situation, but God specializes in the impossible and He made a twelve-lane express highway in the middle of the sea. When Joshua faced the flood-swollen Jordan River, there was no way to cross, but God told the priests to step into the water by faith, and He stopped the river. Impossible? But God did it. When little David faced a nine-foot monster with only a slingshot, victory was impossible by human standards. But the God of the impossible directed the stone to strike Goliath right between the eyes. When Gabriel visited a teenager named Mary he announced she would give birth to a son who would be the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Mary said, “How can this be, since I’m a virgin?” Gabriel said, “Nothing is impossible for God.”
We love to talk about how God has forgiven us, but we sometimes choke on the idea of forgiving others. The world’s answer is simple: Payback time! But as Christians, we’re told to turn the other cheek; we’re told to forgive. But sometimes forgiveness is very difficult when we know the person who needs our forgiveness is going to keep on hitting us.
2010 Christmas program, featuring the Celebration Choir and Orchestra under the direction of Mike Parks.
As an adult you may be waiting until you understand salvation before you accept it. You’ll never understand it. You only have to accept God’s free gift of eternal life. That’s easy for a child to understand, but difficult for an adult. God isn’t looking for childish behavior, but He is looking for a childlike spirit. In a real sense, only children go to heaven–God’s children.
Thousands of people are thrill seekers and live on the edge simply because they want the temporary reward of a rush of adrenaline or a new buzz. But the thrill is only temporary and they have to look for the next big thrill and they are constantly unfulfilled. There’s nothing wrong with seeking fun, adventure, and pleasure unless it becomes the driving force of your life. If it does, then you lose.
This spiritual building Jesus is constructing isn’t made up of bricks that are all the same size and appearance. It’s more like a stone wall of all different shapes and sizes. God loves variety. If you don’t believe it, just look around. Unless you’re a twin, nobody else looks like you. But like the stones in a wall, we are joined together through the mortar of the Holy Spirit. The stonemason carefully chooses each stone to fit with the others. That’s exactly what God does with us.
Jesus wants every ethnos, every people group in the world to hear the good news. In fact He said, “I’m not coming back until every people group has heard the gospel.” Could it be that Jesus is waiting for one final people group to hear the gospel? At this very moment there could be some missionaries who have found their village and they are right now in the process of sharing the gospel with this final people group?
There are basically two ways God works in the world. First, He works through miracles. When a miracle happens you KNOW the hand of God is involved. But the second way God works is through His Providence. And this is when you can’t see His hand, it’s invisible, but God is still at work. It’s like Clint Eastwood. Sometimes he’s an actor and you see him on the screen and sometimes he’s a director and you don’t see him. When God performs a miracle, He’s front and center, but when He works through Providence, He’s in the background.
In this drama about love and redemption, there is a crisis that must be overcome before Boaz can marry Ruth. This is also a story of God’s love for us and our redemption. In much the same way, there are some issues that must be settled in our understanding of salvation before we can fully accept Jesus as our Kinsman-Redeemer. So, I want to talk about the rival redeemer, the real redeemer and the redeemer’s reward.
Ruth was obedient when she told Naomi, “I will do whatever you say.” That’s what faith is; it believing God enough to DO what He tells us to do in His Word. She didn’t just believe there was a possibility that Boaz could be her goel; she believed enough to DO something about it! You can say you believe God’s Word until you’re blue in the face, but the only part of this Bible you really believe is that part you act on.
Jesus qualifies as our goel. He is our kinsman through the incarnation. He has the power and the willingness to redeem us, and He has paid the price. He took on human flesh so He could live among us. Jesus took those human hands and touched the blind and broken hearted. He used those human hands to caress the little children who were drawn to Him. He used those human hands to break the bread that fed thousands. But the main reason Jesus needed a human body was to die.
Ruth was amazed at the grace Boaz showed her. People from Moab were considered inferior foreigners. There was a lot of discrimination against Gentiles. So why did Boaz notice Ruth and show her kindness and friendship? There’s a wonderful nuance to this story many people miss. I believe one of the reasons Boaz showed favor to Ruth was because Ruth reminded him of his mother, Rahab.
Commitment is not bargaining. It’s okay to bargain when you’re buying a Polex Watch from a street vendor in New York City. But true commitment to God isn’t a bargain to see how cheaply you can get off and still go to heaven! It’s offering God everything and asks for nothing. But like Ruth, when we give Him our all, He gives us so much more in return.
When you start backsliding, it doesn’t happen suddenly, it happens gradually. Automobile mechanics will tell you that more tires go flat from a slow leak than from a blowout. Not many people have spiritual blowouts and run away from God. Backsliding is a gradual process. It is a gradual decline takes you away from intimacy with God and His people. It might begin with a little sin that you think is harmless. But sin is a poison that has a delayed effect. There is no such thing as a harmless sin to God. Sin killed His precious Son Jesus, so God hates all sin, and so should we.
Are you a persistent person or do you give up quickly? Jesus taught us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) But those verbs denote continuous action. He literally said, “Ask and keep on asking … seek and keep on seeking … knock and keep on knocking.” You wouldn’t walk up to a closed door and knock once would you? Have you been praying for something for days or weeks and you haven’t received an answer yet? Don’t quit praying. God rewards persistent praying. Don’t give up. Keep praying.
When Jesus is out on the waves, sitting in the boat represents a lack of faith. Sitting in the boat represents your comfort zone. It’s the status quo. The boat life is dull. It is safe, but it’s sour. But Jesus calls us to think outside the boat. It took a lot of courage for Peter to throw his leg over the boat and place his foot on water. But he never would have experienced the adventure of water walking if he had stayed in the boat. What is your boat today? What is it that limits you from stepping out in faith and trusting God for something so great that if He doesn’t come through, then you’re sunk? Are you willing to throw yourself out of the boat of mediocrity and move toward Jesus?
When you face the very hardest times of your life, it is like God is saying, “Take out a blank sheet of paper.” The only question on God’s test is: Do you trust me? Your answer is not for His information; it is to show you how much faith you really have. Your faith will be tested continually throughout your life, not to shame you, but to strengthen you. Once you realize problems are God’s pop quizzes, it makes it easier to say, “Oh boy! Another test!”
Jesus loves every kind of person, not just the good people. Jesus loves the down-and-out as well as the up-and-out. Jesus loves the man who drank himself into a stupor last night. Jesus loves the junkie who shot up last night. Jesus loves the woman who slept last night with someone who was not her husband. Jesus loves the guy who in secrecy and shame looked at porn on his computer last night. Jesus loves the child who cried herself to sleep last night because her parents were yelling at each other. And He loves those parents, too. Jesus loves that inmate sitting in prison because he did unspeakable things to another person. And Jesus loves the person sitting in church with a better-than-thou attitude thinking “Yeah, but He loves me more.”
What if I told you there was an investment you could make and your return would make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams? Would you be interested? Of course, you’d probably be skeptical because we all know about Bernie Madoff and the other investment scammers out there with their “get-rich-quick schemes.” But what if I could convince you this investment would really pay off a thousand-fold? How much would you be willing to invest? Would you invest just a little, or would you sell out everything you have and buy up all of that investment you could?
Imagine boulders represent burdens. Sometimes we all experience the occasional heavy boulders of pain and grief: the death of a loved one; a divorce; the loss of a job. You carry your own backpack, but if a boulder rolls over onto one of your fellow hikers, you’re going to jump in and help take the load of that burden off them; you’re going to bear their burden. As you do that, you fulfill the law of Christ. The law of Christ is the law of Love. You are to love God with all your being and love your neighbor as yourself. Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age; there are plenty of adult Christians who still cannot feed themselves.
Any wheat farmer can easily tell the difference between wheat and weeds. Want to know how? As the harvest time nears, the top of the stalk sags downward, it bows. The head of the wheat grows so heavy with the grain, the fruit, that it begins to bow toward the ground. Meanwhile, the weeds stand tall and straight. They never bow. What a lesson! A true believer is humble; and the more mature and fruitful they become, the more they bow before the Lord in humility. But the counterfeit Christian stands tall, proud of his religious accomplishments which he foolishly believes will get him to heaven.
Your heart is like a garden, it needs to be tended. Even a good garden has weeds that spring up. But you can’t just chop off the weeds; you must pull them out by the roots. If you want to be a fruitful Christian, you must constantly attack the root sins of worry and the craving for wealth.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every biological family were a “big happy family?” But we know sometimes just the opposite is true. We all know our biological families can cause us heartache and pain. Jesus pointed to His disciples and said, “This is my mother and my brothers and sisters. He was teaching that we are part of a huge family of believers. His family is called the church. This is where you can find love and acceptance. And for many people, they feel a closer bond with their spiritual family than they do with their natural family members.
The very best way for you to hear from God is to let His Word abide in you. To do that you have to maintain a steady, daily diet of God’s Word. Once you have it in your head and in your heart, you will be thinking about His Word all the time. When you’re confronted with a challenge, or a challenge, you won’t need a sign. You’ll be able to say; “God’s Word says this about that issue.”
Scientists who study sound waves theorize sound waves never really vanish; they just diminish until they are no longer audible to the human ear. And each sound wave has a unique frequency. Some believe if we could invent a sensitive enough instrument, we might someday be able to go back and capture the faint echo of words spoken hundreds of years earlier. Wouldn’t it be something if we could one day actually hear Lincoln giving the Gettysburg address? Well, that’s the stuff of scientific journals. But, for God, recapturing every word I’ve ever said won’t be hard. But I’m not worried. Do you know why? Because there are a few important words I’ve spoken that take care of all the trash talk I’ve ever done. One day I said, “Jesus is my Lord.” And I asked Him to forgive my sins.
What is the unforgivable sin? Let me tell you what it is NOT. It is not murder. Moses was a murderer and he’ll be in heaven. It is not adultery. King David committed adultery and God forgave him. It is not divorce. The woman at the well had multiple divorces and she was forgiven. It is not suicide. Although the Catholic Church teaches suicide is an unforgivable sin, you don’t find it in the Bible. Suicide is self-murder and it is no different from homicide—both are forgivable. If you think a person who commits suicide can’t repent of that sin because they’re dead and that’s your attitude, then you don’t understand salvation. Once you are a Christian, you don’t have to confess every single sin you commit in order to go to heaven. We confess our sins to stay in fellowship with God, but when you surrender your life to Christ, every past sin you’ve committed and every future sin you will ever commit is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.
One of the most valuable commodities in this world is hope, because it’s so rare. And the Bible promises you can find hope in Jesus Christ. In our vocabulary, we’ve reduced the meaning of hope to something that may or may not happen. We say, “I hope I’ll pass that test.” Or “I hope we’ll win the game.” You can ask someone, “Are you going to heaven when you die?” And their answer is, “I hope so!” We’ve diluted the word hope until it’s something you want to happen, but you aren’t certain that it will. But in the Bible, hope carries the meaning of absolute certainty.
Have you noticed in many of Jesus’ miracles He simply told the person to DO the very thing they couldn’t do? When the four men brought the paralyzed man to Jesus and lowered him through a hole in the ceiling, Jesus didn’t touch the paralyzed man. He simply said, “Stand up, pick up your bed and walk home.” Jesus told Peter to walk on water, which was totally impossible. But it wasn’t until Peter stepped out onto the impossibility that he found he could stand on Jesus’ Word! It is only when we trust the Word of Jesus to believe we experience His healing power. Salvation is impossible for us, but God’s power makes it possible.
We don’t have to observe the Sabbath the way the Jews did. But there is another mistake some Christians make. They say, “Oh, well Sunday is our Sabbath.” No, Sunday is NOT the Christian Sabbath. I invite you to find one verse in the New Testament that says Sunday has become the Sabbath. Then where did we get the idea that existed until about 40 years ago that stores shouldn’t be open on Sundays?
Say a single Clydesdale can pull a sled holding two tons of weight. And another Clydesdale can pull three tons. You would think that when yoked together, the most they could pull would be five tons. But in reality when these two horses are yoked together, they can actually pull seven tons! You may think that’s not possible, but this phenomenon has been proven many times. It’s called synergy. Two pulling together can accomplish more than the sum of the two parts. Now apply that principle to the yoke of Christ. You can try bearing the heavy load yourself, but Jesus invites you to join Him inside His yoke. Think about how much strength He has! He’s the strong one and I’m the weaker partner.
Many of you have told me you have family members who aren’t Christians. At family gatherings and you have to watch what you say, because if you bring up your faith, the battle breaks out. Verbal swords are drawn and the fight begins. Of course we love our family members, but Jesus said our love for Him must be supreme.
How many times have you faced a scary situation and given in to fear? Wouldn’t it have made a difference if you had know God was right there with you? Well, He is! Spiritually speaking, we’re all like preschoolers learning to walk. We’re going to stumble and fall, but He has promised to uphold us with His hand. When we stumble He grips us even stronger and that’s when we need to grip His hand even tighter. You don’t have to be afraid, because God has promised He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you. He watches over every sparrow that falls, so you can be certain He is watching over you!
Jesus says we are to be like sheep, snakes, and doves. The wolves are those who are enemies of the cross. I want to examine what it means for us to be like these three animals. If we could talk to the animals, or they could talk to us, what would they say to us about being like a lamb, a snake, and a dove? God has called us to go out into the world and share His truth. We are sent out like sheep among wolves. We must be as clever as snakes, and as innocent as doves.
As human creatures, we love to accumulate stuff. You know what stuff is. I’ve got my stuff and you’ve got your stuff. Don’t mess with my stuff. People have accumulated so much stuff that they have to rent storage units to store all their stuff. But Jesus taught that we shouldn’t hoard our blessings, we should give them away.
Our work for God must spring from our worship of God. Too often we come into a worship service and leave totally unchanged. It’s possible to come to a worship service, but never actually worship. Worship means you meet God and you express your adoration to Him, and every time you encounter God, your life is changed.
God is going to give you some opportunities over the next few months to make a difference in someone’s eternity. All you have to say is, “Come, see what a difference Jesus has made in my life.” Are you looking for those opportunities? One of my favorite quotes about opportunity comes from Thomas Edison. Edison said, “Most people don’t recognize opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
If you want to live according to Philippians 4:13, you’ve got to start believing “I can” instead of “I can’t.” The word “can’t” is the most destructive word in the English language. It kills dreams, and destroys motivation, it denies the power of faith. If you want to see changes in your life, I suggest you take your dictionary and cut the word “can’t” out of it. You may say, “I can’t because I don’t have a dictionary.” I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you said because “can’t” isn’t in my vocabulary!
We talk a lot about faith, but many people don’t really understand it. People who aren’t followers of Jesus claim they just can’t have faith, but everyone practices some kind of faith every day of their lives. Is there something you need in your life? Don’t stop trusting God for it. Keep on praying. Keep on persevering! Don’t give up on God.
The Bible promises that God knows the number of hairs on your head, just like your fingerprint is unique; a zebra’s pattern is also unique. God planned you from the moment of creation. From the moment of creation, he sat this universe in order with these laws and these principles and he foreknew you and you can trust him with every detail of your life.
The bleeding woman would have been content to slip away into the crowd, but Jesus wouldn’t let her. She didn’t just sneak up and “steal” a measure of Jesus’ power; it was something Jesus willingly surrendered to her when He felt her touch of faith. Jesus wanted to give her an affirmation for her public confession of His power. The same is true today. Jesus wants us to go public with our testimony of how Jesus has changed our lives. There is no such thing as a “secret agent” or “closet” Christian. Jesus invites us, He requires us, and He expects us to openly confess our faith in Him.
Have you begged the Lord for something, and you think you need it right now, but the Lord doesn’t seem to be in any hurry? With God, timing is much more important than time. God’s delays are not God’s denials. Psalm 90:4 tells us a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day with the Lord. We get impatient, but the Lord never gets in a hurry.
Just because you are a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t deal with suffering. Life is full of sadness, pain, and disappointment. If you compare the Christian life to a song, the melody line is always joy and praise. The harmony line is suffering and pain. Together, our lives are a beautiful song—but the melody of joy must prevail.
When Jesus looks at us, He doesn’t just see the “AS IS” sign around our necks He also sees something more—He sees “what I can be” when He takes possession of my life. He delights in accepting “as is” people and transforming them into something wonderful. He saw Matthew “as is” and saw what he could become. He didn’t just see a despised tax collector, Jesus saw a “facts collector” who would one day use his pen to write down His words and deeds. Jesus accepted the woman at the well in Samara “as is.” He knew she had a jaded past and was living in sin, but he looked beyond that to see she could be a relational evangelist bringing her thirsty friends to find the living water. Jesus looked at little Zacchaeus and saw Him “as is”–another despised tax collector. And He saw He could become a generous giver. Jesus looks at each of us and accepts us “As Is.” Then He says, “I see what you can become.” And we should look at people the way Jesus looks at people. We should be willing to accept them “as is” and rejoice as Jesus makes them into something beautiful.
It requires both faith and persistence to bring someone to Jesus. Do you REALLY believe Jesus can forgive and change even the most hardened person? Then start working on them. And don’t give up. The paralytic’s four friends didn’t give up. When they found the way blocked, they didn’t quit, they tried a creative approach! God wants you to be a persistent roof-ripper and do whatever it takes to bring your friends to Jesus.
If the thought of the devil and demons makes you want to change the subject and talk about something else, the devil has successfully snared you in his trap of fear. Satan knows if he can keep the whole topic of demonic control in the realm of horror movies that produce nightmares that people won’t ever discover the real truth—that he is a defeated foe.
Some Christians make the mistake of thinking that just because they have the Lord in their life that they will be immune to trouble, tribulation, and problems. Even if Jesus is in your life, you will still encounter storms. There are physical storms, financial storms, emotional storms, and relational storms which can strike you suddenly with no warning. But just because you find yourself in a storm it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you or is punishing you. Jesus led the disciples into this storm to teach them to trust Him, so don’t be surprised when you face storms.
Regardless of your age, are you willing to follow Jesus more faithfully now than ever before? There may be some of you who are at an age when you think the best of your life is behind you. Every car needs a rear-view mirror, but if driver constantly looking in the mirror then you are an accident waiting to happen. Some people live life the same way: They look in the mirror of their memories and talk about the good old days. And you can only see a tiny sliver in your rear-view mirror, while God has a windshield full of blessings in front of you. The past is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. The wonderful thing about following Jesus is that the best is always ahead.