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Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

Mission: (Matthew 28:19-20)

    Today’s message is of vital importance. In fact, I would say that it’s likely one of the most important sermons you’ll ever hear. I don’t say that because I think that I have anything important to say, but because this passage, aside from the message of salvation found in the gospels, is vital to the future of any church, but especially Los Lunas Cornerstone Church.
    It’s the answer to the question, “Now What?”
    As in, “I’ve given my life to Christ, I’ve surrendered to Him, I’ve repented and been baptized…now what?”
    As in, “I’m praying and reading my Bible and I go to church every Sunday, now what?”
    Is this all there is to this life of following Jesus? Just believe, be baptized, go to church, read, and pray, and try to live a better life?
    Of course, the answer is no. No, that’s not all that there is to a life of following Jesus? So…now what?
    Why are we here, Los Lunas Cornerstone? Why are we here as a church? Have you ever sat with that question? We need to.
    Why do you come to church?
    Here’s some common answers given when a poll was done on this very question, posed to people who regularly attended church:
    1. To become closer to God
    2. So their children/grandchildren will have a moral foundation
    3. To make them a better person
    4. For comfort in times of trouble/sorrow
    5. They find the sermons valuable
    6. To be a part of a community of faith
    7. To continue family’s religious traditions
    8. Feel an obligation to go
    9. To meet new people/socialize (“fellowship”)
    10. To please their family, spouse, or partner

Maybe you find your own reason somewhere on that list for why you come to church. Maybe you don’t. I want you to take a second to think about this question: why do you come to church? Whatever your answer is, and be honest with yourself and with God because no one else is going to see your answer, but I want you to write down your answer to this question in your bulletin. Why do you come to church? If you’re having trouble picking one, or you’re anxious about your answer, just write down the first reason that popped into your head, whatever it is. Why do you come to church?
    Most of the motives I’ve listed here aren’t bad motives for coming to church. We should want to become closer to God and be a part of a church that will help us develop that relationship. We should want to give our children and grandchildren a moral foundation. We should want to be a better person, and to find comfort in troublesome times, and to be a part of a faith community. Those are all good motives and good reasons to come to church.
    But…these reasons are actually just a product of the reason the church actually exists. In other words, the real reason the church exists is the cause, and these other motives are the effect. These motives are actually what happens IF the church is fulfilling its reason for existing in the first place.
    So, let’s go to the book of Acts. Why does the church, all over the world, but also us, Los Lunas Cornerstone Church, why does the church exist? Why? Why are we here? The book of Acts is the best place to answer this question of why the church exists so that we will better know how to answer the question of why we come to church.
    Acts 1 gives us the account of what happened after Jesus was resurrected while He was with His disciples for 40 days before ascending into heaven. Acts 1:4-8 is where He gives the charge to His disciples that answers the question, “Now What? Why are we here? What is the purpose of the church?”
    “Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So, when they had come together, they began asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” But He said to them, “It is not for you to know periods of time or appointed times which the Father has set by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth.” NASB
    Okay, so the first part of Jesus gathering all of the disciples to Him was to tell them to wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Then, once they had the Holy Spirit, He says, after you receive the power that comes from the Spirit, then “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth.”
    That right there, church, is why the church exists. As great as it is to grow closer to God, that is not the main purpose of the church. That is not why the church was created. Woah! Let’s just let that sit for a moment.
    I don’t want to discredit some of the good reasons that you may have come to church today. It’s good to want to grow closer to God, to help your children and grandchildren grow closer to God, to want to be a better person, to be a part of a faith community, to find comfort. Those are all good things, and coming to the church is the BEST POSSIBLE WAY to get filled up in all of those areas, but that’s not why we are the church.
    The reason we were first gathered as a group of believers, together, was to be Christ’s witnesses all over the earth. So, while it’s not bad to want to come to the gathering of the church for any other reason, we must understand that as we mature as followers of Christ, we must be moving toward the single reason for wanting to be part of the church, and that is to be a witness for Christ.
    We call this the mission of the church. The mission is quite simply why something exists. What is its purpose? Without a mission, any organized group, whether it’s a religious group or not, will eventually fall apart. Without a mission, a group will eventually fall apart. Why? Because without a mission, the group has nothing to work toward. No effort to drive them to work together and stay together. No common goal, and no reason to bring in others. So eventually, that group will fall apart and be no more.
    This is even more true for God’s people, the church. If we are not focused on the mission, focused on what we must do to fulfill the mission, not only will we not grow as a church and eventually cease to exist, but we will also be in direct disobedience to a known command of Christ. Simply put, if we aren’t mission minded there are two negative consequences, we will not only die as a church (1), we will be in disobedient sin (2). Yes, the mission, our reason for existing, is that important.
    This was Jesus’ command to His disciples, you can find this in Matthew 28:19-20, and is in fact the key passage for my message this morning, “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 follow all that I commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” NASB
    That is our mission. From here on out, Cornerstone Church, this is our focus. It has to be! We want to mature as Christ followers and we want to be obedient to the Lord, so this must be our focus.
    So, let’s understand this command, our mission, fully.
Go.
    Think about the word “go”. What do we know about the word “go”?
    Well, it’s an action word, right? It’s a verb. It implies that you are doing something. It’s not passive. If you’re going to go do something, there is thought put into what you’re going to do, and you’re purposeful and intentional about what you are going to be doing. You don’t usually “go” by accident, do you? No, it’s usually for a specific purpose, and with a lot of thought.
    So when we’re talking about our mission, to be witnesses for Christ, the word “go” tells us that we are going to have to go on purpose. We’re going to have to make a decision to go and do the mission. It will not just happen by accident.
    Wherever we are going to go to be witnesses for Christ, to do the mission, whatever plan we put together for doing that, is going to have to be thoughtful and intentional. It will not just happen.
    The word “go” means that you will have to specifically look for and ask God for opportunities to do the mission. It means that you will have to be listening to Him, which is why I just took us through a 4-part series on listening to the voice of God. It means that we’re going to have to be looking for places where God is already moving, and purposefully partner with Him to do the mission.
    The word “go” is also really neat because there is no specific place mentioned in the mission command in Matthew 28:19-20, except “all the nations”. What “go” means here is that anywhere you go, every where your foot steps, you are in your mission-field. You can be a witness for Christ wherever you are, and in fact, we are expected, as Christ followers to do just that, to be a witness for Christ wherever we find ourselves. Wherever you go, there, make disciples. So, if everywhere we go we have the responsibility of being a witness for Christ…well…we better be prepared, right?
Make disciples.
    Again, we have another action word. Make. Something that we must be intentional, purposeful, and thoughtful about. How are we, as a church, going to make disciples? What is our specific plan for this? What tools are we using to get this done? We’ll talk about that in the next few weeks, because the how and the what have to come after the why. But, we do know right now that there is a plan that must be put into place for making disciples.
    Disciples is another word we understand, too. Are we working with God to just see people convert to Christianity? Is that what a disciple is?
    Well, no. A disciple is a follower. Following means you have a leader, in this case Christ, and you do what He says and go where He says to go. It means you listen to Him because you know His voice. It means you talk to Him and bring your questions to Him. It means you become like Him. A disciple looks, thinks, talks, and acts like the person they are following.
    We’re not just talking mere converts to Christianity here, though that is where discipleship starts. But if it ends there, it’s not discipleship. It’s something else, and that’s not what Jesus asked of us. Our job, our mission is to always be going deeper in our relationships with the Lord, and purposefully and intentionally helping others to do the same.
Baptize.
    Another action word. Baptize, or baptism, comes from the Greek word baptiz┼Ź. This word gives a really interesting picture. It gives the picture of a cucumber being immersed in a vinegar solution and turning into a pickle!
    I bet that gives you a whole new perspective on baptism, doesn’t it?
    We must understand that this is a physical baptism, definitely, but there’s something deeper at work. What this picture of a cucumber turning into a pickle tells us is that the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is not just surface level. It’s not just about coming to a building once a week or twice a week. It’s not just about what you do or don’t do. The Spirit desires to work in the life of each believer to completely change them into someone new, still human, but vastly different than the person they were before. Just like cucumbers and pickles are both still vegetables, but taste completely different.
    The job of the church in this baptism act is of course to physically baptize those who have come to believe in Jesus and follow Him, but we must also help guide them in submitting to the work of the Spirit to make them completely new. We must teach them what that looks like, and model it ourselves through our own example. We must impress upon all believers the importance of growing in maturity and becoming more like Christ.
Teach.
    Again, we find a word that is active, not passive. Teaching involves a plan. You need to know what should be taught because each believer is at a different point in their walk with the Lord. For example, you probably wouldn’t teach a new believer to preach at the pulpit next Sunday. You would teach them the basic principles of our faith, what we believe and why we believe that. In the same way, you wouldn’t teach an old saint who has been walking with the Lord for 50 years about the basic principles of faith. They’ve learned those foundational things and should be taught more substantial Biblical lessons.
    With each person that we seek to disciple, we must know where they are at in their walk so we can know what they would profit from learning most. All of this process is intentional. In the coming months, we’ll start putting together, as a church, a more intentional and purposeful path for teaching believers in this body at any level.
    This teaching work is the work of every single member of the church. With all but the newest of believers, every single Christ-follower is capable of teaching another believer something of value from God’s word. Now, it’s true that some have the specific gift of teaching, but every Christ-follower is able and should be willing and ready to teach about what Christ has done in their lives.
    This sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? It is. Becoming this type of church is going to be hard. It’s going to require that each and every one of us make sacrifices. It’s going to require that you, yes, you, step out of your comfort zone and start serving in this church in some way. These verses we’ve looked at this morning don’t single out just the pastor, or just board members, or just those who teach a Bible study. This command of Christ is to every believer. Are you a believer? Yeah? Then this command is for you. We have a long road to walk to become a missional church, a church focused on the mission: to be a witness for Christ. It’s going to require each and every one of us to get involved, not just on Sundays.
    But this is the mission of the church. We were brought together for the purpose of being witnesses for Christ. If we don’t do that, all of us, each one of us, working together to do this, this church will die and we will be in sinful disobedience.
    The cost is high, yes. It’s a price I will willingly and gladly pay because Jesus paid His very life for me. And you know what? There’s one more part to that mission. We go, we make disciples, we baptize, we teach. And what did Jesus promise?
    “and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We don’t do the work alone. He is with us, always. He is doing the work right along side us. He is seeing the mission through. He knows the cost is high. He knows it will require sacrifice and it will be hard and it might even hurt. He is with us always. He will be right there, having already paid the cost, having already made the sacrifice, and He will give us strength for the hard work and comfort for the pain it might bring.

1. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8, Paul commends the Thessalonian church for being an example to all believers. What example were they giving in verse 8?

2. Reexamine your “why” for coming to church. Does it fit the mission of the church? If not, why? Ask God this week to examine your heart and align it with His heart for His people and His world.

3. Are you ready to be a part of a missional church? It’s going to hurt, and there will be sacrifices. The cost is…costly. But the rewards are more than we can imagine. What excuses might you be holding on to that keep you from joining in the mission of Cornerstone Church, God’s church?

Spirit (John 16:7-15)

    Just Sunday I found myself putting God in a box. Have you ever done that? Maybe you have and you didn’t realize that’s what you were doing. Here’s what it looked like for me:
    Jonny was telling my Dad that he had had a really vivid dream about end times, a dream unlike any others he had ever had. Jonny was wanting to know if it was possible that the dream was from God. Right away, my defenses went up. I started thinking, “No way, that’s not a dream from God because God doesn’t give dreams like that anymore.”
    Jonny then went on to quote Acts 2:17 which says, “And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and your daughters will prophesy, And your young men will see visions, And your old men will have dreams;” (NASB)
    And right away, my “educated mind” thought, “That verse is grossly taken out of context.” Of course, my Dad knew that too, and he correctly told Jonny about the context, but then the Spirit used something my dad said to correct my own faulty thinking.
    Okay, so the Acts 2:17 verse was taken out of context. It doesn’t mean “last days” as in end times, it means last days as in the days after Christ but before what we know now as Pentecost. It talks about the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit will be given to all who believe, and that the Spirit will enable people on that day, the day of Pentecost, to prophesy and see visions and have dreams. The context applies to the day of Pentecost, not end times in general.
    That being said…the Spirit reminded me that He is God and I am not. If He wants to give dreams to people not on the day of Pentecost, He can do that. He is God, and He can and does use any means of communication necessary to get His message to be known and heard.
    I quickly repented of my foolishness and pride, thinking I could tell God what He could and could not do. Thinking I could put God in a box. Thinking God can only work this way or that way.
    But the God we serve spoke to Moses through a burning bush. He used plagues to communicate with Pharaoh. For Nebuchadnezzar, it was dreams. For Belshazzar, His finger wrote a message on a wall. Our God can even speak through a donkey! He can choose to speak to us anyway He wants to.
    His primary language is His word, the Bible, as we’ve talked about and learned how to study it every day. But, let’s look at John 16:7-15 to learn something really amazing about His Spirit.
    “But I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I am leaving; for if I do not leave, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world regarding sin, and righteousness, and judgment: regarding sin, because they do not believe in Me; and regarding righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you no longer are going to see Me; and regarding judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them at the present time. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take from Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; this is why I said that He takes from Mine and will disclose it to you.” (NASB)
    Jesus told us that it was for our advantage that He went away so He could send the Helper to us. The Helper is His Spirit. The Spirit, we read here, does a few things in our lives: He convicts regarding sin, He convicts regarding righteousness, and He convicts regarding judgment. Jesus told us that when He came, He will speak whatever He hears from God to us.
    He has one goal in all of this, in His convictions of sin and righteousness and judgment, and in Him speaking the words of the Father to us, His goal is to glorify the Lord.
    Every time He speaks something to us, it is for the purpose of bringing GLORY to God.
    He’s free to do that anyway He sees fit. What’s amazing about this passage is that it doesn’t specify how the Spirit speaks to us, only that He does. God knows each of us intimately and uniquely. Because He knows us so well, He knows how to speak to each of us in a way that is clear and unmistakable.
    For example, one of the ways God does and has spoken to people in the Bible is through DREAMS. In fact, the passage from Acts 2:17 that I read this morning tells us that this is one of the means of communication the Spirit does use. The question isn’t whether or not God can still speak in dreams to communicate to His people. The questions is, how do you discern if a dream is from God or not?
    This is where God’s primary language is key. Any dream you might have, if it is from God, will line up with Scripture. Any dream you might have, if it is from the Spirit, will glorify God, since that is the Spirit’s goal.
    Another way that God speaks to us can be through DESIRES He gives us. In fact, there’s a well-known Psalm that says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4; NASB) He will speak to us by giving us desires, if we delight ourselves in Him. Those won’t be sinful desires that He will give to us, rather they will be desires that are in line with Scripture, and they will be desires that will glorify God. This is how we tell the difference between what we want and what God wants.
    God can also speak through opening DOORS for us, making a way through a situation when it seemed there was no way. Paul prayed for this very thing and we can read about it in Colossians 4:3, “praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I have also been imprisoned;” (NASB)
    When God desires that we will go somewhere or do something that is in His plan, He opens doors. How do we check that? Does it fit with God’s primary language, Scripture? Does it bring God glory? If the answer is yes, that very well may be the Spirit’s work.
    God speaks through PEOPLE. In Exodus 18 we get this really great example of God giving direction through someone to another person. Moses was tired and over-worked. He had been put in the unique position of overseeing, organizing, and problem-solving for over 2 million people, all by himself. But God gave Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law wisdom concerning Moses’ leadership. He was able to establish leaders to work under him to handle the smaller things, and then Moses became the leader of the leaders. God gave this wisdom to Jethro to help Moses.
    What about pastors, what about me? God desires to speak through us. That is one of the things that I pray for as I write my sermons and as I humble myself before Him on Sunday mornings. I pray that He will use me to speak to you and I get myself out of the way! There’s an easy check for this too, to see if what someone says to you may be from God: does it fit with His primary language, Scripture; and does it bring Him glory?
    God speaks through PROMPTINGS. Like, you’re going along with your day and the Spirit says, “You need to stop and pray for so and so.” No context, just pray. John 14:26 tells us that the Spirit teaches us all things and reminds us of what Christ has said. He does this by prompting us. For example, we know that God is love, so if we feel the prompting to buy someone’s groceries as an act of love because they forgot their wallet, that may be the prompting of the Spirit.
    He also prompts us to walk in His ways. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to trust in the Lord with all your heart and not to lean on your own understanding. It tells us that if we acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will make our paths straight. He does that through prompting us. So when those promptings come, we can ask: does that fit with God’s primary language of Scripture; does it glorify God? If so, then that may be the Spirit speaking to you through that prompting to act in obedience on what He is leading you to.
    The Spirit also speaks to us through our PAIN. That one isn’t so fun. Romans 5:3-4 says, “And not only this, but we also celebrate in our tribulations (pain, suffering, trials), knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;” (NASB)
    I don’t know about you, but during times of great pain in my life was when I learned the most about God’s character and His love for me, and when I learned the most about who He made me to be. Those times are hard, but He spoke in such a mighty way that I’m glad I went through those things because He was glorified and I was refined. I know Him better because of those times of pain. So, when you’re in the midst of that pain that threatens to drown you in waves of misery, ask yourself: how does this glorify God; how can He use this for His glory? The answer may surprise you.
    Hebrews 1:1-4 tells us that the Spirit does speak in many ways. Scripture confirms that. It is for His glory that He speaks in different ways to each and every one of us because what happens when He speaks and we listen is a deeper relationship with our Creator and a better understanding of our mission and purpose.

1. Look again at John 16:7-15. One of the key points from these verses is that the Spirit will guide us into all truth. Think of a time when you needed to be guided in truth. How did the Holy Spirit help you in that situation?

2. Think through all the “languages” God uses to speak to us through the Spirit (Scripture, dreams, desires, doors, people, promptings, pain), how has the Spirit used those languages to speak to you?

3. How did you discern if what you heard in those times was from God or not?

Study (Ruth 1)

    When I was taking my ministry preparation classes, one of the first classes I took was titled “Preaching and Teaching”, and the goal of this class was to give ministers and future ordained ministers tools and methods for preaching and teaching a Biblically founded sermon or lesson. Part of that process was to actually prepare a sermon to preach to the class, and then the class would give you constructive criticism about the sermon.
    As the teacher was giving the assignment and giving parameters for us to work within for the assignment so everyone was about on equal ground as far as what we would be critiqued on, one of the things he said has always stuck with me. He said that generally, when we pick a passage to preach on, we should not preach on a passage that’s more than ten verses long because the scope is too wide. At the time I thought, “Oh yeah, that’s a really good idea. After all, there are some passages that you could preach on just one or two verses!”
    Generally, it’s a pretty good guideline…but today, I’m tossing that guideline out the window.
    There’s a specific reason for that though, and it’s not without the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Today, I want to continue this conversation we’re having about developing an ear for God’s voice, how to listen better to Him, and acting on what He says. Last week we talked about the habit of retreating to a special quiet place to better connect with God. Today, we’ll talk about another habit that is vital for disciples of Jesus to develop in order to be more sensitive to God’s voice and more aware of His presence with us all the time.
    2 Timothy 3:16-17 says this, and I love the way the New International Reader’s Version says this, “God has breathed life into all Scripture. It is useful for teaching us what is true. It is useful for correcting our mistakes. It is useful for making our lives whole again. It is useful for training us to do what is right. By using Scripture, the servant of God can be completely prepared to do every good thing.”
    This passage assures us that every word out of Scripture is useful for some Godly purpose in our lives. All of it. Whatever it is that God wants to accomplish in our lives will be guided in some way by His Holy Word. This is important for us to remember because as we’re becoming more active listeners to His voice, we need to understand that if what we’re hearing is contrary, or opposite, of what the Bible says, then we’re not hearing the voice of God. The Spirit speaking to you will always speak Biblical truth.
    Hebrews 4:12 is important for us to call to mind as well as we look at today’s passage, “For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (NASB).
    The Bible is unique from all other books for this reason right here: that His Word will speak directly to your life and what you are dealing with right now. His Spirit uses His Word to speak life into our lives. He takes passages that have never touched us before and opens our eyes to His character through those passages in ways that touch us deeply and change our relationship with Him.
    No other book can do that. Not one single book is capable of doing that because no other book is inspired by God, breathed into life by the Spirit.
    So, the Bible is important to us, we know this. But how do you study it so the Spirit can use it the way He desires to? How do you feel about trying to read the whole Bible? Is that a daunting or overwhelming thought? Have you read it all before? If so, you probably learned a few things about getting the most out of Scripture.
    Do you see the Bible as information to be gathered? A tool to learn how to live life? As a way to get to know God?
    This may be surprising to you, but most Christians do not actually know how to study the Bible. And I’m not talking about getting out Hebrew-English dictionaries and Greek Lexicons and keeping a library full of commentaries put together by Biblical scholars. I’m talking about every day, sit down with the Bible, just you and God, and getting into His Word in a way that allows Him to bring it to life within you.
    So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do this morning. We’re going to dig into the first chapter of Ruth, and we’re going to learn some practical, every single day tools and methods for digging into and studying God’s word without all the fluff.
    Here’s where the most challenging part for you this morning is going to be: I’m going to read the whole first chapter of Ruth. You may be tempted to kind of…zone out. Try to stay engaged. Start asking yourself some of these questions as I’m reading: Who is speaking? What’s happening in this passage? What does this teach me about God’s character? What does this teach me about His relationship with me?
    READ RUTH 1
    So, we’re going to just as a series of questions to guide our study of this passage so we can learn how to study the Bible every day through practicing together.
1. Who?
—Who is speaking, who are the speakers, who is being spoken to?
    Well, we don’t have the name of the author who wrote down the book of Ruth. The writer is an unnamed person. I can tell you that tradition says it was the prophet Samuel, but this passage doesn’t state that. So, as far as what we can know from Scripture, the writer is unnamed.
    Who are the speakers in the passage, then, and who are they speaking to? In verse 8, we have the first person speaking, and it’s Naomi, and we’re told that she’s speaking to her two daughters-in-law. In verse 10, her two daughters-in-law answer her. In verses 11-18, we see a back and forth conversation between Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, and in verse 14 we learn their names: Orpah and Ruth. So there we have the main persons in this passage: Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah.
—How does that help us understand the book/passage?
    One of the things that could be said about not knowing definitively who wrote the book, but knowing for sure who it is about, may help us understand that what is important here is the people in the story. This is a story about two ordinary women and a part of their lives. Maybe one of the things that we could understand from this knowledge is that even in the lives of ordinary people and their every day actions, God is alive and working, and deeply concerned for the welfare of His people.
—Who is the author writing to? Who was the original audience?
    This question helps us understand context. The author of the book of Ruth doesn’t state specifically who it is written to. So here’s where you have to sometimes carry a question over to the next chapter, or even until the end of the book. So, if we do that, we find at the end of the book in chapter 4 a genealogy from Ruth’s line that leads to King David. Since that’s included in the book, we can understand from the context that this was probably written to the Jewish people at large, because they would be the ones interested in where King David came from.
2. What?
—What is happening in this passage?
    Here’s where we make sure we understand what exactly is happening. Verse 1 tells us that there was a famine in the land and so a man of Bethlehem moved to Moab with his wife and sons, and verse 2 says they remained there.
    Verse 3 says that the man, Naomi’s husband, Elimelech died. Verse 4 says that Naomi’s two sons took Moabite women as wives, and that they lived in Moab about ten years. Then Naomi’s sons also died.
    Upon hearing that there was food again in Judah, Naomi decided to return to Judah, but told both her daughters-in-law to return to their mothers homes. They both told her that they would not leave her but would go with her. Naomi insisted however, that the women should go back home. One daughter-in-law does, Orpah. But Ruth gives this beautiful speech about how she will follow Naomi to the point of death.
    Naomi and Ruth both come to Bethlehem and Naomi, out of bitterness for all that had been taken away from her, gives herself the nickname, Mara, which if your Bible has footnotes like mine for verse 20, means bitter.
—What is the context (what happens before and after?)
    This is a question that is particularly important when you’re looking at a much smaller passage, like a few verses settled in the midst of a larger passage. We need to understand overall what is happening as well as the specifics of the passage.
    There’s nothing before this passage because we’re at the beginning of the book, but we can briefly look after. Just after Ruth 1, we see that Naomi remembers a family member named Boaz who was wealthy. Ruth goes to Boaz to gather food for her and Naomi, and as she’s doing that, Boaz starts to take notice of her.
    See, that helps us understand how God was working in the lives of Ruth and Naomi, and even Boaz. God was using this situation, a famine, the death of Naomi’s husband and sons, to work what was good for Naomi and Ruth. He brought them back to His land to provide for them in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in Moab. So again we see that God was working in the lives of ordinary people.
—What genre is this?
    Sometimes this can be helpful information so we can understand how a passage might be applied to us. Is it narrative, is it prophecy, is it a gospel, is it poetry, is it history, is it law, is it a letter, is it apocalyptic, is it wisdom literature?
    In the case of the book of Ruth, it fits into two genres: it’s a narrative, it tells a story; and it is history, it gives historical information about a historical figure of importance, who in this case ends up being King David. So, the fact that this is a narrative genre again tells us that God is working and interested in the lives of every day people. The fact that it is history tells us that this story is important to the past and future of God’s people.
3. When?
—When was the book written, or when did it take place?
    Sometimes you can answer both of these questions, sometimes you can’t. Verse 1 tells us that this happened in the days of the judges. When was that? There’s some wiggle room there, but a good guess is between 1380 and 1100 BC. How do I know that? Well, here’s where modern technology and greater access to information can come in handy. Google it! “When was the period of the judges?” I promise you, Googling information like this isn’t cheating, just make sure the site you get the information from is Christ-centered.
    As far as when the book was written, we have a clue for that as well. Remember I told you about that genealogy at the end of Ruth? Well it starts with Naomi, to Ruth and Boaz, to Obed, then Jesse, and then David. They couldn’t have known that information if this was written during Ruth’s lifetime, right? This tells us that the book of Ruth was written sometime during or after King David’s rule. Now, when was that? Well, vast knowledge available to each of us online tells us that it was sometime after 1010 BC.
    Why is this information important? Well, because knowing the “when” helps us understand what kind of cultural issues may need to be considered. Israel in the time of the judges was culturally much different than Israel in the time of Christ.
4. Where?
—Where does this take place?
    This is a fairly simple question to answer for most of the Old Testament. Really, with the exception of parts of Genesis and Exodus, when God’s people were in Egypt, and the books that were written when God’s people were in exile in Babylon, most of the Old Testament takes place in Israel. The New Testament gets a little trickier as the apostles and disciples travel to make disciples in different places, but for the book of Ruth, it takes place in Judah, which at the time was still part of Israel. The country of Moab is mentioned, but only as a point of detail in the story.
    Why is this detail important? We find out that Ruth is a Moabite. She is not Jewish. Yet, she makes the choice in Ruth 1:16 to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to follow Naomi’s God, the one true God. She wasn’t one of “God’s people”, but still she was able to make the choice to follow Him. He blessed that decision when He put her in the line of David, and ultimately…in the line of Christ. That is important for us to know. It tells us that know only does God work in the everyday lives of ordinary people, but that He is willing to work through anyone that wants to follow Him. He is accessible to all people. That’s good news!
5. Why?
—Why was this written, for what purpose?
    This is where it’s handy to go back to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work.” (NASB) In light of this scripture, what might be the purpose of the book of Ruth?
    Well, it teaches us that God works through ordinary people like you and me. It teaches us that God invites all people to come to Him. It teaches us that Ruth was an ancestor of King David and ultimately Christ Jesus. It connects with Romans 8:28, which gives the truth that God causes all things to work for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Naomi loved God, and all things were worked for her good. Ruth made the choice to love God, and all things were worked for her good. Boaz loved God, and all things were worked for his good.
    So, this passage might not rebuke or correct us, or train us in righteousness, or equip us for good work, but it teaches us a lot of really important theology. Theology is simply what we believe about God, who He is, and what He does. This passage teaches us a lot about who God is and what He does. And isn’t THAT the point of reading the Bible and studying it in depth like this? The point is to know the God who inspired it to be written. Wow! So we learned a lot about this God that we have a relationship with just by asking these questions.
6. How?
    This is the last of the questions that I use to shape my study time. What I’m going to do with these questions though, is give you the questions, and ask that this week as you study and spend time with the Lord, you use these “how” questions to dig in to Ruth 1 deeper and connect with it more.
—How does this Old Testament passage reveal Christ Jesus?
—How should I relate to God through what this passage shows me?
—How can I apply what I’ve learned to my life today?
    In addition, on the back of your bulletin, I’ve listed additional questions you can apply to this passage, or other passages as you read them. Not all of them apply to each passage, but when they do, they will greatly help you understand the Bible better and thereby understand the God who wrote it better.

1. Is there any cultural background that would be helpful to know?
2. Is there any historical background that would be helpful to know?
3. (Old Testament) How does the passage/concept find its fulfillment in the New Testament?
4. (New Testament) Does this passage or verse show up in the Old Testament? If so, how does the original context give insight into the NT passage?
5. (NT) Can this passage be illustrated from the Old Testament? How?
6. What are the key words in this sentence? Why are they important?
7. Is there any repetition of words, phrases, ideas? (This can show importance)
8. Is there a contract of things that are different?
9. Is there a comparison of things that are alike?
10. Is there a list given? Why might that be important?
11. Is there a cause and effect?
12. Is there a conjunction? (And, but, for, therefore, since, because…means you need to search for the rest of the context!)
13. Are there figures of speech or idioms? (Lamp unto my feet; harden your hearts; double-edged sword—what do they mean?)
14. Are there questions asked…or answers given?
15. Is there a purpose statement given?
16. Is there actions or roles of God mentioned?
17. Are there any emotions or emotional terms?
18. Does the passage give me a command?
19. What do we learn about God’s character or nature?
20. What do we learn about people?
21. What do we learn about how to relate with God and/or others?

Bethel (Genesis 28:10-16)

    Jacob came from an established line of people who walked with God. Jacob’s father, Isaac followed God and leaned on God’s guidance for his life. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had a very intimate relationship with God, and heard His voice regularly. Abraham was a great man of faith, who regularly had encounters and experiences with God where God spoke directly to Abraham and Abraham correctly discerned the Lord.
    However, despite the fact that Jacob came from this line of men of faith, Jacob did not know the Lord. In the passage we’re going to look at today, we’re going to see how God revealed Himself to Jacob and shows us what He desires from a relationship with each and every one of us.
    I’m going to be in Genesis 28:10-16 today, but I want to set the scene for you, because this is a great story. As I said, Jacob did not know the Lord. He had, through lies and manipulation, stolen the birthright and blessing of his older twin brother, Esau. Esau hated Jacob for it, and had tried to kill him, and so Jacob had run away from his home, from Esau who was hunting him down, and from his father Isaac and mother Rebekah.
    This is where our passage this morning picks up, with Jacob fleeing his home. Join me in Genesis 28:10-16.
    “Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he happened upon a particular place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and made it a support for his head, and lay down in that place. And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Then behold, the Lord was standing above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “The Lord is certainly in this place, and I did not know it!” (NASB)
    Last week, the first point of my sermon was that even when God’s word is rare, He is still speaking. The first thing that Jacob’s story here tells us is that God is always SPEAKING, even when we aren’t listening. This is always true. God is never silent. Even in the 400-year time period between the events in the book of Malachi, and the coming of Christ told in the gospels, God was not silent. He was speaking. There were people who were following Him, and listening to Him. Mary, Jesus’ mother is proof of that fact. When she heard God speak to her, she knew it was Him because she knew His voice. God was still speaking, even though His word was rare, because He is always speaking, even when we aren’t listening.
    Take Jacob in this story. Remember that he did not know the Lord. Or Samuel in last week’s story, who also did not know the Lord. Yet, God was still speaking. To Jacob, He spoke in a dream. To Abram, God spoke when Abram was old and settled in a land and settled in his ways of worshiping pagan gods. He surely wasn’t listening for God, but God spoke.
    To Moses, God spoke from a burning bush while Moses was tending sheep. Moses didn’t set out that day to hear God’s voice, he set out to tend the flock. But God spoke.
    In the New Testament, He spoke to Saul, even as Saul was on his way to persecute and sentence to death those who followed Jesus. Saul was not listening, but God spoke.
    This should be a comforting and reassuring thought to us. Sometimes we aren’t listening. Now, we know as disciples of Jesus that it is important for us to be listening, to be pressed in, to be hearing all the ways He tries to speak to us, but even when we aren’t…He’s still speaking.
    In this dream, God says to Jacob, “Behold, I am WITH you and will keep you WHEREVER you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
    For this being the first time Jacob had ever listened to God speak, that’s a mighty promise, isn’t it? God promised that He would go with Jacob wherever Jacob went and that He wouldn’t leave Jacob until He had fulfilled His promise.
    I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. God has also promised us that He will never leave us and will go with us wherever we go. In Psalm 46, the Psalmist starts, “God is our refuge and strength, A very ready help in trouble.” (46:1, NASB). He goes on through the first 11 verses to show how God’s power displayed all around us is a reminder that He is always with us. The Psalmist talks about God’s presence seen throughout all of creation, that we can see clear evidence of God’s presence in the world around us.
    The Psalm that one of our Sunday school classes covered just last week was Psalm 139, and part of this psalm talks about how there is no where we can go in all of creation where we can hide from God’s spirit. “How can I get away from your Spirit? Where can I go to escape from you? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I lie down in the deepest parts of the earth, you are also there. Suppose I were to rise with the sun in the east. Suppose I travel to the west where it sinks into the ocean. Your hand would always be there to guide me. Your right hand would still be holding me close.” (139:7-10, NIRV).
    His presence is clear in creation, and there is no where in His creation we can go where we can escape His presence. He is truly always with us. Jesus made this same promise as well in Matthew 28:20, to His disciples, then and now, that He will be with us always, even to the very end of the age.
    Jacob has this incredible dream where God reveals Himself to Jacob, and Jacob is made aware that God is always with Him, always there wherever Jacob goes. And what happened next? “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “The Lord is certainly in this place, and I did not know it!”
    While God was speaking, and while even creation cried out that God’s presence is all around, Jacob was not aware of God’s presence or voice until this dream.
    The same is true for us many times. God is speaking, even when we aren’t listening. He is with us wherever we go, always. But still, we aren’t aware of His presence. He’s trying to make Himself known and whispering to us in the course of our day, but we are unaware that His presence is right there. We have times in our lives when we can all echo Jacob’s words, “The Lord is certainly in this place, and I did not know it!”
    Even this morning, His presence is here. Are you aware of Him? Do you see how He is moving here in our hearts, in your heart? Do you hear Him whispering to you this morning? Are you aware of His presence?
    We want to be. We want to be aware that He is always here, always with us, always speaking, and we want to be able to recognize what He is saying when He is speaking.
    There’s a place I like to go, up in the mountains, down south 47 between Rio Communities and Mountainaire. It’s the Abo Ruins, and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s the ruins of the old Spanish Mission that was integrated into the Native pueblo that was already there. I go there when I’m feeling particularly disconnected from the Lord, or when I need to really press in to His presence and connect with Him in a deeper way.
    The reason it helps me connect with Him in that place is because I can see His beautiful creation all around me, and because when I stand in the ruins of what was a church 400+ years ago, I’m reminded that they served the same God I serve, that they worshiped the same God I worship, that they prayed, and sang, and heard the word of the Lord just like me. I can use my imagination and imagine that maybe someone in that pueblo was struggling with something and cried out to God in desperation, just as I have done during difficult times. I imagine them singing songs of the resurrection of Christ on Easter. I am reminded through His creation around that place and the ruins of their walls that God is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, though everything around me changes, He remains constant.
    This idea of connecting to God’s presence in a specific place isn’t new. After all, that’s what the place in our passage this morning became to Jacob. It became a place where he connected to God in nature and became more aware of God’s presence there. He called that place Bethel, which means the House of God.
    Jacob was not the only person in the Bible to make that connection between God’s creation and connecting with God’s presence. In Genesis 12, when Abraham became aware of God’s presence as he was following God’s command, he named that place Bethel. Bethel became a prominent place in the Old Testament, and it was a place where time after time, God revealed Himself and people were made aware of His presence.
    Sometimes, when the world around us gets too noisy, and we have allowed our ears to become deaf to the voice of God, we must go to Bethel. We must go to a place where we can drown out the noise and tune our ears again to the voice of God. A place where we can connect with His presence in a special way. A place where we see His presence displayed in the power of His creation.
    Jesus did this as well. In Luke 5:16, we see Jesus slip away to the wilderness to pray and refresh after ministering to others. So, when we’ve had an intense time of ministering to others, pouring into others that God has asked us to share His love with, then it’s time to go to Bethel. After you minister and pour out to others, take time to go to the place you connect to God’s presence and pray and refresh.
    In Luke 6:12-16, we see Jesus go alone into the mountains to pray to hear God’s direction. So, when you’re unsure of what decision to make, which direction to go, how to handle a situation, then it’s time to go to Bethel. Take your confusion and uncertainty, take your questions and doubt to the place you connect to God’s presence and ask Him to show you the way.
    In Luke 22:39-46, when Jesus knew He was about to be pressed and tried, He went into the garden alone to prepare Himself for what was to come. So, when you’re being pressed, crushed, persecuted, tested with trials and temptations, then it’s time to go to Bethel. Take your pain, frustration, fear, anger, guilt, shame, whatever it is that you’re feeling during those challenging trials and temptations to the place you connect to God’s presence and let Him bear your burdens and give you peace, comfort, strength, encouragement, and boldness.
    Yes, there are times when we are not aware of God’s presence, we cannot hear His voice. During those times, we need to go to the place where we can be more connected with Him: BETHEL. This is one of the habits we can develop to make sure we are listening to Him and hearing His every whisper.

1. When are you most aware of the Holy Spirit in your life? Why do you think that is? Why do you think we can sometimes forget about God’s presence with us through the Spirit?

2. How do you see God’s presence all around you every day? How do you remind yourself to be aware of His presence?

3. This week, take at least 15 minutes every day to be completely alone with God. Silence any distractions or noise. Spend that time to pray, to refresh and rest in His presence, to hear His direction and guidance, to repent, to prepare you for what might be ahead, to lay down burdens, to thank Him, but most of all, to just be in His presence.

Listen (1 Samuel 3:1, 7-10)

    In his book, Whisper, Mark Batterson gives the story of a very renowned opera singer. This opera singer, a man, had an incredible vocal range spanning several octaves. One morning after a particularly exhaustive show, the man woke up to find that he could no longer hit some of the higher notes in his range. He was absolutely baffled as to why all of a sudden, he could no longer sing the notes he was supposed to sing.
    The man finally went to go see a specialist to figure out what the issue was. The doctor he went to, after a careful examination and tests run, came to the conclusion that the reason the opera singer could no longer sing the higher notes in his range was because the opera singer had gone deaf to those higher notes. He could no longer hear them. The specialist speculated that at the last performance the singer had done, he blew out part of his hearing that made him lose his sensitivity to those higher notes.
    Without the ability to hear those higher notes, the singer could not sing those higher notes. He could not sing what he could not hear.
    My sermon this morning comes from 1 Samuel 3. In this chapter, we see the Lord calling Samuel to be His prophet, but the call has a lot to say to us as well.
    Let’s look at verse 1, “Now the boy Samuel was attending to the service of the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was RARE in those days; visions were infrequent.” Right away, you’ll notice your first blank in your bulletin if you want to follow along. The word of the Lord was rare in those days.
    Now, this wasn’t too long after the time of the Judges, the men and women who God called to guide and direct and lead Israel. It was a time period when they saw God do amazing things and act miraculously to provide them with victory over their enemies. Yet not too long after that, the word of the Lord became rare.
    Rare is a word that means a lot here, and all of its meanings are true. It means that the word of the Lord was scarce, not common. It means that the word of the Lord was like a precious stone, a ruby, a sapphire, very valuable. It also means that the word of the Lord was weighty, it was very important, because it was so uncommon and valuable.
    David wrote this in Psalm 19:7-10 (NIV), “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous. They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.”
    David definitely had a way with beautiful words. What he reflected on here was the word of the Lord. He talks about many of the ways the word of the Lord is given: law, statutes, precepts, commands, fear, decrees. David’s psalm tells us that no matter how the word of the Lord comes about, His words are more precious than pure gold, and sweeter than honey straight from the honeycomb.
    Not much has changed, has it? The word of the Lord is still rare today. Still scarce and uncommon, but here’s the first point of Samuel’s story, and our story as well, even when God’s word is rare, He still SPEAKS, and His words still hold much VALUE. Your next two bulletin blanks are there as well.
    So, for those that hear His word, it’s clear that they will greatly benefit.
    Let’s look at verse 1 again, “Now the boy Samuel was attending to the service of the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was rare in those days; visions were infrequent.” I really like how the NIV phrases the first part of that verse, that “The boy Samuel MINISTERED before the Lord.” That’s your next blank there.
    Samuel ministered before the Lord. Samuel was already in the temple, with the priest Eli, doing the work of ministry. In those days, ministering in the temple was done through RITUALS, ceremonies, and traditions. The sacrifices that they made on different days throughout the year were ritual sacrifices and part of their ceremonies. They developed traditions around those sacrifice days, informed by the word of the Lord given to Moses.
    Now, those sacrifices were important, particularly the Day of Atonement, and that sacrifice day pointed to what Christ would do on the cross to reconcile us to God. But, this is what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:8-9 (NIV), “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
    He called them out for sticking to rituals, and ceremonies, and traditions, but being far from the Lord in their hearts. Now, the Pharisees were without excuse because they were adults and should have known better. Samuel was just a child, but he was already in a place where he was ministering in the temple before the Lord, going through the motions of the ceremonies and rituals and traditions, but verse 7 tells us this very important information, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”
    Samuel was going through all the motions, the rituals and ceremonies and traditions in the Lord’s temple, ministering, but he did not yet know the Lord. He had not yet heard the word of the Lord, or more likely, he hadn’t recognized the voice of the Lord as being the Lord’s.
    Here’s the point in this, that even if you’ve come from a Christian…whatever, background, home, even if you’ve grown up in church…it is possible to have never heard God speak, so we must be actively LISTENING.
    And really, the truth is that it’s not that some Christians have never heard God speak, it’s that they didn’t recognize that it was Him because they weren’t actively listening.
    1 Samuel 3:8-10, “So the Lord called Samuel again for the third time. And he got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. And Eli said to Samuel, “Go lie down, and it shall be if He calls you, that you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Then the Lord came and stood, and called as at the other times: “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for Your servant is LISTENING.” (NASB)
    That’s the goal, right? We want to be listening. We want to hear the Lord speak, and we want to recognize that it is Him speaking. How do we do that?
    We’re pretty familiar with 2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NASB), “and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and beneficial for teaching, for rebuke, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man or woman of God may be fully capable, equipped for every good work.”
    Here, Paul commends Timothy for knowing the Scriptures so well because, as Paul points out, the Scriptures lead to the wisdom of salvation through faith in Christ, and that all of Scripture is inspired by God and useful for anything so we are made capable and complete.
    The point Paul made to Timothy was that whatever we know about God and what He wants us to know about ourselves and the world we live in is revealed in God’s Word. Whatever we could hope to know about God’s character will ultimately be revealed through His Word. He reveals Himself through His word.
    One of the best ways we can listen to God is to listen to the Word He has given us.
    I want to read some startling statistics to you about the Bible and Christians. This is from a 2014 survey conducted that found that 79% of Americans consider the Bible sacred, whether they are Christians or not. So far so good. 88% of all Americans own at least one Bible, but the average is that each of us owns three! However, only 37% of Americans read their Bible even once a week. Only 15% of Americans read their Bible every day. 15%.
    A 2017 survey done by Lifeway Research, a Christian company, found that only 20% of Americans have ever read the whole Bible. Most have only read a few passages or a few stories.
    If the Bible is one of the primary ways that God tells us about Himself, tells us who He is, and only 15% of us read it every day, it’s no wonder that we have a hard time telling if we’ve heard God speak or not. Statistics say that most of us probably don’t even know what God’s voice sounds like. Statistics say that most of us don’t really know who God is or hears Him speak.
    That’s heart-breaking. We say that His Word is so precious, like gold or honey, that it’s how God speaks, but we are purposefully refusing to listen. We have to be actively listening. That means in His Word. Every. Single. Day. And that anytime we are unsure about anything in our lives, a situation at work, a financial problem, an issue in our marriages, the first thing we should be doing is going to the one book we know for a fact contains God’s words in it.
    Scripture reveals God. We must know it if we want to know God.
    How else do we listen?
    Hebrews 1:1, 2 (NASB), “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom He also made the world.”
    God, in these days, speaks to us through His Son. When Jesus spoke, it was God speaking. We know this and believe this, but are quick to disregard the words of Jesus when they convict us. But God speaks through Jesus. If we want to be able to recognize God’s voice, we must listen to Jesus.
    John 10:27-28 (NASB) says this as well, about the importance of knowing Jesus’ voice, “My sheep listen to My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
    Those who belong to Jesus listen to His voice. Every word. Not just the ones that make us feel good and warm, or fit with our pre-conceived ideas. Every word from Jesus must be heard and followed. His words reveal the Father. If we want to listen, we must know Jesus’ words.
    1 Corinthians 2:11-12 (NASB) is a similar passage, “For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God.”
    These are verses that have had a deeper impact for me recently. What Paul says to the church is that no one knows the thoughts of God, except the Spirit of God. That’s the Holy Spirit. We have, as disciples of Jesus, received the Spirit of God. Why? So that we may know the things given to us by God. God reveals His thoughts to us through His Spirit living in us.
    Does that not just blow your mind? God reveals His thoughts to us through His Spirit. This was how it worked with Jesus, who also Had the Spirit of God living in Him. The Spirit revealed to Jesus the mind of the Father, and so Jesus only spoke the words of the Father that the Spirit had given to Him. God wants to do the same with us, which is exactly why He gave us His Spirit.
    He wants to be talking to us all the time! He wants us to be constantly listening to Him as He reveals His thoughts to us. He desires for us to have the same closeness and intimacy with Him that Jesus had when He was in the flesh. If we want to be listening to the Lord, we must listen to the Spirit, when He becomes that voice that says, “No, you shouldn’t tell that lie. No, you shouldn’t watch that movie. You need to call your sister. You need to pray for that man you met at the store yesterday. You need to forgive your mother.” When He speaks, we must listen and follow. The more we follow when He speaks, the better we will be able to hear what He says.
    How else do we listen?
    Hebrews 2:2-4 (NIV), “For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.”
    When He speaks, He will confirm what He says. This passage gives us the humbling insight that He uses us, those who have heard Him, to confirm what He says to others. He uses the gifts the Spirit gave to us to confirm what He says to others. God even confirms what He says by signs, wonders, and various miracles.
    So, when you’ve heard that still, small voice, “Hey, I need you to tell that young person that Jesus loves them.” And you think, “What? God, is that you?” Check what you’ve heard. Does it line up with God’s character and heart in the Bible? Yes, Jesus does in fact love that young person. Yes, He does want that young person to know His love. Does it line up with Jesus’ words? Yes, Jesus told us that we are marked by our love. Has He confirmed this through others? Well maybe not right at that moment, but if you were able to ask another believer, they likely wouldn’t tell you that it’s against God’s character to tell someone about Jesus’ love for them. So, if you’ve gone through that checks and balances system for recognizing the voice of God, well, you might be hearing Him say something to you!
    These ways that He speaks to us that I’ve listed here, His Word, His Son, His Spirit, His gifts and words to others, when He’s really speaking to you, these will act as confirmation. He will assure you that He is in fact speaking. But again, when He’s speaking, you’re not going to pick up on all these confirmations if you’re not actively listening.
    We were made to be hear what He says. But, like the opera singer I told you about in the beginning of my sermon, we can’t sing a song if we can’t hear the notes. We can’t sing the song God wants us to sing with our lives if we can’t hear His melody. We can’t do what He wants us to do if we aren’t paying attention to His instructions. We can’t speak what He wants us to speak if we aren’t listening.
    Speak, for Your servant is listening.

This week, I want you to take these questions to the Lord. Sit down with Him, pull up an empty chair right in front of you if it helps. Ask Him these questions, and then sit and listen. When He speaks to your heart and your mind, be truthful with yourself about what He’s saying. Repent if He calls you to. Check it with the other ways He speaks, and when you’ve clearly heard Him, follow through.

1. How well do you think you hear God’s voice? Why do you think that is?

2. What sort of things in your life deafen you to God’s voice and keep you from listening?

3. What habits have you developed to keep you listening to Him all day? What habits can you create to help you listen better?

Resurrect (John 11:25-26)

    He is Risen!
    Happy Resurrection Sunday! It’s so good to see all of you today, I’m glad you’re here.
    Who needs some good news today? Good, because that’s what today is all about. It’s about good news. It’s about the best news, really.
    My message this morning is simple, straight from the Bible. I’m going to be in the gospel of John this morning. I’d love for you to join me in John 11:25-26 if you have a Bible with you this morning, or in a Bible app on your phone, or follow along with me on the screen.
    “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
    Jesus was speaking to His friend Martha. Martha was the brother of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. They had another sister, Mary, as well. Lazarus had been sick for a few days, so sick that by the time Jesus was able to go and see Lazarus, Lazarus was dead, and had already been buried in a tomb for four days.
    Mary and Martha were crushed, devastated, and deeply grieved that their brother was dead. Many people had come to comfort them. When Jesus arrived, Martha told Him that even as her brother was dead in the tomb, she believed that if Jesus asked God for something to be done, God would do it. Jesus told her that her brother Lazarus would rise from the dead.
    Martha’s answer was what I would call the “church” answer. It’s the answer you would except to get from someone who has gone to church their whole life and knows all the right things they’re supposed to say. She tells Jesus, “Yeah, I know, someday in the resurrection he’ll rise again.”
    And “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
    This part of the story has a really great ending, because Jesus really did raise Lazarus from the dead, and he was reunited with his sisters. But when Jesus said these words to Martha, He was talking about something more than bringing Lazarus back to life.
    His first statement to her was “I am the resurrection and the life;” What did He mean by that?
    When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”, He was saying that He is the source of both resurrection and life. When something or someone is resurrected, it means that they were once dead, and then came back to life. So what Jesus is saying here is that regardless of how someone has life, whether they were alive or dead and then brought back to life, Jesus was saying to Martha that He is where that life comes from.
    This is really important to us because, well…we’re alive! So we have to understand that we are alive because Jesus gives us life. The beginning of the book of John says that Jesus, because He is one with God, is the giver of life, the source of life. John wrote, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being.” John 1:3 So if you’re here today and you’re alive, it’s because The Lord, Jesus, has given you life. His breath is literally in your lungs.
    For many people, that’s as alive as they’ll ever get. They draw air and they have brain function, they walk around and have their days go by, and they are technically alive, but they do not have resurrected life.
    What’s the difference? Resurrected life is what you have when you’re dead and then come back to life. Maybe that doesn’t make sense just yet, but Jesus was talking about literally, physically dying and coming back to life. Jesus was talking about your spiritual life. Your spirit is eternal, see, and even after your physical body dies, your soul still exists.
    In Ephesians 2:1, the apostle Paul wrote that we were all spiritually dead. Each and every one of us. All of us. Even if you came from a family of Christians and you grew up going to church. No matter how many times you’ve come to church, or if you were baptized as a baby. Doesn’t matter how many classes you may have taken as a young child. Each and every one of us was spiritually dead. The apostle Paul also tells us that the reason we were spiritually dead is because of our disobedience and sin.
    Yep. All of us. Spiritually dead because of disobedience and sin. Paul goes on to say that anything that following anything that goes against God and God’s commands is what make us spiritually dead.
    Since we were spiritually dead, we need a way for our spiritual life to be resurrected, right? We need a way for that spirit that lives in us to come back to life. And Jesus told Martha that this resurrection of the spirit can only happen through Him. The only way you can ever be not dead in your spirit is through Jesus.
    So while all of us are physically alive, and that life is given to us by Jesus, all of us were also spiritually dead and could only have our spiritual lives resurrected, brought back to life through Jesus.
    Have you ever watched a commercial on TV or maybe even an ad online that tells you about something, some amazing product that just seems so incredible that you have a hard time believing it’s true? I know I have, and usually when I see those kinds of commercials and ads I think, “Wow, that sounds great, but what’s the catch? What’s the fine print?”
    Here’s the thing about the resurrected life that Jesus can give: even though He freely offers it, like a gift someone offers to you, you have to take it. You have to accept the gift of resurrected life. You have to ask Him to make you spiritually alive.
    Jesus also told Martha, “the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”
    The one who believes in Jesus will live. Not physically live, because we are already alive, but spiritually live. Whoever believes in Jesus will be spiritually alive. That resurrection He was talking about, if you believe in Him, He will bring your dead spirit back to life. That’s the “fine print” if you will, that’s the “catch”. It’s not really fine print though, because Jesus says it plainly and clearly. He wants us to be spiritually alive, not spiritually dead. He wants us to let Him resurrect our souls. The only thing we have to do is believe in Him.
    Believe in Him, He told Martha, and even if you die, you will live. Even if you die physically, your spirit will still be alive. Remember, our souls are eternal. Your soul, your spirit will end up somewhere forever. Jesus told Martha that if one believes in Him, that person will live forever. Their spirit will be alive forever, resurrected. No longer dead, but alive.
    I love these verses in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ,”
    Our souls were dead because of our wrongdoings, but Jesus resurrects our souls, brings the dead back to life, and gives our souls eternal life instead of eternal death! All we have to do is believe in Him. That’s what we have to do to take the free gift that He offers to us.
    Today is Resurrection Sunday. It’s the day we celebrate that when Jesus died on that Friday over 2,000 years ago, that wasn’t the end. He was dead, but He didn’t stay that way. He was resurrected on Sunday! He came back to life. He did that because He loves us deeply. He did that because He didn’t want us to continue to be physically alive but spiritually dead. He did that because He wanted to resurrect our spirits, just as He was resurrected. He did that because He didn’t want us to spend all of eternity with our souls away from God instead of with God. He did that because He wanted to give us life, in every way that we can have life.
    Jesus said one more thing to Martha in this conversation, before He raised Lazarus from the dead. After He told her He is the resurrection and the life, that those who believe in Him will live forever, He asked her a very important question. He said, “Do you believe this?”
    He is asking the exact same question of us this morning. Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is the one who gives life? Do you believe that you are spiritually dead because you have gone against what God has said? Do you believe that Jesus can bring your spirit back to life? Do you believe that God loves you? Do you believe He wants to make you spiritually alive? Do you believe this?
    That’s what all of this hangs on! Jesus can give you eternal life, Jesus can make it so you can walk and talk with God through the Holy Spirit, Jesus can resurrect your spirit so you are alive in every way possible, but you must believe this. Do you believe this?
    Romans 10:9 says “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;”
    Do you believe this?

Holy Week Devotions

 

MONDAY

 

TUESDAY

 

WEDNESDAY

 

THURSDAY

 

FRIDAY

 

SATURDAY

Seizing Jesus (Mark 14:49a)

    Very rarely, actually, I don’t think I’ve ever, preached a sermon on one verse. I’m very cautious to take into consideration the whole context of a passage so I’m not misinterpreting Scripture, but this one verse, actually it’s half a verse, the Lord keeps bringing to the forefront of my mind over and over again the last three weeks. Indeed, it’s tied to an insight that He gave me two months ago that He just keeps bringing up, and I keep telling Him, “Okay, Lord, I know, I got it!” But then He told me to preach it.
    We have a dog, our family. She’s a nine-month old Great Dane, still in very many ways, a puppy. She loves to get up off her bed next to the couch and go and sneakily grab the kids’ stuffed animals that they leave lying around the house. She loves stuffed animals. She loves to cuddle with them and chew on them and eventually rip them open and pull all the stuffing out of them and mangle them until you no longer recognize what that stuffed animal was. When given the choice between a stuffed animal and any other toy she has, she will always go for the stuffed animal first! And if you ever try to take a stuffed animal away from her, once she has it in her mouth, takes the strength of Samson to get it out of her grip. She WILL NOT let that stuffed animal go!
    I’m going to be in Mark 14 today, the first part of verse 49. You can find it in your bulletins as well as your Bible or on the screen, “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me;”
    I’ll be the first to admit that it seems a strange choice for the celebration and jubilation surrounding Palm Sunday. I don’t want to ignore the context of the passage either which is still important even though our focus is only on half of a verse. This verse is in the midst of Jesus’ arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane. He had prayed fervently while the Disciples slept, and then Judas came with the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, verse 43 tells us.
    They came to arrest Jesus, and He told them the words from the verse I just read, getting them to try to examine why they were arresting Him then, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a garden, without charges. Why not arrest Him in broad daylight in front of witnesses? He knew it had to happen that way to fulfill Scripture, but He wanted them to understand that what they were doing was wrong and it went against their own laws and traditions.
    They arrested Him anyway, and that arrest would lead to His crucifixion.
    That’s the context of the passage. But, the Spirit keeps speaking this verse to me, this half of a verse, and using other passages in my quiet times and in my conversations with other Christ-centered believers, to confirm what He has been saying in this half of a verse. In fact, this sermon started originally as talking about who Jesus is revealed to be through the story of what we call Holy Week, the time between Palm Sunday and Easter or Resurrection Sunday. But again, He brought me back to this, “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me;”
    What does it mean that Jesus was with them. Who are they? Those seem like easy questions, but let’s really examine it and pull it apart. Jesus was with them, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. They were the ones that had come to arrest Him, and Jesus called them out on not arresting Him in the daytime in front of others. He wanted them to examine their motives, and question their actions.
    But, there’s another level here. Jesus was also with His disciples every day as He was teaching in the temple. It wasn’t just the priests and scribes and elders, it was the Disciples too. In fact, the Disciples were rarely out of His presence for three years! They ate together, and walked together, and ministered together, and cried together. They saw Him turn water to wine, they saw Him multiply loaves and fish, they saw Him heal the sick and make the blind see and make the lame walk, they saw Him raise people from the dead—not just once, three of them even saw Him transfigured and shining in all His radiant glory giving them just a glimpse of His heavenly form. They had been with Him nearly every minute of every day. He was always with them.
    As I read this verse, “Every day I was with you,” He reminded me that He is still always with us. Isaiah 41:10, one of my very favorite verses, “Do not fear, for I am with you;” Joshua 1:9, “Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you.”
    And so we don’t just think that this was an Old Testament concept, but rather understand that this is a truth that holds true for all seekers of God of all time, Matthew 28:20, Jesus told His disciples, “teach them to observe all that I commanded you; and I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” Hebrews 13:5, “for He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.’”
    And here’s where the connection with our half of a verse today grows even stronger. Jesus said, “Every day I was with you in the temple…” 1 Corinthians 3:16 says, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” And John 14:16-17, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth,”
    If you have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, the very Spirit of God lives in you, and is with you forever, because you are His temple. So quite literally, Jesus is reminding us with His own words this morning, “Every day I am with you in the temple…” Every day He is with you in His temple, you.
    “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching,”
    I was thinking about that word, teaching, and looking through the rest of Scripture at passages where Jesus had crowds gathered around Him and He was teaching them the Scriptures and truth about the Kingdom of God, and there’s one thing that kept coming up when He was teaching, was that the people He was teaching were amazed! They were astonished at what He was teaching. One time, Jesus was teaching and they said, “Who is this, who teaches with such authority as though speaking directly from God?” Even after He was crucified, Luke gives us the account of two men who were walking and pondering about this man who had been crucified and about how when He taught the Scriptures to them, their hearts burned within them. When He teaches, people are amazed.
    Even now, when He speaks something through His Word that pierces our hearts, makes our hearts burn with holy fire, we are amazed! We sometimes think, “Oh wow, I’d never thought about this verse like that.” Or, “Oh, I didn’t realize that before.” “I never knew that before.” And sometimes it really sinks in, like it did for the two men whose hearts burned within them.
    And sometimes we are like the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, we hear the teaching of Jesus, we know the teaching of Jesus…and that’s it. That’s as far as it goes.
    “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me;”
    I was going to look at the qualities of Jesus that we learn about through Holy Week today, that we learn that He is our SAVIOR, your first blank in your bulletin, that He is our defender, that He is our burden-bearer, that He is our RESURRECTION, your next blank, that He is our King, that He is our LORD, your last blank in your bulletins, that He is our judge, that He is our intercessor, that He is our healer.
    All those things are true about who Jesus is. All of those qualities, and so many more, are so good, and He is so worthy of all the praise and honor and glory that we can ever give Him because of all those qualities.
    That’s all great. All these things He does for us…all these qualities that He possesses are great, but at the end of the day, He wants us to want Him just because He is.
    Is what, Pastor Alanna?
    Just…is.
    What was the Name He gave to Moses?
    I Am.
    In fact, in Mark 14:61-63, when the High Priest questioned Jesus after He had been arrested, the High Priest asked Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus’ response was, “I Am.” And the High Priest took that as blasphemy because of the Name God gave to Moses; the High Priest understood that Jesus wasn’t just saying He is the Christ, He was saying He is one with God.
    For everything that He is, and everything that He does, this is the Name He gave because He wanted us to understand that what is important is seeking Him, not for what He can do or any of His characteristics, but just to seek Him.
    “Every day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me;”
    He wants us to seize Him. I like this definition of seize: to “take (an opportunity or initiative) eagerly and decisively.” He wants us to take a hold of Him eagerly and decisively. He wants us to take a hold of Him like we’ve found something so valuable that there’s no way we could ever let Him go. Like my Great Dane puppy and her stuffed animals, when she gets her teeth sunk into a stuffed animal, she’ll never let go. He wants us to seize Him like that, like He’s all we could ever possibly want and need and we are never going to let go.
    He doesn’t want us to come to the end of our days and find that every day He was with us, teaching us, and we didn’t truly seize Him.

This week, as you spend time with the Lord, as you go through your week, as you come to church, as you pray, I want you to ask yourself one question: Do you want Jesus?
    Do you want Jesus, just because you love Him? Without all that He’s done or will do, do you just want Him because He is? Is He enough when you come to church, without the music and the lights and the fellowship and the coffee and all the things being just the way you think they should? Do you want Jesus?

Like a Little Child (Matthew 18:1-5; Mark 10:13-16)

Guest Preacher: Allison Storch

Wake Up! (Matthew 26:36-46)

    Easter is three weeks away, the day when Christian churches across the world celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. As we move closer to Easter, we start to think more about the week leading up to Jesus’s suffering, and the brutal crucifixion He submitted to, the sacrifice He made for us and the price He paid to forgive our sins once and for all. We start thinking about how God had been pointing to this act of salvation since humanity’s first sin and the fall of man, how He told the serpent, the Deceiver, our enemy Satan what was coming one day, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all the livestock, And more than any animal of the field; On your belly you shall go, And dust you shall eat All the days of your life; And I will make enemies Of you and the woman, And of your offspring and her Descendant; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise Him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15).
    We start reflecting more deeply on what His sacrifice means for us: salvation from sins, freedom from things that make us slaves, a new life full of joy and peace, power to be a part of others being set free from sin as well. We spend these weeks remembering why we gave our hearts to Jesus.
    This morning, we’ll look back and remember Jesus’s time of sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane. I’ll be in Matthew 26:36-46 and I’d love for you to follow along with me in your Bible, in whatever way you can.
    Jesus and the Disciples had just a few days before, on what we now call Palm Sunday, entered into Jerusalem. Jesus had been greeted with honor as he entered the city; they shouted “Hosanna” and called Him the Son of David, which in some ways recognized Him as the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. They laid palm branches down before Him, symbolizing victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life, all things that Jesus would bring.
    He celebrated the Passover meal, which we now call the Last Supper, and He celebrated with His disciples, even as He knew that one of them would betray Him. Jesus predicted Peter’s denial of Him as well, and still shared His last meal with Him, seeing that Peter was worthy in the Father’s eyes. Our message this morning picks up when the meal was finished.
    “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and told His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with Him, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, so that you do not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away unless I drink from it, Your will be done.” Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let’s go; behold, the one who is betraying Me is near!” (Matthew 26:36-46).
    Jesus knew what was to come. He knew the suffering He would endure; He knew the physical pain He would face; He knew the spiritual agony He would go through as He would be separated from the Father when He bore all the sins of the world; He knew the betrayal and denial. So He faced it the best way He knew: talking to the Father, seeking the will of God, listening to the Spirit.
    This says a lot about what we should do in difficult circumstances, we should take it to God first and foremost and frequently. But I want to talk this morning about the disciples and what Jesus asked them to do as He went and prayed.
    He took all the disciples with Him, but only three, His closest disciples: James, John, and Peter, went with Him deeper into the garden. He has spent three years with these three men, they had seen Him transfigured on the mountaintop and got to see the glory of the Lord shine on Him. He trusted these men, and trusted them enough to ask them to do something really important as He prayed. He said, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”
    Keep watch with Me. The Greek says, “Be on alert; be fully awake.” They had come to the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives. It was called the Mount of Olives not only for the olive trees that had grown there for decade, but also because it was the place where they pressed the olives to extract the precious oil from them. It wasn’t an accident that Jesus chose this place because He knew He was about to be pressed. Just like the olives that were pressed there, He knew He would be pressed, but He also knew that what would result from that pressing would be something precious: salvation for mankind.
    He told Peter, John, and James to keep watch with Him because they were about to be pressed as well. They would be pushed to the limits of their faith and their belief. They’d have questions and doubts. They would even be afraid for their lives at one point. Their pressing though, it would lead to the building of the church with Peter, James, and John as the ones who would be the first leaders of that church.
    This passage invites us, as disciples of Jesus, to hear Jesus’ words as words to us. Keep watch with Him. Be on alert. Be fully awake. Know that as you walk with the Lord you will be pressed. In fact, I can say with almost certainty from the example of Scripture and the example of my own life, the closer you draw near to God, the more you can expect to get pressed, because our enemy cannot stand us getting closer to God. He doesn’t want it, and since he has free rein on the world right now, he will try to press us anyway he can. He’ll tempt you to sin, and if that doesn’t work, he’ll attack your family, your job, your purpose, your home, your friends…anything he can think of to discourage you and distract you from walking with the Lord more closely.
    Being pressed though, is good. On the other side of Jesus’ pressing was the resurrection and the defeat of sin! When we go through being pressed, we know that when the pressing is done, what is produced in us will give God glory and be more precious than any other treasure.
    Keep watch with Him. Be on alert. Be fully awake. Understand that you will be pressed, but we do have this promise that keeps us from being discouraged, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Keep watch, because you will be PRESSED.
    Jesus went on alone from there and prayed, knowing what was coming, and asked the Father if there was any way the cup, which was the cup of God’s wrath to be poured out on Him as He bore the sins of the world, Jesus wanted to know if there was any way He could be spared. But, He submitted to the Father’s will. Even though He knew what was coming, He submitted to God’s plan. There’s another sermon there too, isn’t there, about obedience and surrender, even in the face of terrible suffering?
    “And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and He said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, so that you do not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41).
    Jesus came back to find the three men fast asleep. He got onto them for not watching like He had asked, like He trusted them to do, but I want you to notice that He was demanding a lot: the disciples would have been exhausted from all the events of that week and the preparation that had gone into the Passover meal. They needed rest. He asked a lot, but He did not automatically tell them, “Okay, you failed, so I’m not going to give you this important task anymore.” This tells us a lot about how Jesus deals with us, too.
    He asks a lot, yes, but when we fail or don’t meet His demands, He doesn’t just give up on us. He corrects us and asks us to keep picking up our cross and following Him.
    He told the Peter, James, and John again, “Keep watching and praying, so that you do not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Keep watching and praying. Why? So you do not come into temptation.
    Temptation is different than being pressed. Being pressed can and will happen even if there is no temptation to sin. You can put it this way: temptation is always pressing, but being pressed isn’t always through temptation.
    Jesus wants His disciples, including us, to keep watch, to keep praying so we can stand against temptation. Ephesians 6 tells us that prayer is the key to using the Armor of God that He has given us to stand against the flaming arrows of the evil one. Prayer is how we use those pieces of Armor. So Jesus reminds His disciples, watch and pray, so you are not TEMPTED.
    Jesus went back into the Garden and prayed again for God’s cup of wrath to be removed from Him, but He submitted to the Father’s will. This time, it’s a lesson in persevering through prayer.
    “Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let’s go; behold, the one who is betraying Me is near!” (Matthew 26:43-46).
    A second time he found them sleeping, and let them sleep. He went and prayed a third time and came back to the disciples a third time. He woke them up and let them know that the time had come, the hour was at hand, and it was time for Jesus’ suffering that would lead to His death to begin.
    Not keep watch this time, not pray, but wake up! You’ve been asleep too long, He told His disciples. Time to wake up, time to prepare, time to work. Jesus knew His death was near, but you know what? That also meant that the Kingdom of God was at hand! God’s Spirit was soon to be given to those who put their faith in Jesus, enabling them to live for the purpose of the Kingdom here and now as well as waiting for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to come some day. This was one of the things Jesus told the disciples to pray for, to pray, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The time had come for that to begin to be a realization.
    Wake up! You’ve been asleep too long. Time to prepare. Time to go to work.
    “Reigning as Lord of the universe, He does not depend on our support…; but is it possible that Matthew still intends us to hear the plaintive cry of the Lord of harvest in this narrative? The burden of His (God’s) heart remains the mission of the world’s redemption, yet He continues to cry out to a sleeping church governed by other agendas.”
    That’ll preach! Amen?
    What this commentary is saying is that God doesn’t need our help to see the world saved. He is the one who does the saving, isn’t He? He is the one who convicts and calls us to come to Him. He doesn’t need us. Romans says that if we don’t share the gospel, even the rocks will cry out, and Paul also adds that all of creation declares who God is so we are without excuse. If He is mighty, powerful enough to use rocks, He doesn’t need us. But, He has chosen in these times to use His body to be the primary way He works through. We are Plan A. I want you to say that, “We are Plan A.”
    The burden of His heart is to see the world saved, redeemed, through Jesus’ shed blood. Since He has chosen to use us to help with that, He continues to cry out to us, church, “Wake up! Keep watch! Pray! Pay attention! It’s time to prepare. It’s time to take in the harvest.”
    Remember when Jesus told the disciples to pray for workers because the harvest was plentiful, but the workers were few? We are the workers. We are the harvesters. But most of us are sleeping. Wake up!
    Paul wrote much the same thing to the church in Ephesus who was later convicted of forgetting their love for the Lord, “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14).
    Wake up and LOOK for opportunities to join Him in His work. What are those ways?
    1. Make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)
    2. Pray (um…the whole Bible!)
    3. Reap the harvest (Matthew 9:36-38)
He wants us to surrender, to wake up and listen and look for these opportunities and to stop falling asleep, stop looking away in other directions, stop being distracted.
    Keep watch, you will be pressed. Keep watch and pray, so you are not tempted. Wake up, and look for opportunities to join Him in His work.

1. Are you currently being pressed? If so, great! Consider what James 1:2-4 says about being pressed. If you cannot identify areas in your life where you are being pressed, is it because you need to wake up?

2. Read Ephesians 6:10-18 about the Armor of God. What is each piece? What is the importance of those pieces of Armor to you? How has that Armor helped you stand firm against temptation?

3. What opportunities do you have right now to partner with the Spirit in His work? What is He asking you to do to make disciples, to pray, and to join the harvest? This week, write one specific thing you can do to do Kingdom work.

 

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