Most of us have, at some point in our lives, had a battle with fear. Some of us are afraid right now, afraid of what might go wrong or what might not ever go right, afraid that the fragile things in our lives will break or the weak things will never become strong. For many fear is a constant companion, for others it’s a distant memory, but one thing is for sure, fear is not ever our friend. I contend that fear is not of God, not only is God not fearful but He does not rule or lead with fear because fear is a tool of manipulation and control. In II Timothy 1:7, Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy, who was battling fear and shame over Paul’s imprisonment and impending death, “For God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, timidity or fear, but of power and of love and of self-control.” Paul is not only telling Timothy and us not to be afraid, He’s teaching us that fear stands in opposition to the character of God, that power, love and self-control can’t come from and don’t stand along side of fear. In I John 4:8 and 16, the apostle wrote “God is love”, wanting his readers to understand that the character of God, the foundation of who God is and all that God does is love. This means that not only does God love us or do loving things, but God Himself is love, His core, character and fabric is love. Everything He does flows from the fact that He does not simply tell us what love is, but He is the very definition of love. In verse 18 John then contrasted love with fear, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” If God is love and there is no fear in love, then am I wrong to believe there is no God in fear? If perfect love, which is God, drives out fear, then can God use as a tool that which can’t even stand in His presence? If God is love and there is no fear in love, then doesn’t that have to mean that fear, not only is not from God, but belongs to Satan? This morning, as we look at John 7, I want us to see the goals of fear and the plans of God, I want us to see that being afraid is not sinful but is also not God’s will for any of us. I want us to see that we are not being called to just stop being afraid, but to overcome our fear with the courage to trust the character of God enough to obey the Word of God. In John 7 we see fear at work and we see Jesus dealing with it, standing in the midst of it, even exposing it for the lie that it is. My prayer today is that we will see fear differently by seeing Christ more clearly.
This past Sunday our dear friend and partner in ministry, Joanne Ellis was our guest speaker. Joanne longs to live her life ever before God, she has a keen way of expressing God’s longing for our hearts and our opportunity to give ourselves to Him unfettered by fear, shame or immaturity. We are confident that God will speak to you as you listen as Joanne shares out of the overflow of the Spirit of God within her.
We are all tempted at times to clean up our words so that we can give the appearance that our hearts are good. But how are we really presenting ourselves? Are we more concerned with our outward appearance? I am beginning to realize how backwards I get things and how often I try to do in my flesh what only God can do in me. God is far more concerned with our hearts than our words.
We’ve all heard the saying, “The Lord works in mysterious ways”. It’s a statement that gets used when something happens differently than we expected. A person loses a job but then ends up with a better one and someone says, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” By running late, we run into someone that we would not have had we been on time and we say, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” You probably know this already, but the statement isn’t biblical, it’s not a quotation of Scripture, it’s an assumption of man; it’s actually more superstitious than religious, it’s how we try to make spiritual sense out of our natural circumstance. It’s how we try to comfort ourselves when things aren’t going our way, telling ourselves that soon enough the Lord will cause things to once again go the way we wanted them to go. The Lord doesn’t work in mysterious ways, He doesn’t work to keep things hidden, He actually does the opposite, He works to reveal what’s been hidden, to make clear what’s been unclear, to shine a light on what has been covered in darkness. He works deeper than we desire, more thoroughly than we think necessary and more completely than we are often comfortable with. He is not the One who covers things over, He’s the God who brings to light everything that has been, for much too long, covered over. He doesn’t do things our way, He does things His way, but He does them for our sake. We love to quote Ephesians 3:20, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” but we often forget that to do more than we ask God will have to do differently than we have asked, imagined or expected Him to do. Doing more than we asked or imagined is not God giving us an extra portion of what we’ve asked for, it’s God digging deeper than we expected Him to, taking us further than we asked to go and changing us more than we thought we needed to be changed. Usually God is not simply doing more than we asked, we have simply asked for less than what was needed. Israel asked to be taken out of Egypt, they didn’t realize that Egypt needed to be taken out of them. They didn’t ask for the Red Sea to open, water to burst out of rocks or bread to fall from heaven each day, but God did more than they asked, knowing they had to endure being attacked to learn that God was greater than their enemies, they had to run out of water to learn that God was a faithful Provider and they had to have no way to feed themselves to learn that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God did more than they asked, but He also did more than they wanted, because they did not realize how much they needed. Jesus’ brothers were just like Israel and we are just like Jesus’ brothers, we ask for what we want from God, but we are rarely aware of what God desires to do because we don’t realize how much we actually need from God.
In John 7, John went out of his way to tell us that Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in Him. It was more than a detail in the events John was relaying, it was a point that he was making sure his readers knew, it was, apparently, something we were supposed to keep in mind as we moved forward into Jesus’ response. When Jesus addressed His brothers, He was not simply addressing the impatient, the misguided or the frustrated, He was addressing a group of unbelievers. That’s what makes this whole passage so interesting. Jesus didn’t call out the unbelief of His brothers as He had done the crowd in Capernaum 6 months earlier, instead He talked to His brothers about time, revealing that belief and time are somehow connected to each other. Have you ever noticed how often time is our reason or excuse for unbelief? We wait a certain amount of time and we begin to wonder if we had heard from God, we begin to doubt the works of God, sometimes we even begin to complain about the plans of God. As we walk through these verses today, I’m praying that we will discover that God is not separated from time, He’s not living outside of time, He’s simply not bound by time, in fact, He’s often using waiting to set us free from our bondage to time. Patience builds faith and impatience destroys it, belief is founded upon trust and God’s timing flows from His love and is based upon what He knows is in our hearts. I pray that we will be able to see God’s heart clearly today and realize that none of us is really waiting on God to move, we are simply watching Him work. God is always working, even while we are waiting.
This Sunday, our youth pastor, Amanda Mackie was our speaker.
What is an encounter? How do we encounter Jesus? Does He
encounter us or do we encounter Him?
Often we tend to want to avoid the unexpected, unplanned moments in life because they are full of the unknown and are out of our control. But the very definition of “encounter” is: A meeting, especially one that is unplanned, unexpected, or brief. And we desire to have encounters which Jesus, but we expect them to happen within our expections and plans we have already established. But an encounter is supposed to be unplanned, unexpected, brief. We don’t catch Jesus by surprise, so He must encounter us, not the reverse. John 6:44 tells us “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me
draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” The experiences themselves will vary, but I believe there are two types of ways we are
encountered by Jesus. First, when we meet Him for the first time and second, the ways we continue to see Him as we grow in relationship and have our hearts shaped by Him. This morning I want us to spend a few minutes talking about these two ways and how we can learn to wait patiently for Christ because He has chosen to love us and encounter us.
We’ve been away from John 6 for the last couple of months so it’s probably a good idea to review a bit before we jump back in. The chapter began with Jesus feeding 5,000 men, not to mention the women and children, with five loaves of bread and two small fish. The miracle was not just about God’s power to multiply, it was a revelation of His desire to provide. The provision of God in our lives does not come from His ability but from His character, not from His storehouse but from His heart. In Luke 12:32 Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Our prayers for provision should not be appeals to God’s wealth of goods but His abundance of love. Jesus saw the crowds and He desired to show the apostles His heart. The feeding of the 5,000 was not Jesus’ effort to win the crowd, it was another step in transforming the apostles, in building His character in them by showing His heart to them. The work of God in our lives is not simply to get us to salvation, it is to lead us through redemption, sanctification and transformation until we have finally and fully been conformed into the image of Jesus. Often, when we read the gospels, we are looking at Jesus from the wrong lens, we are looking to see what He was teaching the crowds, when in reality, often He was working amid the crowds to teach the disciples, to increase their faith and move them from living with Him to living like Him. The same is true for you and me, the work of God around us, even through us, is not for us to just make Him known, it’s for us to know Him, to move from our initial surrender to constant yieldedness, to not just believing that He is Lord, but to trusting His lordship when His will, His ways and even His words are too hard for us to understand.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate or commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, what many call the birth of the church. Pentecost means “50th” and long before it became the birth of the church it was one of the three Jewish festivals. 50 days after Passover, Israel celebrated Pentecost, which was also called “The Festival of weeks”. The day after the High Sabbath of Passover, the high priest would wave a sheaf of barley, a green sheaf, not yet ready for harvest, as a wave offering to the LORD. 50 days later, on the day of Pentecost, the first fruits of the harvest were offered to the LORD in thanksgiving, believing in hope that God would add His blessing to the remainder of the harvest. The Holy Spirit was poured out on a day in which Israel was gathered together, celebrating God’s provision and asking for God’s blessing. Without making this confusing, the Holy Spirit was poured out on a day that God had already set aside for celebration and blessing. God created the original festivals of Israel to reveal Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus died, as the Lamb of God on Passover, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the church, as the promise of the Father, on the day of the firstfruits. We don’t have time today to do a good enough study of all the imagery, I’m working on that for some time in the future, but it’s important that we understand, that just as Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundations, the Holy Spirit has been given to us from the foundations, the outpouring and infilling of the Holy Spirit is God’s plan, for the glory of Jesus and the redemption of man. What truly happened that day of Pentecost and why did it happen?
Matthew 9 is a chapter filled with examples of Jesus’ love for His community. He forgave the sins of a paralyzed man and then healed him after his friends had brought him to Jesus. He called Matthew, a tax collector, a sinner by all accounts and a traitor in the minds of his neighbors, to be his disciple. As if that wasn’t scandalous enough, Jesus then went to Matthew’s house and had dinner with all his tax collector and sinner friends. Jesus doesn’t just call us to leave our lives, He comes and joins us in our lives, He’s not harsh and rigid, He’s gentle and kind, He’s understanding and loving. He loves us too much to allow us to stay as we are, but He loves us enough to meet us, even to join us where we are so that He can lead us to where we need to be. Jesus healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and raised a little girl from the dead even while the mourners were lamenting her death. He restored the sight of two blind men who called out to Him for “mercy”. Verse 35 then says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” He served His community, He walked among His neighbors, He saw their needs and He didn’t just do miracles, He gave love. He didn’t just change people’s lives, He entered them. The Son of Man came to serve, and He did it by being a part of His community.
Verse 36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” How we serve begins with how we see. As Jesus looked on these crowds of people He didn’t see their faults and their flaws, He didn’t see that they didn’t “get it”, that they didn’t understand, that they weren’t devoted. He didn’t look for fault, He looked with hope. How did God view Adam and Eve? When they were hiding from God and covering their shame, what did God see? Did He look on them with vengeance or did He come to them with mercy? The fact that God came looking and calling to those who had rebelled against Him shows His heart and His character. It shows His love and His servanthood. When Jesus looked at the crowds, He saw them the same way the Father had seen Adam and Eve, the same way that He sees us. Isaiah tells us that we have all, like sheep gone astray, Romans adds that there is none righteous, not even one. Weren’t they only shepherdless because they had rejected and rebelled against the shepherd? Aren’t we all deserving of our plight, isn’t it all, at least in large part, owing to our own decisions and choices? Matthew says that Jesus, “had compassion on them”. Compassion looks with hope rather than for fault. Compassion is what the Father had when He looked on Adam and Eve, hoping for redemption rather than focusing on their rebellion. Compassion is what Jesus had when the woman caught in adultery was brought to Him. She was caught in the act, there was no way to look past her sin, but Jesus never lets our sin disturb His focus on the hope that He has for us. He refused to condemn her and gave her mercy and instruction, “you are not condemned, go and sin no more.” The heart of Christ is never fault-finding but always hope inspiring. Anyone can see fault, only the Holy Spirit can reveal hope. We serve the community by seeing, serving and instilling the hope that only the Spirit can see and only Christ can give.
After Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, He became troubled in His spirit and He announced, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” This announcement was overwhelming for them. John says that they stared at each other at a loss for words. Matthew and Mark both say that the disciples were saddened and that each of them asked Jesus, “Surely, not I?” Jesus had created a community, an environment based on relationships of love. He had created a place that was so safe, that the absolutely worst news ever heard led to sadness rather than anger, to self-examination rather than defensiveness and where there was not a single accusation made. These men that had, at times, pridefully argued over which of them was the greatest were suddenly humbly asking if they were the one that would betray their Lord and their Friend. Jesus had taught the disciples how much He loved them, and His example had led them to be a small community that loved each other, even in the midst of disagreements, differences, arguments and at this moment we are reading about, painful change. Being loved by Jesus was the basis of how they treated each other and lived together. On His last night with the apostles, because remember, after the resurrection things were not as they had been before, He visited them, He appeared to them, but this was the last night that He lived with them, Jesus showed the apostles the full extent of His love by serving them and then, He called them to show each other the full extent of their love by serving each other. This is the second of three sermons in which we are reminding some and establishing for others our identity as a church, as one member of the Body of Christ here in Burlington. Why are we here in this community? What is our part? Who are we to be? I believe all of this is established in the night of Jesus’ arrest. First and foremost, We Serve Christ. Just as Jesus came do the will of the Father we are here to follow the example and obey the commands of Christ. We are here to abide and remain in Jesus’ love and to make disciples, to live in His character and to enlarge His kingdom, to submit to Him by living in submission to others. Today, I pray that we will see that Jesus didn’t love us so that we would simply be loved, but He loved us so that we would love each other. If we serve Christ then we must serve the church, if we are going to love Jesus then we must love His Body, His bride. Here at City of Refuge, it must be understood that We Serve the Church.
We will start again this week with Mark 10:43-45, as the apostles were divided over which of them deserved the seats of honor and power in Jesus’ kingdom and arguing over which of them was the greatest, Jesus addressed them saying: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The Son of Man came to serve.
Over the next three weeks we are going to remember and maybe for some, for the first time, talk about who we are as a church–why we are here in Burlington and what our part is, as one member of the Body of Christ.
Jesus is a King to be followed. He did not come to make subjects but to make disciples–He came not to conquer but to be followed, He did not come to take authority but to give to us the authority that He had been given. What other king told His followers that it would be better for them if He leave? What other King promised His followers that they would do greater things than He had done? What other king died for His enemies rather than putting His enemies to death? The Son of Man came to serve.
If this is true, that Jesus came to serve, then the only way to follow Jesus is to be a servant, the only way to honor Jesus is through servanthood, and the holy way to truly and rightly love Jesus is to serve Him. We are a church called to servanthood: called to come alongside, to join in, to help out, to carry the load, build the bridge, hold out hope, pray without ceasing; to give generously, love patiently and to never give up.
Jesus called the apostles, and I believe all of His followers to be servants of all. All is a big word–it’s daunting because we get tempted to make it generic, then we can define our service and those we serve in a way that makes us comfortable or fits our desires. But being a servant of all is not generic, it’s actually very specific. Jesus came to serve all of humanity by setting His attention on carefully and completely serving the Father. This morning as we, as a church, concentrate on our calling to servanthood, we must remember that first and foremost we serve Christ.