Before Jesus, God had always been so unapproachable that He told Moses that if anyone looked at Him, they would instantly perish. But with the birth of this son to a virgin. For the first time in history, God became Immanuel, God WITH us.
Why do you do what you do for the Lord? Instead of focusing on WHAT you do for God, I want you to think about WHY you do it. WHY did you get up and come to church this morning? WHY did you give an offering to the Lord? WHY did you sing songs of praise? WHY are many of you teaching children, youth, or adults? In other words, what motivates you to serve God? Do you do it out of a sense of obligation, or out of a sense of love?
Before you can learn to read, you’ve got to learn the alphabet. Before you can ever live the Christian life, you must learn this elementary spiritual principle: We walk by faith; not by sight. To me, that priceless principle is one of the foundational truths of the Christian life. We must learn to go beyond sight to faith.
Our organizational handbook is the Bible and in the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul and Barnabas gave the early Christians reports about what God was doing. That’s what I want to do, to report to you the great things God has been doing in our church. As I examine our church, I feel somewhat like a doctor who’s examining a healthy patient. Our church is very healthy. We aren’t perfect, but we are healthy.
You may be struggling and hurting right now because of all the personal pain you’re having to endure. You may be pressured, but you WON’T be crushed; you may be perplexed, but you WON’T be left in despair; you may be attacked and persecuted, but you WON’T be abandoned by God; you might even be knocked down, but you WON’T be knocked out!
A pot or a vessel is designed and created to hold something, not to be an object in itself. Consider for a moment the pots in your kitchen cabinet. As long as they sit there empty, they aren’t really fulfilling the reason they were made. A pot really doesn’t truly become a pot until it’s holding peas, spaghetti, or soup. In the same way, our lives are a contradiction until we understand that God created us to contain something.
Paul says Satan’s plan is to place a “think” veil between God’s truth and the mind of an unbeliever. There are at least three truths Satan wants to keep covered from you. He wants to conceal the truth that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. He whispers, “You’re a good person, you don’t need Jesus.” Satan also wants to conceal the truth about Jesus. He doesn’t mind you thinking that Jesus was a great teacher like Plato or Buddha. He just doesn’t want you to believe Jesus is the sinless Son of God and the only way to heaven. Satan even wants to hide the truth about who he is. Satan doesn’t want you to believe in him, or to bow down and worship him. In fact, he wants to stay incognito. If you tell a person without Christ that Satan is blinding their minds the most common answer you’ll get is, “That’s impossible! I don’t even BELIEVE in the devil!” You don’t have to believe in the law of gravity to fall on your face either, but it’s real.
There are some interesting parallels between football and being a Christian. In the same way, before you can move on to the deeper truths about God, you must begin with the fundamentals—a belief in God; prayer; Bible Study; belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Four ways in which football and the Christian faith are alike.
As in golf, our job is to make our way around all eighteen holes of God’s course for our lives. In golf, the first nine holes are called the “outward half” because in early links courses, the first nine holes always went away from the clubhouse. The second nine is called “the inward half.” Some of you are still on the “outward half” but many of us are on the “inward half.” We’ve already lived more of our lives than we have left. But age really has nothing to do with which hole you’re on. We’ve all seen young people who finished the course. You might be on your last hole, or you might be facing your final putt on the 18th hole. Only God knows.
In order to be an effective people-catcher, you have to know something about how people without Christ live. One of our biggest challenges we face in “fishing for men” is the longer we are Christians, the less time we spend with non-believers. Jesus understood sinners, because he spent time with them, to win them. He didn’t become a sinner; He just understood them. You don’t have to jump into the water and swim underwater to be a good fisherman. You don’t have to become a fish to catch fish. But you CAN evaluate the “water conditions” at your job or at school. We need to become students of our culture for the simple reason that we want to “catch people” out of it into life. For some of you that means you need to cultivate a genuine friendship with someone who isn’t a Christian.
How do you get on base in the Christian life? You can’t, but there’s Someone who can get you on base. Righteousness, like baseball, sets an impossible standard. Who could ever bat 1.000? The very best players are only going to get on base about 1/3 of the time. We all strike out and make plenty of errors. There’s only one man who ever batted 1.000 at life, and that’s the God man, Jesus Christ. When it comes to righteousness, why don’t you ask Jesus to be your pinch-hitter? He never strikes out. He never makes an error. He can get you on base, and then He will Coach you to make it safely home.
Some Christians are confused and think people in the Old Testament time were saved by keeping the Law. Nope. If that’s the case, then nobody from the Old Testament times would be in heaven. So will there be any Old Testament characters in heaven? Sure. Moses will be there. Did he keep all the commandments? No. He murdered a guy. But he’ll be there because he put His faith in God’s plan. Will King David be there? Sure, but he broke a whole bunch of commandments. He’ll be in heaven for the same reason you and I can go to heaven: he placed his faith in God and had a personal relationship with Him.
Sometimes people think they lack confidence because when they face a challenge, they’re afraid they don’t have what it takes to be successful. You DON’T have what it takes, but God does! He has everything you need to be all that He wants you to be. He has a storehouse, a reservoir, an ocean of resources that He wants you to access. The sad thing is that many of us don’t claim these resources.
Imagine an archaeologist digging near Capernaum in Galilee finds a clay jar with a sealed top, (just like the jars containing the Dead Sea Scrolls). He takes the jar to a laboratory and using the latest scientific technology, opens the jar. Inside, he finds a scroll of papyrus, perfectly preserved. As the scientists and scholars unroll it, they discover it is a letter written to Simon Peter and it is signed by Jesus of Nazareth. Can you imagine the stir that would create in the scientific and academic world? If it could be authenticated, could you imagine how much it would be worth? Millions? Billions? Trillions? No doubt, that letter would be the most valuable writing in the history of the world.
You may have family members or friends who don’t know the Lord. You’ve shared with them and tried to show them the Christian life. You’ve allowed the fragrance of Christ in your life to envelope them in the things you do and say. And yet, they still haven’t come to faith in Christ. They hold their noses and say, “No thanks!” You need to remember they aren’t rejecting you, they are rejecting Jesus. When you expose them to the beautiful aroma of Christ through your life and your lips, then you’ve done what God has expected of you. So don’t be discouraged. Don’t stop. Keep on loving them. Keep on sharing Christ with them.
When we surrender to Jesus, we haven’t lost, we’ve won! Our victory is assured when we surrender completely to the rule and reign of Jesus Christ in our lives. The Bible says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” Some people stop here and think that since faith is the victory, that if I want more victory I must have more faith. Not at all.
In our culture we have worn out the phrase, “I’m sorry.” We use it for everything from, “I’m sorry, but we’re out of peanuts,” to “I’m sorry I bumped into you.” But the words “I’m sorry” originally meant, “I’m experiencing sorrow over what I did.” In Corinthians 7, Paul writes about sorrow and repentance. “I am happy not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance…godly sorrow brings repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:9). So the Bible teaches that godly sorrow produces repentance. There is a kind of worldly sorrow that doesn’t lead to repentance. When someone says, “I’m sorry” they might be saying, “I’m sorry I got caught.” Or if they say, “I’m sorry” but they don’t plan on changing their behavior, that isn’t godly sorrow. Godly sorrow always produces repentance. When a person truly repents, their heart is broken over their sin.
In our fallen, sinful, self-centered condition, we can’t get along with others. But those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ live by a different standard. The only way we can get along with others is through the supernatural power of Jesus Christ. Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you automatically get along with everyone else in the church. There were conflicts in the church 2,000 years ago and there are still conflicts between Christians today.
It’s hard to live up to the promise “satisfaction guaranteed” because there are plenty of people whose theme song is the old Rolling Stones ballad, “I can’t get no satisfaction!” Some people will never be satisfied! The Bible teaches true satisfaction comes from having a relationship with God. And God guarantees we can have that. The term “salvation” covers more than just your original commitment to Christ. The Bible teaches we have been saved—that’s justification; we’re being saved—that’s sanctification; and we WILL be saved—that’s glorification. And God guarantees our salvation.
Sadly, many people conceive of God in the same negative terms. To them, God is a cosmic killjoy who watches from heaven just waiting to catch them doing something wrong. They imagine Him shaking His finger at people saying, “No! No! Bad person! Stop that right now!” But the God of the Bible isn’t trying to spoil your fun by constantly telling you, “No!” God loves you and He wants you to enjoy life to the fullest. I believe that God’s favorite word is, “Yes.”
The biggest question about our suffering is not “Why?” but “What?” What am I going to do in response to my suffering? You have a choice in the matter. When pain comes, some people grumble, some people gripe, some people groan, others grieve. Some people grunt and growl, but there are some people, like Paul, who GROW. The choice is yours!
Let me give you a visual definition of “comfort.” Imagine an elderly man or woman is standing at the bottom of a steep set of stairs. They look up and wonder if they can make it. If you see their need and then come alongside them help them up the stairs, you are giving them comfort according to the Bible meaning of the word. If you see their need and just yell, “Use the handrail!”—that’s not comfort. Or if you yell, “Go use the elevator around the corner!” —That’s not comfort. In order to comfort them, you must come alongside them and physically give them your strength to help them.
I can pick up this glove and tell it to pick up this Bible, and it can’t do it. I can fuss at it and even demonstrate how to do it, but it still can’t do it. But when I put my hand in it, that’s when it becomes alive and can do anything I do. That’s a simple but profound picture of the Christian life. Galatians 2:20 says, “Not I but Christ lives in me.” Jesus can give you the strength to do anything. God says to love your enemies, and we don’t have the strength to do it, but Christ in you can love your enemies. God tell us to give thanks in all things, but we don’t have the strength to do it, but Christ in you can do it. He is my strength and I can do all things through Christ!
As horrifying as the physical agony of the cross was, the spiritual and mental agony of carrying the sins of the world was much worse. Jesus literally endured hell for us. When Jesus took our sin in His own body and experienced the hell of separation from God. He experienced the darkness of hell for us. He experienced the agony and torture of hell for us. As He moved closer to death, death must seemed to be as pleasant as a warm blanket on a cold night. Praise God, His suffering was over!
From the beginning of the beginning of the beginning, God the Father and God the Son had been co-equal and co-existent. They communed together in a relationship which Jesus described as “I and the Father are ONE.” But for those few hours in which Jesus became sin for us, that bond was somehow broken. Did you notice Jesus addressed God with the title, “God?” Every other time Jesus spoke to God He called Him, “Abba” which means “Father” or “Daddy.” The first word from the Cross was “Father, forgive them.” The last word from the cross was “Father, into your hands…” But at this central moment of His suffering, Jesus called God, “Eloi” or simply “God.” My two daughters have always called me “Daddy.” This cry of Jesus would be like one of my daughters calling me Mr. Dykes.
I’m amazed the two thieves died the same distance from Jesus on the cross. Yet one died trusting Jesus while the other died rejecting Jesus. That should serve as a warning to all of us that you can be close to Jesus and still die without trusting Him. How can two people be seated on the same pew and hear the same gospel, and one comes running to Jesus while the other person walks away unchanged? It’s a mystery to me how anyone can see the cross and not give their heart to Christ. The same sun that melts ice will harden clay.
We talk a lot about that word grace, but what is it really? You’ve probably heard the acrostic for GRACE that says it is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That’s nice, but it really doesn’t define grace. Years ago, I learned a simple definition for grace: Grace is something I need, but don’t deserve. To me, that says it all. Grace and mercy are two sides of the same coin. Grace is God giving me what I need, but don’t deserve—His unconditional love and His full and free forgiveness. Mercy is God withholding what I DO deserve: death and hell.
Sometimes people ask a dying person, “Have you made your peace with God?” I know they mean well, but you and I cannot make peace with God. We don’t have to make peace with God, because Jesus already made it. We only have to accept His terms of peace. Jesus is the world’s greatest peacemaker. The Bible says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:19-20)
The Holy Spirit doesn’t convict us of sin to make us feel guilty. He convicts us so we’ll realize the need to be clean. There is a huge difference between conviction and condemnation. The Bible says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) According to Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” When you are dirty and sweaty it’s a reminder you need to take a shower. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin so we’ll understand the need to confess our sin and experience God’s cleansing power.
How do you release someone who has hurt you? You forgive them. You don’t do it for their sake; you do it for your sake. You don’t forgive them because they ask you to forgive them; you do it because God has forgiven you. They may not every ask you to forgive them, but you can forgive them anyway.
How do you know when you’ve truly forgiven someone? When you can think about them and it doesn’t hurt anymore. People often say, “Forgive and forget.” But outside of brain damage or senility, you CAN’T forget—but you can still forgive. You will never forget that messy divorce but you can get rid of the pain from it by forgiving the offender.
Once you decide to cooperate with God’s change process, don’t expect to see results overnight. But you CAN expect to see some long term results. The Bible says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Isn’t it refreshing to know you aren’t responsible for working on your life to bring about change? It is God who is working in you. That truth alone should set you free. God isn’t expecting you to be perfect, so don’t expect in yourself or in others.
Meekness is strength under control. In the same way God wants to lovingly break you and put you under His authority. He wants to make you sensitive to His leadership; ready at any time to respond to the commands of your Master. Rather than following your own will, you are following the will of God. As you consider your level of meekness, simply answer this question: Have you allowed god to break your stubborn will?
The opposite of being poor and spirit and mourning over your spiritual poverty is an attitude of being proud and unbroken in your belief that you can do anything. It’s the attitude that says, “I don’t need God’s help or strength. I can do it myself!” Have ever tried to help a child do something, and they say, “Let ME do it!” That’s our old sin nature that rises up and says, “I don’t need any help. I can do it myself!” That attitude will get you in trouble.
Playing God will wear you out. There was a time when King David tried to play God and deny his sin. He later wrote, “My strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.” (Psalm 32:4-5) Sometimes we try to run from pain by staying super busy. We ignore our pain by working 100 hours a week. Or we jump into some hobby or sport and it becomes a compulsion so we’ve got to be on the golf course, the tennis court, the Mahjong group, or the dominoes table. You can even get so involved in religious activities, and it becomes an outlet to hide your pain. And before long you wonder why you’re exhausted. When you play God, you feel like Atlas with the weight of the world upon your shoulders. Stop it. The last time I checked there was a “no vacancy” sign above the Trinity.