Sunday, March 28, 2021

Palm Sunday 2021, Rejoice and Seek

  Two weeks ago I shared that I had done a little boxing in my life. Well one of my favorite boxing movies is Rocky IV. The opening fight with Apollo Creed and then Rocky’s climatic win over the Russian was fantastic storytelling. But really, every Rocky movie is good in it’s own right. Well, at least the first four. I’m the type of person who loves a good story that drives the characters. Give me a good story in a movie and I can overlook a lot of stuff. 

To me, the Rocky series is a great story driven series set of movies, that build upon each other. Take Rocky, the original movie. Here Apollo Creed is the number one boxer, and he gives some no name a chance based solely on his nickname, the Italian Stallion. Apollo takes the bout as a publicity stunt, but Rocky takes it as his chance to prove himself. Really, his last chance. His boxing carrier is going nowhere, and he’s constantly told, he’s a bum. The whole movie is character driven and has a story that easily captures a person.

Then we get to the match. For just over eight intense minutes Rocky gives everything. Apollo is taken back at the shear ferocity of his opponent. And what should have been an easy win, ends with Rocky coming within inches of beating the champ. The great line at the end is Apollo saying, “Ain’t going to be no rematch.” To which Rocky replies, “Don’t want one.”

It was never about beating Apollo for Rocky, but proving he was no bum. That he could go the distance with the greats. As the audience, we want Rocky to win. We walk with him through this whole movie, with all the baggage that surrounds him. And when he gets into the ring, we’re ready for the hero to win. And in that last round, as Rocky is laying those last hits, we’re on the edge ready to cheer his victory. Then the decision comes down and Rocky looses. Yeah it stinks, but it’s satisfying at the same time.

What we thought was going to happen didn’t, but it ended great all the same. This is what brings us to today, a moment in time, that the people thought was going to go one way, but instead when another. 

Let’s open up to the Gospel of John, chapter 12, dropping down to verse 12. And as we open up to John 12:12, let’s look at where we find ourselves up to this point in John’s account of Jesus’ life. 

The Gospel of John is unique in telling the story of Jesus’ life. The other Gospel writers, spend a lot of time walking us through the entire life of Jesus, but John, spends most of his time on the last week of Jesus’ life. Where the other Gospel writers walk us through how Jesus connects with different aspects of the Old Testament, or help us answer the question of who Jesus is, or give us one of the best historically accurate ancient accounts of anyones life, John brings our focus on who Jesus is and what it was like to walk with him that last week.

Chapter 12 is the start of that last week. It begins on Saturday with Mary pouring perfume and anointing Jesus’ feet. Jesus recognized this as his preparation for burial in less than a week. It’s after all this, that we come to John chapter 12, starting in verse 12, let’s read together. 

“12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’

“14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

“15 ‘Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’

“16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

“17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!’”

This is what I love of about the Scriptures, their honest. Here Jesus is making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and, from the perspective of most of the disciples, he’s going to conquer it. The disciples believe that Jesus is about to overthrow the Roman Empire and usher in a new Israelite kingdom that will last forever. 

Yet, as all of this is happening, Jesus continues to do things, that his disciples had no idea of why he was doing them. Jesus rides in on a donkey and the disciples are just going with the flow. They don’t know why Jesus would ride a donkey, because all they cared about is that Jesus was coming to conquer. 

The disciples didn’t know or didn’t realize that Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem on that donkey, was another prophecy that he was fulfilling. They didn’t realize that the prophet Zechariah had written,  “Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Instead, the disciples were swept up in the moment of triumph, but not for the triumph they were expecting. They might have found it strange that Jesus was coming in on a donkey, I mean in Jeremiah 17:25 it talks about rulers coming into Jerusalem with chariots and on horses. 

In fact, the Romans had a tradition where the triumphal general would ride into the city and up to the temple of Jupiter leading a procession on a white horse. So the sight of Jesus on a colt of a donkey might have been strange, but they didn’t know and they didn’t care. In their mind Jesus was coming in as a king, and he had all the power to back it up. 

But not just the disciples, there were people there that had seen Lazarus raised from the dead. I’m sure in their minds, if this guy Jesus could do that, then he could do whatever he wanted. He could ride in on a centipede and it would work. 

And as the joy of the people elevated, the fear of the Pharisees grew. If this Jesus really was the coming Messiah, the one who would overthrow the Roman government, then a lot would change. And in their minds, not for their good. They had already seen how Jesus didn’t conform to their man-made religious rules. They had already seen that Jesus would stand against them, even if they were doctrinally in line with a lot of what Jesus said, they still couldn’t control him. 

But everyone one of those people missed what was really going on. Everyone thought Jesus was coming into to set up a Messianic kingdom and overthrow the Romans. Some were elated that it was going to happen, and some were terrified, but they were all wrong. Jesus rode, not on the white horse to come conquer, but on the donkey as servant to die. 

Right now in our country we want to see the Savior riding in on the white horse. Overthrowing the corruption and injustice we see. And someday it will happen. Jesus assures us that there will be a day when a trumpet will sound and all knees will bow at the coming of Jesus. But until then, our Savior rides a donkey. He comes in humbleness. He comes to bring people out of the kingdom of darkness, and into the kingdom of light. He comes to bring hope where there is none, to bring dead things to life.

We might think that we need Jesus to come in and overthrow the powers of this world, and we do, but do we realize what that means? For us believers, that’s a comforting thought. Our Savior, the One who died for us, the One who brought us into his family, into his eternal life, he has returned! We get to live in the place where every tear will cease. Where there will be no pain or suffering. Where every virus, cancer, mental illness, and disease will be gone. Where there will be no abuse, no victims, no murder, no hatred. All of that will cease on that glorious day that Christ returns. 

Yet it won’t be a glorious day for some. In the book of Amos, God speaks these words, “Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. 19 It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. 20 Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness (Amos 5:18-20)?”

In his first letter, John writes this in verses 5-7, “5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

For those that walk in the light of Christ, his coming will be the coming of a new day. A day in the perfection of God. But for those that have not turned to God, that day will be a day of darkness. It will be a day where there is no turning from the evil of this world. Where all the pain and suffering that has occurred in this world, would seem like heaven for those who do not turn to Christ. 

We as believers, long for the day when we can shout hosannas at the triumphal return of Christ, just as the people shouted hosannas at the triumphal entry of Jesus. Yet in Luke’s account, of this moment, as Jesus peaked the hill that overlooked Jerusalem we read this, “41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

This is the heart of God, “9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”

We wonder why Jesus hasn’t returned. Why has he waited so long? The answer is, because on that day, when Christ returns, we will rejoice, but many will not. And God desires that none would perish. 

As we celebrate Palm Sunday and we go into this holy week of remembrance, we must be exuberant in our worship of God, and impassioned in sharing the Gospel with the people around us who do not know Jesus as their Savior. Every time we think about how great, glad, and happy it will be when Christ’s return, let us also seek God to use us to bring others to himself. 

Christ is coming, let us not just be looking forward to that day, but working diligently as the Lord leads, to be about Gospel business. So that on that day we will stand fully ready for his return, with clear understanding of what that day means for the world around us. That only through the cross of Christ can anyone be saved. Not of their own works, but by only what Jesus has done on their behalf. And when Christ returns, there will be many who will see it as the darkness day in the history of mankind, because they will be lost to the presence of God.

My challenge this week is a two fold prayer. First praise God for the return of Christ. That we who have placed our trust into him have found hope and peace in the presence of God. And then ask him to use you until that day arrives. That as far as you’re able, sharing the hope that is in Christ. A simple prayer, for unsimple times.

Let us be about our Father’s business, so that at the coming of the King back to this world, we will be able to stand confident that we have done all that we have been called to do. And that we may truly be able to shout, “‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’” Amen.

Monday, March 22, 2021

A Joshua Stance

  A couple of months ago we did a series called “Not political”. In that series we talk about how there are issues that happen in our government and society that have been co-oped as political, but really are not. An example of this is abortion. We showed how this isn’t a political issue, but rather something the Church has been standing against since the beginning. 

I want to briefly dip our toes into another non-political issue just for the sake of helping us understand the calling of God on our lives. In the last few years a bill has been circulating capital hill. A few years ago it was passed by the House of Representatives, and more recently this year, it has passed again and is currently in the Senate. The bill is referred to as the “Equality Act” ( In summary the bill would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include LGBTQ+ people. Now not discriminating is a good thing, because impartiality is a sin, yet the thing we as believers must realize is that the language of the bill opens a door for the Church’s work to be impacted.

Let me give you three examples from the bill. The first coming from Section 2a, subsection 8a. It reads, “(8) Both LGBTQ people and women face widespread discrimination in employment and various services, including by entities that receive Federal financial assistance. Such discrimination— (A) is particularly troubling and inappropriate for programs and services funded wholly or in part by the Federal Government…”

This could impact the ability of students at Christian Colleges to get financial aid, if the college takes a biblical stance against LGBTQ lifestyles. 

The second example comes from Section 3a subsection 2a and c, where it reads, "(a) Prohibition On Discrimination Or Segregation In Public Accommodations.—Section 201 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000a) is amended—in subsection (b)—

(A) in paragraph (3), by striking “stadium” and all that follows and inserting “stadium or other place of or establishment that provides exhibition, entertainment, recreation, exercise, amusement, public gathering, or public display…“(4) any establishment that provides a good, service, or program, including a store, shopping center, online retailer or service provider, salon, bank, gas station, food bank, service or care center, shelter, travel agency, or funeral parlor, or establishment that provides health care, accounting, or legal services…”

This could impact para-church organizations or churches themselves who rent out shopping mall spaces, who build community centers, or who put on youth programs. 

The third example is Section 9, subsection 2 - 1107, which reads, “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.) shall not provide a claim concerning, or a defense to a claim under, a covered title, or provide a basis for challenging the application or enforcement of a covered title.”

Now, I’m not saying that if this bill passes, the next day the gestapo is going to break down the doors of Christians and start closing churches. But we need to be aware of what is happening around us and be prepared for the slow escalation of changing social norms that will challenge our faith. 

It’s this understanding that the world around us is putting us into a position where our faith will be challenged, that we open up to Joshua chapter 24 today.

As we get into Joshua 24, starting in verse 14, we need to know what’s happening in the context of the verses we’ll be looking at. We’re coming into the book of Joshua at the end; in fact, this is the last chapter of the book. Joshua has led the people of Israel for about twenty years after Moses, the previous leader and Joshua’s mentor, passed away. Joshua had seen and done amazing things in his life. He had been a young man at the parting of the Red Sea. He had seen God supply Israel’s needs through the 40 years of wandering. Joshua had seen the Jordan River backed up, the walls of Jericho fall, and the sun stand still. In all of this, Joshua had also seen God’s fulfilled promise of giving the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. 

And in the first 13 verses of chapter 24, Joshua reminds the people of all that God has done for them. It’s in this midst of remembering what God has done for the people, that we find ourselves in verse 14. Let’s read it together, as Joshua says…

“14 Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’ 

“16 Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.’

“19 Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.’

“21 But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the Lord.’

“22 Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.’ 

“‘Yes, we are witnesses,’ they replied.

"23 ‘Now then,’ said Joshua, ‘throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’

“24 And the people said to Joshua, ‘We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.’

“25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws.”

This is Joshua’s farewell to the people. Right after this interaction, we’re told in verse 29, “ After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten (v.29).”

In Joshua’s last days on earth, he wanted to call the people of Israel to stand firm in their faith towards God. Joshua had seen the the generation before him, and how they had worshiped other gods even as the God of Israel performed miracle after miracle in their sight. From the plagues of Egypt, to the cloud by day and fire by night. From water out of a rock, to the bread from heaven. From the earth opening up to swallow those that had deceived the people, to the snake that had been lifted up so the people may be healed. Joshua had seen it all. Yet, even with all the miracles that had been done for the people of Israel, they still made themselves a golden calf to worship. Though God had destroyed one of the greatest armies of their day in the Red Sea, still the people doubted that God could lead them victoriously into the land of Canaan.

Joshua had seen what happens when the people failed to follow the God of Israel. And at the same time, Joshua had seen what happens when the people fully trusted in God. In his own leadership time, Joshua had seen city, and stronghold, and fighting force destroyed by the power of God in his people. Joshua understood both sides of the coin. He understood that to follow God meant victory, and to not meant destruction.

And so, Joshua calls the people to throw away the gods of their fathers, who led the last generation astray. Joshua calls the people to fully weigh all that has happened in the last 60 years, and decide where they are going to stand. Will they choose the God of Israel, who has done great things for their people in years past and into their lives, or will they return to worship the gods of Egypt or appropriate the gods of their new home land.

It is a moment of truth. Joshua leaves no room for fence sitting. There can be no maybe here. It’s either all or nothing. And then Joshua speaks, probably his most famous line, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

In those words, Joshua sets a precedence for himself and his family. Joshua knows that this decision to follow the God of Israel or not, has to be on an individual basis. And as the leader of his household, he has chosen to follow the Lord no matter the decision of the entire nation of Israel. No matter if the whole nation turns against God, Joshua has publicly declared his intention to only follow his God. If at this point the nation turns away, Joshua’s family line might be in jeopardy, because he has chosen to be on God’s side, and not anyone else.

Even after the people declare their intent to follow God, Joshua challenges them on it. In verses 19-20, Joshua emphasizes the severity of playing around with following God. God is holy, there is no wiggle room here. This brings to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…”

But the people agree to follow God and to make that covenant right there that day. And later on in the chapter, we’re told in verse 31, “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.”

We stand at a day of declaration ourselves. There is movement in our government and in the world, that seeks to stand against the Word of God. There are decisions being made to follow the gods of lust, sloth, greed, gluttony, wrath, envy, and pride. More and more books will be banned, and more and more we will see the sins of the world, be placed centered stage to be indulged in. We are marching at a quickening pace towards the day when Christ will come in his fully glory. 

And as the world hastens its pace towards that day, we must be careful that we are not swept along with it. Right now, as things are happening, and it seems like every day there’s something new that has popped up that challenges the Holy God, we must not allow it to take our eyes off of the One who has called us to himself. The world, and all its tappings, have as its goal to fight the fight on its terms and with its weapons. Yet we must stand on the Word of God, and trust in his might. 

There’s been a lot of talk, videos, and sermons that focus on the fulfillment of prophecy. I believe that we are seeing prophecy come to pass, yet our hope is not in in the fulfillment of prophecy, but the God who spoke it. In Matthew 24:8, Jesus says, “All these are the beginning of birth pains.”

And after those words in Matthew 24:8, Jesus gives us two clear commands in his prophetic sermon, on what is required of us in when the end is near. Starting in verse 12 Jesus says, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

First we must stand firm. We must have our Joshua moment. We must see a clear foundation on which we build our faith. We must decide today not to follow the gods of our fathers, nor the gods of this era. We must publicly stand for the God we serve, and speak in love against the things this world would have us worship. Moses, Joshua, Daniel, Peter, and Paul stood when others said kneel. We must follow our brothers and sisters in standing firm in our faith. Doing so with love, mercy and grace.

Then secondly, we must share the Gospel. Jesus said that the Gospel will be preached in the whole world before the end comes. We must be witnesses to the Gospel. The end will come, how fast it will be, who knows, but what we do know that in times such as these, the relaying of the Gospel is the most important thing we can do.

So, brothers and sisters, Beloved of God, what will you choose this day. When the government calls on you to receive its benefits at the cost of your faith, what will you choose? The stimulus check or the cross? When your neighbor needs to hear the Gospel, but to tell them would be breaking a rule or a mandate, what will you choose? We must head the words of Joshua, “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…”

I desire to speak the words of Joshua, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Today I want to challenge you to stand firm in your faith of the Holy God, who brought Israel out of Egypt, who brought Israel out of Babylon, and through Christ, brought us out of sin. Today, make a decision to either stand firm in trusting God, or not. Let us no longer be half-minded, double minded, or any other minded, except for a mind made up. In the notes there’s a space for you to write out a declaration of standing firm in your faith. This week seek God to develop the words you will say when the time comes for you to choose between the world and him.

Let us be firmly standing on the Word of God, for the work of God, for the times in which he has called us today. Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Beyond Series, Week 6 - Beyond…Running Aimlessly

  Growing up I played a lot of baseball, but I also participate in other sports. One of those sports was boxing. Now I didn’t have a lot of fights, in fact there was just two about a year apart from each other. They were both a part of a youth boxing exhibition event that was held in Stockton, California.

The event was put on by a local boxer in in the city who wanted to create a place for boys and girls to go and be mentored. Stockton had and still has a growing problem of teenage drug abuse and crime, and so this boxer wanted to do something about it. Well, my dad had been a boxer for a number of years, and I decided to try my hand at it. I trained a lot for the fights and both times I won by TKO, or technical knockout. What’s funny about those wins, is that it happened the exact same way. See I was a tall kid for my age, and with my weight I was put with a lot of shorter stockier guys. That gave me an advantage on my reach, and where my punches would be coming down at an angle. In both fights my opponent received a bloody nose in the second round and couldn’t go any further.

Now these weren’t really anything in the grand scheme of things, I didn’t go on to golden gloves or anything like that, but the time I spent with my dad training really meant a lot to me. And it’s this idea of training which brings us into our sixth and final week of our Beyond series, where we’re going to bring this all together with some final thoughts and encouragements. We’ll start bringing this to an end by looking, first in 1st Corinthians chapter 9 verse 24-27, and then we’ll switch over to the book of Hebrews chapter 12 for our conclusion.

Now as we open together to 1st Corinthians 9:24, let’s recap what we have talked about in this series. 

In our first week we talked about how, if we have put our trust into Jesus as our Savior, then we are a new creation. Since we are a new creation the old self is dead, and we are to live our lives in the newness that we are have been saved to live. It was here that we talked about trust; trusting God with our plans. We discussed that making plans is fine as long as we are willing to allow those plans to be changed by God. If we say that we trust him, the simplest way that we can tell if we actually do or not, is with those things that we want to control. 

Then in our second week, we looked at living in grace-filled relationships. Relationships that reflect what we have in Christ. Relationships that do not require people to meet a certain criteria or standard before we will love them, but relationships that reflect Jesus. Who, loved us and died for us, while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8). Correction, discipline, and standing for godly truth doesn’t cease in grace-filled relationships, but the goal of these relationships is to bring about full restoration and fellowship with others. 

Following that, in our third week, we looked at how we carry out lives trusting God and based in grace-filled relationships. We focused on the abiding life that Jesus calls us into in John15. A life that embraces God’s discipline, that relies on him for our very being, and that puts into practice his Word. This is the application of living it the new creation. 

Then in our fourth, we talked about when we fail to do the things God has called us to do. We talked about the thoughts that we have that question God’s full salvation gift. The thoughts of us not being good enough for him, and the thoughts that say just walk away. We talked about how we can be assured of our salvation by seeing even the small steps away from sin that we take, and the sorrow over sin when we commit it. These can give us an assurance that our salvation is real, and we are indeed walking with the God in his full salvation work.

Finally last week, we looked at making sure that we were not trying to do this new creation living in our own strength. We looked at the example that Jesus laid out for us in Matthew 4. Jesus, being fully God, did not use his divinity to carry out his mission, but rather relied both on the Holy Spirit and the revealed Word of God. Jesus did this to show us, that this is what we are to do as well. Reliance on the Holy Spirit to accomplish the will of God, and standing firm on the Scriptures so that we cannot be swayed.

Today, we are going to wrap it all up, and through this I hope you are encouraged to continue moving beyond the trappings of sin in this life, though we will continue to struggle as God roots out the sin in our lives, which will bring us closer into conformity with the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Now let’s open up together to 1 Corinthians 9, starting in verse 24.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

I love the imagery here, because it brings to mind the hard work athletes put into to compete in their sports. For example, people spend years of their lives tirelessly working to reach the Olympics. US gymnast Simone Biles said she trained for 32 hours a week with one day off. Another gymnast said she trained from 8am to noon, then took a lunch break, and then went back to training until dinner every day. Michael Phelps said he practiced every day in the pool for 3-6 hours and then did separate exercises on dry land at least four days a week. It is said that it can take four to eight years just to make the Olympic team, and an average of 10,000 practice hours before an athlete can compete ( And for what? It is a great accomplishment to make it to the Olympic Games. We honor our athletes for the hard work they endure and we celebrate them when they win their events.

Those athletes have earned the praise of their peers and their nations, and those that win medals have a treasure for the rest of their lives. Yet, in the view of eternity, their prize isn’t even a blip on the timeline. Paul calls it as “…crown that will not last.” But the eternal prize of eternity with God, far outweighs any Olympic medal that could be won.

Gigi Martin, who played for the US women’s hockey team, was competing in her third Olympics when she said, “I’m back on the ice, proudly wearing the ‘USA’ across my sweater and representing my country…But my mission is more than winning another medal or championship. It’s about sharing Christ and leading others to Him. (”

The prize set before any athlete, though important, isn’t nearly as important as the prize of salvation in Jesus Christ. So as we live in the beyond, as we live in the newness of Christ, we must strive to continue forward. As an athlete works for their prizes, we must seek to live for that glorious day when we will see Jesus in his fullness. Not, because we have to work for our salvation, but because we want to do the will of our Heavenly Father to simply please him. 

So how do we do this? How do we run the race of our lives, doing the will of God, and pleasing him? Let’s turn to Hebrews chapter 12. Here we are going to look at a several verses pretty quickly. A few weeks back we looked at chapter 11, though the first two verses of 12, and now we are going to look at four verses on how we can run our race.

Starting in Hebrews chapter 12 verse 3 we read, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

The first way we run this race is by considering Jesus.The Greek word used for consider (analogizomai [an-al-og-id’-zom-ahee)]), sounds a lot ike analyze, and carries with it the thought of, thinking through something and adding things up. The Hebrew writer is telling us to think on Jesus example and add up his life. 

Paul in Philippians 2:5 takes this approach when he writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” In other words, how did Jesus run the race of this life? What was his example for us. How can we follow his words and actions in our own lives. We showed how to do this last week when we looked at how Jesus dealt with satan. We looked at how Jesus overcame temptation by relying on the Holy Spirit and standing on the revealed Word of God. Jesus is our example and we must consider all that he did.

Let’s drop down a few verses to verse 7.  There we read, “7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?”

The second way we run the race is that we endure hardships. These hardships carry with it the idea of training and education. The endurance carries with it standing our ground. And so, we stand our ground with the mindset that we are being trained and educated through the things that come against us. 

James writes this in the opening to his letter, “2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (1:2-4).” When we read this, we can understand that the hard things in our lives are meant for our training and education, to bring us closer into conformity to Jesus as sons and daughters of God. Therefore, the hardships that God allows into our lives, are not meant to bring us down, but to help us better rely on him, as he saved us to do.

Next, let’s drop down to verse 14. Here we read, “14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Our third way to run the race, is to live in holiness. We must not think that being bookworms of the Bible is what we are only called to do. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day read the Hebrew Scriptures, yet missed Jesus. Why? Because they sought their own righteousness apart from God’s. We must not make that same mistake. We are called to holy lives, because our God is a holy God. 

In 1st Peter 1:15-17, we’re told, “15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” Here Peter gives us an application for how holy lives are to look. He writes, “…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” The two images of foreigners and reverent fear carry with this the idea of separating ourselves from the things that are against God from this world. Foreigners is clear, like Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20, it reminds us that we are citizen’s of heaven, and merely passing through this world, since we have trusted in Jesus. The word fear carries with it the idea of running from danger. In other words, we are foreigners in this world who run from anything not of God. This is what it means to be holy.

Finally, our last way to run the race comes from a comparison in verses 18 and 22. Here we read, “18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm…22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly…”

Our final way to run the race is to seek the unlimited forgiveness of God. The imagery of the passage, reaches back into Israelite history with two mountains. The First is Sinai, the mountain where anyone who touched it was to be put to death. It was foreboding, ominous, scary. This eerie mountain is where the law was given. That law that carried with it the understanding that humanity fell short of God’s perfection and broke his commands in rebellion. Death, destruction, punishment, and separation from God are all seen in the first mountain. 

But the mountain of Zion, with the beauty of the temple, and which housed the mercy seat of God, speaks of forgiveness and reconciliation. It is a place of mercy, grace, and joy. So much so that the Psalmist writes in Psalm 27:4, “One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.” There at Mt. Zion forgiveness is found for all who seek it. When we falter, when we stumble, forgiveness is there for us, bought with the blood of Jesus. Not based on anything we have done, but on everything he has done for us, and so as we run this race in the new creation, we are to rest in the unlimited forgiveness of God. Always turning towards him when we stumble on the path.

You and I are called, through the work of Jesus on the cross, to a new creation life in Christ. Grace pours over us to accomplish all that God sets out for us. We are called to look to Jesus as our example, enduring hardships as he has, living in the holiness that he lived, and being recipients of God’s forgiveness through his work. The new creation life calls us to live beyond our sinful desires and inclinations; it is rooted in the work of Jesus and it is lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in all who have put their trust into Jesus as their Savior. 

As Paul states in Ephesians 2:9 that this done, “…so that no one can boast.” As we live in the new creation life, as we experience going beyond the old self, beyond sin’s grip on us, we can proclaim with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This week I want to challenge you to take each one of these ways, in which we are to run this race of new creation living, and seek to apply one per day. 

On Monday, seek to carry out considering Jesus. Take a piece of Scripture from the Gospels and spend the day thinking about how Jesus lived out his work in that moment. A couple of examples might be John 4:1-38, or Matthew 26:36-46.

Then on Tuesday, seek to find joy in the hardships of that day, knowing that God is allowing them to happen to educate and bringing you closer to him.

Wednesday move to holiness and seek God to help you run from the things of this world, and only embrace what he has for you.

Then on Thursday bask in the unlimited forgiveness of God. If there are things that need to be confessed do that, then praise and worship God for his unlimited forgiveness.

Then out of those four, take the next two days to wrestle with the ones that are the hardest for you to embrace. Trusting, as Jesus did, in the Holy Spirit to accomplish all things.

I want to end with the final two verses of Hebrews, “28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our 'God is a consuming fire.’”

Let us be consumed by the God who is consuming. Worshiping in the reverence and awe he is deserving of, because he has brought us out of death to life, by the work of Jesus on the cross, and it is a free gift to anyone who would accept it, because he is good. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Beyond Series, Week 5 - Beyond…Our Own Strength

  A few years ago we had a teen leader in our youth group that became student body president of her school. In her first few months of her leading in that position, she was doing a lot of work, more than you would expect from someone in that role. One day she was telling me about it, and how much work it was. I asked her if anyone had volunteered to help, she said they had, but it was better if she did it by herself.

A common strength of good leaders is that they’re really good at their jobs. They can put together amazing work, because they have innate talents that help them produce good quality things. But that strength is also a weakness. When leaders take upon themselves everything, they can produce good work for a short period of time. Eventually the work load will become too much, which will lead to a drop in quality, and eventual burn out. Just a few months on the job of student body president, along with her schooling, and youth leadership was taking its toll. I gave her this advice, get other reliable people to help. True the quality of work will most likely go down, but it will produce two results: first you won’t be as stressed and overworked, and second it will give others the opportunity to shine. The difference between good leaders and enduring leaders is that they get others to use their strengths to strength everyone else’s. 

It’s true sometimes as the leader you just have to power through and get things done, but the more time you build up others, means that you will have to power through less and less, and you will eventually produce better and better results. Reliance on other people is a hard concept to implement in our lives, but it is one that we were created to have.

This idea of reliance that brings us to our fifth week in our Beyond Series where we’re going to move back into the Gospels and look at the Gospel of Luke chapter 4, starting in verse 1. And as we open up to Luke 4:1, let’s look back on the past four weeks of our beyond series.

In our first week, we looked at how, when we accept Jesus’ as our Savior, we are moved from and old life, where sin had us in bondage, to a new life, where the power of sin is broken. It’s in this new life that we are to live today. And so we talked about how trusting in God for tomorrow is key to living in the new creation today. This trusting in God for tomorrow manifests itself in allowing God to change our plans as he determines they need to be changed. In other words, we can make plans, but we must be okay if God changes those plans, and if we are, we are better trusting in God for tomorrow, because those plans are also up for him to change.

Then in our second week, we looked at living in grace-filled relationships. If we are saved by the grace of God, then we have a model of what it means to extend grace to other people. The opposite of grace-filled relationships are legalistic relationships. These relationships require people to meet a certain standard before we will love then. But grace-filled relationships are based on who God is and not who the other person is. And so, we are to love others, because we were first loved by God. Now we can still correct, and stand for godly truth, but the goal has to be fully restored relationships.

Following that we talked about how to live this new creation life. We looked at John 15 and saw three aspects of what we need to do. The first aspect was being okay with God’s discipline in our lives. If we are his, he will discipline us, and that should both encourage us and get us to do better. The second aspect was relying on Jesus for everything. It’s coming to a point where we realize that when we try things on are own, they will amount to zero eternal production. Instead we must rely on Jesus so that we can see eternal results. We do this relying through the final aspect which is putting into practice God’s Word. We must actually do what God says, in order to live in the new creation. Adam and Eve did not do what God said and so fell into sin that we have all been dealing with ever since. As new creations brought out of the bondage of sin by God, we must now do what he says.

This led us into last week. The problem with doing what God says to do, is that we will falter and sin at times. We will have victories and we will have defeats in our new creation lives. Just like a baby has victories when it learns to stand and walk, we too are in our infancy when it comes to experiencing this new creation living. And so, we must not listen to the voices or thoughts that tell us that we are no longer accepted by God, or that we are not good enough for God. As we saw last week, if we are moving, even in small steps, away from our old self, there can be assurance of salvation. But not only that, if we also sorrow over the fact that we have sinned against God, then again we can have an assurance of our salvation.

Now it’s with the mindset that we will fail in this new creation life, and that our salvation can be assured that we move beyond doing all of this in our own strength. I hope that in this new creation life, you see a back and forth. Trust and grace paired with failure and being lifted back up. And in all of this we must remember that we are a recipient of God’s work in our lives, and at every step he is the one that is bringing us to closer himself. And so, we open up to Luke chapter 4 verse 1, where we find Jesus fasting and being approached by satan who seeks to sway Jesus to his side. Let’s read together Luke chapter 4 starting in verse 1.

1 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; 11 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

There’s a lot going on in this passage of Scripture. From a parallel of Adam and Eve in Eden, to satan trying to change Jesus’ mission, to the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant in Jesus. But for our purposes today, we want take two things away from this passage in the light of not living the new creation life in our own power.

Picture if you will, the Scriptures put forth, and Jesus reinforces this understanding that he is both fully God, and fully human. We cannot go into all the reasons or verses that show this right now, but let’s just take that as a starting point.

So being fully God and fully man in this moment we see a couple of things. First, Jesus has been out in the wilderness for forty days and he is hungry. I know from personal experience, going even a few days without food does not put you in the best of situations. But even before this we see that he went into the wilderness led by the Holy Spirit. This is important because every part that follows is based on this reality. Jesus is led into the wilderness and in that time, satan takes the opportunity to try make Jesus fall as he had gotten Adam and Eve to do.

We are given three temptations, with Jesus responding in the same way every time by quoting Scripture. Jesus says, “it is written” twice, and “it is said” once. When confronted with temptation to rely on himself, which he could because he is fully God, instead he relies on what has been previously reveled in the pages of Scripture. 

In this short passage, we see Jesus not rely on himself four times. First he relies on the Holy Spirit to direct him into the wilderness. Then Jesus relies three times on the revealed Word of God.

And you know what’s great about what Jesus relies on here? You and I, who have put our trust into Jesus as our Savior, also have access to both of the things Jesus relied on.

The first thing that we see is, Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit to direct his path. Peter, in his first sermon after Jesus’ ascension to heaven, reaches back to the Old Testament  to the prophet Joel and said this in Acts 2:17-18, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Jesus said of the Holy Spirit in John 16:7, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”

Paul states this about believers, in 1st Corinthians 3:16, “16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”

Our reliance on the Holy Spirit who dwells with us and who is in us, cannot be understated. If we try to live out this new creation life on our own, we we fail time and time again. Which will lead us to always questioning, am I really saved? When we give up and say, okay God you move me where you want me, it might be to a wilderness where hard times are ahead. But if he leads we must follow.

The second thing we see Jesus rely on is the revealed Word of God. In our prosperous Western World, anyone of us can grab a copy of the Bible. We have Bibles at our welcome table, we have Bibles on our phones, the Gideons give out free New Testaments. You can get a Bible in any size, font, binding, and translation you want. The Word of God is accessible to anyone that would want it. And as believers we should desire to have the Word of God in our lives. I’m not telling you we have to memorize every verse of every chapter of every book, but we must know the Word of God well enough to combat the enemies of God when they come against us to tempts us to walk away from him.

Over and over in the Scriptures the call to God’s Word appears. 

In the first chapter of the Joshua’s book, God speaks to him saying, “8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful (Joshua 1:8).”

Psalm 119:11 states, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes, “14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (3:14-17).”

Our need to live this new creation life in the power of the Holy Sprit and our need to internalize God’s Word is extremely important if we are to see a rapid moving away from the sin that so easily entraps us, and into the new creation life that Jesus has saved us to experience.

It’s in the life of Jesus, as he is in the wilderness where we see both his reliance on the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, that we see the victory over satan. But it’s in Jesus’ exit out of the wilderness that we get to see the result of what happens when we rely on both the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. In verse 14 we read, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.”

When we follow the example of Jesus, relying on the Holy Spirit’s direction and internalizing God’s Word, the new creation life that we are called to live, will be lived in the power of the Spirit.

It’s at that point where we will truly live as Paul stated he was living in Galatians 2:20, “20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

This is the verse that we have been pointing back to, time and time again throughout this series. This is new creation living, not I but Christ. Not I but Jesus who died. Not I but the Holy Spirit who was sent. 

The greatest failings that we will experience, is when we try to live this new creation life on my own. That will never work. Being fully God and fully human, Jesus could have easily done everything in his own power, yet, he gave us the example by which to live: in reliance of the Holy Spirit, and with God’s Word internalized in us.

So this week I want to challenge you to live in the power of the Holy Spirit and internalize God’s Word in your life.

Start off your day with a prayer that goes something like this, “Lord I want to live the new creation life that you have saved me to live, help me to rely on your Holy Spirit to be led however he will lead me today.”

Then I want to challenge you to memorize one of these two verses: Proverbs 3:5-6, Psalm 37:5. These both speak to relying on God instead of ourselves.

Let us be the people that God has saved us to be. People that are following the Spirit’s direction, and walking in the way of God’s Word. Amen.