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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dealing With Problem Relationships - Matthew 18:15-17

You ever have that one person that really rubs you the wrong way? That kind of person where it seems like, nothing you do is done right? When I was working in construction I had a superintendent that was like that. My dad and I were doing the metal stud framing for the Elephant Bar Restaurant in Stockton, California. We were there for a while, because of all the unique hanging ceilings and sofets that had to be built. Well, my dad went on vacation for a week and I was left alone to work on the ceilings; no big deal, since I had been doing these things since I was twelve and thanks to having been working full time for that last year and a half, it had become second nature to me.
But then there was the superintendent. Every day he would come in and talk about how he was so angry that they would leave me there to work on the ceilings; how messed up they’d turn out. When I would ask him what was wrong, he would have to go because of important issues to take care of. Fancy that, right?
At the end of the week I was getting pretty tired of it, but I was a Christian and I wanted a good witness on the job. I would do my best to show Christ to the other workers and on occasion I was able to share a little about my faith with them. So I endured the rudeness. When my dad got back, I was praised for getting the work done so fast, so that we could work on the more difficult round tapered ceiling. Then it happened, one day while I was on the lift putting in some of the support for the ceiling, the superintendent came in and started criticizing my work and my dad for leaving me there alone. Let’s just say I lost it at that point, I came down and berated him for his rude and inaccurate words and attitude. Now I have to admit that I would have loved to gotten into a physical altercation with the man, luckily my dad was there to ease the situation.
On the way home and that night I realized what I had done and how I had tarnished the name of my Savior on that job sight. To top it all off, this was all going on while I was leading a small group on the topic of being a peace keeper. A peace maker, perfect timing right? Let’s just say, God convicted me and I had to go back and make amends.
To often in our lives we deal with problem relationships the wrong way. We allow our anger and our hate for a person to grow inside of us and then explode in ways that not only damage any possibility for sharing Christ with that person, but also the people around us.
And all to often this happens right here in the church. I don’t know if it’s the family can take it idea. You know that idea that, “My family will always be here for me, so I can act like a jerk to them.” Maybe that’s, it maybe we think, “Well, they’re Christians so they should be able to handle my anger and hate.” Maybe we don’t think about it or maybe we just don’t care. What ever the reason is, God has not called us to deal with problem relationships with anger or with exploding emotions. Instead God has called us to take care of problem relationships in a way that honors him. Today we’re going to look at the process in Scripture that shows us God’s proper way of dealing with problem relationships. Take a look in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 18 starting in verse 15.
We find our passage in the midst of a talk that Jesus’ is giving to his disciples. This talk started because the disciples wanted to know who would be the greatest in the kingdom. This led Jesus to tell them that those who makes themselves as children are the greatest. But Jesus goes on to talk about temptation, and the lost sheep. Then in verse 15 he begins to tell how to deal with problem relationships. Apart of me wonders if Jesus starts to talk about problem relationships, because we know later on there’s a decent within the disciples ranks of wanting to be greater than the others. Maybe Jesus is seeing some of that decent coming up and wants to address it. But for whatever reason, Jesus tells us how we need to deal with problem relationships; more specifically, problem relationships in the church.
Let’s read together Matthew 18 verse 15 through 17. 
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

So to start off, let’s think about what is going on in the passage. Jesus is giving us a three step process. First is the one on one direct talk. The second is involving two or three others in the talk. And finally it is the whole church that gets involved. Let’s take each step one by one and dissect what is happening. But before we do that we have to remember that there are three tools we need to have in dealing with problem relationships. Prayer, Speaking to others in love, and a willingness to be wrong. If we understand the need for those from the outset, this process becomes a whole lot easier. So now let’s get into Jesus’ three step process in dealing with problem relationships.
First, even before the one on one talk, we need to make a conscious decision to deal with the problem in a godly way. Dealing with problem relationships cannot be done out of reaction, or anger. Remember, the context of the passage, it follows Jesus’ teaching on temptation which teaches us to not be the one that brings a temptation to someone. In this case the temptation would be causing hostility and division. The other teaching this follows is the lost sheep, where the whole goal is to bring another back to a good relationship with God and in this case each other.
So even before we deal with the problem relationship, we make sure we are in the right. In Matthew 7: 3-5 Jesus puts it this way, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.”
So even before pursing a mending of the relationship we must look to see if we ourselves are in the right, by analyzing the situation with a clear prayerful head. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I in the right? Have I sinned in this situation? Am I being sensitive or have I really been sinned against?” If we take time and prayerfully ask theses questions to ourselves, we can know that we are moving forward in a right way, rather than with a vengeful spirit working in our lives.
So if we have down that, we can confront the person that has sinned against us. Did you notice in the passage that Jesus never said anything about to confront someone that has sinned against someone else? But think about it, how often do we champion someone else's cause? Or fight someone else's battles? We might do that for our children at times, but that’s not what God would have us do for our bothers and sisters in Christ. To often we step into a problem that we have no reason to be apart of, yet that is not what Christ wants from us. Instead we should stay away from campion another’s battle, but rather give counsel instead. 
Now that we’ve gotten past that let’s talk about moving through this process of dealing with the problem relationships in our lives. So, we’ve prayed, next we need to confront those who have sinned against us.
Jesus says to tell him his fault. What’s that mean? Since we have thought through the situation, we’re going to be specific with what exactly the offense was. We’re not making ungrounded accusations or trying to cause more problems. To often I have had to give counsel to teens that are upset with a someone; the two people that are fighting can’t see anything good in the other person because everything that person does is wrong. The situation then gets blown way out of proportion. This happens all the time with little kids right? 
I’ve watched as Israel and Elisabeth are playing and Izzy accidentally hurts Elisa. Oh you would think Izzy just beat her within an inch of her life. To bring a fault to a person, is to be precise, realistic and not blowing it out of proportion.
Now, if this process goes well, the person will repent and we leave it on the cross, because Jesus’ paid it in full and we move on. Do we bring it up, nope. Do we treat the person differently, nope. We move on and leave it and we treat them as a brother or sister in good standing.
But if the person doesn’t repent, we move on to step two which is to bring another person or two into the conversation. But we need to make sure that these people we bring in are people that are not just plants. We don’t want biased minds or people that have a stake in the outcome of this. Why, so that they can judge the situation logically and without bias. That might be hard, because we need to find people that won’t take our side. We need to find people that will tell us that we are wrong, because if we find people that are “yes” men to us, guess what? The problem is going to get worse, not better. If we get yes men, or women for that matter, we’re going to be saying to the person we’re confronting that we’re not interested in reconciliation, but in being right. So we need to make sure that the people we bring in are objective and respected by both parties involved.
When we find these objective and respectable people then we can confront the person again. Remember, this needs to be done prayerfully and thought through. We need to explain the situation to the people and ask them if we are in the wrong. If we are, we drop it; if not then we approach the person again with the one or two people we’ve brought in with us. Both sides are explained and if the objective people say we are in the wrong, we ask for forgiveness; if the other person is wrong and If all goes well, we accept their repentance and we move on. i
If not we go to the last step which is to take it before the entire church so that we can deal with the situation, because at this point it’s more than just a minor sin. There is a heart issue that can lead to a destructive and divisive attitude within the church. Now we might not need to bring this in front of the entire church, but at least to the elders who are in charge of the spiritual health of the church body. Prayer and counsel is needed to make this determination.
So, if we have done everything right, meaning, we have prayed about it, checked ourselves, been loving in our approach, found unbiased people to deal in the situation. Then when we bring it before the church we know that the situation has been dealt in a godly way. If not, who are we to blame for the problem getting so big? We have only ourselves to blame, because we haven’t handled the situation in a Christ focused way. And if we have not handled it in a Christ focused way we have just created unneeded strife within the body of Christ.
So, we have done everything right and we’re in front of the church. If the church agrees that we have been sinned against and the person repents, we forgive and move on. If not, that person should be asked to leave the church. 
Now about six years ago we were talking about this in a youth Sunday school class. And when we got to this point a girl raised her hand and said, “Who gives you the right to do that. You’re just as much as a sinner as me.” The reality is she was right, I am just as much as a sinner as she is. But Jesus lays down this step-by-step process so that every opportunity of reconciliation can occur. If it comes to a point where a person is so adamant that they have not sin, yet the church is in agreement that they have, then the person is in a place where they are rejecting the Word of God and the counsel of the godly. 
Jesus says to treat a person like this as a Gentile. What’s that mean? Basically Jesus is saying that we treat the person like we would treat anyone who doesn’t follow God. With compassion and love, but in need of reconciliation with God. 
It’s not a place that any person wants to find themselves in, because the problem goes deeper than a one on one sin. There’s deep seeded issues of pride and divisiveness that could destroy the church. In none of this are there sides to be taken or egos to be stroked. Instead we must have a desire for restoration and unity to occur.
So how does this look in practice? In 1st Corinthians 5 Paul brings attention to a man who is living in sexual immorality. It has gotten to the point where Paul, who isn’t actually in Corinth, has heard about it. So Paul says to engage in step three and to put the person out of the church. Okay seems harsh, but we need to look at what Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthian church. In 2nd Corinthians Paul tells the people in chapter 2 to receive the person, who they had set out, back into the Church. Because the end goal of this whole process is not to get rid of sinners, but instead build a godly, open and honest church.
But we can’t do that when we don’t deal with problem relationship in a godly way. Our actions must be loved based, not only in sharing the good news of the Gospel, but when we have to deal with the problems too. We need to be followers of Jesus who are willing to first, check ourselves. To make sure that we aren’t doing things that would put us into the wrong. Because sometimes we feel like someone has sinned against us and it’s just our own messed up view of the situation that has clouded our judgment. Instead of blaming another, we need to work that out ourselves within the confines of our relationship with God and maybe some godly counsel from a more mature Christian.
After we do that we need to make sure that we have thought through the problem and are clear about it. We need to approach the person with love and a restoring attitude. If that doesn’t work, we bring in people that can be objective in dealing with the situation and we need to be willing to accept it if we are the ones who are in the wrong. 
Finally, as a church we need to desire not to take sides, but rather to work towards restoration by encouraging each other to follow Jesus’ plan for fixing problem relationships. 
How many churches have split because sides were taken and egos were stroked? That’s not God’s plan and we need to step away from our emotions and allow the Spirit to work.
Think about this, the way God fixed humanities problem relationship was to send Jesus, to live as a servant and die on a cross. Being God, Jesus didn’t need to do it, God doesn’t need to have us in a relationship with him. Instead God desired it and Jesus wanted to mend the relationship. If God desires to fix problem relationship, we should as well. And it’s not so people can look at us and say, “Wow, they are so godly, look how they dealt with that sinner.” No, it’s about us wanting to show the greatness of God and point it all back to him.

Each of us has probably one problem relationship in our lives; it might be someone we see every day or once in a great while. Have we attempted to mend the relationship? Are we holding on to anger, or hatred for the person? Each of our relationships is important to God, because he wishes to be in the midst of those relationships so that people can be drawn to him. If we have problem relationships, they need to be mended. Jesus has set the example on the cross. If we say we are followers of Jesus, yet do not put his teachings into practice, are we truly following him? 
For those who have put their trust into Jesus as their Savior, he has given us the Holy Spirit to set us on the right course to mend these relationships. 
But maybe you are not a follower of Jesus, but you desire to mend the problem relationships in your life. It all starts with realizing that we have problems, the greatest being our sin. Sin is our disobedience to what God has told us is right. The punishment for sin is death, but God sent Jesus to take that punishment which made him the first mender of problem relationships. When we accept what he has done for us and put our trust into him we can start on the path to mending the other problem relationships in our lives.

But today we have a choice, we can either leave here with no change and continue to live with problem relationships or we can choose to search out and mend those relationships so that people can see the greatness of God. Which do you choose?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Child of the One True King

In the last two years I have begun to understand the word father. My wife and I became foster parents in October of 2011 and are on our way to adopting two kids. A girl named Elisabeth and a boy named Israel.
This being Father’s today, a day to take time to thank our dads for the role they play in our lives. I called my dad this year to thank him for all he’s done for me. I’ve been pretty lucky, my dad learned from his father’s mistakes and worked very hard to not only guide and direct me, but to also be there for me. He was a construction worker and would take off work earlier to watch me play baseball, but of course to pay the bills he would have to work extra hours to make up for the hours he gave up. As he gets older, his body is paying for all that hard labor.
I was blessed because I had a father in my life that I wanted to be like, but not all of us are lucky to have that. Growing up I had friends who’s dads were drunks, abusive, unloving or uncaring about their lives. Our fathers play a huge role in how we develop in our lives. Did you know that 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes? 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from homes without fathers. 71% of all high school dropouts don’t have a father around. And finally 71% of all teenage births are from girls that don’t have a father. Fathers have a huge impact on our lives, whether it be for good or bad.
I think that it’s for this reason that God is so strongly looked at as a father figure throughout Scripture. I mean think about it, with all the statistics I just gave you, the need of a father is very real. Maybe this is why the Psalmist in Psalm 68:5 tells us that, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
We are all in need of God as our father, no matter if we have had a great dad, or horrible dad. Our dads are humans, they’re sinners and they mess up. For the father’s that try their best, we can get a glimpse of what a father should be, but it’s like having an off brand wrench instead of a craftsman. God shows us what a true father is and he calls us all to be his children.
If you have your Bibles, would you open up to the Book of Romans in the New Testament to chapter 8 verse 14? 

As we read Romans 8:14-17 together, let’s ask God to reveal himself through his word.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

This is such a great passage because starting off in verse 14, we can understand who are the children of God. Paul's teaching here, compliments John the apostle who teaches us  in the Gospel of John chapter 1, “Yet to all who did receive Jesus, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” If we have received Jesus as our Savior, that means that we have put our faith and trust into his death and resurrection and his free gift of eternal life, then we are his children. But here Paul takes it to the next step. See, in the biblical understanding of salvation, faith is nothing unless acted upon. So by being led by the Spirit, means to let God direct our lives, we are now showing that we are his children and we show that we have indeed put our faith and trust in Jesus.
In verses 15 and 16, we are given a glimpse into the inner workings of the Trinity. Here we see that it’s the Holy Spirit’s role to adopt us into the family of God. By each of us gaining sonship, Paul is telling us, not that we will all become male, but rather since in ancient times only the male sons were allowed to be the inheritors of the estate, both male and female inherit the kingdom of God, because they receive sonship.
Paul continues to tell us that it’s also by the Holy Spirit that we are able to call God Father and that it’s the Spirit who stands in the courtroom of God to speak on our side that we are God’s children. You see in the grand scheme of things our lives are a giant court room. God the Father sits in the judgment seat, Satan, sits as the prosecutor. We sit in the defendant seat as Satan lists all our sins. Jesus shows the court that the penalty for sin has been paid for through the cross and finally, we have been granted sonship in God’s kingdom. Then the Spirit testifies that we have truly become children of God. Which is pretty cool knowing that the God of the universe is on our side.
Finally, In verse 17 Paul let’s us know what being a child of God means. We will inherit all the things that Christ as the Son inherits. What are those things? Defeat of Satan, life eternally with God, true freedom, not only in eternity to come, but in our life right now. But Paul gives us a little disclaimer, we also inherit suffering, because as Jesus states in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” But with the bad also comes the good and millions of Christians around the world have found that in their suffering they are experiencing the greatness of their Father.
The problem is that we in here today can sometimes forget that we are children of God. Yet God wants us to live our lives in the reality that we are his children.
This week I heard a song that really speaks to this and how when we’re sitting in that court room being called all sorts of things, we can know that we are children of God. The songs called “Hello My Name Is” and it’s by Matthew West. Today, I would like to share with you this song.

When we’re in a building, surrounded by other people that are singing and praising God, it’s easy for us to know and understand that we are children of God and that He is our Father. It’s easy to know in there that he will be there for us, but what about when we leave that place? How will we have that constant reminder?

For my self I am reminded every time I see children running around. I see them and think to myself, “God sees me as I see them.” God sees me as his child running around. 
I don’t know if you have your trust into Jesus. You might not know what that means or how to do it. Know that from before this world was created, God saw you and knew everything about you. He made all the inner workings of who you are at your core. He saw all the good and bad you would do. And it’s that bad that keeps you away from God, but God didn’t want you to be away, so he sent Jesus to die on the cross to take the penalty of your bad actions. All you have to do is accept what God has done for you, repent or tell him that you have wronged him and you need him. Then accept that you can do nothing to earn his love or the gift of salvation or his saving you from the consequence of you bad actions, which is eternal separation from Him. Accept God’s work through Jesus’ cross on your behalf, thank him and move forward seeking him and following him.

As we end are time together, I’d like to pray over you, that you may walk as a child of the One True King. 

Pleasing God

       This past September my wife and I got to adopt our son and daughter through the foster care system. We’re extremely happy, because they’re just really good kids. I mean, my parents got stuck with me, but I got to pick my kids. Though when my wife tells my mom about the things our little boy does, she tells her, “Jeremiah was the exact same way.” So I guess it’s not so much we got to pick, but rather God placed the perfect kids into our lives.
For the last two years, our oldest girl Elisabeth, has been attending dance class over in Blythe. She had such a great time last year that we put her back in this year. This past weekend was her recital. All her hard work throughout the year was on display for literally hundreds of people. Her dance was to a song called Miss America and before her first performance I took her aside and told her, “Now you need to have a big smile, and follow your teacher’s instructions.” Then I sat down with our other foster kids and our son and waited to see her perform. She was the third dance routine to come up and as soon as those lights came on she put on the biggest smile and just performed her little heart out. When she saw us in the crowd her smile grew to the point where her eyes were almost gone.
She did a great job. After a couple of songs went by we left the building to meet up with her and my wife. When she saw me the first words out of her mouth were, “Are you proud of me daddy?” Of course I was, because she got up there and did her best. I was pleased by all that she did on that stage. Now what if she wouldn’t have done what she was supposed to? What if she was like this other little girl who walked off in the middle of the song? Would have I been proud of her then? Frankly, no I wouldn’t have been. Does that mean that I would have stopped loving her, of course not, but I wouldn’t have been pleased because she didn’t do what she was supposed to do.
You know it’s the same way with us and God. Humanity as a whole has the love of God on display through both the creation around us and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. But we don’t necessarily have the pleasure of God, because we are not doing the things that we are supposed to do.
See the Bible shows us that the love of God is not the same as pleasing of God. First off let’s talk about God’s love. We’re going to be jumping all around the Bible today, so be prepared to move. Romans 8:38-39 is a passage that a lot of Christians memorize. It says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The culmination of God’s love is shown to us through the giving of Jesus the Son to the world, as is famously quoted in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God’s love is not based on our action, our attitude or our response. It requires nothing from us and is given freely without us needing to change what we are doing. God’s love can never leave us, never turn away from us, never disown us and will never stop pursuing us no matter if we are apart of his family or far away from him.
Yet this isn’t the case with pleasing God. Whereas the love of God is constant in the lives of every person, the pleasure of God is not.
Staying in Romans, but flipping back a few verses to chapter 8 verse 8, it says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The idea of the flesh that the writer is using here is the idea of rebellion against what God requires from us. So if God says to honor our parents, being in the flesh means that we are not honoring our parents. God may say that committing adultery is wrong, yet if we are in the flesh that means we are having sexual relations outside of marriage. Living in the flesh is living outside of what God wants for us and in turn we live outside the possibility of pleasing God.
In 1st Corinthians 10, the writer Paul tells the synopsis of the Israelite nation coming out of Egypt. In the story Paul talks about the things that they saw God do for them, yet in verse five Paul says, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”
Why were they not pleasing God even though they were God’s chosen nation? Because of their heart and their actions. They continued to try and rebel against God’s law, his words and the people that he sent to them to guide them on the path God had for them. Our actions and our attitude have a direct impact on if we are pleasing God or not. If we are not following what God wants, then we are not pleasing him. 
So how do we please God? We get that answer in the book of Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
The key to pleasing God is to exercise our faith. Hebrews chapter 11 is a great chapter to read and learn about the faith of some of the most important people in the Bible. One of these people is named Enoch and in verse 5 of chapter 11 it says, “By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God.”
Wouldn’t it be great to have it written about us that we are commended and we have pleased God?
So why should we want to please God, I mean isn’t it enough to always have the love of God in our lives? Well, it’s actually in the pleasing of God where first, salvation lives and second, we can experience the full greatness of God. 
Think about this, we have the love of God that makes salvation available to us, but it’s not until we respond in faith that we enter into this salvation. Paul says back in Romans 10:9-10, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
The belief that Paul talks about is the exercising of faith that we must have in responding to the free gift of salvation God has made available to us. When we exercise this faith, God is pleased because we are doing what he has told us to do.
Secondly, when we please God we get to experience him in ways that we can’t even imagine. In exercising his faith, Noah pleased God and got to see him flood the earth. In exercising his faith, David pleased God and defeated the giant Goliath. In exercising his faith, Daniel pleased God and got to sleep with hungry lions. What would it be like if we had as our life goal to please God? What would happen?
So we know what it means to please God, we know the reasons to please God, but how do we actually do it?
There’s three steps: Step 1: Dig into the Bible; God’s word tells us what he wants from us. Step 2: Breath Prayer; talk with God about how his word needs to meet your life. Finally Step 3: Walk it; put it into action by actually doing what pleases God. That’s it. When we do these simple steps, we can please God, with the bonus of seeing God work.

My love for my son and daughter will never stop, but I enjoy them so much more when they go out of their way to please me. How much more should we live our lives to please our Father in heaven? How will you please the Father today?