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Lighthouse (Matthew 5:14-16)

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    Go and make disciples of all nations. That’s what we want to do, that’s our mission that we’ve been diving into the last few weeks. We know it’s a call we’re all called to, regardless of our spiritual gifts and talents. We also know that we’re not supposed to do it alone, we’re supposed to do it as a committed member of the local body of Christ: the church.
    We have a responsibility to challenge one another, love one another, and to serve one another. When we each do our part, it makes a vibrant church capable of standing against the gates of hell.
    But, we don’t do this just to build up the body. We aren’t just supposed to be a healthy church and leave it at that.
    This is one of the things Jesus said about why He came: “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10). Our call is much the same, we build one another up and grow in love, but we don’t do this for ourselves, we do it for the sake of the lost! I like this point that Francis Chan makes, “A church that fails to look at the world around it is no church at all.”
    I want us to look closely at Matthew 5:14-16 this morning. These words are Jesus’ words, and it’s what He told to His disciples, not just the twelve that followed Him during His earthly ministry, but anyone who would be His disciple.
    “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
    As a church, our focus cannot be inward all the time. Sometimes, yes, we must look inward to fix things that aren’t right, but if the focus stays inward for too long, we run the risk of dying. We have the light of the world living in us, amongst us: Christ Jesus, and so, He says that since that is true, we are the light of the world.
    We live in a very dark world, there is no question about it. Anxiety, depression, anger, rage, lust, hatred, pride; all of these just permeate our world in increasing measure each and every day. But, we have the light that can do away with all of these things! We are supposed to shine that light, in the same way that a city on a hill can’t be hidden, neither can a light be hidden in the darkness. Jesus told us to let our light shine so our good works can be seen by all men so they will glorify God!
    We live in a dark world, but we can choose to either be a lighthouse or a bomb shelter. We can choose to shine the light of hope through a relationship with Christ, or we can hunker down and think only about ourselves and feel protected in our little bubbles. The choice is ours, but if we choose to be a bomb shelter instead of a lighthouse, we’re going to die.
    I think the right choice is fairly obvious: we must choose to be a lighthouse. What does that look like? How can we each do our parts to be a lighthouse?
    First, be known by your love. Are you known by your love? If you asked people that you interact with at work, would they say you are a loving person? If you asked the people you interact with online, would they say you are a loving person? If you asked your family who see you at your most vulnerable, would they say you are a loving person? Are you known by your love?
    John 13:34-35 says this, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
    If we want to shine our light, and let others see the light of Christ in a way that leads them toward Him, we must love one another. Every thing that we do, every activity we do, should be a manifestation of love: preaching, teaching, encouraging, rebuking, serving, studying, suffering, praying, every thing we do should flow from a heart of love for one another because we understand that each and every person is made in the image of God, and each and every person is loved deeply enough by Him that He sacrificed His only Son for them!
    Imagine you’re one of the disciples, and you’ve just spent the last three years following Jesus around Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. You’ve seen Him multiply fish and bread to feed a crowd of thousands. You’ve seen Him turn water to wine. You’ve seen Him walk on the waves of the water. You’ve seen Him calm an angry storm with just a few words. You’ve seen Him cleanse diseases. You’ve seen Him heal a broken body. You’ve seen Him raise someone from the dead. You’ve seen Him drive out demons! That would change you, right?
    Galatians 5:22-23 gives a good idea of what love looks like in action. It’s the fruit of the Spirit, but since we know God is love, it makes sense that what the Spirit creates in us is love in action: it is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and practices self-control.
    What this means and what Jesus was saying to His disciples was that if they really were going to follow Him, really be His disciples, then what they had seen Him do and what they had done with Him needed to change them in a way that was visible to every person they met. If it didn’t, then He called to question the level of their dedication.
    We must be known by our love.
    Second, live in community. If we want to be a lighthouse to shine the light of Christ into the darkness, we must live in community.
    John 17:20-23 says, “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
    One of Jesus’s greatest desires for those who would follow Him, He says, is that we would be one, in the same way that He and the Father are one, that we would be in Him and we would be one with one another.
    I want you to consider what this means for us. Jesus desires for us, the church, those who follow Him, to be one as He and the Father are one. They were inseparable. They were of one mind. They had everything in common.
    This is the kind of community and unity the early church showed as well. I often come back to Acts 2 to talk about the model for how we should be living as the body of Christ. Acts 2:44-47 gives us this picture of the early church, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
    This is the community, the unity, Christ desires for His church. Why? The goal of living in this type of unity is so that the world may know that God sent Christ and loved them. I want you to write that in your bulletins this morning. He wants us to live in community and unity in the church so those that are not yet a part of the body of Christ can see that God did indeed Christ to save them from their sins because He loves them!
    Live in community.
    Third, be a priest. If we want to be a lighthouse and not a bomb shelter, showing Christ to others instead of holing up, we need to be priests.
    1 Peter 2:9 says to us, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
    Biblically, priests had a few responsibilities: they proclaimed God to the people, they sacrificed for the sins of the people, and they ministered to the spiritual needs of the people.
    We are called to do the same as priests, each and every one of us. We are called to proclaim God, to tell people about who He is and what He has done. We are called to tell others about the great love He has for us, a love so great that it sent His Son to the cross to die for their sins. We are called to speak about His blessings on our lives and about the joy we have in Him.
    Proclaim the Lord!!
    We are called to sacrifice ourselves to Him. We are called to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, completely devoted and given up for Him and for His sake to be used by Him in any way that He can.
    We are called to minister to the spiritual needs of others. We are called to point others to their need for a Savior, and then we’re meant to point them to that Savior. We’re called to pray with people. We’re called to love them with the love of Christ. We’re called to encourage them. We’re called to call sin out. We’re called to extend God’s grace and mercy toward those who fall short of the glory of God.
    For some reason, which escapes me sometimes when I look at the failure of humans in general, but for some reason, God has chosen to make the church, the body of Christ, His mouthpiece, His hands, and His feet. He has chosen to work through us to bring people to Christ. I want to tell you something really cool: Our church is essential to God’s ongoing plan of redemption, so you, as a part of our church, your role in the church is a part of that plan!
    Be a priest!
    Be known by your love, live in community, and be a priest. In this way, we can shine our light for all to see so they will see Christ living in us.
    So that leaves us with our three questions:

1. What steps can you take to be an example of love in our church? Whether you are a “leader” in the church or not, how can you lead others in being more loving?

2. What would it mean for your church to live as a compelling community—a group of people who demonstrate love, unity, and hope in such a way that the unbelieving world is compelled to find out what is going on?

3. Read 1 Peter 2:4-12. How should Peter’s description of our calling as the church affect the way we think about and interact with our surrounding community?


Holiness Unto the Lord (Mark 7:18-23)

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    Last week we talked about why it’s so important to be a part of the local church. We know that we need each other. We can’t follow Jesus alone. We weren’t meant to follow Jesus alone. We were meant to be a community, a family of believers that lifts one another up and encourages and prays for one another. We were meant to live in unity. But there’s a side to that that we often want to shirk away from in the church: accountability.
    We feel awkward holding people accountable. We have a hard time being vulnerable with one another like that. We feel strange asking a person about their struggles. Not because we don’t mean well, because we do. We have good intentions. We want to see people doing well. We want to give comfort and encouragement. We want to be the iron that sharpens iron. But many times we get so focused on finding a quick fix for the person, on providing a fast solution to their problems, that we forget what is often at the root of their issues.
    For example: a friend struggles with anger, so we find out what situations and circumstances make them angry and then try to keep the friend away from the things that provoke that anger. But the root of anger isn’t found in situations and circumstances, and ultimately, changing those circumstances isn’t going to make that friend less angry. Someday, somehow, something is going to happen that will trigger that anger in that person.
    So what do we do? What is the root of issues like this?
    Jesus dealt with something similar when He was confronted by the Pharisees. They accused Him of defiling Himself through outward circumstances, but Jesus responded to them by calling attention to the root of evil.
    I want us to turn to Mark 7:18-23 to look at His response.
    “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
    We don’t just want and need accountability from our brothers and sisters. What we really need is transformation. If you’re following along in your bulletin, you’ll see that’s the first blank: transformation. If what Jesus said is true, and we believe it is, then sin comes from a person’s heart, from what is hidden inside, and no amount of changing our external circumstances is going to fix it. We need transformation of the heart to make it happen, because the heart is where sin is rooted.
    This is exactly what God desires, as well. He knows that the root of sin lies in the heart, and that no outward changes of circumstances is going to make any difference. Consider what He told to the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 36:26-27:
    “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
    He desires to give us a new heart, to make heart transformation truly possible. He desires to have His Spirit work in us to make it possible for us to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
    The great thing is that He gives us the power to transform. He gives us the power to no longer attack sin from the outside. He gives us the power to help our brothers and sisters move from changing outward circumstances to true life change.
    Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
    Paul’s letters are full of words of encouragement to walk in the Spirit, to live by the Spirit, to let the power of the Spirit change us. The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms us.  Apart from the Spirit, nothing truly changes.
    Paul talks about two different types of fruit in Galatians 5, the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the flesh are almost identical to what Jesus lists as the evil defilements that come from the heart. Paul gives the fruit of the Spirit as the opposite, but the point is that there can be no fruit of the Spirit without the Spirit. There can be no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, or self-control unless the Spirit works those things into our hearts.
    Aside from the work of the Spirit, we see what Jesus talked about, that sin comes from within, and there’s no way to change it.
    Hebrews 4:12 also adds this, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
    The Word of God also has the power to transform, because through it, our thoughts and attitudes are shown for what they really are. Through the Word of God, we discover what sinful thoughts and actions are. The Word of God shines light on the darkness in our hearts, and once exposed, then the Spirit can do His Work of transformation.
    The Spirit often uses the Word of God to show us areas where He desires to transform us more. He uses the Word of God to convict us, and also to remind us that we are not called to use our freedom as Christians to continue to live in the flesh.
    Accountability is great. We need it. We need other brothers and sisters to walk beside us and help restore us to repentance when we sin. But we have to urge our brothers and sisters to allow heart transformation to take place through the power of the Spirit and the Word of God. Without that heart transformation, the sins and struggles that our brothers and sisters have, the sins we have, will never get any easier. We’ll never gain any ground. It will always be a struggle, always a fight against the self for control of our lives.
    It’s not enough to just encourage our brothers and sisters to change circumstances in their lives to avoid the things that lead them into sin. We have to encourage them, urge them, to allow heart transformation to take place so the sin isn’t even appealing anymore. We need holiness!
    So how do we, as the church, tasked with the responsibility of keeping one another accountable, move from just looking for a quick fix to our brothers and sisters struggles, to urging them to move toward true transformation?
    Let’s look at Galatians 5:16, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
    We urge others to let heart transformation happen by letting ourselves let heart transformation happen. We lead others to walk in the Spirit by walking in the Spirit. We can’t ask our brothers and sisters to do something we don’t do. We must be an example.
    This is one of the best ways to lead others to walk in the Spirit, and if we ourselves are walking in the Spirit, then we can easily explain to our brothers and sisters how possible it is to live in the Spirit.
    Look at Galatians 5:13 as well, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
    Serve another humbly in love. Don’t use your freedom to indulge in the flesh, but serve one another humbly in love.
    What Paul means by this is that He is urging us to walk in the Spirit, yes, but to serve one another by leading them to do the same. As I’ve said before, this goes deeper than trying to find the quickest solution to fix our thoughts and actions that are rooted in sin.
    It means that when we know a friend struggles with anger, rather than just suggesting they avoid situations where they feel angry, we pray with them to surrender their heart of anger to the Spirit. We pray with them to ask the Spirit to remove the root of anger, and to replace it with patience and love. We encourage the brother or sister to daily surrender an attitude of anger.
    This takes longer than the quick fix, but is more permanent. This is how we serve one another, humbly in love.
    Finally, look at James 5:16, 19, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back,”
    We have to be brave enough and vulnerable enough to confess our sins to each other, so we can have that accountability we need, and so our brothers and sisters can help lead us to heart transformation by walking in the Spirit. Then, we must pray with those who have confessed their sins. We pray for them to completely surrender their lives, their hearts, to the control of the Spirit.
    We pray, and if a brother or sister wanders, we bring them back. This is how we are meant to live as the church. This is how we are meant to care for each other. This is how we are meant to encourage one another on toward good deeds.
1. Why do you think we tend to focus on the external circumstances and behavior when we try to help people change?

2. Why is it so important to get to the heart of the problem rather than just addressing the circumstances and behavior of ourselves and others?

3. How should the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit affect the way we approach helping people change?

One Another

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    I knew a kid once in school who used to say that he loved God, but didn’t go to church. I asked him why one day, and he told me that he didn’t feel like it was necessary to go to church to have a relationship with God. This is a common sentiment, maybe even some of us gathered here today believe.
    There’s a popular saying going around that I’ve seen that sort of echoes this idea. It says, “I believe churches are meant for praising God. But so are 2am car rides, showers, coffee shops, the gym, conversations with friends, strangers, etc. Don’t let a building confine your faith because we will never change the world by just going to church.”
    It’s partly true, this idea. We can and never will change the world for Christ just by going to church on Sundays. It’s not possible. And I do certainly and sincerely hope that we are all using any opportunity we can throughout the week to praise God, and to talk to others about our faith. But, what this idea gets wrong is the idea that the building is the church, and that you must come to a building to church in order to have faith. What is even more untrue about this idea, is that you don’t need the church to be a Christian.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    The building is not the church. You do not need to come to a building to have a church service. That’s because the church isn’t a building or an idea. The church is people. If you believe in Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are part of the church. You are part of the body of Christ.
    And while you don’t need the church to come to a relationship with Christ, you do need the church to maintain a solid relationship with Christ, because the church is people. The New Testament makes it very clear that the church plays a vital role in the life of the Christian. The church is mentioned 114 times in the New Testament. At least 90 of these times is in reference to the local gathering of believers, the local church, and the importance of the local church to the Christian life. There is a very heavy emphasis in the New Testament on the role of the body of Christ in the Christian life.
    Consider this: “The New Testament is full of commands to do this or that for ‘one another.’ Love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, etc. So how can we teach people to ‘observe all that I have commanded’ if they have no one to love, pray for, or encourage? It’s impossible to ‘one another’ yourself.”
    Here’s the point I’m going to come back to over and over again this morning, WE CAN’T FOLLOW JESUS ALONE!
    We can’t and we shouldn’t!
    Today I want us to look at the importance of the church, us, the people, to the Christian walk. Why can’t we follow Jesus alone? Why do we need each other? Why do we need the church?
    Let’s start by looking at Galatians 6:1-5.
    “Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.”
    We need accountability. We need people in our lives who care enough about us to gently tell us that when we’ve gotten caught up in our sin, it’s time to repent of our sin and seek to be reconciled to Christ. We need people in our lives who will help us bear our temptations so they don’t turn into sin. God calls the church to act in this way in the life of each believer.
    The writer of Hebrews tells us that it is important to not give up on meeting with one another, but rather we should use the time that we have when we gather to encourage one another so we don’t sin. We need each other to hold us accountable for the choices we make in life.
    James 5:16 tells us this, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”
    James makes the point that the prayers of a righteous man are effective and can accomplish much, but the New Testament makes it clear over and over again that righteousness is only possible through the forgiveness of our sins in Christ Jesus. Accountability is so important because it encourages us to seek the forgiveness of our sins. James tells us that we must confess our sins to one another so we can be healed. We can’t follow Jesus alone. We need one another for accountability.
    We need one another to hear and learn the Word of God. 1 Timothy 5:17 says that it is the responsibility of leaders in the church to preach and teach the Word of God. Romans 10:17 says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that all scripture is useful for teaching. In Acts 2, we’re told that when the early church, the body of believers first started meeting, they were devoted to the teachings of the apostles.
    We can and should read and learn the Word of God individually. That is an important part of our walk with Christ, but it is equally important to do this with other people. Those who are more mature in their faith than we are have important insight into God’s Word that often only comes from the experience of walking with Him for many years.
    Paul spoke many times in his letters to Timothy about the importance of mature Christians teaching younger Christians about faith and living the Christian life. We need these lessons to help us move toward maturity in Christ, so we need to hear the Word of God preached and we need to learn the Word of God with others and from others.
    Acts 2 gives the earliest example of what it looked like when the earliest body of believers, the earliest church, would gather. One of the most important things that they did when they gathered was to take communion with one another, to take the Lord’s supper together. It was something that Jesus commanded us to do, to remember His sacrifice, His resurrection, and to remember the fact that He was coming again.
    In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul criticized the Corinthian church for not taking communion together, but rather using their gatherings as an opportunity to leave people out and neglect the members of the body who were in need. He urged them to take communion together, and pointed out how important it was that they take communion any time they gathered because it promoted unity in the church.
    We can’t follow Jesus alone, and we can’t take communion alone. We need to do this with the body of believers to encourage unity in the church, to remind us all that we serve one God, one Savior, have one faith, and are empowered by one Spirit.
    We need one another for prayer and encouragement. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
    The body of believers has the responsibility of encouraging one another on to love and good deeds.
    Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church gatherings were times of prayer. They laid hands on one another and people were healed. 1 Timothy 2:1 says, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men,”
    We’ve seen before through our prayer services that the early church body did nothing without praying first.
    Prayer and encouragement were both vital parts of the early church. But we can’t do these things alone. We can’t follow Jesus alone.
    Finally, Acts 2:43-47 details how we are to care for other believers and share the gospel.
    “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
    We need the church to care for us.
    I know, I know. We’re a society of individuals, we’re lone rangers, we don’t need anyone to care for us. Except for one day when we do. One day when life doesn’t go the way we think it should, one day when we lose someone close to us, one day when we lose a job, one day when the future is unknown and scary. Then we need people to care for us.
    That is the responsibility of the church, to care for one another. We fill in the gaps. We help one another when a need arises.
    And then, we share the gospel with others, not alone, as we talked about last week, but with others. We share the gospel not from a place of brokenness, but from a place of unity and wholeness, being prayed for, encouraged by, and held accountable to one another.
    We can’t follow Jesus alone. We need each other to live the Christian life the way that Christ intended us to. We need one another.
    In a minute, we’re going to take communion together, which we’ve seen is one of the important things that happens when the church gathers. Before we do that though, I want to challenge you again with a few questions. They’re in your bulletin, read them, think them over, take them home, answer them, and let the Spirit work in you to change areas that need to be changed.

1. Why do you think the New Testament places such a priority on Christians being committed members (or parts) of local churches? Is being a part of your church a priority for you? Why or why not?

2. Read Ephesians 4:1-16. How should this passage affect the way you view your responsibility to other Christians in the church?

3. Think about your life and church and identify a few opportunities that God has given you to minister to the people around you. Have you taken advantage of these opportunities? Why or why not?

The Heart of the Matter (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

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    We talked last week about the call to be disciple makers, a call that extends to all of us, regardless of who we are. If we have believed in Jesus and accepted the forgiveness of sins through His blood, then we are to be disciple makers. We can be other things too, pastors, evangelists, missionaries, teachers, greeters, prayer warriors, but we all must be disciple makers.
    I told you a story too, about Jonny and I’s encounter with a cult and having coffee with some of the cult members. We know that if we make the decision to be obedient to God and to do what He has called us to do: make disciples; He is going to ask us to step out of our comfort zones and talk to some people we might not otherwise talk to.
    Today, we’re going to talk about the motivation to go and make disciples. Why do we go and make disciples? Yes, like we looked at last week, Jesus told us all to do that, but is that the reason we do it? Do we make disciples just to be obedient to God? That’s not a negative thing at all, and in fact, we should be obedient to God in every way, but is that the only reason we make disciples?
    I want to tell you today that it can’t be. It can’t be the only reason we make disciples, because if it is…then our motivations aren’t entirely where they should be.
    This morning we’re going to look at 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, and we’re going to talk about the heart of the disciple, us; what should be our intentions when we seek to make disciples.
    “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
    Most of us have probably heard what comes next, that love is patient, kind, and is not jealous, that it isn’t arrogant or selfish.
    This chapter, appropriately given the nickname “The Love Chapter” is a popular one. It’s often read at weddings, or recited in the context of romantic love, but that’s actually not what Paul was talking about when he wrote this part of his letter at all.
    Now, that doesn’t mean that what he wrote isn’t applicable to that context. Paul’s words about the true nature of love are true whether we’re talking about marriage or friendship, or something else entirely.
    But, what Paul was speaking about was spiritual gifts, and the proper motivation behind using our spiritual gifts.
    Now, there’s quite a bit of back-story behind why Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church, but just know that the bottom-line is that many Corinthian believers were not using their spiritual gifts for the right reasons, so Paul felt it necessary to correct them. Paul wanted to make sure that they knew that if they were going to be doing God’s work in God’s name, they needed to have the right motivator.
    So, since we’re seeking to make disciples, to follow Jesus’s command, to do the works God has prepared for us in His name, we can take this passage in 1 Corinthians 13 as a guide for us. Listen again to what Paul says about the motivation behind doing God’s work in His name.
    “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”
    Knowing what the context is entirely changes what this passage means, doesn’t it? What Paul is saying is that you could speak in the actual tongues that angels speak in, but if your motivation is wrong, you’ll just be a noisy gong. A clanging cymbal. Paul said that it didn’t matter if you have the strongest faith of anyone on the earth, if your faith is so strong you can move the highest mountain, if your motivation is wrong, you’re nothing! Paul said that if you do all the charitable things, feed the poor, become a father to the fatherless, even if you become a martyr, you’ll gain absolutely nothing if your motivation is wrong.
    The motivation for why we do what we do is just as important as the actual act.
    In James 3:1-12, James talks about the power our speech has over people. He says that with our words, we have the power to either give life or destroy life. Our words come from what is within, so if our hearts are in the right place, then what comes out of our mouths reflects that. The opposite is true: if what is in our hearts is wrong, then the words we speak will be a reflection of that wrongness in our hearts.
    1 Samuel 16:7 says, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” That’s the first blank in your bulletin’s sermon notes this morning. The Lord looks at the HEART.
    The heart is where our motivation for making disciples comes from, and from that motivation comes our words and our actions, what we actually say and do. If the motivation is just because we want to be obedient to God, then that will come out in what we say to people and how we approach making disciples.
    Have you ever been approached by someone trying to sell you something? A car, a house, cleaning supplies, tupperware, kitchen gadgets, makeup? Anything really. They might start the conversation with small-talk, but they quickly move on to what they really want to talk about, which is making a sale. All of a sudden you just become a number. You realize that the person talking to you isn’t interested in you as a person, they just want to make a sale. You’re just dollar signs to them.
    If your only motivation to make disciples is to be obedient to God, the conversations you have with people you are trying to disciple will seem like they are not genuine. It’s going to seem to them like you’re just trying to make a sale. Again, it’s not bad to be obedient to God, we should be, but there’s another motivation that has to go along with obedience.
    That motivator is of course, love. Love is what must be the driving force behind our desire to make disciples.
    Love is remedy #1 in your bulletin’s sermon notes.
    If we go back to 1 Corinthians 13, when Paul goes on to tell us what love looks like, we start to understand what it means to truly let love be our motivator for making disciples.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we are going to be patient with them, even when we get frustrated, even when they get frustrated. Even when they ask questions that seem silly to us.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we are going to be kind. Even when we have to call out sin, it will be done in a kind way.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we will not be jealous.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we will not be proud or arrogant. Afterall, it isn’t our power or anything special about us that draws people, it’s God’s love that draws people.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we won’t act in an unwholesome way toward those we are discipling.
    If we are making disciples out of love, we will not seek what is best for ourselves, we will not be selfish, rather, we will be selfless, seeking what is God’s best for the other person, even if it means that we must sacrifice something.
    Do we see why love must be the motivator yet?
    Love changes the conversation. Love changes the things we do. Love lets us see people the way God sees them, as eternal souls longing to spend eternity with their Creator.
    1 John 3:14 says that if you have truly passed from death into life in Christ, it will be shown through your love for one another. So, the reverse of that, is that if you do not love others, John says, you live in death still.
    Love is even the motivator for our obedience to God. Even Jesus said as much, that those who love Him will obey Him. So, if we’re going to obey His command to go and make disciples, to baptize them, and to teach them to obey Him, then our driving force MUST, absolutely must, be love, if we don’t want to become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
    There’s another thing that helps to keep us from becoming useless, a noisy gong, or a clanging cymbal. Remedy #2 in this morning’s bulletin sermon notes: Be an EXAMPLE. Be an example.
    Love is the motivator, it must be. But, how can we expect that our love will mean much of anything to anyone if we’re not living out that love? If we’re going to be lead disciples, leading others to be disciples, we have to let God’s love for us truly change us. We have to let His Word truly transform us.
    Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” The writer of Hebrews tells us to imitate the faith of those who have led us, who have spoken the Word of God to us. He says that if their conduct is worthy, then we should imitate them.
    Students follow their teachers. They become like their teachers. Jesus said as much. Paul talked about making sure that he was imitating Christ as closely as possible so that those following him would also be following Christ. We know that if we set out to make disciples, those disciples will follow our example. So we need to make sure that the example we’re giving is one that comes from God’s love and points people to Christ.
    We must be a good example of what it means to truly follow Christ, not because we have to, not just because He told us to, but because we love Him, and because we love Him, we love His people.
    I want to close again with three questions to challenge you this week. I want you to take a bulletin home so you have these questions, and I want you to read them and really think over them, then answer them.

1. Up to this point, would you say that your desire to make disciples has been motivated by love? Why or why not?

2. In addition to praying fervently, what practical steps can you take to increase your love for people?

3. Would you say that your life is being transformed by the truth of God’s Word? Why or why not? What changes do you need to make in order to live the truths that you will be teaching other people?

Disciple Maker

Listen Here!

    This morning we’re going to continue to talk about what it means to be a disciple of Christ Jesus, but before we do that, I want to tell you a story. Well, actually, I’m going to tell you the beginning of a story and then I’ll tell you the middle in the middle of my message, and I’ll tell you the ending of the story closer to the end of my message.
    So, we have made this decision as a church that we’re going to pursue discipleship. We want to be better disciples of Jesus and we want to be better about making disciples of Jesus. So, imagine my excitement when Jonny came home from the store and talked about an opportunity to sit down with a young lady and talk to her about Jesus! After all, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing, right, making disciples?
    Now, as I understood, she seemed to be a Christian, but had some misinformation and misconceptions about the church, and so I thought it was important as a fellow believer who maybe was a little more mature in my faith, to sit down and talk to her and see if we could help her hammer out some of those misconceptions. Jonny set up a meeting with her at a coffee place last Wednesday, and we were excited about getting to meet with her.
    I’m going to pause the story right there, and if you already know how it ends…just be patient.
    We’re going to talk about Matthew 28:19-20 today, because it was these two verses that spurred me on to look for opportunities to talk about a relationship with Jesus with other people, including this young woman. See, I’m really not that comfortable talking to strangers about Jesus. That might surprise you, since I’m the pastor, but I really have social anxiety about striking up a conversation with someone I don’t know and going straight to the Jesus conversation.
    It seems not genuine to me to have the first thing that’s brought up when you first meet someone be how to have a relationship with Jesus. I think people will care more about what you are saying to them if you have some sort of relationship with them.
    So, this meeting with this young woman was a little out of my comfort zone, but I had been praying about opportunities to disciple people, so we took the opportunity. The point of this is that if we’re serious about making disciples and being better disciples, the Spirit is going to call us out of our comfort zones. We talked last week about the cost of following Christ, that it’s steep and requires sacrifice. I challenged you through a few questions to consider what you might be asked to sacrifice for the sake of following Jesus. Comfort is probably one of those things.
    Let’s look at Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
    You’ll see in your sermon notes that you have two blanks to fill in for these verses. The first is DISCIPLES and the second is TEACHING.
    It’s a simple command, right? Go and make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to be disciples. We know though, that sometimes even doing the simplest things can be complicated and not so simple.
    So, let’s break this down into two parts, the command to baptize, and the command to go and teach.
    We have a tendency in the church in America to not put an emphasis on baptism, for any number of reasons. However, it’s given here as one of the things that true disciples of Jesus should be doing when they make disciples, so it must be important!
    I want us to consider baptism from the viewpoint of a first century Christian. Shortly after Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven, being a Christian became punishable by death. Christians were hunted down. They were so highly sought after that they started making up symbols, like the ichthus symbol we have on all of our bumpers, the little fish, that they could use to identify themselves as believers to other believers without giving themselves away to the government that wanted them dead.
    Baptism was public, and it was a public declaration of allegiance to Jesus. Because it was a public declaration, they were marking themselves as potential martyrs. They counted the cost, and even though they knew that following Jesus might end in death, they followed Him anyway, and were obedient to His command to be baptized!
    Baptism was a big deal to them! Baptism should be a big deal to us, too!
    Here’s the next blank for your sermon notes. Baptism is a declaration that your LIFE, identity, and priorities are centered on Jesus and His mission.
    One of the questions I’ll ask you to answer this week is: Have you identified yourself with Jesus through being baptized? It was clearly an important act for New Testament believers, and it was important enough to Jesus that He was baptized, and important enough to Him that He told us to do it, too. If you have been baptized, I want you to think about why it was an important step for you to take? If you haven’t been baptized, I want you to think about what is holding you back from being baptized?
    For the first-fourth century Christians, they knew they would be hated, hunted, possibly even killed. Jesus assures us that becoming His disciples, His followers, will basically paint a target on our backs. He told His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:18-20).
    Baptize is just one part of Jesus’s commission to us, though. The other two parts are go make disciples, and teach them to be disciples.
    Let me tell you more of my story about meeting with this young woman for coffee on Wednesday. Jonny and I get into the coffee place and we go to order something to drink and he sees the young woman we’re supposed to meet with. Then Jonny says, “Hmm, I didn’t know she was going to bring someone.”
    I look over and sure enough, she’s brought two people with her: a man and another woman. Now, I’m still hopeful. I’m still thinking, “Okay, maybe she just brought some friends with her because she’s a young woman alone in Albuquerque, trying to be safe while she’s meeting some strangers at a coffee place.”
    But as we sit down and start talking, it becomes very clear to me very quickly that this isn’t just sitting down with a young woman who has some unsure ideas about the Bible. The man that she had brought with her, who turned out to be a missionary from her church, is a trained professional. You know the kind that come to your door from other religions and want to talk to you about the “true” Word of God? I realize that this guy has been taught a script, he’s been taught exactly what to say, and he has everything that he needs to “teach” us memorized in such an order as to build the case that he was going to present.
    After realizing that this was not just a friendly little Bible discussion over coffee, I changed my approach. See, they want to talk about who the Bride of Christ is, and I have to admit, that though I know the Bride of Christ is the church and I know that there are Scriptures that talk about this, I’ve never done an in-depth study to be able to counter someone who has memorized a script about this. So, I decide I’m just going to listen intently and take notes about what he’s saying. I want to make sure that I understand what he’s saying so I can go back later and research the passages he’s brought up and figure out what those passages are really saying.
    I listened to his whole planned speech and I definitely had some objections and questions, but as I said, I wanted to research the Bible more. So, I told them I wanted more time to pray and look into the passages he talked about. I said I wanted to read the context of the passages to see what was going on in those passages. And he told me, “Well, it’s right there.”
    As I said, the command to baptize is just one of the parts of Jesus’s commission to us. The other two parts are go make disciples, and teach them to be disciples. We’re going to look at these two parts together because they both involve the process of disciple making. We understand that once we see a person come to Christ and receive salvation and eternal life through Him, that’s not the end of their journey, it’s the beginning, and we have a responsibility to then be a part of that person’s growth in the Lord.
    Let’s reread Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
    The commission to make disciples is one that is given to all. However, usually the church as a whole, not just us, but most churches, have come to think that the job of making disciples is the role of ministers: pastors, missionaries, evangelists, maybe even Bible study teachers. And for some reason in the church, the rest of the body, the majority of the church, has stepped back from the job of making disciples.
    It’s easy to come up with valid excuses as to why we can’t make disciples. For me, the idea of meeting strangers in a coffeehouse, as I’ve said, is uncomfortable. It gives me social anxiety. Maybe you’ve come to believe that you just have too much on your plate right now and you don’t have the time to meet with someone, even someone you know, to disciple them. Maybe you’ve come to believe that you just don’t know enough about the Bible to disciple someone. Maybe you think you’ve got too many issues in your own life that need to be sorted out first before you can disciple someone.
    These excuses we come up with aren’t necessarily untrue. Maybe you are uncomfortable talking to people about Jesus. Maybe you really do have a lot going on right now. Maybe you really don’t know much about the Bible. Maybe you do have a lot of personal issues you need to work through.
    Let’s look at Luke 9:57-62 real quick to see what Jesus thought about our excuses, “As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
    Jesus didn’t think very highly about excuses that were given to Him to not follow Him completely. While our excuses may seem like good excuses to us, to Jesus, they just don’t hold any weight.
    I want us to look at Ephesians 4:11-16 real quick. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
    I’ve said that the church as a whole usually puts the job of making disciples into the hands of only pastors, teachers, missionaries, and evangelists. But you can see here, Paul says that the job of those persons is actually to equip the saints for works of service, and to build up the body—all of this with the goal of becoming mature Christians and to grow in ways into Christ. See, it is actually not only the job of pastors, teachers, missionaries, and evangelists to make disciples.
    It is the command from Jesus to every single believer to make disciples. Now, as you can see from my story, even I was stepping out of my comfort zone to talk to this young lady, and I was absolutely blindsided when she brought other people, and even more blindsided when the guy she brought was this brainwashed, trained professional. But I can’t make excuses. WE can’t make excuses.
    Here’s the encouraging thing about our call to make disciples: God has given us everything we need to make disciples, and will give us what we need to do it well. Hear what Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” He has created you to do His good works, and one of those works is making disciples!
    Here’s the other encouraging thing about our call to make disciples: we are not alone in making disciples. God has given us a whole group of people to partner with to make disciples. The passage we read from Ephesians 4 says that we are all a part of the body of Christ, and only through each part doing its job can we be built up to be the body God wants us to be. We need to work with each other to make disciples, which is good because it’s so much harder to do things alone.
    So, I want to do two things to close. I want to tell you the rest of my story, and I want to challenge you with some questions to answer this week.
    After Jonny and I left the coffeehouse, I went home and started researching the church that these people said they went to. I had already been thinking through how what they believed about the Bride of Christ was incorrect, but I wanted to fully understand their position on it before I started looking through Scripture. I found the church’s website and after just a few minutes of reading I discovered that Jonny and I had had coffee with members of a cult!
    So, you don’t know what opportunities will arise when you start to pray for a look for opportunities to make disciples, but I guarantee, God will give you what you need and you are not alone!
    Here are the three questions I want you to answer and consider this week:

1. Have you identified yourself with Jesus through being baptized? If so, why do you think this was an important step for you to take? If not, what is holding you back from being baptized?
2. What excuses tend to keep you from following Jesus’s command to make disciples? What do you need to do in order to move past these excuses?
3. Whom has God placed in your life right now that you can begin making into a disciple of Jesus Christ? Whom has God placed in your life for you to partner with in making disciples?

Count the Cost (Luke 14:25-33)

    There’s a song out right now with words that have a lot to do with what we’re looking at this morning. It’s called “More Than Anything” by Natalie Grant. I’ve put the words to the chorus up on a slide, and it says this: “Help me want the Healer more than the healing. Help me want the Savior more than the saving. Help me want the Giver more than the giving. Oh help me want You, Jesus, more than anything.”
    This week we’re going to continue to talk about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We’re going to learn more about what He meant when He told us, “Follow me.”
    We’re going to be looking at Luke’s gospel today, Luke 14:25-33, and as we’re turning there I want to read something that Thomas a Kempis wrote. He wrote a book called “The Imitation of Christ” which is a book about being a disciple of Christ. This is what he wrote:
     "Jesus has many who love His Kingdom in Heaven, but few who bear His Cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share His feast, but few His fasting. All desire to rejoice with Him, but few are willing to suffer for His sake. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of His Passion. Many admire His miracles, but few follow Him in the humiliation of His Cross. Many love Jesus as long as no hardship touches them. Many praise and bless Him, as long as they are receiving comfort from Him. But if Jesus withdraws Himself, they fall to complaining and utter dejection."
    I hope you can see the connection between the Natalie Grant song and what Thomas a Kempis wrote. The point that they are both trying to make, is that there is a danger when we come to Jesus of coming to Him and staying with Him only for the good stuff. We come and we want comfort and miracles and blessings and Heaven, but we don’t want to have anything to do with the other stuff that Jesus says is a part of following Him.
    So, with that, let’s look at Luke 14:25-33, “Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.”
    There’s a lot of challenging things that Jesus asks His followers to do throughout the gospels, but this is one of the hardest. I want to look more closely at the first sentence of Jesus’s speech here.
    “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
    Does that seem odd to anyone else? What on earth does Jesus mean, that whoever does not hate his own family can’t be His disciple? Isn’t this the same Jesus who is all about love? Isn’t this the same Jesus who told His followers that if they love others then people will know they are His disciples? Isn’t this the same Jesus who said to love your neighbor as yourself?
    How then could He be saying here that if you don’t hate your own family you can’t be His disciple? I don’t hate my family, quite the opposite, I love them very much, more than I love any other people. Does that mean I can’t be a disciple of Jesus, really?
    No. So breathe a sigh of relief.
    Sometimes our English translations fall short of what was meant, particularly when it comes to emotions. The Greek language that Luke wrote his gospel in had many words to describe emotions that we have only one word for, words like: love, hate, joy, sorrow.
    Knowing this makes a difference for passages like this because we need to understand that when we read “hate” in the English, it doesn’t mean hate like we think.
    In the Greek, what is being said is that if we don’t love Christ Jesus more than we love our family, then we can’t be His disciple. It’s not that we hate our families, that’s no good! That’s really wrong, really bad. It’s that we must love Christ more than our families.
    I’m a big Star Wars fan. I come by it honestly because our whole family likes Star Wars. Now, the evil villain in Star Wars is Darth Sidious, right? He’s aways saying that hate is the path to the Dark Side.
    Well, in this case, since what Jesus said is that you must love Him more than your family, it’s that love that leads to the Light. If we understand what is really being said here, we could jokingly say that “hate” leads to the light side. Get it? That was a bad joke, but the point is that Jesus isn’t commanding that we truly hate our families.
    We should love them, and deeply, but we must know, and this is the challenging part: we must know that as deep as our love is for our families, our love for Christ must be deeper.
    Let’s see what else Luke has to say to us. “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
    Are we loving this yet? This isn’t easy to hear, is it? We have to love Jesus more than anyone else, more than our own family, more than our own flesh and blood, and then, on top of that, we have to carry our own cross?
    Some translations say, “bear his own cross”. But whether we say that we have to carry our own cross our bear our own cross, it’s not something that many of us get excited about. Like the song by Natalie Grant and the words that Thomas a Kempis wrote, we tend to what all the comforts and blessings of following Christ without any of the challenges, trials, and suffering.
    But that’s not what Christ calls us to. Being a true Disciple of Jesus Christ, really following Him, hinges on more than a comfortable life. It requires that we love Him more deeply than anyone or anything and we carry our own cross.
    What does it mean to carry our own cross, though? Some of it goes back to what we talked about a few weeks ago, when I gave a message from Psalm 8 when King David called God, Lord, and what he meant was that he had made the decision that he was going to completely surrender to God. David was saying that he had chosen to make God number one in his life, his first priority. David was saying, when he called God “Lord”, Adonai, that he had chosen to serve God and follow Him no matter what.
    If you’re following along in your bulletins, and I hope you are, you’ll see two questions under number 2. The first is, “Do you really believe Jesus is your master?” David did. And that’s what’s required to really be a disciple of Christ. You have to really believe that He is your master. Not that He takes that place and gloats about His power over us, but rather that we remember all He has done for us and we ask Him to be the master of our lives because we know that He is good and wants what is best for us.
    The second question there is, “Do you believe that He is your owner—that you actually belong to Him?” I want to read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 for you, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
    If we have come to place our faith in Christ, if we have believed in Him for our salvation, His Holy Spirit lives in us. Our bodies are His temple. We were bought with a price and that was the shed blood of Christ Jesus. We are not our own. We are His…so we should act like it!
    Bear your own cross: allow Him to be your Lord, your master, your owner…not by force, but by choice. Live for Him…because He died for you!
    Bear your own cross. The cross is a symbol to us, a symbol of sacrifice. We’re meant to look at the cross and remember that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us on that cross. We’re also meant to look at the cross and remember this passage, that we are meant to carry our own crosses. We are meant to know that the cross is a symbol of the sacrifice of self. And that is the blank in your bulletin this morning.
    When Jesus told us that we must carry our own cross to be His disciple, He was telling us that we’re going to have to sacrifice what we want, what we love, who we were…all of it for the sake of gaining the Kingdom of God and for the sake of truly following Him. That’s the cost of following Him, and anyone who tells you differently is lying to you.
    The Christian life isn’t easy. You’re going to have to make decisions that honor God but that other people will not like. People in the world, and even people in the church will find radical living for God sometimes off-putting. You’re going to have to make decisions to leave behind jobs, homes, and other life circumstances that God calls you away from. You’re going to have to make the decision to let go of some relationships for the sake of following Him. You’re going to have to let go of a lifestyle of sin that you might actually enjoy because God calls you to live holy as He is holy. There will be trials, there will be temptation, there will be struggles. The world will hate you. Jesus told us as much.
    It’s a life that many, even Christians, aren’t ready to embrace. But this is what is required. Jesus issued us a hard challenge here, to be His disciple, to make Him Lord, master, owner, and to carry our cross, and He reminded us of the importance of doing this when He asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
    Jesus ends this teaching, this challenge, by giving two short parables meant to help demonstrate His point. The first is about building a tower and making sure that you have accurately counted up all the materials and resources you’ll need to build the tower before you start so you don’t run out of resources. The second is about fighting a battle, and counting up your armies to make sure you have what it takes to win the battle and be victorious before you go into battle.
    Both make the point that when you follow Jesus, it’s not an easy thing. It’s difficult. It’s radical to be a true disciple of Christ, and He wants us to count the cost. He wants us to know what will be expected, what will be asked, so we can run the race and finish well.
    Count the cost.
    As we wrap up this morning, I want to turn your attention one more time to the sermon notes in the bulletin. I want you to see on the opposite side of the bulletin, behind the notes for the sermon this morning is a new section in our bulletin that says, “questions to answer this week”. There are three questions there I want to challenge you to look at and answer this week:

    1. Evaluate your approach to following Jesus. Would you say that you view Jesus as your Lord, Master, and Owner? Why or why not?
    2. If you choose to obey Jesus’s call to follow, what might it cost you? (Avoid being vague. If following Jesus would cost you specific possessions, comforts, or relationships, list them below.)
    3. What might hold you back from following Jesus at this point? Are you willing to let go of these things if necessary?


The Call (Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 6:40)

     I was reading this week from a book by Francis Chan about discipleship and I was struck by something that he said that the Spirit has used to sort of guide me in a direction for us to start our New Year as a church. This is what he wrote, “The whole point of being a disciple of Jesus is: we imitate Him, carry on His ministry, and become like Him in the process. Yet somehow many have come to believe that a person can be a ‘Christian’ without being like Christ. A ‘follower’ who doesn’t follow. How does that make any sense?”
    How does that make any sense? How can you be a Christian without following Christ? How can you be a Christian and not imitate Him? How can you be a Christian and not carry on His ministry? How can you be a Christian and not become like Christ? You really can’t…yet we do!
    But…the Bible says…we can’t. We can’t be a Christian and not imitate Christ, not do His work, not become like Him.
    I want to look at two passages in the Bible this morning, and look at what happened when Jesus called disciples.
    Join me in Matthew 4:18-22. “Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.”
    This is the calling of the first disciples, the first ones who would follow Jesus around for a little over three years, who would imitate Him and do His work and become like Him. We’re told that Jesus first called Peter and his brother Andrew, and then James and his brother John.
    What Jesus said to them is simple, and it’s the same thing He says to us. “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” It’s simple, but as I said before, we do a really great job of not following through with it. So, let’s break it down for us.
    “Follow me”. That’s the first part, right? Follow me.
    We misunderstand that word, though, “follow”. Today, it means that you press a button on your social media page and you’ll “follow” what someone else posts. But that’s obviously not what Jesus is saying. He doesn’t just want us to see what He says. He doesn’t just want us to like it or think it’s funny.
    So, what does He mean when He told the disciples, “Follow me”, and what does He mean when He calls us to do the same?
    Following Jesus means that we become His disciple. This is a very radical call. It doesn’t mean that we just say we’re Christians. It’s a radical demand that is required to be a part of the Kingdom of God.
    If you’re following along in your bulletins this morning, you’ll see two blanks. Following Jesus means that He calls us to “Let go of all human security and human aspirations/dreams.”
    That’s a radical call. Let go of all your human security. Everything that makes you feel safe: your home, your car, your family, your friends, your job. All of them you must be willing to let go of at any time for the sake of Christ. We’re to count it all as lost.
    Let go of all your human aspirations/dreams. Nothing’s wrong with wanting to provide for your family or to feel fulfilled in what you do in life. But the call to the Kingdom of God is so radical that true disciples of Jesus have to be willing to let go of our human dreams for the sake of the Kingdom.
    In Matthew 13:44-46, Jesus gives a parable about a treasure a man found in a field, and He compared it to the Kingdom of God. And the point that He made with that parable was that there is absolutely nothing here on earth that is worth more than the treasure of God’s Kingdom. His Kingdom is a precious treasure, and if we were wise, we would be willing to give up anything for the sake of gaining His Kingdom and to make sure others gain the Kingdom, too.
    In John 8:12 Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and He tells them that whoever follows Him will walk in light, and not in darkness. And He says this just after they had gathered to stone the woman who had been caught in adultery. When she saw that after Jesus had spoken to them there was no one left to condemn her, He told her “Go. From now on sin no more.”
    To follow Him, we must become His disciple. Being Jesus’ disciple means we go and sin no more. We can’t keep purposefully living a life of sin and follow Jesus at the same time. Sin and Christianity are incompatible.
    Charles Spurgeon, who has some great writings about living a true Christian life said that, “There must be a divorce between you and sin or there can be no marriage between you and Christ.”
    Being His disciple means that we walk with Him. If we walk with Him, then He is the one directing us where to walk. Psalm 128:1 says, “How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, Who walks in His ways.” If we’re going to walk with Him, we have to walk in His ways.
    Being His disciple means that we obey Him. Deuteronomy 13:4 says, “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.” We follow Him by obeying Him.
    So then in order to obey Him, we have to know what He says. This is why it is so vitally important for us to be Christians who read the Bible. It is the very Word of God, it is His words to us. So if we’re going to obey Him, we have to read what He says to us. We have to know His words.
    This verse says that we also follow Him by listening to Him. The Bible is His Word, that’s true. But Christ’s disciples must also be actively listening to Him. This happens through prayer and meditation on God’s Word, but mainly prayer. In prayer, we hear from God’s Spirit living in us.
    Finally, if we’re going to be a disciple of Christ, we must love Him. Matthew 22:37 tells us to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind. Jesus calls it the greatest commandment, and since being a disciple of Christ means obeying Him, we would be wise to obey the greatest command.
    So, follow Him. Let go of your human security and dreams for the sake of gaining the Kingdom. Be His disciple. Walk with Him, obey Him, love Him, listen to Him.
    And… “I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus used this term with Peter, Andrew, James, and John because they were fishers and they understood the meaning.
    This is a call to active service. It is not passive. You cannot just sit in your boats.
    The life of a fisherman was very active. The act of casting out nets, and hauling them in full of fish was a very labor intensive way to earn your money. It was hard work. It was sometimes disappointing work, as well. We’re given a story at the end of John, after Jesus’ resurrection when He appeared to His disciples as they were fishing and they were having rotten luck catching anything. He told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, and then they caught tons of fish! So, we can see that there were times when fishermen didn’t catch anything!
    Jesus used their occupation to teach us about being His disciples, and what it means for us to be fishers of men. It is a call to go and cast a net to save sinners from the pit of hell. It is an active call. Like I already said, you can’t just sit in the boat, which we could say is the church, and expect that people will just come and save themselves. We have to go find them. We have to go get them. It’s an active thing. And it’s a hard thing, yes. And sometimes, you’ll cast nets and not catch anyone. And that’s why it’s all the more important to be listening to the Spirit, because when the nets go out and they come back empty, He may tell you to cast a net on the other side of the boat!
    So we cast nets, and we bring sinners into the body of Christ, into the boat. And…we teach them to be His disciple, too. We teach them to walk with Him. We teach them to obey Him. We teach them to love Him. We teach them to listen to Him.
    That’s the Great Commission, isn’t it? Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
    Follow Him. Go, cast the nets, and teach them to be His disciples.
    I want to close with Luke 6:40 today, and a challenge to us all. Let’s look at Luke 6:40 together, “A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” Jesus spoke this just after His teaching about judging yourself before judging others, to make sure that you are without fault before you find fault in others. It’s just after His call to the disciples and others gathered there to be as merciful as God is merciful.
    This verse that tells us that students will be like their teachers points out the importance of who you learn from. The idea here is that you will take on the traits of those who teach you, that you will become like those who you follow. So, it’s important to choose the right teacher, to choose the right person to follow. Why? Because you will begin to look like whatever or whoever you follow most closely.
    Disciples will look like their teachers.
    So, here’s the challenge? Who do you look like?
    I know we all want to say, “I look like Jesus, I’m His disciple.”
    But do we really look like Jesus? Are our words always like Jesus’ words? Are our actions always like Jesus’ actions? Are our thoughts always like Jesus’ thoughts?
    The answer is no. No matter who you are, no matter how long you have been a disciple of Christ, there is always room for us to grow closer to Him. There’s always ways to become better disciples, disciples who follow more closely and who look more like our teacher. The key is to never be complacent with how close you are with Him now. Never stop growing. Never stop praying. Never stop loving Him and listening Him. Actively seek to be His disciple more each day.

A Hymn of Friendship (Psalm 8)

Listen Here!

     When I was a teenager, I was going to a church that had a really active youth group. It was a youth group that tried to be up-to-date and relevant, and I remember that one of the songs that we sang had a line that said, “I am a friend of God.”
    Now, I was really only at the beginning of learning who God is and what it means to follow Him, and that line of that song, “I am a friend of God,” rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was rude! I thought it sounded a little like we were mocking God, or that we just didn’t respect Him and treat Him with the awe that we needed to.
    I no longer think that, because that’s not the picture of God that we get in the Bible. Now, maybe I would use a different word than “friend”, but the point is that God did something incredible so that we could be closer to Him than our closest friend.
    I want to talk about Psalm 8. It’s a hymn, it’s a song, that was written by David, probably after he was anointed as king.
    So, I just want you to take a moment and appreciate what was happening when David wrote this song. He was just anointed as king. I think this probably would have been a time in his life that he was pretty proud of. Now, he couldn’t be the king yet, because there was another king who was still in power, but when he was anointed as king, God was saying to David that he was the rightful king that God was choosing to rule Israel.
    That’s a very exciting thing for a person! Can you imagine, if some priest came to you and told you that God had chosen you to be the king?
    In all of this excitement, David writes this song, Psalm 8. And what we’ll see, is that even in one of the proudest and most exciting moments of his life, David doesn’t forget that without God, he is nothing and he has nothing!
    “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!”
    So this Psalm, this song, is in two parts. The first part is the first verse and the last verse. In the first part, the first and last verses, David praises God for Who He is. He says, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth.” And with this, he says a lot about how amazing God is!
    Now, if you have your Bible, I want you to look carefully at those first four words, “O LORD, our Lord,”. Do you see how, even though David says the word “Lord”, twice, one is written with all capital letters, and one is written with only the L capitalized? That’s because in our English translation, we translate it the same, but in the language David was writing in, Hebrew, it’s two different words, and each of these words says something different about God.
    The first time David says, “LORD,” with all capital letters, he’s using the name that God gave to Moses, Yahweh. This is the name that God gave to let Moses know that God is the God Who keeps His promises. Isn’t that a comforting thought? Isn’t that a good thing to know, as we go into this New Year, that no matter what has happened this year, whether good or bad, God, Yahweh, is a God Who keeps His promises.
    The second time David says, “Lord,” he’s using the name Adonai. The name Adonai we could translate as Master, not in a bad way, either. Not Master, as in God pushing you under His thumb and making you do everything He wants you to do. What David is saying is that he trusts God enough to listen to God, and to live in a way that would please God. What David means is that he is choosing to put God first.
    So if we put the two “Lord”s together, what we get is David saying, “O God who keeps His promises, I will follow and live for you.”
    To finish verse 1, David says, “How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!”
    In the midst of this incredible moment in David’s life, when he’s anointed as the king of Israel, he doesn’t talk about how awesome he is, and he doesn’t say anything about how great a king he’s going to be. Instead, he talks about how great God is!
    David says that even God’s name is majestic! Like a King! The newly anointed king of Israel praising the God who is truly a King!
    David says that God has made His glory known to us. God has showed us how amazing and awesome He is in two ways: the earth, and the heavens.
    The earth and everything about it shows us how incredible and powerful God is. From the beauty of a green leaf turning yellow, then orange, then red, then brown in the Fall, to the way that each snowflake that falls in Winter has a different shape and pattern. All of nature shows us that God is amazing and powerful. All of nature shows us that there is nothing that God can’t do. He is incredible!
    The heavens show us how majestic God is, too! When we think about how many stars there are in the universe, that there are 1 billion trillion stars in the part of the universe that we have been able to see so far, we’re left with the understanding that God is so much greater and so much more amazing than anything that we’re able to understand. We can’t really grasp how incredible He is!
    So with that, David moves on to the second part of his song, which takes up most of the song, verses 2-8.
    “From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.”
    David talks about children, about God being strong and having victory over His enemies even through children. That seems a little strange, until we really try to understand what David is saying.
    What David is saying is that we are children; we are the infants, the babies. That seems…harsh, doesn’t it? To be called an infant, a child, a baby, even if you’re 91! But, David’s point goes back to how amazing God is. God is eternal, that means that He had no beginning, and He has no end. He has always been and will always be. He can see and has witnessed everything that happens for all time, and so to Him, our lifespan, our maybe 100 years if we’re blessed, is just a breath to God.
    In fact, James 4:14 says, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” David says that we’re children, we’re infants, we’re babies, here today, gone tomorrow.
    Here’s the amazing thing about God though: even though we’re really nothing special, He still wants us to come to Him. He still wants us to…be friends with Him, as strange as that may sound. Though we’re nothing, He can still join with us to do amazing things!
    David goes on, verses 3-4, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?”
    We’re just a speck. When David considers the heavens, the galaxy and the universe and the amazing world that God has created, he is in awe that the God who would create such amazing things would even care about humans. All we have to do is go outside at night and look up into the sky and see the billions of stars in the night sky and that’s all it takes for us to feel small and insignificant.
    Yet, God is mindful of us and He makes Himself known to us. These two verses ask why God should think of us, why He should care for us? By asking that question, David is saying that though he doesn’t understand why, God does think of us, He does care for us! The word that David uses when He says God cares for us, goes deeper than God just remembering us. He means that God turns His attention to us. He thinks about us like a friend thinks about a friend. He feels concern for us. He has an interest in us and wants to be a part of our lives.
    Isn’t that incredible?! I’m with David, I don’t understand why God loves me that way, I don’t understand how He could love me that way, because I’m nothing! But…He cares for me. He thinks about me. He turns His attention to me, to you! He feels concern for you. He has an interest in you and wants to be a part of your life! That humbles me to my knees.
    David goes on, verse 5, “Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty!”
    Not only does God deeply care for us and want to be a part of our lives, but He has given us a place of high honor in creation, because He is so great! Hebrews 1:14 says that God gave the angels to minister to us, since we’re the ones who God saves. 1 John 3:2 says that we’re loved children of God.
    God made us only a little lower than Himself! He set us above His own angels and the rest of His creation! They have to minister to us! He crowns us with His own glory and majesty! He calls us His children. He gives us a place next to Him, a place by His side in eternity, even though we’re nothing! And that just proves even more how incredible He is!!
    He sets us above His creation, and He trusts us to care for His creation. Listen to verses 6-8 again, “You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.”
    We don’t really care much for sheep and oxen, or the beasts of the field, or the birds or the fish anymore, but that’s not the point that David was making. The point that David was making was that even though we’re nothing special, even though we’re just a speck in time, just a vapor, a breath, God cares for us and wants to be involved in our lives, and He trusts us so much that He has asked us to care for His creation.
    In Genesis 1, when He created humans, the job He gave us was to care for what He had made. Again, I side with David, and I say, “why?” Why would God care about me so much? Even when I don’t do the things I should, even when I don’t live the way that I know God would be proud of, He still thinks of me? He still cares for me and takes an interest in my life? He still trusts me to take care of what is His? Why? It doesn’t make any sense!
    Look back at the first five words of verse 5, “Yet You have made him”. Why does God care, why does He call us friend, why does He take an interest in us and think about us, why does He trust us to care for His creation, why did He make us over His creation? Because He made us. Not just made us, but He made us in His own image. He made us like Him in more ways than we can fathom.
    Whatever skills or talents we have, whatever wisdom or knowledge we have, whatever honor or glory we have, is because God has that skill, talent, wisdom, honor, and glory and He has given it to us.
    In fact, by going back to and ending with the sentence that David started with, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth,” David is making the point through the whole Psalm that the only way we can become what we were created to be, the only way we can live up to our purpose and our design, created in God’s image…is if we join with David and say, “O God, who has always kept His promises, I will serve you, I will live for you, I will love you, I will listen to you, I will do what you ask me to do.”
    In fact, that’s the only way we can be friends with God. It’s the only way we can have a relationship with Him, the only way we can have a bond with Him. We have to believe Him when He said that the only way to Him is through Christ Jesus. We have to believe that Christ died to bring us back to the friendship that God wants us to have with Him. We have to accept the salvation that He offers us from our sins, from all the things that we do that we know don’t please God. We have to give Him our life, gladly, willingly. And then we have to live for Him. That’s how we become “friends” with God.

The Light of the World (John 1:9-13)

    Tonight’s message is a simple one. We’ve read the Christmas story and we’ve sung songs about the Christmas story that serve to help us remember what the details of the story are. The songs are great, and it is also great to read the Scriptures that tell us why we celebrate Christmas.
    My message tonight is from John 1:9-13, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
    We talk about light a lot this time of year, and we’ve lit the Christ candle which reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world. John’s gospel does the same in these verses.
    He starts by saying that there was the true Light which came into the world to enlighten every man. That sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, it sounds a lot like what many people look for. Many look for enlightenment for their souls, they look for light for their lives. They want to know true light. They search for a way to feel like their life is worth something, to feel like they are special.
    And that’s great, because John says that the true Light already came into the world to enlighten every man. The true Light didn’t just come for some people because they were really good, or because they lived in a certain place, or because they believed a certain way. John says that the true Light came to enlighten everyone!
    John continues, and he says that the Light was He, not necessarily because He’s a man, but because John wants us to know that the true Light isn’t a thought, it isn’t an idea, it isn’t a religion, the true Light is a being. He, this true Light, this being, came into the world, and John says that He made the world. So this being that we’re talking about, is the one who made the world.
    Well, by now, we should know that John is talking about God.
    Here’s the disappointing part though. John says that though the true Light came to enlighten all people on the world He made, the people of the world didn’t know Him.
    How? How could we not know the One Who created us? He came to bring us true Light, to bring us the enlightenment we so desperately search for. He came to bring us worth. He came to bring us purpose. But we didn’t know Him. And what John means there isn’t that we just didn’t know who He was, what John means is that we, all the people of the world, refused to recognize Him as the One Who created us.
    How could we not know Him?
    John goes on, and He says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”
    One of my favorite parts of the day is when the kids hear the lock on the front door turn and they all start running toward the door and screaming “Daddy, daddy!” Because they know that Jonny is home. I love to hear them do that.
    Sadly, we know that there is a day coming when they won’t be so excited for daddy to come home. Even though he helped make them, even though he loves them and cares for them and provides for them, some day, they won’t be so excited to see him come home. And then some day, they just won’t be around to see him come home.
    And that’s the way that things happen when time passes and children get older. But could you imagine, the creator of the world, making a whole world full of people, and when He came to them to bring them true Light, they refused to recognize that He was their creator.
    That is what John says happened. John says at the beginning of His gospel that the word of God, the word that spoke all the world into being, became flesh and came to live here among us. And we can read through other passages in John and in the other gospels, and throughout the rest of the Bible that tell us that the person John is talking about, the word of God made flesh, the true Light, is Christ Jesus.
    Christ was there when the world was created. Christ was the creator. And He came in the form of a baby boy on what we celebrate as Christmas, over 2,000 years ago, so He could bring us true Light. So we wouldn’t have to feel lost, so we wouldn’t have to feel like we are useless and don’t have a purpose. Christ Jesus came to give us life, true life…and the world rejected Him. We rejected Him.
    But, there’s more.
    John says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
    All is not lost. If we want the true Light, if we want enlightenment, if we want to become children of God, if we want hope, if we want peace, if we want joy, if we want love, if want truth, if we want a purpose, if we want life as we were created to live it, all we have to do is believe in the name of Christ.
    What does that mean? Well, that’s simple, too. It means that we believe Christ is the Son of God, sent to save us from our sins. It means that we believe we are sinners. And it means that we believe that Christ forgave our sins when He died on the cross. We believe He saves us, and so He does.

The Love of the Cross (John 3:16-21)

    Today is the final Sunday of Advent. Today is the day that we remember the love of God and the love of Christ, and we celebrate the Christian love that God calls us to. Today we celebrate God’s love, which is seen also in His hope, His peace, and His joy, which is what we have already celebrated this Advent season.
    Today’s passage includes a verse that is probably the most common Bible verse known to mankind. I think perhaps, this one verse says more about the Christmas story than all of the chapters in the gospels that actually contain the story of Jesus’ birth.
    But as I said, we’re covering more than just one verse today, because there’s more to the story than just the one verse. I’d love for you to join me today in the book of John, the gospel of John 3:16-21.
    “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
    This is the season we celebrate love, specifically the love of God. And we are hard-pressed to find a passage that speaks as powerfully about the love of God than this one.
    This time of year, we look at images of the manger, the star shining brightly in the night, the serene mother and the peaceful father, the wise-men with their gifts, the animals and the angel, the baby wrapped in linens. How often to we pause to look beyond the sweetness of that scene to think about why God’s Son came, in the flesh, that night that we celebrate.
    See, He didn’t come to be praised and celebrated. He didn’t come to be adored. He didn’t come to be loved or lauded. He came to die. Look at the first two verses of our passage this morning carefully, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
    The purpose behind that sweet scene that we look at in peace and fondness this time of year, the reason that the Son of God came was to save the world through Him. There was only one way that this could happen, and that was through willingly offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
    From the moment the angel first announced to Mary that she was carrying the Messiah, He was moving toward the cross.
    Look at the first four words though, “For God so loved”. Though the purpose for Him coming to the world was to be our sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, love was the motivator that sent Him.
    If you’re following along in your bulletin this morning, that is your first blank. It was love that was the motivator for the Christmas story. Love sent God’s Son to us. Love sent Him to a sinful family, to be born of a sinful mother, to be raised in a sinful world so He could be our sacrifice. Love sent Him. God’s perfect, unfathomable love.
    Paul wrote about the love of God in all of his letters, but I like the way He put it in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
    This is the love that sent Christ. This is the love we celebrate on Christmas.
    The next blank in your bulletin is one that we have sort of already gone over. Look again at verse 17 in our passage this morning, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
    God sent His Son to save us, to save the whole world. Here’s the blank: The cross is the reason the Son of God came. Love was the motivator, but the cross was the purpose.
    Look at 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
    Through the cross, through love, God was reconciling us to Him. The world needed a Savior, and Christ’s ministry was to save us and to return us to God. There was no there other way for us to be saved.
    Consider Philippians 2:6-8, which talks about the purpose of Jesus’s life on earth, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
    That is the Christmas story! The Son of God, who is in His very nature, God, came to earth, made Himself nothing by taking on the form of a human, and offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross.
    The cross is the reason the Son of God came.
    Let’s look at the rest of the passage, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (19-21).
    Love sent the Son of God to the world, and He was sent to go to the cross. But what draws us to the Son is love. That’s your final blank this morning. Love is what draws us to the Son.
    These verses say that Light has come into the world. But people love the darkness instead of light, so it stands to reason that in the same way that we are drawn to darkness through love of evil, the only way we can be drawn to the Light, to the Son of God, is through the love of truth. And verse 21 says as much, that those who live by the truth come into the Light.
    What is one of the “I Am” statements that Jesus made. “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) He is the truth. So if we live by Him, we come into the Light. If we love Him, we come into the Light.
    John believed that the love of God in Christ was a magnetic force, especially as it is seen in His death on the cross. Jesus told some who had gathered before Him, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” (John 12:32) Love is what draws us to the Son. The love that He displayed for us when He came as a baby all those years ago, but most importantly, the love He displayed for us when He died on the cross.
    Because without the cross, the Christmas story means nothing. Without the cross, all of humankind is lost. Without the cross, faith is useless.
    I want to finish with this thought from one of my commentaries, “The Incarnation,” that’s the baby Jesus, the Son of God who we celebrate at Christmas time, “The Incarnation, including Christ’s atoning sacrifice, demonstrated God’s love for man; man’s sin necessitated Christ’s death on the Cross. John’s affirmation is positive and strong; going back to the beginning of man’s need of salvation he finds the love of God already working. Instead of “In the beginning was the Word—the Word of God.” He might have written, “In the beginning was love—the Love of God.”

Christmas is the season of Love and Light, let us choose both.

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