Text: Matthew 25:31-46
Description: The old saying is, “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you”. The idea is that ignorance can shield us from responsibility and accountability, that we can’t be judged for what we don’t know. Sadly, this is the coward’s way of thinking because it turns our attention from others to ourselves, it changes our line of sight from outward to inward, it reduces the world to our interests and causes us to see others as either the reason for or solution to our problems rather than seeing ourselves as partners with God in the needs of others. In Matthew 25 Jesus told three parables about awareness. The first two, the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents were directed toward Israel and their lack of awareness of the coming of the Messiah. These parables have applications that we can and often make for ourselves, about the return of Christ, but their initial application was to those Jesus was actively speaking to desiring to open their hearts and their minds, to make them aware that the Messiah they were waiting for was standing in their midst. The third parable, what is often referred to as the parable of the sheep and the goats, was a parable of dual awareness. The Messiah who came to save us will return to judge us and His judgement will be based upon our transformation, did we surrender our lives to Him so that He could remake us into His image? Did we serve Him by becoming like Him? We talk a lot about Jesus’ love, Jesus’ humility, His patience and forgiveness, today we will talk about the fact that these characteristics of Jesus flow from His awareness. Jesus didn’t just know the hearts of men by His divinity He was also aware of the hearts, hurts and hopes of men in their humanity. He looked at the rich young ruler and loved him, He felt virtue leave his body when the woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of his garment, He had compassion on the hungry crowd that had followed Him without eating for three days, He knew the rejection of the woman at the well when He asked her for water. Jesus shows His love by being aware of our condition and our circumstances, we show Jesus’ love to the church we are a part of and the world we live in the same way, by first being aware. My prayer today is that we will allow the parable of the sheep and the goats to challenge our awareness, that we will see those around us with the same concern and conviction with which Jesus has seen us and that we will represent and replicate the heart and character of our King by loving Him through loving others, obeying Him by serving others and glorifying Him so that He can redeem others, by being aware of the vast needs that surround us and the great provision that has already been entrusted to us.
Text: Multiple Passages
Description: During our service today, we watched a brief part of the story of Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor from Romania, who was imprisoned and often tortured for 14 years for his faith in Christ. After he was ransomed out of Romania, he wrote the story of his imprisonment, which is entitled “Tortured for Christ” and later founded the organization known as Voice of the Martyrs. While Pastor Wurmbrand’s story took place over 60 years ago it is a reality that continues to take place, all over the world, today. Right now, there are Christians being imprisoned, tortured and killed for no reason other than their faith. Because we are blessed, and make no mistake about it, we are blessed to live in a country where we are free to worship as we see fit, we tend to believe that our life is the norm and the persecution we occasionally read or hear about is real but rare. We have it completely backwards. According to Christianity Today 64% of the world’s population live in countries where the government highly restricts religion while 74% of the world’s population live in countries where social hostilities involving religion are high, meaning Christians may not be imprisoned but they often lose jobs, family, friends and any sort of part in the community. Because we are free many of us don’t even realize that we live in a world where freedom is rare rather than the rule. Today, I want us to understand that we are not talking about or praying for some small minority that are being persecuted, we are actually the minority, blessed with freedom so that we can intercede, pray for and join ourselves to the majority that are living and serving in places that are not free and are often less than safe. My prayer, as I have shared before, is that we will learn how to fulfill Hebrews 13:3 and “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
Text: John 5:16-23
Description: Most of us have heard the saying, “The straw that broke the camel’s back”, or its reduced form “the last straw”. It’s an idiom that describes how something seemingly minor can create a large or sudden reaction because of the cumulative effect of many small issues or actions. In our text today, the religious Jews went from trying to discredit Jesus for doing miracles on the Sabbath to planning to kill Him because He referred to God as “My Father”. What was it about those words, about hearing Jesus say, “My Father” in reference to God, that made them move from slander to murder? It seems small to us, we call God Father so much that it seems irrelevant or irrational, like the straw that broke the camel’s back. Israel knew that God was their Father, in that they originated from Him, but no one before Jesus had dared to call God, “My Father”. No one had claimed an intimate relationship, as a nation they had settled for a formal one because intimacy requires equality. Not equality as we define it in our culture, all having the same ability, the same opportunity, the same rank and the same role, but equality in having the same devotion to the relationship, the same desire for each other, the same choices of heart, character and commitment. An intimate relationship is not made up of two people who do the same things with and for each other but two people who fit together, each meeting needs, fulfilling desires, making sacrifices and thinking more highly of the other than they think of themselves. An intimate relationship is made up of people who are equal yet distinguished, the same in worth and submitted to each other in function. Intimacy requires equality, when Jesus used an intimate term to refer to God as “My Father”, the Jews understood that if He belonged to God in an intimate relationship then God had also given Himself to Jesus. That was not a picture of God they were willing to accept. He was to be bowed to in fear, not embraced in reverence; approached with trembling not anticipation; spoken of with formality not joyful intimacy. The part that the Jews missed was that Jesus was not holding God for Himself, “My Father” from Jesus’ lips would soon become “our Father” and even “your Father”. He was not just teaching the relationship that He had with God. He was using His relationship with God to teach what God desired for a relationship with each of them, even with each of us. Today we are going to discuss that being equal with God does not mean that we have God’s power, it means we are secure in God’s love and we have been invited to take part in God’s work. It means we are His children, we are not like God, but we are of God, we are from God and we were made in God’s image. This morning I pray that we will let Jesus lead us from using names for God that make us comfortable with who we are and who we want God to be, to calling Him “My Father”, even though that name requires more surrender from us and will provide more mercy from Him. I pray that we will join Jesus and see ourselves as equal with God.
Text: John 5:16-20
Description: Our text today is the beginning of the persecution of Jesus as detailed in the book of John. Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath and the religious leaders of the time were so offended by His disregard of their traditions and convicted by His confidence in the character of God that they decided they had to do something to stop Him. What is persecution, really? When we hear the word persecution or think of someone being persecuted we generally leap to physical abuse, imprisonment and threats of death. Those things are all persecution and they are all very real things that are happening to Christians in parts of the world right now, but those things are the culmination of persecution not the definition. Persecution is any effort to quiet a voice, stop a movement or change a direction. In our context persecution is anything that attempts to shrink our faith, silence our witness or compromise God’s Word. While around the world we have brothers and sisters that are suffering worse persecution, more violent and dangerous acts of hatred, we are all being persecuted. This morning I want to take a close look at the beginning of Jesus’ persecution and I want us to see what persecution is, where it comes from and how to stand, not against it, but in the midst of it. There are times when the world is against us and there are times when we are against ourselves, when our hearts deceive us and we give more room to our feelings than God’s voice, but there are also times when we become the persecutors, when we stand against what God is saying and what God is doing in us and around us. My prayer today is that we will watch Jesus the way that He watched the Father and that we will learn that surrender to God will not stop persecution but it will glorify Jesus and it will reap a harvest of redemption in us and through us.
Text: John 5:14-18
Description: Have you ever been confronted by God? While you think about it, I will go ahead and answer the question for you, yes, we’ve all been confronted by God. It’s what He does. Last week we discussed God’s mercy and how it is displayed through three steps, first God relents from giving us what we deserve, second God confronts us with the truth of our condition and His character and then, through confession, repentance and forgiveness, God communes with us in relationship. For God to be merciful He must be confrontational. In the Garden, God didn’t only ask Adam where he was, He also asked “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” He asked Eve, “What is this you have done?” He confronted Abraham about his fears and doubts, Moses for not being circumcised, David for his pride and lust, Peter for his prejudice and Paul for his stubbornness and impatience. Because God is merciful He confronts us because without confrontation there cannot be redemption, restoration or transformation. The difficulty with confrontation is that in itself it cannot create or guarantee change, it simply calls for a response. God confronts every man, He wills that none would perish and yet we see that the way to destruction is broad because, as Ephesians 2:8 teaches us, salvation is by grace, through faith. If we don’t respond to God’s merciful confrontation with repentance and surrender we never enter the communion of relationship, the joy of salvation. Today we are going to look again at Jesus’ confrontation of the man He met at the pool of Bethesda and the Jews that were offended by His work on the Sabbath. I’m praying that we will hear the kindness of Jesus’ words louder than the discomfort of our own hearts, that we will give Him more freedom to expose us so that He can have more opportunity to heal us and that we will learn that being confronted by God always leads to our hearts being changed or hardened, the result is determined by our response.
Text: John 5:1-14
Description: What is mercy? Maybe it would be better if I ask, what does mercy look like to you? In Christian circles we often define mercy as when God withholds what we deserve. Webster’s defines mercy as “a compassion shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power. To be lenient or to give compassionate treatment." When I say mercy what comes to your mind? Is mercy when we get off the hook, when we get another chance, when we get our way or could it be that mercy is not about us, but mercy is when God injects His character into our lives, into our world? Our text these last few weeks is overflowing with mercy. It has Jesus moving from an encounter with a Samaritan woman that led to the salvation of her entire city, to an open rebuke of the people of His own country of Galilee because they refused to believe without seeing signs, to the healing of the son of a royal official that led to the salvation of that official and his entire household to Jesus returning to Jerusalem for one of the feasts of the Jews. While Jesus was in Jerusalem He visited a place within the city, near the Sheep Gate called the Pool of Bethesda. Interestingly, Bethesda means “house of mercy”. I don’t believe that anything that God ever does or shows us is coincidental. He is careful with His steps, He orders not just ours but His so that those that are willing to see can see and those that are willing to hear can hear. I believe that every day we are surrounded by parables, events that God is in the middle of to make Himself known and that the Scriptures themselves are a literal allegory, meaning, I believe that the Bible is truth, every story happened exactly as it says they did and the Bible is a picture of who God is, what God desires and who we were created to be. So, when Jesus shows up at the “house of mercy” it is not by chance, it is for the purpose of revealing who mercy is and what mercy does. It’s important that we know how to define mercy because mercy is God’s character, it’s Jesus’ work and it’s our calling. This morning my prayer is that we will allow God to open our hearts to mercy, that we will stop defining it and ask Him to give us His definition and that we will see that if Jesus does it then it is merciful and if Jesus has done it for us then we must be willing to do it for others.
Text: John 5:8-15
Description: Last week we began discussing this passage focusing on the statement we often make, “God is in control”. One of the key verses we use in establishing this statement of God’s control is Romans 8:28. Those of you who hear me often know that I believe strongly that verse 28 should not ever be quoted without verse 29. Without verse 29 we get to define the good God does any way we desire. But when we combine verses 28 and 29 we discover that the good God is doing, the good that He strives to bring out of “all things” is that those saved by His grace would then be transformed into the image of Jesus. To simplify this, God uses every circumstance of our lives to lead us to grace and to make us like Jesus. Our salvation and transformation are the ultimate and eternal will of God and He goes to any and every length possible to bring them about. They are a dual work, we cannot be made like Jesus until we are saved but salvation itself does not transform us it simply puts us back on the wheel to be remade by the Potter. God is in control of making us like Jesus. Another favorite verse quoted in our declaration of God’s control over our lives is Jeremiah 29:11. This verse is like Romans 8:28 in that it is beautiful and declares the love, character and leadership of God, and out of context we can allow it to mean anything we want it to mean but in context it is very purposed and specific. Judah had disobeyed God, disregarded His calls to repentance, persecuted the prophets and then used God’s Word and Name to satisfy their own desires. God had been patient and merciful but then finally, after warning that continued disobedience would lead to judgment, Judah was defeated by Babylon and those who survived the siege were taken into captivity and exiled from their homeland. God had warned that this would happen and even told them that the captivity would be 70 years. Before God said, “I know the plans I have for you”, He had told Judah, that part of His plans, in response to their disobedience, to lead them to repentance and back to transformation, was defeat and exile. God is in control of convicting us of sin, saving us from sin and changing us, transforming us into the image of Jesus. This morning I want us to see that the effort of God, His work in and through our lives, is always about bringing glory to Jesus so that He can bring redemption to men. But this work often must turn over hard places in our hearts, reveal wrong places in our beliefs and even confront stubborn and selfish places in our religion, which is our representation of Him. I pray today that we will be open to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God and allow Him to reveal and remove anything in us that is not from Him so that He can begin changing everything in us until we are like Him.
Text: John 4:54-5:15
Description: What do you think when you hear the words, “God is in control”? I’m going to start out today by being totally honest, I don’t like the saying. To me, it’s become something we say when we don’t know what else to say. It’s not about faith as much as it is about resignation, it’s like we shrug our shoulders and say, “God is in control”. It’s like “everything happens for a reason” or “it must have been God’s will”, they are words we use to end conversations about situations we don’t like or understand. When we really think about it, these saying are not compassionate to the suffering, faith-filled to the wavering or loving to the lost; they don’t reach out and draw others in, they tend to shut down questions and push away doubters. Now, I don’t want to suggest that God is not “in control” but I want us to carefully examine what He’s in control of, what it means for Him to hold us in His hands and how our faith in Him flows from the realization that He has first put His faith in us. Last week we talked about expectations, how we sometimes expect of God more than we surrender to God. We are committed to what we believe He should do rather than being surrendered to the truth that He is love and His actions are always good. Today I want us to see that our expectations influence our beliefs, we believe in God according to what we expect from God. The difficulty is that if our expectations are man-made rather than God-breathed, then our beliefs will be more about who we want God to be than who God says He is. My prayer today is first and foremost that I won’t cause any of you to be offended, but that together, by the Holy Spirit’s help and the Word of God’s guidance, we will discover that God’s control is over His eternal plan for Jesus’ glory, our adoption and the world’s redemption. He holds our hearts tightly but our time loosely. Yes, He orders our steps but not like a micro-manager that must have things His way. He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, He sets a table before us in the presence of our enemies, He fills our nets when they have been empty, He makes us lie down in green pastures and He leads us next to still waters because in everything He does He is doing the work of restoring our souls. God is in control of leading us to Jesus, saving us through Jesus and then using us to bring glory to Jesus. God is in control, today I hope we realize that we cannot and should not try to control God.
Text: John 4:43-54
Description: Have you ever felt like there was something in your way? An obstacle that was keeping you from getting to where you wanted to go or becoming what you wanted to be? Sometimes we are fully aware of the thing in the way and feel like we spend our lives crashing into it just to see if it will budge. Sometimes we are avoiding the thing in the way and we spend all our energy trying to get around it, not wanting to have to address that issue and hoping that we can get to where we need to be without having to deal with our obstacle. At other times, we can’t see the obstacle, we aren’t aware of what it is or where it is but we can feel that we need to move, we just don’t know how. These obstacles range from comical to heart-wrenching, from foolish to overwhelming, from real to perceived. An obstacle is anything that is in the way of where we need to go and what we need to be. Some of us sit here today and we face real obstacles, hindrances to the path that we believe that God has created us for and set us on. We might be identifying our obstacles as education, finances, health, grief, bad decisions of our past, incompatibility of our spouse, disengagement of our children, brokenness created or caused by others or even God’s work in our lives being different than we thought, hoped or prayed that it would be. Those are all real things and I don’t want to discount any of them, but what if the true obstacles, the actual things keeping us from knowing who God is, trusting what God says and going where God goes, are all wrapped up inside of us and not somehow binding us from the outside? What if the greatest test of our faith is the shattering of our expectations? What if the honor that God desires is found more in surrender to His heart than commitment to His work? What if we, what we want, what we think, what we believe and what we always have thought, are the obstacle? I pray today that we will move with Jesus from Samaria to Galilee and that we will let Him continue to search our hearts, offend our senses and possibly even rebuke our expectations so that He can teach us how to honor Him and build in us faith that doesn’t just believe but faith that obeys and follows Him.
Text: John 4:27-42
Description: Have you ever been afraid that you were going to miss it? I get calls from people every week that just want some assurance that they have not missed it, are not missing it or won’t miss it. For some reason, we have come to believe that the movements, intentions and desires of God are easy to overlook, that they flash for a moment so only those who are always paying attention get to see them or are so difficult to decipher that you could be staring at God’s will and not know it. David said, “The LORD is my Shepherd”. The job of the shepherd is to lead the sheep not to teach them how to get to the next pasture on their own, he watches closely to protect the flock from enemies that try to sneak in and to find and return members of the flock that wander away. It is not up to the sheep to figure out the way, that’s the shepherd’s job. The sheep are only supposed keep their eyes on the shepherd, follow him closely and listen to him carefully. The shepherd is not trying to raise up sheep that don’t need him, he’s working to raise up sheep that trust him, that depend upon him, that follow him and that know that he loves them and will lay down his life for them. This morning we are going to again contrast the woman at the well and the disciples, a woman who met Jesus and immediately left all she had to share His heart with others and a group of men who met Jesus and often pushed for Him to lead them where they wanted to go. Today I will contend that none of us will miss God’s will because He will always carefully and patiently make it known, but some of us will reject God’s will because we have not yet let go of our expectations of Him, His kingdom, ourselves or even the church. I pray that the Holy Spirit will remind us of the words and character of Jesus and show us that there is a significant difference between being unable to determine God’s will and being unwilling to walk in it.