Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Three People We Are To Learn From

How many of us have a favorite Christian speaker or teacher? You know, that person that we try to read all their books, or try to listen to all their messages? I think that each of has found or is trying to find someone like that, because if we are serious about drawing closer to God then we want to learn from the best that’s out there. Sometimes we stumble on a good teacher or speaker, and sometimes we actively look for them. Today I want to look at Scripture and talk about the three types of people that are found throughout Scripture that we need to have in our lives so that we can learn what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. So if you would we’re going to start our search for these three types of people by opening up to Exodus chapter 3.
As you open your Bibles, let me catch you up on what’s going on. The Jewish nation comes to Egypt at the end of the book of Genesis because of a famine in Canaan. After a while a Pharaoh decided that the Hebrews are having to many kids, so they start to kill off the boys. A boy named Moses is saved, because of his mother and is eventually adopted by the princess of Egypt. At about the age of 40, Moses kills an Egyptian for mistreating a Hebrew who are still treated as slaves. Moses then runs away and spends another 40 years in the desert. It’s here that we come to chapter 3 of Exodus. God gets Moses attention by lighting a bush on fire, but not allowing the bush to be consumed by that fire and through that bush God speaks to Moses about the Hebrews. So in verse 7 let’s pick up this conversation. 
7 Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Now the conversation goes back and forth between God and Moses, with Moses trying to get out of God’s calling, but in the end Moses obeys God and goes on to lead the Jewish nation for the another 40 years until he dies at about the age of 120. Now, what kind of impact do you think Moses had on the Jewish nation? Well, let’s see some of his accomplishments. In the power of God, Moses was able to convince the greatest world power of the day to release all of it’s free workforce. Moses led the people across a river on dry land while the water from the river towered above them. He led them for additional 40 years preforming many other miracles in that time period. Plus he wrote the first five books of the Bible which is the bases for the entire Jewish religion. Moses is our first type of person that we need to have in our lives. We need a leader. A leader is someone who shows us what it means to follow God in the good and hard times. For us today these national leaders are hard to find, but if we look throughout our nations history we can find countless leader’s. One of which would be George Washington, who kept his eyes on Jesus as he helped our nation in its infancy. We need people that show us how to live out our faith in God through all parts of our lives. Can you think of someone that could look toward as a person that shows you how to live out your Christian life? For me, one of the leader’s in my life is Pastor Jeff. He shows me what it means to care about God’s people and the people that are in the world. So if you’re lacking a leader who you can look to as a person who follows God, you’re going to be missing out on drawing closer to God, because it will be that much harder to see faith lived out.
Our second type of person that we need to learn from comes from the New Testament, so if you would turn with me to the book of Ephesians chapter 3; where will start in verse 3. Now there’s not much you need to know about what we’re about to read, except Paul was once a Jew who, with conviction and without mercy, made it his mission to destroy the newly formed Church after Jesus has ascended to heaven. But by God’s plan, he came to trust in Jesus as his Savior. In Ephesians 3 we get a glimpse of his calling. Let’s read together.  
1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power.
What type of man was Paul? Well, he came from a family that made tents for a living. His father wanted him to become a great religious teacher and so he paid to have Paul learn under one of the most influential Rabbis of his day, a man named Gamaliel. Before Paul’s conversion to Christianity, he was one of the brightest and fastest rising Pharisees of his age. Once he became a follower of Jesus, Paul tirelessly preached the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. He even rebuked the twelve Apostles and the other leaders of the early church for not allowing God’s grace to sweep over the people. But it doesn’t stop there, Paul was key in establishing local churches all over the Roman empire. In addition he wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books in the New Testament and is the second most quoted person in the Bible, right after Jesus. It is through Paul’s writings that we get the bulk of our theological teaching in the Church. Paul is the second type of person we need to learn from, which is the scholar. A scholar is different from a leader in that they search for the deep understandings of God. They are the people that help us understand or challenge us to know more about the God we serve. Where a leader shows us how to put this knowledge into action, a scholar helps us become deeper in our relationship with God. For me a scholar that I love to read is A.W. Tozer. When I read his books I can only read a few pages at a time, because I need to ponder what he writes and let it marinate in my mind for a bit before I can move on. So, who can you point to as a scholar in your life?
Finally we come to the last type of person we need to have in our lives so that we can learn to be better disciples. If you would open up to 1st Samuel chapter 16 and as you do, let me bring you up to speed. At this time in the Jewish nation's history the people had asked for a king and they chose a man named Saul against the will of God. Saul turned out to be a bad king, so God told his prophet Samuel that it was time to replace Saul. God led Samuel to the family of Jesse, because it was one of Jesse’s sons who God was going to make king. It’s here that we pick it up in verse 6. 
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord's anointed is before him.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 Then Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.” 12 And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.
Here we see David, a young boy of about 16 years old, chosen by God to lead his nation. At first glance David wasn’t kingly, but God said that it wasn’t his outward appearance that God sought, but rather the inward heart. Luke, the writer of the book Acts quotes Paul in chapter 13 saying that David was a man after God’s own heart. David was given a lasting kingdom through the promised Messiah who turned out to be Jesus. David is seen as the greatest king that the nation of Israel ever had. Like the other people that we’ve talked about, David wrote a lot of the psalms that have given comfort to countless followers of God throughout the centuries. But at first even Samuel, himself a great prophet of God, could not see the potential of the boy that stood before him. David is the final type of person we need in our lives to teach us, this person is the unexpected teacher. Like David, unexpected teachers are those that we don’t think have anything to teach us. We write them off by saying that they’re too young, too inexperienced, and not worthy of a position in our lives as a teacher. But God calls us to have unexpected teachers in our lives. For me this I have learned from one of these teachers. Elisabeth was four years old at the time, like a lot of children, she displays unshakeable faith and trust in Jesus’ power. Through my Mom’s operation she helped me to trust in Jesus. No matter what the age or where the person comes from, God can teach us through them. Who is your unexpected teacher?
We need all need a leader that shows us how to live out our faith, we need a scholar that helps us find the undiscovered truths about God, and we all need to be open to having unexpected teachers show us more about God in our daily lives. Leader’s and Scholars are easy to find. They write books, they have books written about them and they show themselves because we tend to gravitate toward them. But the unexpected teacher is harder to find and we have a tendency to over look them, because they are not larger than life personalities. Instead they are simpler, but in their simplicity they have boundless potential to teach us.

As we close, I want to challenge you today to write down who are the leader’s and scholars in your life. But once you have that down, I want you to ask God for the unexpected teachers he has waiting for you to be revealed. God can teach us through anything, the question is, are we willing to follow what he has for us? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Searcher or A Loster (not a real word)

How many of you have ever lost your set of keys somewhere? How about a phone, or a wallet? I can’t stand it when I lose my keys. I put them down somewhere and when I go back to the place I thought I left them and they’re gone. It’s really annoying, but I have to find them or I’m pretty much stuck where I am. So what happens? We begin the search.  Sometimes, it feels like the more we look for whatever it is we lost, the more it seems that we’re never going to find it. You ever feel that way? But then you finally find them and the relief is fantastic. We are victorious!
Quick side not, the saying, “It’s always in the last place you look,” really gets to me. Because, of course it’s going to be in the last place you look, why would anyone keep looking for something they already found?
We deal with the loss of a lot of things throughout our lives, friends, jobs, homes, money, children and the most common, our sanity. Usually that ones because of children, but losing things is something we all deal with. In fact God himself deals with the loss of things as well. He created everything, but because of humanity’s rebellious actions, he has lost that very creation.
When describing this lost, Jesus gives three parables that deal with losing something and the response of the one who lost it. Would you open your Bibles with me to Luke 15.
As we open our Bibles here’s a little background on what’s going on. Jesus is sitting with people who are not the best and classist people around. In fact, they are people who are despised by the religious teachers of his day. So Jesus gives them three parables to, in a sense, explain to them why he does what he does. Why he sits where he sits and why he associates with “these” people.
If you’ve ever taken a look at these parables, they’re usually studied in depth separately. Today I want us to look at them as a whole and to compare them in that way. As we look through these parables we’re going to make a little chart of sorts. We’ll be looking at the Seeker, the Lost, the Action Taken, How Did the Lost Get There and What does the Seeker do when they Find the Lost.

Let’s read all three of these parables starting in verse 3 of Luke chapter 15. 
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Okay, so here we are at the end of our first parable, let’s go through our chart. First off who is the seeker? The shepherd. What’s lost? One of his sheep. Next what actions does he take? He leaves the 99 to find the 1. How did it get lost? Well, I’m guessing that it wandered off, because that’s what sheep do. Now do you think the sheep knows it’s lost? Probably not. Do you think the sheep ever realizes it’s lost? Maybe, but I’m guessing no. When the shepherd finally finds the sheep, what happens? He returns with the sheep and rejoices over it. 

Alright, that was easy enough right? Let’s move onto the next parable in verses 8-10.
8“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Alright, back to our chart. So who’s the seeker? A woman. What’s lost? One of her coins. What action does she take? She lights a lamp and searches her house. How did it get lost? Maybe it rolled of the table or fell out of a purse. Do you think the coin knows it’s lost? Probably not. Do you think the coin ever realizes it’s lost? No way. So, when the woman finally finds the coin, what happens? She calls all her friends and celebrates. Two down, one to go. 

Let’s read the last parable in verses 11-32
11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”
That’s the longest of the three and the most complex, but let’s finish off our chart. Who’s the seeker? The Father. This one’s tricky, what’s lost? If you said the younger son, you’re only half right. The older son is also lost, because even though he’s still at home, his heart is just as far away as his brother. What actions does the Father take? For the younger son, the Father waits and watches for his return. For the older son, the Father pleads for his heart to return. How did it get lost? The younger son let his desire for the world lead him away. The older brother let his pride lead him away. Do you think the sons know they’re lost? Probably not. Do you think they ever realize they’re lost? The younger son realizes it, but the story ends before the older son does. So, what is the outcome of these two lost sons? The younger one returns and is celebrated, while the older son remains in a state of lostness.

As we look back over these three parables, it’s obvious that Jesus was directing them to the religious teachers that were upset with him that he would eat with people they considered not worth it. The first two parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, were pretty standard teachings that everyone could agree to. If you lose something, you go after it, and when you find it, it needs to be celebrated.
But it’s the third parable that Jesus gets some divisive teachings in. For the Jews, a son, like the younger son, would be an outcast of his family forever. While the older son would be the one that got the praise. Yet Jesus turns that belief on its head and reveals that when the younger brother returns he’s the one that is celebrated, while the older one is left outside.
Now there’s a lot more to these three parables then what we’ve covered, but the thing that stands out to me the most is that at the end of the first two parables Jesus makes a statement. When a sinner returns to God there’s a lot of rejoicing in heaven. But at the end of the third parable, Jesus doesn’t say that. It’s just left open; as if to leave the people with the impact of the older sons decision, rather than focusing on the younger son.
As I look at these three parables, it seems to me that each of these lost things represents a different kind of lost person. The sheep represents the wanderer, that person who has heard about God, but goes and does their own thing. The coin represents that person that has no idea that they’re lost, and is need of someone to search frantically for them. The two sons to me represent those of us who are Christians and who are a part of God’s family. Some of us let the world’s desires take us away from God and we need to wake up to our lostness. While there are some of us that are like the older son, who are lost because of our own pride and who cannot accept what our Father is doing.
We all get lost sometimes, but as I read these three parables this week two questions popped up in my mind. If you’re not a Christian, that is a true follower of Jesus, that means you’re lost to God. So what is stopping you from allowing God to find you? Is it your desire to have life on your own terms? Or maybe you don’t understand that you are lost. You need to ask questions and start getting answers, but the first thing you need to do is turn to God and accept his searching.
But if you are a follower of God I have a question for you, there are at least 5 billion people in this world who are not Christians and who are lost. What is stopping you from getting involved with God’s search for them? Have you been actively talking to people about him, have you’ve been actively giving to send missionaries and supporting those that are going all over the world? If you are, great, if you’re not what’s stopping you?

My finally question for you today is, who are you? A sheep who has wandered a way from their Shepherd? A coin that doesn’t know it’s lost in the darkness? A son that has left his home, or a son who has taken his heart away? Or are you a searcher who is actively looking for the lost? God’s the searcher, and if we are not searching with him, then we’re most likely being sought because we are lost.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Cost of Non-Discipleship

        How many of us have ever bought something big like a new car, a house, or gone on a vacation? What did you do before you made the decision? I’ve heard people say that when making a big purchase, try making a pro’s and con’s list. That way if the pro’s out weigh the con’s then you know that your decision is a good one. Marika and mine’s biggest financial decision so far, has been to sell two cars we owned out right, so that we could purchase a new, more spacious one. It took a while to decide what car we were going to go with; I wanted a four door truck and she wanted a mini van. After we listed all the things we both wanted and didn’t want in a vehicle we decided to go with a compromise of small SUV, which, two years later led us to a mini van. But that’s beside the point; anyway, back to my story.
Looking at the pro’s and con’s of a decision, especially a decision that could change our lives forever, is really a great thing. In fact even Jesus tells us to make a pro’s and con’s list when deciding if we are going to follow him.
This happens in the book of Matthew chapter 16 starting in verse 21. Here’s a little background information on what’s going on so far in the text. Jesus just asked the disciples the question we all must answer, who do we think Jesus is? Peter, being the most outspoken of the group, tells Jesus that he believes him to be the long awaited Messiah. Which is exactly what Jesus was waiting to here from his followers; finally they got it and they understood who he was and his purpose.
But Jesus knows he has to clarify what the Messiah means to Peter and what Jesus’ purpose is and that’s where we pick up the story. Let’s read together. 

21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

There’s a lot that we could focus on in this text, but I want to focus on something that a lot of us have probably heard in church before. I want to focus on verse 24, where Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” I want us to take a brief minute and focus on the cost of following Jesus. We might have heard this before, in order to follow Jesus we need to understand the cost to follow him, in other words, we need to make a pro’s and con’s list. In the passage Jesus tells us that we need to lose our life so we can gain it; he tells us that we need to take up our hardships (i.e., our cross) and follow him. Jesus tells us that we need to deny ourselves, and give up this world to gain everlasting life. Now we could spend a whole lot of time on this, and if you’ve attended a church worship time, you might have heard many sermons on knowing the cost of following Jesus and what that means, but have you ever thought of the inverse? Have you ever thought what is the cost of not following Jesus?
Now before we move on we need to clarify some terms, because I think in our society we throw around words that eventually become meaningless; terms like Christian and disciple.
Let’s first take the word Christian, the word means Christ-like, but did you know that Jesus never intended for his followers to be called Christians? Nowhere in Scripture do we see Jesus calling his disciples Christians, in fact it’s only mentioned three times in all of the Bible. Two of which are found in the book of Acts, in the context of a term used by non-believers to put down believers. Now I’m not saying the term Christian is bad or shouldn’t be used, but it has lost it’s meaning in our society and in someways in the Church. About 75% of people in the United States call themselves Christian, yet the direction our country is going and the people that we elect into power shows that there is a disconnect between with what people think the word Christian means and what it actually is.
So if the term Christian is becoming meaningless what term should we use? Well how about we use the term that Jesus used? In Matthew 28:19, Jesus uses the word disciple when describing his followers, but even that word might not mean much to us. So let’s go back to more of an original understanding of how Jesus described his followers. The word we translate as disciple, is the Greek word ma-th-et-es. Ma-th-et-es is derived from the word man-tha-no which means to learn by use and practice, to be in the habit of.
Jesus describes his followers as people that would not only learn his teachings but would use and practice and get in the habit of doing the things he taught them.
This idea of being a disciple takes on a whole knew meaning of needing to have Jesus’ words not just something we do when it’s convenient, but habits that we are working on daily. Studies show that in order to gain a good habit we have to work at it for at least 30 days in a row.
We need to be ma-th-et-es disciples, followers to have a habit to be like their God.
This brings us back to where we started, what is the cost of not being a ma-th-et-es disciple of Jesus.
Jesus and later on the Apostle Paul tells us a few things that we gain by being ma-th-et-es disciples. But let’s look at them in reverse, we won’t gain the abiding peace that Jesus prays for in John 14. We can’t love others like God does (John 3:14-17). We can’t have faith and trust in God for our needs (Matthew 6). We can’t have the power to do the right things (2nd Corinthians 813:7). And finally we will never be able to experience the overflowing life that Jesus tells us he brings (John 10:10).
But how then do we become more than Christians? How do we become ma-th-et-es disciples?
By becoming disciplined disciples, and that means to move beyond just filling are heads with the knowledge of the Bible and really begin to live it. This can be done by incorporating the disciplines of Scripture into our lives.
We might be asking what are the disciplines of Scripture? Have you ever prayed or read your Bible? Then you already have a basic introduction to what the disciplines of Scripture are. But there are far more than just prayer and reading. We are going to look at four disciplines that are used time and time again in Scripture that have helped countless followers of Jesus move from being a Christian to a ma-th-et-es disciple. We’ll move through these pretty quick.
The first discipline of Scripture is prayer. I know what you’re thinking, we already know this one, but what I’ve found is that a lot of us have an idea of prayer that is not exactly consistent with Scripture. In fact the way that Jesus talked with Father, prompted the disciples to ask how they should pray. And in Jesus’ answer we get a different approach to prayer.
The Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 can be dissected into 5 parts: Worship, Our Needs, Forgiveness, Strength, Worship. Jesus gives a prayer that involves worship of God at the beginning, a quick request of the needs we have, but not our wants. Then a focus on forgiveness for both ourselves and the people around us; next focusing on the strength we need for life and finally if we read from the King James we’ll see Jesus ends with more worship. If our prayers were structured like this, our focus would be less on ourselves and more on God and the people he died for. How would our lives change if we actually put into practice praying the way God showed us how to pray?
The second discipline of Scripture is study and meditation. These are actually two separate disciplines, but for the sake of time and energy we’ll put them together to show the difference between the two so we can understand better what we do when reading our Bibles. The Bible uses two words when talking about reading the God’s Word. The words are meditate and study. Most of us know what study is, it’s reading the Bible for the facts, figures and straight content of what’s there. But meditation is a little harder for us to understand, because we usually carry the idea of eastern meditation where a person is sitting on the ground crossed legged saying “Om”. But biblical meditation is very different than eastern meditation. Eastern meditation focuses on getting ride of the bad stuff, but biblical meditation focuses on filling our minds and lives so full with the  Word of God that it over flows in our life.That means when we sit down and study the Bible, we sit there a little longer and meditate on it, asking God, what does this mean for my life right here, right now? How can I use what I read today to bring me in a closer walk with God?
The third discipline of Scripture is fasting. Now this is one that we don’t really do, some of us in here might not have ever even attempted it; which is interesting because when talking about fasting Jesus said in Matthew 6:16, “When you fast...” It seems like Jesus was taking for granted that his disciples would fast, so why give it as command? Instead Jesus’ teaching on fasting focused more on the do’s and don’ts of fasting rather than on the command to fast. But what if we don’t know what fasting is? Well, there’s a simple answer: it’s making a conscious decision not to eat a meal and instead put in time for God. So in other words, not eating lunch but instead praying, or meditating on God’s Word. Now I’ve been asked by teenagers can I fast homework? And of course the answer is no, because fasting is confined to food, everything else is abstaining. So why’s fasting so important? Because we need food, it’s the fuel for our bodies. But by making a decision to focus on God and not food, we are disciplining ourselves to focus our lives more on him. Which means were focusing on him more than even the physical needs in our lives. Which will eventually move into other places of our lives, like money and possessions. When Satan brought the temptation of food to the fasting Jesus in Matthew 4:4, Jesus tells him that it’s not food that sustains life, but the Word of God. If Jesus is our example and we are his disciple then we need to get into the same mindset of Christ, and begin to fast. One meal every once in while is a step in the right direction.
That brings us to the final discipline of Scripture that we’ll talk about today which is worship. Let’s start off by saying music is not worship, it’s a form of worship. Paul calls worship a living sacrifice. It’s taking our dreams, our wants, our actions, family, friends, even our needs and telling God it’s all his. Worship through music is just one way we express giving ourselves over to God’s rule. Which is the goal of worship, God needs to be King of our lives so that we can live the life he created us to live. So worship is, giving God our time in service to both the Church and the community. Worship is giving up what we want to do for God’s wants. It’s giving up our money to be used for God’s plans, that’s one of the reason we say that as we worship with our offerings we will keep worshiping in song, because it’s all worship. And you know I’ve heard people say, “I’m not going to give my money because of this or that.” And if God is leading you not to give money that’s fine, but if he isn’t, we are in rebellion against God and our worship is tainted by that rebellion. In addition, worship needs some singing to go along with it. You know I didn’t sing during the music for the longest time because I wasn’t comfortable, but then I realized one day, my comfort has nothing to do with worshiping God. Worshiping God is all about God. My comfort is not his desire; God’s desire is for me to be a ma-th-et-es disciple and there’s got to be a lot of uncomfortable times for me to get there.
You know we can think we’re a Christian just like 75% of people in the US, but that doesn’t make us a disciple of Jesus. When we just think that we are Christians and we’re good to go, we will miss the life God has called us to and the cost of not being his disciple will far out weigh the cost to be one. When we hold onto our lives, Jesus says we are going to lose them. We need to release our lives into his hands and start living for him. That means we’ll have to be more disciplined in our lives by practicing those disciplines he has given to us in his Word. And it means that we will have to get away from being comfortable and start being uncomfortable for him.

We’ve talked about four disciplines that will help us be ma-th-et-es disciples, my challenge to you is that you put them into practice. That you work on making them habits in your life. That might mean you need to start and end your prayers worshiping God. That might mean meditating on his Word. You might need to skip a meal and pray instead. Or it might mean you need to open your mouth and sing a song or two. But if we really want to be truthful in our relationship with God and if we have the courage to give God control of our lives, then we must move beyond being a mere Christian and start being a ma-th-et-es disciple.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Making God Our Master

If we had the chance to take complete control of our lives right now, how many of us would do it? We could have all the power in the universe at our command what would we do, maybe something like this?
In the Disney animated movie Aladdin, the antagonist Jafar wishes that the Genie would given him ultimate power. To become the most powerful being in the universe. He comes face to face with what it would mean to have unlimited power at his control.

In Mathew 6: 24 Jesus talks about serving two Masters and the reality that we can only serve one master. The story of Aladdin goes something like this: A ruthless advisor to the king wants to overthrow the monarchy. His plan is to use a magical lamp with a Genie that can grant three wishes. But in order to get the lamp he needs a special person, this person is Aladdin. But of course the advisor double crosses Aladdin and in return lose the lamp. Yet Aladdin figures out the secrets of the lamp and meets the Genie. The Genie helps Aladdin meet the princess, but soon after the advisor realizes what happens and steals back the lamp.
This story proves Jesus’ point that we can’t serve two masters. Aladdin and The Adviser couldn’t both command the Genie at the same time. The Genie could only listen and obey the orders of one master.
Would you turn with me to Matthew 6 and let’s take a look at in more depth, what it means to serve only one master. 
As you’re turning in your Bibles, let’s understand where we find ourselves in the Book of Matthew. The Book of Matthew was primarily written with a Jewish audience in mind. In the first four chapters we see Jesus preparation for his earthly ministry. Matthew, the writer, draws a parallel between Jesus and another famous religious leader, Moses. Moses is the leader God chose to lead his people out of salavery in Egypt into the land of Canaan, where God would be active in their society. Part of this activity is the social and religious structure that God sets up. All this is embodied by the ten commandments. In chapters five through seven of Matthew, the writer gives us Jesus’ teachings on the ten commandments, but Jesus takes them from merely an outward compliance, to an inward heart change.
About half way through this teaching Jesus begins to compare and contrast. It’s here that we pick up our text in verse 19 of chapter 6.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
Jesus compares and contrasts three separate things here in our text. First, Jesus brings up treasures. He compares storing treasures on earth like: cars, money, houses, and other things. And storing treasures in heaven, which are our God centered acts. The treasures on earth can be destroyed, but storing treasure in heaven can’t be destroyed. Second, Jesus talks about the eye. There’s bad things that can go in, pornography, jealously, and there are good things, God’s word, uplifting books. And then finally there is the two masters. In the context Jesus is talking about God and Money. But the implications of the teachings go beyond that. Jesus is telling us a universal truth: Our loyalties can only lie with one Master.
Growing up my parents used to pay for private pitching lessons, because I loved to play baseball. From eight years old until right before I went off to college I went to these lessons every week. For most of my life coaches would respect those lessons and let me do what I was trained to do, that is, until I got into high school. My coach in high school, wanted me to pitch his way. Did he have any training in the area, no. Did it matter that I had more strikeouts, with less playing time than other pitchers, no. All that mattered was that he wanted me to do things his way. So guess what I did? I pitched the way I was taught for all those years and got into a lot of conflicts.
We can’t obey two masters, especially when they’re in conflict. I mean think about it, what does a master require? Absolute compliance from their servants. Now if a servant is obeying two masters, what happens to that absolute compliance? It’s just not there.
Now you might be thinking, I’ve heard this all before I need to be a servant that does what God wants. Actually I’m not saying that. Think about this, if you serve someone, does that make them the master of you? No. Did Jesus serve us, because we are his master? No. Servanthood is not the same as allowing someone to be a master over you.
Servants can serve anyone, to have a master means that we not only serve them, but they dictate our lives. That’s why our master can be things like our jobs, our money, our houses, our relationships. If we let them, those things can control our lives.
In the movie Avengers, there’s a part where the main antagonist, Loki, makes a speech. He comes down in the middle of a group of humans and says, “Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It's the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life's joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.”

The reality in this scene from the avengers is true, we are made to kneel. In our world today, we’re told to have no master, yet Jesus says we should, but it needs to be the right master. By our very creation we long to have a master. But to live out our lives the way we were created our master has to be God. That means we allow him to dictate our lives, we let him control our actions. 
It is in a right relationship with God as master, that we begin to understand the world around us. We begin to realize our full potential because God already knows it and wants to bring it to the forefront of our lives.
In Revelation 19:16 it says of Jesus, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”
What’s really interesting about this title that is given to Jesus, is that it isn’t saying that there are no other lords in the world. It’s not saying that there are no other kings. Instead it is saying that Jesus is the King of all kings and that he is the Lord or all lords. In turn, Jesus is the Master of all masters, we need to allow Jesus to take his rightful place in our lives, by giving up this idea that we are in control. That we are the master, because we’re not, the things that command our greatest attention have already become our master. We will kneel to something, it can be to the perishable things of this world or the everlasting God.

One will bring us pain and suffering, the other joy and everlasting life. What will you choose?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Good for Good, Always

Have you ever gotten discouraged about something? I think we all have. Work can get discouraging sometimes. We turn on the TV or read about another war. We hear about another school shooting or how taxes are going up. We hear about the economy not doing so well, and we think to ourselves is this really a wonderful world like Louie Armstrong sung about? I got to say some of the most discouraging stuff that I encounter is working for others. It’s discouraging to love people and serve them and then have them return your good with hate. It gets really discouraging.
The average youth pastor stays at his job for only about 18 months. When Marika and I first came to Quartzsite in 2007 we hit the ground running. And we had a wonderful time. Our attendance from the start on an average Friday was about 30 teens. We had, at that time, a great Thursday night worship time. The youth ministry was electrifying and then came our 18 month mark. Within a couple weeks, we went from 30 on average to literally 2. No one was coming to our Thursday nights, so we moved them to Saturday for a little bit, but that didn’t work as well. Marika and I had spent so much time investing into teens and doing good work, and all of a sudden we hit a wall and we felt really discouraged. 
It was at that point that we realized why so many youth pastors leave their jobs at the 18 month mark, because we wanted to leave too. Not only was there hardly any teens coming, but there were a couple of adults that felt like it was their responsibility to add to the discouragement. We were done, we felt like God dropped us off. We were so lost in our discouragement at the time we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with us; we thought that it was our style of ministry. We have a whole folder about how we do ministry and the reasons and purposes behind it. One of those reasons is that we are not people pleasers. We do ministry the way we feel God leading and we don’t change that because someone wants it differently. 
In conversations with God there was a point where I began thinking that maybe we should change that. It was the lowest point that we’ve ever been in ministry. 
It got to the point where I started thinking, “Why should I continue to work for the teens of Quartzsite when there is no response from them?”
Then as I read and prayed God brought me to the book of Galatians chapter 6 verse 9, where it says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” I got to tell you I didn’t want to keep doing good and I wanted to give up. Because it is very difficult to do good, when that good isn’t repaid with good. When good is repaid with indifference or bad it becomes so easy to give up. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that, but for most of us I know we have a tendency to stop doing good to the people around us, especially when that good is repaid with bad. 
This week God brought this verse back to my mind to share with you today, right now I’m not discouraged, I don’t want to give up. My ministry is doing better this summer than in    almost all previous summers combined. Right now I am seeing the good that God promised in that verse, all based on God telling me to keep going on  and not give up.
I think apart of it is because I realized back in that time of discouragement the fact that God never stopped working for good in my life, even when I would repaid his good with bad. In fact I think one of the reasons I like to pick on Peter in the Bible is because I’m so much like him. Peter was one of these guys that seemed to always repay Jesus’ good with bad.
Today we’re going to look at one of the greatest examples in Peter’s life where even in Peter’s bad, Jesus continued to give good to him. Turn with me if you will to John chapter 21 and we’ll start in verse 15.
As you are flipping in your Bibles to John 21:15, let me give you the background on how we’ve come to this place in Peter’s life.
Peter is one of these guys that doesn’t really know what to say, so he says whatever’s going through his mind at the time. When Jesus tells him at this last dinner that he was going to die, Peter didn’t believe him. When Jesus told his twelve disciples that one of them was going to betray him, Peter told him that it wasn’t going to be him. To this Jesus stopped everything and told Peter that not only would he deny knowing Jesus, but that he would do it three times.
That night, Jesus was betrayed by Judas, and as Jesus was taken from mid-night court to mid-night court Peter proceeded to deny that he knew Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. Jesus had spent the last three years showing Peter the life that God had for him. Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, walked on water with him, showed him his transfigured form and showed the world what it meant to have God as your friend. Yet, in a sense, Peter denied those three years, with his three denials. Peter returned all the good that Jesus had done in his life, with three statements of rejection.
After he realized what he had done, Peter ran and hid as Jesus was crucified. Even after Jesus raised back from the dead, Peter was still in denial. Even when Peter saw Jesus alive he still shrunk away from him and returned to his previous life of fishing. The same life that Jesus had brought him out of so he could serve God.
And it’s here that we find ourselves today. Let’s Read. 
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Peter did what Jesus said he was going to do, he denied knowing Jesus three times. Jesus could have easily turned his back on Peter, because Peter had turned his back on Jesus. But that’s not how God works. God does not return evil for evil, he returns evil with good. He does good even when everyone around him has given him bad. While on the cross Jesus didn’t return the evil that was happening to him with evil, instead he said, “Forgive them Father for they don’t know what they are doing.” Jesus gives forgiveness back to those that would give him evil. 
To Peter Jesus was doing the same thing. Peter returned Jesus’ good with three denials. Jesus in turn asked Peter three times if he loved him. And with every response of Peter saying, “Yes I love you.” Jesus restored him back to a place where he could work for God’s kingdom. Peter’s evil action was repaid by Jesus with compassion, grace and forgiveness. Jesus repaid Peter with good.
Galatians 6:9 again says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” In context this is what Paul, the writer of Galatians, is saying verse 7 through 10, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
It is easy for us to repay evil with evil. Our sinful human nature wants nothing better that to destroy those around us, especially those in the body of Christ. If I repaid the evil I faced five and half years ago with evil I know that God would not have blessed his ministry at this church. But even now we stand at a cross roads of what to do in our lives; it is easy to point to others and say, “Look what they have done” so that we can justify our own bad behavior, but the reality is we are to do good, no matter what anyone else does. We need to continue to forgive and give grace to the people around us. 
There’s the old saying, “Once bitten twice shy.” People say this so that they can’t be hurt again by giving good to people. But with God that’s not the way we do things. We continue to do good not once, not twice but as many times as necessary to show the greatness of God. Jesus was once asked in Matthew 18:21 by Peter, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Jesus replied with how we should respond to people’s evil to us. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” That idea of 77 times was to show a number of innumerable size. Kind of like how we say a millions times or a trillions times. 
So when we feel like someone has given to us evil how are we to respond? With good, not once, not twice, but every time until the Lord returns. That means we need to do good to everyone around us and as Paul says even more so to those who are in the Church. This week I would challenge you to pick one person that you don’t want to do good towards, single them out and do as much good as you can for them; all the while praying that they would be blessed by God.

It’s hard, and it goes against everything inside of us that doesn’t want to, but Jesus showed us, not only with Peter, but in our own lives how much good we need to give, in order to show that God is real and we are truly his followers. Again Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Monday, August 31, 2015

Wave Walking Faith

You know what’s amazing? I have seen God do some amazing things in my short walk with him.  But of all the things I have seen, the one thing that amazes me the most is how God’s word is alive and working in the hearts of people. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
I’ve seen this promise in action. About five years ago, Pastor Jeff, myself and our wives were at the national council for the Christian and Missionary Alliance. There, five pastor spoke using the same passage of Scripture. From my understanding, none of the pastors were told what passage to preach on; in fact, one of the pastor even remarked, “When I heard these other guys preaching on my passage I thought God was going to use up all the good stuff with them.” Yet each of their sermons was different, because God was working through each of them. His word is living and active. 
Recently I’ve had a similar experience. When one of our youth leaders finishes their two year training period called Servant Leadership, they graduate and become a Student Leader. At that time, they begin to teach and preach to the other youth. One of our leaders is Porsche, who some of you see around wearing all types of hats. She spoke to us on Matthew 14, where Jesus walked on water. In that passage she showed us how, when we are sinking in our lives, we need to look to Jesus who wants to pull us up.
It was a very good message, especially for her very first one in front of an audience of her peers. As I listened, I was reintroduced to the text and it was the text that I couldn’t get out of my mind. I kept returning to it again and again, because God was teaching me through it and taking me to a different place than he had taken me before. Would you open your Bibles with me to Matthew 14 verse 25, because I want to share with you what God has shown me.
As you’re finding your way to Matthew 14:25, let’s get into the context of the passage. Jesus is teaching around the Nazareth area of Israel. He had just fed 5,000 men, plus the women and children that had accompanied them. After Jesus sent his disciples away on a boat, and then dismissed the crowds, he went up by himself to pray and talk with God the Father. While Jesus was praying, the disciples had run into a storm. They had made it far from the shore, but now were going no where because of the wind and waves.  It’s here that we find ourselves in verse 25 of chapter 14 in the book of Matthew.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Now as I was understanding this passage, the way God was leading me to, I had to put it in a greater context of the whole book of Matthew. In fact I had to go through the first 14 chapters of the book to understand what was going on here. Because every time I’ve read this passage, I’ve always looked at it as Peter losing faith, but there is more there. So we’re going to go through the first 14 chapters pretty quick so that we have a better understanding of what is going on in our text. 
First off Matthew chapter 1 through chapter 3 verse 12 is the set up for Jesus life. Matthew gives us background information about the family to which Jesus is born into. Matthew is showing us all the events that lead up to the birth of Jesus.
Then, starting in verse 13 of chapter 3 through chapter 4, we see Jesus’ own preparation for his ministry. Jesus, in a sense, is getting his ducks in a row and following all that God the Father has for him to do.
In Chapter 5-7 we see Jesus’ first big teaching time. He goes up on a mountain side paralleling the time of Moses receiving the commandments of God and then teaching about those commandments and other issues, but taking them to a deeper heart place. So he’s teaching not only God’s commands, but also God’s expectations for humanity.
It’s here that we come to chapter 8 through 9. Jesus doesn’t just preach a good message, he takes what he teaches and puts it into action. Showing everyone that not only does he have the authority to teach, but to also use the very power of God in the world. 
From there we enter chapter 10 and we see Jesus sending out his closest disciples to do ministry themselves. Basically what’s going on is Jesus is saying to these 12, “You’ve heard the teachings, you see that I’ve got the power, now you’re going out to do the same things.” 
Then in chapters 11 through 14 verse 21, the disciples come back, Jesus debriefs them, teaches them some more and then encourages them.
All this leads to the next part and so on and so on. Then we come to our passage today and to crazy, foot in the mouth Peter. Peter is one of those guys, that when they open their mouth the other guys go, “Not again.” Not because everything he says is bad, but because he’s constantly talking and sometimes even contradicting Jesus. 
But we see Peter distinguish himself among the others in this passage. All twelve disciples see Jesus walking on water; doing something, that in their minds, is impossible. But with Peter’s words, “Lord, command me to come to you on the water.” We are given a realization that there are two types of faith that followers of Jesus demonstrate.
The first type of faith is the faith that the men in the boat showed. They were scared in the boat and not willing to even reply to Jesus’ words of peace. All they saw was a storm raging out of control. Most of these men were fishermen and they knew and trusted their boat. They had probably seen others go over the side and never come back in storms like the one they found themselves in. They clung to what they knew, what was safe and in the end they had, what I would call, “Safe Boat Faith.” Safe Boat Faith is faith that clings to something tangible, something that can be felt and feels secure all the time.
But on the other side is Peter, he himself a fishermen, but over the course of these 14 chapter there has been a change in Peter; a change that the other disciples haven’t yet come to. When Jesus spoke to the disciples, it was Peter who responded, but it wasn’t a, “Hey Jesus, get off those waves and get where it’s safe!” No instead he asked to come out with Jesus. Out on the waves, out in the danger, out of his comfort and his secureness. Peter had taken all that he had heard and all that he had seen of Jesus and put it into practice in this one moment. Peter had a desire to be where his Savior was, even though it seemed like suicide to be there. Peter realized that Jesus wanted him to put what he had learned so far into action,
Peter is showing us that there is a second type of faith: “Wave Walking Faith,” the faith that Jesus calls all of his followers to live.
See, we have a tendency to live our spiritual lives confined to our boats, our comfort zones. We tend to, like the disciples, live in the safest place we can find. But that’s not where God wants us; he wants us out on the waves walking with him.
If we call ourselves Christians, then we are saying that we want to follow Jesus’ example. So what did he do, he was the original wave walker. Jesus left his boat of Heaven to walk the waves of earth. If the Creator of the universe did it, how can we think that we can do anything less?
We need to find places in our lives that give us discomfort and walk out of our boats. How many of us go to church, but never volunteer, or volunteer only where we feel comfortable? How many of us give to missionaries, but never have gone on a missions trip recently? How many of us struggle to forgive others or hold onto anger? How many of us shutter at sharing our faith with someone else or pray for them?
God has called us out on to the waves to walk, like Jesus walked; to live as Jesus lives. We might, like Peter take our eyes off Jesus and begin to sink, but just as Porsche had told the youth, Jesus will be there to pull us up. The storms of life are going to beat on us if whether we’re in the boat or out on the wave. So what’s better? To be in the boat holding onto dear life to the things that are easily destroyed, or on the waves next to the Savior who guaranteed to hold us when the storms hit? What kind of faith are you living today? Are you living Safe Boat Faith, where you’re only willing to follow Jesus into the places you feel comfortable? I know I do at times, but God has challenged me to look for waves to walk. It’s not easy and it might be suicide, but we were never called to live in our safe boats, we were called to live on the waves. After all of Jesus’ teachings and examples, Peter got it. Do we? How much knowledge do we have and is there enough action with it?

What kind of faith are you living, safe boat or wave walking?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Flaws in Our Thinking

In Sunday school children can get some pretty crazy ideas of what the teacher is trying to tell them. When talking about Adam and Eve some children think they were created from an apple tree; they might think that Moses went to Mt. Cyanide for the 10 commandments, or Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines, and maybe even a godly person has only one wife and that is called monotony.

Personally I don’t know how many times I’ve taught on a subject and received confused calls and talks from parents about what on earth I was teaching their children. Some of it is pretty funny and some isn’t; so I’ve tried to have some fun with it myself. When asked what we do at youth group I like to tell people, we sacrifice chickens, chant and other weird things, you know whatever comes to mind at the time. Eventually people realize that I’m joking, well at least some of them do.

But just like children get some crazy ideas about what the Bible teaches, we sometimes get flaws in our thinking too. When I was an intern at a church in Redding, California,  I was in charge of teaching the adult Sunday school class. It was there that I realized that it doesn’t matter how old you are, we can get some weird ideas about what the Bible teaches and what God calls us to know. For some of us these misconceptions come from being a young Christian; we haven’t been around long enough to know what the Bible teaches, and instead we have only what we’ve heard before we came to trust Jesus and what we have heard since then. So we need to grow out of those misconceptions and taring away those things that we come with.
But then there are those of us who have been around for a while and have read our Bibles and listen to multiple sermons and Sunday school lessons, yet we still get flaws in our understanding, because we add to it with our own ideas.
There are quite a few misconceptions or flaws that we have in our thinking about God’s teachings. I want to cover five of those flaws. Now I am not going to talk about things like the rapture, or speaking in tongues or predestination, because those things, in my opinion, are not vital to the Christian life. The five things that I want to talk about this morning are those things that the Bible is plain about and we need to have our minds right with so that we can move forward in our relationship with God.

But before we begin I want us to take a quick test, didn’t think you were going to do this, right? Below are five statements, I want you to either answer true, if you think the statement is true or false, if you think the statement is false. Take a couple of minutes to do that.

1: Theology is God’s way to show humanity who He is.
2: There are many paths to heaven and it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere.
3: We don’t get to heaven by good deeds.
4: When we become a Christian, it doesn’t matter what we do.
5: Christians are not to judge.

So how do you think you did? Just to give you a heads up there were a couple of trick questions in there. Let’s see how well you did. If you answered True to the statement that, “Theology is God’s way to show humanity who He is,” then you’re Wrong. Actually theology is man’s study of God, but this idea goes beyond the term theology. You see we are products of Roman and Greek philosophy. One of the main thrusts of that philosophy is the idea that terms like good and evil are ideas, but that’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that God is love, He is mercy, He is justice. God gives our words definition,not the other way around. When God acts and tells us that this is good, his action becomes the definition of good. When God acts and tells us that it is love, his actions becomes the definition of love. So on and so on it goes. It’s who God is as at His being, and it by Him telling us that we understand who God is. It’s not the other way around, we don’t come up with an idea or a word and then say, “God this is who you are.” Instead we read God’s word and then try to understand what he has revealed. In Amos 4:13 God says, “He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth—the LORD God Almighty is his name.” and in 1st Corinthians 2:9-10 Paul says, “‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” Why does this matter? Because we need to understand that we can’t know anything about God unless He reveals it to us. Two ways He reveals Himself to us is through His creation coupled with His word,. the Bible. If we have the flawed thinking that we define God, then we have a tendency to make God in our image, when in reality we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).
Next If you answered False to number 2 you’re Right. Jesus words are very interesting in John 14:6 and later on in 15:5, he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” and “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” These statements put Jesus in a category of his own. He really is the only one in all religions that makes it a point that only through Him can you get into heaven, all other ways are dead ends. Now on the surface most religions look like they say that they’re the only way to god or nirvana (heaven), but they all have loop holes. For Islam, people of the “book” can enter into paradise; the book is the Old and New Testament. For Hindu’s which ever god you serve as long as you please that god, you can enter into their “paradise”. Why’s this so important, because we live in a society that is in rebellion against God and part of this rebellion is to have a buffet style belief system where you can pick and choose what you want. Jesus’ words flies in the face of that because He says, that His way is the only way.
The third statement is a trick one. It’s false that we don’t get into Heaven by good deed’s, because it’s by Jesus’ good deeds that we do get into Heaven. In Isaiah 53:9 says of Jesus, “He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.” Adding to this, Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” So our good works, do not get us into heaven, but Jesus’ good works do. Why’s this matter? Because we need to understand that it’s all about Jesus when it comes to us getting into Heaven. It’s not because of how good we are, but instead it’s about how obedient and good Jesus was. When we understand that and how unworthy we are to receive this gift, then we can begin to have the compassion and mercy that Jesus had; because if He can love us this much, we should be able to love others the way He loves us.

Now number four is the other trick question, where three is connected. See when we understand that we don’t have anything to do with getting salvation, then we can get the wrong idea that nothing we do matters to God, so we can do whatever we want. Paul brings this up in 1 Corinthians 10: 23, “‘Everything is permissible but…” Paul writes, “…not everything is beneficial and not everything is constructive.” Our good deeds might not get us into Heaven, but they reflect the fact that we have accept God’s gift of heaven. Why’s that important? Because we can get into one of two extremes on this. When people begin to follow Jesus they can end up being totally free in the sense that they have no self-control. They dress the same way, because they can, they continue to gossip and slander people. They continue in sexual sins, but Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 6, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Our freedom in Christ should be seen through the lens of God sacrificing Himself, so we should in turn become obedient to His commands and sacrifice ourselves back to him with how we conform to his will. 
The other extreme is where people become obedient to the point of legalism. They begin to live their lives through the lens of having to be perfect and requiring others to be perfect too. But we’re not perfect, that’s why Jesus had to die, we are going to mess up. We are going to sin, but the key is what happens afterward. Do we continue to sin, or do we repent, confess our sins to God and move forward again relying more in the power of the Spirit? We need to take a balanced approach to our lives where we are not living for ourselves, yet we give ourselves room to make mistakes and to grow.
In the last statement the answer is true. “What?” You might say, “Christians are to judge?” Yes, but there’s a but. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:1-3, “If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!”
The idea that people get that Christians are not to judge comes from Matthew 7:1-5 where Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’” But there two different forms of judging. The idea that Jesus is getting at in Mathew 7, is people usually judge from a hypocritical position. They see someone doing something, they tell they to stop it, yet at the same time they’re doing the exact same thing. It’s like and alcoholic who drinks and drives, telling they’re 21 year old son not to go to bars, but the father shows no signs of changing his ways. Now it might be good advice, and we might think he’s trying to save his son from his problems, but it’s hypocritical. We can’t be doing something wrong and tell other people to not do it. We as followers of Jesus are to check ourselves, making sure that we are not doing what we judge others to be doing. Then on top of that we don’t beat people over the head with the judgement, but rather be constructive in how we deal with them. “We must speak the truth in love.” as Paul says. Why does this matter? Two reasons, because the main reason people don’t want to come to church and follow God is because they see His people as hypocrites. Second we need non-hypocritical people to live their lives in front of others, mistakes and all, so that we can speak the good news of Jesus to a world that is covered in darkness. And that takes people that are willing to be deemed intolerant bigots, because they are speaking the truth in love and from a not hypocritical lives of hissing our mistakes under a rock.
What do you think? Am I off base? Am I right on? Somewhere in between?
Well, my question for you today is where are you? Have you realized today some flaws in you thinking? Have you realized an area of your life that isn’t right? I hope so, because that’s the beginning of change and transformation. God doesn’t want to leave us where He found us, He wants to move us and transform us into the people that He intended us to be. The book of Hebrews tells us that as long as it is called today we should encourage and build each other up. Today is the day for us to turn to God out of our rebellion against Him. Today is the day that we move away from our own desires, our own understanding and get plugged into God’s desires and God’s understanding.

If today you have realized that you are in rebellion against God, or that you have had some wrong understanding of God’s word and of His desire for you life. I want you to now, in the quietness of your own heart, speak to Him, confess it and enjoy His forgiveness. You have never put your trust into Jesus, today’s the day, He’s the only way and He desires you. He has paid the price for you sin and rebellion and all you have to do is accept it, turn from your old life and turn to Him, because He will give you rest.