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Los Lunas Cornerstone

Church of the Nazarene

Love [Obey] (1 John 2:9-11)

    It is difficult, if not impossible to imagine that Christians who know Jesus’ command to love each other would openly advocate and practice hatred for other Christians. Yet that is exactly what had happened in the church, even as early as when John wrote this letter to Christians in general.
    It would be really great if we could say now, in our long tradition of being God’s people that this was not still a problem…but it is. Let me give you an example.
    There’s a particular Bible study writer that I really love. She’s great, and I love her studies, not because she’s well-known in Christian circles, but because every time I have done one of her studies, her insight into God’s word is always doctrinally sound, and has challenged incredible growth in my spirit. She has had a very successful ministry, and she’s one of the few big names in Christian teaching and preaching that I see has kept a heart of true and genuine Christian love and humility in her ministry.
    Now, she has only ever said that her ministry is a woman’s ministry, by a woman, for other women. She has never assumed to preach or teach over men, because the denomination that she belonged to for most of her ministry doesn’t allow it. So she ministered to women.
    However, her teachings and her studies are so powerfully life-changing, that many in that denomination, as well as other traditions and denominations of Christianity, used her studies to teach even groups of men. She never set out for that to happen, but it did because the Spirit truly works through her and has given her an amazing gift! I have personally experienced how the Spirit has used her gifts to heal me and change me, and to heal and change others.
    But then she gave a message during a Sunday morning church service on a Mother’s Day about abuse in the church and by those in power in general in the United States. She was labelled a “heretic” for even daring to speak on a Sunday morning in church. Just so we’re clear, her message wasn’t wrong or unbiblical in any way, and she certainly isn’t a heretic for preaching on a Sunday morning. She was daring and as always, true to the Word of God and calling out sin in the church in a loving and truthful way.
    Not only was she called a heretic, but another in her denomination said she was a threat to the denomination…not to biblical Christianity, but to that denomination. Another told her to “Go Home” where she belonged. She called out people who were, in the apostle Paul’s words, “not in step with the gospel”, and was black-listed in her denomination.
    Her later departure from that denomination was the result of the hatred that she received mostly from her brothers in Christ when she dared to live radically for Jesus and in step with the gospel.
    Clearly, the problem John addressed of Christians hating other Christians is one that is still showing its ugliness.
    Let’s look at God’s word then today, “The one who says that he is in the Light and yet hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother and sister remains in the Light, and there is nothing in him to cause stumbling. 11 But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11, NASB)
    Have you noticed yet that in this letter John uses a lot of very strong contrasts? Light/Dark, Love/Hate, Truth/Lies. John seems to think in very black and white terms when it comes to the spiritual walk of Christians. Can a personal walk with Jesus really be so black and white and absolute? Doesn’t that seem a little…narrow-minded?
    Well, no, actually, it’s not! John understood a very important truth about God that we need to know as well, it’s this truth that he has already stated in 1 John 1:5, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (NASB) In God there is only light, no darkness at all. So then John adds this to our understanding of a personal relationship with Jesus from verse 6, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;” (NASB) We are reminded that fellowship with God really is more black and white than the world feels comfortable with. If we are to be in fellowship with God, we cannot be in darkness.
    Anything that is of the darkness, the other contrasts that John talks about: lies and hate, we cannot be a part of those either. In our passage for today, John zeroes in on hate in particular. Let’s talk about hate, and all that John says about hate here.
    To talk about hate, we must first talk about love. The word John uses in these passages is the ever famous AGAPE. Just a reminder that in Biblical language, especially New Testament Greek, there are different words for different types of love. Eros is romantic, physical love, often associated with lust and sex; storge is love for things or ideas; phileo is friendly, brotherly love. The love John says we ought to have for our brothers and sisters is agape. It’s the same love God has for us. This is how we define agape love: selfless, purposeful, outgoing attitude that desires to do good to the one loved.
    That’s everything that we know about God’s love for us, isn’t it? He is selfless in His love. His love is purposeful. His actions toward us show that He desires to do good to us. That is the same love that we learned last week, the love that Jesus has for us that we are to have for others.
    John says in today’s passage, specifically, our brothers and sisters. Who are our brothers and sisters? Is that different than your neighbor? Yes, and no. Any time we encounter the words “brothers and sisters” in the New Testament, it is always used to speak about other believers, other Christians, others in the body of Christ, the church. That doesn’t mean that John is saying we should only love other believers. After all, he had just brought to the minds of his readers Jesus’ command to love your neighbor, which means everyone! But for John, he understood that Christian love is first of all for other believers.
    Why? Because of our unity in Christ. We have, at the core of who we are, one faith, one belief, one God and Father, one baptism, one Spirit, etc. So if we can’t figure out how to love other believers, with this unity at our core, we’ll never be able to figure out how to love others who we do not have this common bond with.
    Love then should start with God, then flow out from us toward others believers, and then for those in the world. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12 Paul says something similar, “and may the Lord cause you to increase and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you;” and again in Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let’s do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (NASB)
    Love isn’t only for one group or the other, it’s both and especially to believers as an example of our unity in Christ.
    Since we have this command to love others, to love our brothers and sisters, and we understand that to be selfless, purposeful, outgoing attitudes that desire to do good to the one we love, the lack of love, the opposite of love, is not just neutral indifference. It’s not saying that we just kind of don’t care about them. Lack of love, or the opposite of love is hate! The theologian Brooke Westcott put it like this, “Indifference is impossible. There is no twilight in this spiritual world.”
    That seems strong, but it is true. We need to understand hate this way: that it’s not about “feelings”, but our intentions and actions to live in peace and unity together. What John is saying is that if we don’t act out of an intention to live in peace and unity with our brothers and sisters, we aren’t loving them, we are actively hating them. Again, that’s because God is light and there is no darkness in Him, so if we are in Him, we are in the light, and there must be no darkness in us.
    When we hate, that is an activity of the darkness. When we are not loving with that agape love, that is an activity of the darkness. Darkness is the word SKOTIA. It means that you have a moral insensitivity to the divine light, the light of God. That means when you are faced with the truth of what is good and evil, when you start to know what good is and that God wants us to do what is good, you just don’t care. In 1 John 4:8, John says that God is love. Love is an attribute of His divine light. So to not love, to hate, is an act of the dark.
    John continues in 1 John 2:10, “The one who loves his brother and sister remains in the Light, and there is nothing in him to cause stumbling.” When John talks about stumbling, he’s speaking about falling into sin. When we are selflessly, purposefully, actively desiring to do good to our brothers and sisters, and truly loving them, we are walking in the light, and staying in that state of loving our brothers and sisters will keep us from sinning in those relationships.
    Think about the example I gave you of the well-known Bible teacher and what others in her denomination said about her. If they had been walking in the light, guided by a selfless, purposeful, attitude that desired to do good to her, would they have said any of those things about her? No! But they weren’t allowing themselves to be guided by this agape love, and the result was sin against their sister in Christ. Keeping agape love as the guide in all our actions with other believers will keep us from sinning against that brother or sister.
    I asked a question in your bulletin I want us to answer together. Who is kept from stumbling or falling into sin by loving our brothers and sisters? I want you to write ME. You are kept from sinning against your brothers and sisters in Christ if you let agape love be your guide.
    The last verse of this passage we’re looking at is 1 John 2:11, “But the one who hates his brother or sister is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (NASB)
    When we walk in hate, and by hating we are living in darkness, that darkness, John says, blinds us. What does it blind us to? Hate and darkness blinds us to the image of God that in our brothers and sisters. It blinds us from seeing their gifts of the Spirit. It blinds us from seeing then the way God sees them. It blinds us from seeing the unity we have in Christ.
    Ultimately, what hatred does is it causes disunity in the body. It tears the body of Christ apart! Romans 12:9 helps us with this, “Love must be honest and true. Hate what is evil. Hold on to what is good.” (NIRV) Paul tells us here that we are to hold on to what is good. The word uses there for “hold” is the same word that we translate as “unity” in other places. The idea is that we are to be one with what is good, and be against, be separate and in disunity from what is evil. This is how we understand that if we are not being in unity with what is good, then we are actually in unity with what is evil. If we are not in unity with Light, then we are in unity with darkness. If we are not in unity with love, then we are in unity with hate. We cannot be in unity with both extremes at the same time. So hate, causes disunity in the body that is trying to be in the love of God.
    We come back to John’s main point. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Love them with agape love, selfless, purposeful, outgoing attitudes that desire to do good to the ones we love. Work always toward the keeping the unity of our fellowship. After all, who really loves their brother or sister? The one who stays in unity of fellowship, or the one causes disunity in some way through not letting agape love be their guide?

1. Grow Up with God: See what Jesus has to say about avoiding stumbling in John 11:9-10 and 16:1. How does this relate to 1 John 2:9-10?
2. Grow Deeper with the Body: Is any current or past hatred or unforgiveness toward someone in the church blinding you? If so, confess it, forgive, and be forgiven.
3. Go Out: Is there a pre-Christian in your life whom you are failing to love, not because you hate them emotionally, but because you just don’t care? How can you love that person more actively?

Obey [Love] (1 John 2:3-8)

    Do you ever wonder whether you really know God? How do you know that you know Him, and not just know about Him? How can you be sure that you do?
    Let me add more to this idea of knowing God before we start to try to understand what that means better. The apostle John uses the word “know” in the passage that we’re going to look at today in two different ways, both at the same time. First, to “know” is intellectual, it’s a fact or truth that you know in your head. Second, to “know” is a deeper conviction that has sunk into who you are so that it consistently affects your thoughts, words, and actions. This second sense of the word “know” is intimate and based on personal experience. It’s the same kind of “know” that is talked about in Genesis 4:1 that existed between Adam and Eve, and in Amos 3:2 it’s the same way God describes His covenant with His people.
    So how do we really know that we know God, in this deep, intimate, covenant type way that consistently affects our thoughts and actions?
    Let’s look at our passage this morning, from 1 John 2:3-8, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever follows His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says that he remains in Him ought, himself also, walk just as He walked. 7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.” (NASB)
    Quite simply, John says that we can know that we have come to know God if we keep His commands. Simple enough, and easy to remember, right? It really is! I want us to really dig in here though, to understand fully why it is that our obedience to God, keeping His commands, is a sign of our knowing Him in an intimate and deep, truly whole-life way.
    Obviously we don’t want to be the kind of person described in verse 4, the one who says that they know God but is actually a liar because they don’t follow His commands. This isn’t a warning against Christians who sometimes sin and don’t always walk with God perfectly, this is a warning to any Christian who thinks that they can have a relationship with God, can say that they love God, but doesn’t think that they have to obey what God has said. John calls these kinds of “Christians” liars.
    But, He says in verse 5, whoever follows His word, in that person the love of God has been perfected. This is the kind of person we want to be, right, church? We want to be the kind of person that has the complete love of God in us, living in us, working in us and through us and for us.
    We want to be this kind of Christian. Go back to my opening question then, “How do you know that you know Him, and not just know about Him?” John says those who know Him will obey His commands, but in verse 5 he also adds that those who are in God will walk as He walked.
    Okay. Let’s get this straight in our minds. If I want to know that I know God in a deep way, really know Him, all I have to do is obey His commands and walk like Jesus, right?
    No. What John is saying here isn’t a checklist for knowing God. It’s not like I make a little to-do list for knowing God and item 1 is keeping His commands and item 2 is walking like Jesus, and then I will know God.
    Rather, it’s like this: I gave my life to Jesus and I am forgiven, but sometimes I still don’t get it “right”, so then I start to doubt a little. Do I really know God? Do I really have a relationship with Jesus? So I examine my life. Do I obey God’s commands to the point that it shapes my life as a whole? Yes! My life has been greatly shaped by God’s commands! Do I walk with Jesus in such a way that His truth, love, and righteousness has shaped my character and behavior? Yes! My character is much more like Christ than it was when I first gave my life to Jesus almost 30 years ago! The same can be said about my behavior and my thoughts.
    Obedience to God’s commands and walking like Jesus aren’t check-list items, they’re check-in items. They are evidence of knowing God, not things to do to know God. If I know God, if He is in me, working in me, then I will be obedient to His commands and walk like Jesus and those actions, words, and thoughts will be clearly seen in my life as a whole.
    In fact, this is what John says about obedience to God’s commands and walking like Jesus as evidence of knowing God, in verse 5 he says, “in him [the person who is obedient and walking like Jesus] the love of God has truly been perfected.” Other translations use the word “complete”. And it’s not that our love is perfect or complete, but that when we see obedience to God’s commands in our life and we see that we are walking like Jesus, not only do we know that we truly know God, but we also know that God’s love has become complete in us. Obedience to God’s commands and walking like Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s love living in us! I just want to really emphasize that point again, obedience to God’s commands and walking like Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s love living in us!
    Then John says this, in verses 7-8 which is where I want to spend the rest of our time, “7 Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.”
    John says that this idea of obeying God and walking like Jesus being the sign of truly knowing God, Him truly being in us, is both an old commandment and a new commandment.
    Here’s the old commandment John is talking about: “Hear, Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! 5 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 And you shall repeat them diligently to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk on the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. 8 You shall also tie them as a sign to your hand, and they shall be as frontlets on your forehead. 9 You shall also write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
    This was and still is called the “Shema”. Literally, it means “Hear”, because the passage starts with the word “hear”, “shema”. This old commandment was to all of Israel, to hear who God is, what He’s like, and to respond to His love with your whole being, and teach others to do the same. They would, and many still do, repeat these verses to themselves every day, especially the first two verses.
    Here’s what I really love about the “Shema”. The word “hear” or “shema” doesn’t just mean hear or listen by receiving auditory input. It’s not just, “Hey, listen to this,”. The “Shema” came with an expectation, and all the Jewish people knew this. The expectation was that you not only receive what is heard, but then because you had heard it, and it is true, you had the responsibility to act on it, and by not acting on it, you did not in fact actually hear it the way you should.
    This connection throughout the Old Testament between hearing and doing or listening and loving is very clearly seen. In Job 36:12, one of Job’s friends said this about God’s commands, “But if they do not listen, they will perish by the sword, And die without knowledge.” And here is the idea when he uses the word “listen” that this isn’t just the sense of hearing something with your ears, but rather that there is an expectation to do what has been said.
    Think about it this way. Our kids have certain set expectations. They know what is expected of them at home, and at school, and here at church. We remind them of those expectations when needed, and it usually goes something like this, “I need you to listen to what I’m saying to you right now. I expect…x…y…and z.” And when we use that word “listen” it’s not just “hear” it’s “hear and do”. Action is expected as part of the word “hear” or “listen”. So much so that we don’t even say that action is expected, it’s an unspoken expectation because it’s so much a part of the word “listen”.
    Hearing God’s commands comes with the EXPECTATION that you will obey them!
    The “Shema” goes on to say that the command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. We are to love God with every fiber of our being.
    We could read the “Shema” more literally by saying this, “Hear, obey by loving God with everything you are.”
    John adds the new commandment to it as well, which we can see in Matthew 22:34-40, “But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him: 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”
    This passage repeats the “Shema” that the Jewish community was so familiar with, but adds to it that we should also love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus said that the whole Law and the Prophets hang upon these two commands. The old command is to hear (obey) by loving God with everything you are, and the new command is to love all others as you love yourself!
    Jesus explained this love for all others in even greater detail to really make sure we understood it in John 13:34, “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
    The old commandment is to hear (obey) by loving God with everything you are and the new commandment is to love all others as JESUS has loved you!
    You have heard this. This is the Word of the Lord. Hearing it comes with the expectation that you will love in this way.
    Remember I had you cross off that checklist of things to do if you want to know God. What then should we do? Love Him with everything we are and love others as He has loved us. Prayer, worship, time spent with Him are all expressions of our love for Him, and as we love Him in these ways, and teach others to do the same, we will see obedience and walking like Jesus become the signs that we really do know God and we really do love Him.

1. Grow Up with God: What specific ways have you seen obedience of God’s commands and walking like Jesus as signs in your life of your love for God?

2. Go Deeper with the Body: How is the truth of the new command (love all others as Jesus has loved you) seen in you towards others in the church?

3. Go Out: How can you help a pre-Christian in your life to move from knowing about God to truly knowing God?

Be in the Light (1 John 1:5-2:2)

    I read an interesting and sobering article this week, an insight article called “Pastors and Churches Face Historic Lack of Trust”. It was published by Lifeway research based on a Gallup poll and written by Aaron Earls, and as the research statistics from this article show in the article, and as Aaron Earls claims, “Americans increasingly don’t trust the church or pastors, as confidence and trust levels have eroded to historic lows for both.”
    The research looks yearly at the confidence levels in institutions, such as the church or organized religion, small businesses, military, government, medical systems, police, etc. Here’s the startling statistics and bad news for pastors, me, and churches, you, us: only 31% of Americans say that they have quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in the church or organized religion. Only 37% say they have some confidence in the church. 29% have very little confidence in the church. 2% have no confidence at all in the church.
    Even more startling to me is that adults in the 18 to 34 age group expressed that only 26% of them had confidence in the church, compared to the average 31%; and adults in my age bracket 35 to 54 only have 27% confidence in the church compared to that same average of 31%. That means that those in the youngest demographics of adults in this nation, those who are currently making decisions and raising children who will one day make decisions, only about a quarter of them trust the church.
    It’s not much better for pastors. 36% trust that pastors are honest and ethical, but 48% think we are only just a little trustworthy, honest, and ethical. 14% says they have no confidence in pastors or clergy at all. Again, in those younger demographics, those percentages are worse than the average.
    The bad news for you and me is that over the last 20 years, your average American trusts us less and less each year. Trusts the church, us, less and less.
    Why? Well, I’m sure that answer is full of valid explanations that are all very nuanced. It is true that society is moving away from traditionally held values and beliefs that the church still holds on to. It is true that people are looking to fill their “spirituality” quota with more Eastern type spirituality teachings that promote truth of the self and inner light. It is true that society is declining because of an increasing lack of morality and ethics. It is true that more people are calling what is clearly wrong, “right”. All of this is true, and we are wise to know this. But the foolish person would look at all of these and just blame the world and that’s how it is.
    A wise person looks at all these reasons for a lack of trust in the church and asks, “What can I do to change this?” Because the wise person knows that we cannot just withdraw out of the world completely, that we have been given a mission to make disciples of Christ, and so we must be in the world and working actively to bring people to a deeper relationship with Christ. So we have to change the perception. We have to change these numbers, and no, it’s not a lost cause because we are still here so our mission isn’t over yet. So again, the question, “What can I do to change this?” It seems like a tall order, an impossible task to change the minds of America…maybe it is…but we must try.
    Let’s look at 1 John this morning to help us with this, 1 John 1:5-2:2, “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. 2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (NIV)
    Last week we saw the importance of our testimony, of being ready at all times to share about the personal experience we’ve had with Jesus. Through our story, we get the opportunity to share with others what Jesus has done and who He is. But, as we’ve seen through the article I shared, there is some sort of disconnect between what we think we’re portraying to others as a church, and what those in the world actually see when it comes to having confidence in us!
    God is light. That’s the first thing that is said in this passage we’re looking at. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. In order for us to gain confidence with others who don’t know God, we have to really know who He is and have a relationship with Him. God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.
    What does that mean that God is light? Light in the Bible is associated with truth, with purity, with righteousness, with good, with life. To say that God is light is to say that God is truth, pure, righteous, good, and life. All of those things are true.
    Darkness then is the absence of all those things, or even in many cases, the opposite. Darkness is lies, impurity, immorality, evil, and death. It’s important for us to understand these two words and what they symbolize. Light is all things that are good, and so God is light, but all things that are not good are part of the darkness.
    In this passage of 1 John there are three statements about Christians and what we claim in our walk with Christ, and how those claims that we make must measure up to who God is, remembering that God is light.
    Here’s the first, in verse 6, “If we say that we have FELLOWSHIP with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;” Remember that fellowship means that you share something in common with someone. If we say that we have fellowship with God, what we are saying is that we have something in common with God. We share something in common with Him. We share a relationship with Christ and the Spirit, with God. That is one thing we have in common. We also share the light with God. Through a relationship with Christ, we share in God’s truth, purity, righteousness, goodness, and life. Through Christ, we are in God’s light.
    What John is saying here is that if we claim to have a relationship with Christ, if we claim to have the Spirit in us, if we claim to share in God’s light, but we continue to walk in the darkness, we are liars and do not actually practice God’s truth. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim to love Jesus and still live in darkness. Remember that darkness isn’t just being immoral, it’s the absence of all that is good, all that is true. If you’re claiming to love Jesus, to love God, but you are doing immoral things, thinking immoral thoughts, doing what isn’t good or true, you are in fact lying about the love you have for Jesus and the Father.
    That’s the truth. It might be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. I don’t want you to be deceived. I don’t want you to say you were never told. You cannot love Jesus and still walk in darkness. You cannot claim Christ and still do the things you did before you came to Him. The two lives are incompatible.
    One of the many reasons that the world doesn’t have any confidence in the church or in pastors and clergy is because we’re seen as hypocrites! These are some things I’ve heard from those in the world who look at the church with a critical eye:
    “You claim to be pro-life, but you won’t even make eye contact with the homeless man on the street corner.”
    “You claim to love your neighbor but you only care about those who are like you.”
    “You claim to be a good person but you talk nasty about people you don’t understand or don’t agree with.”
    This should not be. John says this. If you claim to have fellowship with God, but walk in the darkness, you are a liar.
    Here’s the second statement John makes about Christians, from verse 8, “If we say that we have no SIN, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Another truth that we as the church are sometimes not great at admitting. We have sin. We are sinners.
    We are too proud to admit this many times. We are too proud to admit we make snap judgments about the character of others. We are too proud to admit we think really horrible thoughts sometimes. We are too proud to admit that our words were said from a place of bitterness and anger. We are too proud to admit when we’ve been unkind and hateful. Instead, we sit from a place of self-righteousness and “holiness” and say things like, “at least I’m saved by grace!”
    We all sin. Whether in thought or deed, even if you go through whole seasons of life doing pretty good, one day, sin will show its ugly self again in your heart. And our sins, even those that we just do in our heads or hearts are no less sinful than those whose sins are outwardly displayed for all to see. Sin is sin. Since we’ve all done it, we are deceiving ourselves if we say we don’t.
    The third statement John makes about Christians is verse 10, “If we say that we have not SINNED, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” We have all sinned. Past tense. It is the condition of the human heart. Each of us has done it, no matter how high and mighty we like to think we are.
    We would be wise to remember Romans 3:23, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We’ve all made decisions that removed us from God’s good grace. If we say we haven’t, when He clearly says we have, we call Him a liar, which we know can’t possibly be true. If we do this, we show with our attitudes and words that His Word doesn’t live in us.
    All this sort of paints a bleak picture, even for Christians! If we’ve all been in a place where we’ve been hypocritical, or at least not honest about our “spirituality”, then surely we’ve been in darkness, we’ve deceived ourselves, we’ve called God a liar. The thing about this passage in 1 John, what John wants made known is that this is true for all of us…even if you’re too proud to admit it.
    Each of us has experienced the truth of 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” If we are to have fellowship with God through Christ, how can we walk in darkness? Light has no fellowship with the darkness! Yet we constantly flirt with the darkness and wonder why the world doesn’t take us seriously when we talk about God’s love for them!
    Do you want to make disciples? Do you want those lost people in your life to take your testimony to heart? Then you must be in the light! In every way. We must stop letting ourselves dance in the shadows, church, but we must do it in a way that draws others out of the darkness and into the light as well, not sends them further into the darkness. We have to be in the light. We must live in the light every day and not let our testimony be hypocritical. We must walk in the light and be humble and confess when we are sinning so as to not sin again.
    The solution is, of course, JESUS. This is the solution that Jesus offers, going back to 1 John 2:1-2, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” John’s hope in writing this letter was so that we would stay in the light and be in the light and walk in the light all of our days, so that through Jesus we have the power to say, “no”, to sin. But…that if we do sin, 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We have the power to say, “no”, to sin, but if we do sin, we receive the forgiveness of sins that have been confessed to Jesus and He makes us clean.
    It is possible to live a life completely in the light? Does that mean you won’t sin? No, not necessarily. You have the power through Christ to say, “no”, but if you sin, be quick to confess and turn from that sin. You will still be in the light, walking in the light, with a heart of humble confession.
    How do we change the mistrust the world has in the church? We live lives of honesty, humility, confession, and love. This is the only way. Incidentally, we call this being like Christ, which is our calling.

1. Is it possible to be walking in the light and confessing sin without spending lots of time with God? Why or why not?

2. The person who claims fellowship with God while walking in darkness is lying (he knows his statement is false). However, the one who claims to be sinless is self-deceived. What is the difference?

3. Prayerfully make a list of what you can do to walk in the light this week, especially in areas where the world is watching for signs of trust. Review and add to your list every morning. Be alert during the day for failings you need to confess. Each evening, ask God to help you walk in the light the next day.

Testimony (1 John 1:1-4)

    One of the Christmas gifts a relative got for our kids last year was a subscription to Kiwi Co. boxes. You might not know what those are, so let me explain. They’re small cardboard boxes, about the size of a shoe-box that come with different educational themed-crafts and projects inside each box. So every month, we get a box with four of these boxes, one for each kid. And the kids love them! Jeremiah usually gets a science and engineering box, Abigail usually gets an art box or a box about some culture in another country, and Hannah and Chloe get arts and music boxes. They’re really cool.
    Well, this month, one of the kids got a box that had a rocket launcher in it. You put all the pieces together to make the launcher, and then you put together these little plastic and foam rockets that fit on the launcher and of course then you compress a little pillow of air and it launches the rocket. Super cool.
    Hannah has a great enthusiasm that’s part of her personality. She’s just really enthusiastic about everything! I really do love that part of her personality. So yesterday, she sat with this rocket launcher for a while and every time that she would press down the launcher and make the rocket launch she would go, “Oh wow!” Every time. She sat there for the longest time, and I don’t know how many times she launched those rockets but every time it was as if she was doing it for the first time, and she was so excited and enthusiastic about it!
    And of course, because I’m a preacher, God used this moment with Hannah to show me a simple illustration of what I was going to be preaching about. I’d love for you to join me in 1 John, as we start a new book in the Bible to get all the richness of the book in its entirety.
    1 John was written by John, who wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation, and was in fact, a disciple of Jesus. According to John’s gospel, he was actually the closest of Jesus’ disciples…of course that might be a little personal bias…but at the least, he was definitely one of Jesus’ closest disciples. I feel like sometimes John gets overlooked because he doesn’t have a radical conversion experience like Paul who was out to kill Christians before becoming one. And John never had a moment of denying Jesus like Peter, or any of the really dramatic moments of faith and growth like Peter walking on water with Jesus or Peter being questioned about his love for Jesus by Jesus. John is just kind of…there…for the most part he’s consistent, steadfast, faithful, he just keeps going.
    But John’s contributions to the New Testament definitely shouldn’t be overlooked or seen as less important to Paul’s writings or Peter’s. We certainly know that John’s writings hold a lot for believers, and as part of the inspired Word of God, his writings are useful for all things in life, but John’s writings for me hold a particular special meaning because of all the disciples and apostles I’m most like John.
    I didn’t have a dramatic conversion experience. Maybe you did, and that’s great, but I didn’t. I was young and from a good Christian family, it was almost just kind of expected that I would become a Christian, so it wasn’t a “big” thing. I wasn’t stricken blind, I didn’t hear an audible voice. I just gave Jesus my heart and was baptized that was that.
    I never had a moment of denying my faith or denying Christ like Peter did. I’ve always believed. Even when I wasn’t walking in the holiness of the Lord, I believed. I’ve never done anything really amazing in the faith, I mean I definitely haven’t walked on water! That’s not to minimize my ministry or even the impact that I know I’ve made on people, but I’m just here. It’s nothing grand! I’m not leading hundreds of people to faith or baptizing dozens on any given Sunday. It’s quiet, constant, faithful, I just keep doing what I have been asked. Maybe you see a little bit of John in yourself, too.
    But let’s read 1 John 1:1-4 and hear what John had to say. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.” (NIV)
    It’s hard to catch it because tone sometimes doesn’t come across in the written word, but John’s words are words of excitement here. We can tell because of how he repeats himself. Just in the space of three verses, he uses the word “heard” twice, and the word “seen” three times, not to mention that he adds the sense of touch as well as the proclamation he has spoken about twice.
    When we’re excited about something, or eager to tell something, we often repeat ourselves to emphasize why we’re excited. Just like Hannah with the rocket launcher saying, “oh wow!”, every time she launched the rocket. Think about it. The last time you saw a good movie and you were telling someone about it, did you mention several times that it was really funny, or really good? You probably did, without even realizing it because in your excitement you wanted to emphasize why you were excited.
    John is doing the same thing with these words that talk about the PERSONAL experience that he had with Jesus. That’s all that he is talking about. He had a personal experience with Jesus and he’s excited to talk about it.
    Like I said before, John didn’t have a story like Paul or Peter, he’s just John, faithful, consistent, and steadfast John. He didn’t do amazing and dramatic things, but that was okay, because he had a personal experience with Jesus, and Jesus is the amazing one! I’m reminded of what John the Baptist said that the apostle John wrote in his gospel, John 3:30, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (NIV) They both knew that regardless of what things we might do as we minister, what matters most is a personal experience with Jesus, because Jesus is the great one…not me, not John…only Jesus.
    And that personal experience with Jesus that John had was enough to make him excited about talking about Jesus, even years later! I’m talking about maybe 40-60 years later! But still, John is excited, not because of himself, but because of Jesus.
    John talks about two things in these opening verses of his letter to Christians everywhere that he’s excited about. In verses 1 and 2 he says, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared…which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” John was always excited to proclaim that Jesus is the Word of life, from God. This is what John was witness to that was so great, not anything John did, but who Jesus is.
    John also says in verse 2 that he testifies to the eternal life that is in Jesus, the word of life, that this eternal life is available to all who believe. John was always excited to proclaim that eternal life is found in Jesus for those who believe. Again, what John was witness to that was so great wasn’t anything that John did, but rather what Jesus could do for anyone!
    We are witnesses to the same truth, that Jesus is the Word of life from God, and that He gives eternal life to all who believe. We aren’t anything great, but we are witnesses to the very same thing as someone who actually walked and talked with Jesus. Even though we didn’t see and hear and experience what John did, the Word of life has still spoken to us! He is still working in us with the same power that He worked in John! Jesus is still great! He is still powerful and awesome.
    Jesus said this, again recorded through John’s gospel in John 20:29, “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; BLESSED are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (NIV) Just because we haven’t seen and heard and experienced exactly what John did, because we are witnesses to the same truth as John, our testimony about Jesus is just as powerful, just as meaningful. Your testimony about Jesus is powerful because of who He is and what He has done. It has nothing to do with how great we are or great things we do. Our testimony is powerful because Jesus changed us and we are not the same as we were before.
    So, maybe you see a little bit of yourself in John. You’re not great or well-known, you might never do amazing and dramatic things. But what Jesus has done in you with your life is the most amazing and great thing that can ever happen to anyone. And you can share that with those who need something amazing and great to happen to them, and all you have to do is share your story.
    Shouldn’t we have some excitement about that? Shouldn’t we be able to echo John’s words, and emphasize over and over again what we have seen and heard and experienced because we’re so amazed at what Jesus has done, and who He is! Yes, and amen should be the response here! Where is the excitement? Where is the wonderment? Where is the, in Hannah’s words, “oh, wow!”?
    See, we bring a message with our lives, a message that is consistent and steadfast, a message that hasn’t ever changed, a message that God’s desire is to bring life not death, to heal not destroy, to set free not condemn. This has always been God’s M.O., and John says this has been the case since the beginning.
    We bring a message that only believing in the truth of who Jesus is and what He does will bring us in to fellowship with the Father. But that fellowship is sweet, and means that we can share something in common with God, and it means that we can share something in common with other believers as well, no matter what, we share the same message.
    We bring a message that it is possible to experience spiritual joy and spiritual fullness. That life doesn’t have to be shadowed by death, destruction, and condemnation.
    Doesn’t this inspire you to say, “Oh, wow!”? It should.
    I want to leave you with two things for your quiet time this week:


1. Psalm 66:16 says, “Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul.” Take time this week to write out your testimony. What have you heard about the Lord, what have you seen, what have you experienced? How has a walk with Jesus changed your life? Be specific and use specific examples of how He has given you new life.


2. Tell someone what He has done. It doesn’t have to be your full testimony, just one thing He has done for you recently.

Why Worship? (Psalm 146)

    “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. 2 I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 3 Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. 5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. 6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—He remains faithful forever. 7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, 8  the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. 9 The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. 10 The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.”
    This is Psalm 146. Isn’t it beautiful? It’s such a rich psalm, which brings to light many of the different aspects about why worship is important to those who call on the name of the Lord. So why is worship important? Why do we worship? Is it just because the Bible says we should? Is it just because God says we should? And why would God tell us we have to worship Him? Doesn’t that seem sort of…egotistical, for God to command or demand our worship of Him?
    These are all good questions, and they’re all questions that we should have an answer to. Does God really ask or expect that people will worship Him? Why?
    Here’s something we need to make sure we know at all times: EVERYONE worships. A lot of times when we hear that word “worship” we think of it in a religious way. Even outside of Christianity, people hear the word “worship” and link it to religion. But this simply isn’t the full story. Everyone worships something or someone. Even atheists will worship someone or something. You see this list in your bulletin of people or things the world worships: musicians, athletes, celebrities, families, friends, jobs, money, reputations, power, prestige, self…and I’m sure you can think of others. Regardless of what it is, every single person will find something in their life to worship.
    It’s a strange thing that we do, really. We gravitate toward things or people that we believe are great or greater than ourself, and we give that thing or person our honor and adoration. We elevate that person or thing. We do this because of this right here, from Isaiah 43, God speaks about how all the wild animals honor Him, but, verse 21, “the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”, they do not worship God. The people He formed, us, every human, were formed and created to proclaim His praise. We were made to worship Him. We were made to walk with Him in relationship with Him just like Adam and Eve did.
    So we, humans, will always look for something or someone to worship, to honor, to adore, to praise, because we were made to worship and be in relationship with the object of our worship. No matter what it is, we will find someone or something to worship.
    Now, real quick, what is worship? If we were created to worship, made for it, what is it we are made for? Is it just the 30 minutes we have every week during church when we sing songs? Nope.
    Worship is…well, worship is not just singing songs. Worship is not a set pattern of notes that make up music, or any particular words that sound nice. Worship isn’t reading Scripture, or listening to a sermon. Worship isn’t giving money to the church. Worship isn’t volunteering your gifts or time or talent. Yes, worship can include these expressions, but they are not in of themselves, worship.
    True worship is a genuine expression of love toward God, through a lifestyle of submission and holiness, because of His great love for us. There’s two passages that help us a lot with our understanding or worship. Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Through this, we understand that worship is the submitting of ourselves to God, and seeking and practicing His holiness in every area of our lives and our minds.
    The second is John 4:23-24, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The worship God desires from those who worship Him comes from a place of truth. It’s not a show you put on for others, it’s not an act, you’re not supposed to fake it until you make it. True worship comes from a true place in your heart. We also understand here that true worship will connect the believer to the Father through the Spirit. True worship creates a conduit in the life of the believer to be able to hear from God and be a part of how He is moving.
    So again, true worship is a genuine expression of love toward God, through a lifestyle of submission and holiness, because of His great love for us.
    We all worship, right? We are also showing genuine expressions of love through a lifestyle of submission to whatever or whoever we are worshiping. The challenging question for you is, what or who do you spend most time worshiping? You don’t have to answer right now. In fact, I’d prefer if you didn’t because I want you to really spend time thinking through that question. But think about it. What or who gets most of your expressions of genuine love and significant devotion? Is it God? Jesus? Family? Jobs? Money? Reputation? Think it over.
    All of us worship. So why worship the Lord? Do we do it just because He says so? Do we do it just because that’s what’s expected of us at church? We come, we sing some songs and listen to a word that we hope makes us feel good and then we go home back to our lives? No! That’s not why we’re here, and that’s not what worship is, and that’s not why we should worship God.
    All of us worship. But nothing else that you can worship in this life is worthy of your worship, except God. He is WORTHY of your worship. Remember again verses 3 and 4 of the Psalm we read, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.”
    Only God is worth your genuine expressions of love through the submission of your life. Only He is worthy of your devotion. See, God isn’t asking us to do something unnatural or unusual by worshiping Him. We’re all worshiping someone, or something, right? So He’s asking that since we are already going to worship someone, make sure we’re worshiping the only one who is worth our worship. In fact, the English word “worship” was born through two words that became one, “worth-ship”. The idea here was that you would only give love, devotion, and submission to someone who was worth it.
    Why else should we worship the Lord? Well, it’s good for us! In the Bible, a life of worship is also connected to God’s blessings, His deliverance, His joy, and His guidance. In Psalm 146:5 we read, “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God” Blessed are those who turn to God and place their hope in Him. We’re also told in Romans that God works all things for the good of those who…love Him, and are called according to His purposes! Sounds like a lifestyle of submission and holiness to me!
    We worship because through worship, as we’ve already seen, it connects us to the Father through the Spirit. It’s through worship that He opens our hearts to hear from Him, and pours His presence upon us. When we’re worshiping, submitting ourselves to the Lord because we love Him, we’re putting our hearts in a place where we are actually hearing and willing to hear what He says to us. This is how Jesus lived. His life was a life of worship, lived in constant love for the Father shown through the complete submission of His life and display of inward holiness. And because of this life of worship He lived, He was able to hear the tiniest whisper of the Father’s through the Spirit. He was in constant connection with the Father. We can experience this too through a life of worship.
    We worship because it fixes our FOCUS. When our focus is taken off of Jesus, when we get distracted or burdened and overwhelmed, an act of worship, a recommitment to submit our lives in holiness, turns our eyes back to Jesus. An expression of love for Him reminds us of who He is and what He has done in us and through us and for us.
    Worship teaches us to let go and trust Him with life, to anchor everything in Him. Recall again, Psalm 146:3-4, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. 4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” There’s no hope to be found in human beings, even the really great ones. These verses tell us not to put our trust in those who can’t save! Only God is worthy, and only God can save. Verse 6 of this Psalm says that He is faithful forever. He alone is always faithful. His Word assures us that He will never let us down, He never leaves us. If we have this assurance, if we know that He is capable of handling every thing our lives might contain, that frees us up to let go of that tight control we try to keep and to trust Him with the details of our lives. Hebrews 6:19 reminds us that because Jesus conquered death, He alone is the hope and anchor for our souls. He can be trusted with your life, and acts of worship, loving God through a life of submission and holiness helps us do this.
    Finally, we worship because it is our GIFT to God. In the Old Testament, God’s people offered up sacrifices, for many reasons, but one of those reasons was that it was part of their worship of God. A sacrifice was a gift that they would bring to offer to God to honor Him and show their love to Him. It was to show that they were willing to bring even their livelihood to Him and trust Him with it.
    We don’t do animal sacrifices anymore, for which I’m glad, but Hebrews 13:15 says this, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess His name.” We can and do and are supposed to give Him a sacrifice of praise. We praise Him not just with our words, but we’re told that praise happens when we openly profess His name. When we declare with our lives that Jesus is Lord, that we are His and we love Him, that is a sacrifice of praise. Remember again the words of Romans 12:1-2, that a life lived in submission and holiness is our act of worship, it is our sacrifice.
    So, worship. Worship Him with your lives, worship Him with everything you have. He is worthy of your worship. It is good for you, and through it He will open your heart to hear from Him and pour His presence upon you. Through worship, He fixes our focus on Him and teaches us to trust Him with our lives, to anchor everything in Him. And worship, because we know that worshiping with our lives is how we give our gift to Him. Worship Him with songs, yes, definitely, but let worship permeate through your whole life, with your whole being.

1. What or Who do you spend most time worshiping? If you were to count up all the hours in your day, what is most of your time devoted to pursuing and adoring?

2. What is your attitude when it comes to being a part of “worship” together on Sundays? Do you approach this time joyously, or as an awkward burden?

3. What reasons for or elements of worship really speaks to you or surprises you?

Running the Race

    One of the illustrations that I really like from Scripture, particularly Paul’s letters, is the illustration of running a race. In fact, there are 5 clear places in the Bible where this illustration is used, and I think it’s a very easy to understand illustration which is great for probably most of us because sometimes we need things explained to us like you would a child. So, I like the illustration of running a race.
    In all the Scriptures about running a race, one thing is clear, the race is LIFE. So, it’s something we all run. We all go through life. We all have life. It’s something we experience every day, with a multitude of different kinds of experiences. Even if you were to just sleep all day and night and never really do anything other than sleep and feed yourself, that’s still life, life is happening and you are living it, regardless of what happens or what you chose to make of it.
    Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 to read the first of five passages about running the race of life. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (NIV)
    So, here’s what the hard truth about life is: not all will “win”. We all will finish, yes, but not all will “win” at life. Yes, there is a way to do life well, a way to have a good life, but not all will do it. Paul in these verses talks about a crown that the winner will receive. It’s a victory crown, meant only for winners. So if not everyone will win the race of life, then that means that not everyone will receive the crown given only to winners. Only some will receive a crown. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? Maybe not. But the good thing about winning the race of life is that you can choose to win! It’s not just a game of chance or luck. There is a sure-fire way of winning that is fail-proof!
    Here’s another passage about running the race of life, from Galatians 5:7-8, “You were running a good race. Who has kept you from obeying the truth? 8 The God who chooses you does not keep you from obeying the truth.” (NIRV)
    Here Paul lovingly reproached the Galatians because they had been running a good race. They had been living a good life. They had been running in such a way as to win the crown, but someone persuaded them to stop obeying the truth. What Paul said here was that the God who loves them, who chose them, will not keep them from obeying the truth, so anything that persuades you to stop following the truth doesn’t come from GOD.
    So then the question is, if we want to run a good race, we want to live a good life, how do we run the race well, in order to win?
    Let’s look at the third of the five passages about running the race of life in the Bible, Psalm 119:32, “I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.” (NIV) If we want to run a good race in life, we must run in the way or path of God’s COMMANDMENTS.
    If God says, “Don’t steal, lie, cheat, or murder,” then don’t steal, lie, cheat or murder. If God says, “Honor your mother and father,” then honor your mother and father. Keep His commands. Jesus says that those who love Him and love the Father will keep the Father’s commands. I want to add Romans 13:9 to this thinking, “The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (NIV) This is Paul’s rephrasing of what Jesus had told the disciples. Keep God’s commands: love. Run a life that is lead by love.
    Numbers 2, 3, and 4 come from Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (NASB)
    Run without obstacles. Thankfully the writer of Hebrews elaborates when he talks about the sin that entangles us. How do we run the race of life without obstacles? Throw off sin. Rid yourself of the sin that so easily entangles you. It will trip you up and keep you from running a good race. Sin will throw up obstacles that you just don’t need. If you want a good life, a life that you’re running to win, stay away from sin!
    Resist temptation. Remove yourself from situations where temptation is too strong and you would give in. Remember the encouraging words from James 4:7, that if we resist the devil, he will flee. If we resist evil, it will pass! Stay away from sin.
    Hebrews 12:1 also says to run the race with ENDURANCE. I’m sure you’ve watched the Olympics before. Even if you don’t seek it out, even if it’s not your favorite thing, I’m sure at some point in you’ve life you’ve seen the Olympics. In the shorter races, speed is a must, right? You need that really strong burst of speed right at the beginning to set you apart from the rest of the runners and you have to be able to keep that speed up as long as possible, and then if you’ve ever noticed, when they near the finish line they seem to speed up even more and really push hard toward the end.
    Long distance races are different. Speed is still needed, but it’s not as important as endurance. In the longer races you have to be able to keep running at a good pace even after your lungs feel like they’re on fire and your heart feels like it’s going to pound out of your chest. The best long distance runners aren’t known for their speed, they’re known for their endurance. It’s amazing to watch them keep pushing the boundaries of what seems physically impossible.
    Endurance is the key to running a good life. There will of course be things that we face that seem impossible to endure. James talks about this extensively. But endurance is necessary. Good races, good lives, are won by the endurance to persevere and press on through anything, even the very, very hard things. It’s not easy, but the end result is good.
    The next verse in this passage, Hebrews 12:2 helps us with the endurance part. Run with your eyes fixed on Jesus. Keep looking at Him, the NASB says. He is the beginning of faith, and He is the One who perfects our faith, so keep your eyes on Him. On days when it’s just really hard to keep going, season of life when it’s hard to keep enduring, look at Him. You don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to carry it all. Not every day will be good or great. Some days, it’s just about surviving. But keep looking at Him. Keep looking to Him.
    Let’s look at the final verses that talk about running the race of life, Philippians 2:14-16, “Do all things without complaining or arguments; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding firmly the word of life, so that on the day of Christ I can take pride because I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.” (NASB)
    Run without COMPLAINING or arguments. This is just as hard as enduring. How are we supposed to go through the hard things in life without a little grumbling? It’s not easy, and I certainly am preaching to myself. But what is the goal of not complaining or arguing? Paul says that the goal is to prove ourselves blameless and innocent, to show that we are above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, and to know that we did not run the race or labor in vain.
    James says something very similar about enduring hardships, that we should do so with joy because we know the end result of mature faith is too important to approach it with complaining. We run the race without complaining or arguments because we know that the crown of life that is given to those who do life well is too important for us to grumble about the difficulties along the way.
    I know it’s not easy. And we all lose sight of this. But here’s the gentle reminder.
    Philippians 2:16 also says to run in the word of life. What is the word of life? Well, the word of God is the word of life. The Bible is the word of life. Remember, Jesus told Satan when he was being tempted that men live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. His word gives life to those who follow it. Psalm 119 tells us that God’s word revives us from spiritual drought and death; that His word gives us strength when we are weak; that His word brings us news of His salvation; that His word sustains life in us.
    But we also have John 1:1-5, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind. 5 And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it.” (NASB)
    The word of God in the flesh is Christ Jesus. John says Christ is the word and in Him is life, so Jesus is the word of life. If we live life in His light, we will run the race well. If you do not live life in Jesus, there is no hope to run the race and win. You won’t. Even if you think you’re doing life alright without Him, you’ll get to the finish line and find out that you’ve lost. Life in Jesus is the only way. If you do not yet have a relationship with Christ, and you want to be able to live life in such a way as to win the prize, you need a relationship with Christ. Come talk to me about a life with Jesus. Live in Jesus. Live every day with Him.
    And we circle back to the passage we started with, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (NIV)
    Paul talks about the strict training that those who compete in the games go into. They beat their bodies in submission to their will. They run with self-control. Living a life that is run well means living a life of self-control, or self-discipline. We need to be working out, spiritually, so that as we run the race we are not disqualified.
    These are our spiritual workouts: 1. Meditate on and study God’s Word. Spend time in it. Let it soak in. Roll it over in your heart and mind. Ask questions. Write important things down. 2. Give thanks. Count your blessings daily, even if they are few. Give God thanks for all you have. 3. Prayer. Pray without ceasing. Have a new conversation with Jesus every day. Multiple times a day. As often as needed. 4. Give and serve. The body is not without its many parts. We are interconnected and interdependent. We need each other. Give to others, serve others. 5. Fast. Seriously. Anytime Jesus was troubled, He supercharged His prayer with fasting. These five things are our workouts, exercises we do regularly to train for the race. Do these to increase your endurance and focus. Do these to remove obstacles. Do these to run with joy.
    And finally, in 1 Corinthians 9:26 Paul says that he doesn’t run as someone without direction. Run with PURPOSE. You know the goal. You know who waits at the end. You know the prize that waits. You’re not running for nothing. It all has the purpose of bringing others to Him, of bringing His kingdom to the here and now. Run with that purpose fixed in your heart. Run to bring Him glory.

1. Finish the Most/Best challenge to spend 1 hour every day with Jesus. Allow these questions to draw you closer to Him: Who do you say I am? Do you know what I have done for you? Are you listening to Me? Do you love Me? (Feed My sheep) Do you believe Me?

2. Keep running the race…keep spending 1 hour with Jesus! Our Most/Best challenge is over, but that doesn’t mean your commitment has to end.

3. Are there ways you’re not running the race well right now? If so, that’s alright! There’s no condemnation in Christ. But how might He call you to run the race better?

So it Begins (John 10:10)

    It’s no secret that I like nerdy things. Star Wars, Superheroes, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Comic Books, Doctor Who, you name it. If it’s geeky in the slightest, I probably like it. The last few weeks have reminded me of a scene from the Lord of the Rings. I know, it’s been 20+ years since the most recent version of movies came out, but they still stand out in my mind as great masterpieces of cinema. The particular scene I’m thinking of is from the second of the three movies: The Two Towers.
    It’s just before the Battle of Helm’s Deep. The Rohan people, who for those who might not know, are the “good” guys, are all waiting with bated breath in Helm’s Deep, which is a fortress of sorts built in the mountainside. It’s easily defensible as any enemy would have to sort of funnel through a narrow opening before the fortress, and then come up against huge stone walls. The problem is that the Rohan people don’t have enough soldiers to defend the attacks against the wall. In the book, there’s only 2,000 who fight for the “good” side, and they go up against 10,000 orc soldiers, who are the “bad” guys. However, the movie makes this number even more dramatic, to make it 300 good guys, and an unknown number of elves, against 10,000. Not super great odds for a battle.
    If you don’t already know, good prevails and the evil forces are defeated and driven back. But, leading up to the battle is the scene I’m thinking of. All the good army has been gathered. They’ve all got their armor on. They’re on the walls and behind the walls with weapons in hand and waiting for the enemy to come. They can hear their marching in the distance. It begins to rain. The enemy draws close, just before the great stone walls and they both have a moment of silence before the battle begins. The King of the Rohan people, the good guys, King Theodan, looks out at this great army before him, all of them knowing that they probably will not live through the night, and he says, “So it begins…”
    They were expecting battle, they were waiting for it, they were ready for it, they knew the enemy was coming for them, coming to squash what little hope they had left.
    So it begins…
    What does this have to do with us, beside just being a really awesome 3 hours of entertainment? Well, we’ve made the commitment for the last three weeks to spend more time with Jesus every day. Some of you have made the commitment to spend at least 1 hour or more with Him every day. Did you put your armor on when you made that commitment? I sure hope you did, because when you made that commitment, when we made that commitment…we practically invited the enemy to come up against us and bring everything that he could to try to squash the hope and commitment we have.
    Have you noticed this? I sure have!
    I should’ve been ready! I should have known I needed to be standing on the wall, with my armor on and weapon in hand to meet the enemy on the battlefield and saying to myself, “so it begins”…
    Join me, please, in John 10:10. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly.”
    Christian, this is a word of truth here, any time that you press in to Jesus more, any time you renew your commitment to Him in anyway, be prepared for the thief to come and try to steal, kill, and destroy you. He doesn’t want you to have life abundantly. He doesn’t want you to have life at all. He will do anything that he can to rip all that commitment from you, to rip away all that you have in Jesus. Be ready. If you’ve made a commitment to Jesus in the past three weeks to seek Him more, be with Him more, want Him more…the thief is coming for you. It’s a certainty.
    Put on your armor. And watch for the thief. This is what he wants to do, and when you start to notice these things, you know that he is working to steal, kill, and destroy and it’s time to press in to Jesus even more.
    2 Corinthians 5:15, “and He died for all, so that those who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose on their behalf.” Jesus came to give us life abundantly. That life abundantly means that we live for Him. That’s part of why He died, so that we would be set free from living for our selfishness, and instead live for Christ. When you start to see that you are choosing to live for SELF, that’s a pretty good indicator that the enemy is working to steal your commitment to Jesus. Press in to Jesus even more, and commit to live for Him in every way.
    Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Though we are not saved by works, we are created for good works, which is what Ephesians 2:10 says. That’s part of abundant life. The opposite of that then is evil works, BAD WORKS, even selfish works. When you start to notice your actions, your deeds start lining up with what is not good, what is selfish, the thief is at work to kill your witness through your good deeds. Press in to Jesus and do His work.
    This passage in Ephesians also helps us be aware of another sign the enemy is working. We are saved through faith. Faith on our part is the condition through which we are saved. Faith then is the also the condition through which we continue in relationship with Christ. Faith sustains our relationship with Him. The opposite of this is spiritual apathy. When you start to feel apathetic about your faith, just blah about faith, that may be a clue that the enemy is working to try to destroy your faith. Press in to Jesus and let Him remind you of why you placed your faith in Him in the first place.
    Psalm 62:6-7, “He alone is my rock and my salvation, My refuge; I will not be shaken. 7 My salvation and my glory rest on God; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God.” He is our rock, our refuge, so as the Psalmist says here, when we’re standing on Him, He makes us unshakeable, firm, because He is unshakeable and firm. When you start to notice that instead of feeling unshakeable and firm, you feel easily swayed, easily overcome, and uncertain, that’s possibly a sign that the thief is trying to steal your security. Jesus is your rock. Press into Him and let Him be your strength.
    The Psalmist says that God is his salvation. What he’s talking about is life, both abundant life here and now, and life eternal. That’s the HOPE we have in Christ, right? The opposite of this is of course, death, no salvation, no hope. When you start to feel a lack of hope, like you’re desperate for something good to hang on to but it’s just not coming, the enemy may be trying to steal your hope. Press in to Jesus. Let Him speak to you again about the life He has in store for you and what awaits you when you are in His arms.
    Psalm 139:7-10, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take up the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, 10 Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will take hold of me.” I absolutely love this Psalm. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Nowhere. I don’t know about you, but that’s so comforting to me. Through a relationship with Him, I know that He is always with me. I am constantly in His presence. But when I start to feel ALONE, I know that the thief is probably trying to kill my confidence in Jesus’ presence. He’s probably trying to destroy my support.
    The Psalmist here also says that God’s hand takes hold of me, His hand leads me. Everywhere I go, He is giving me guidance and direction. I have that promise. But, if you start to feel like you’re just wandering aimlessly and you’re directionless if everything you do, that’s possible a sign that the enemy is working to kill your future. Press in to Jesus and pray for Him to show you His path and then walk only in what He puts before you.
    ISAIAH 6:1-3, “In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim were standing above Him, each having six wings: with two each covered his face, and with two each covered his feet, and with two each flew. 3 And one called out to another and said,“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of armies. The whole earth is full of His glory.” Just after these verses Isaiah remarks that he is unworthy to see such a sight and to proclaim the Lord’s words because Isaiah is an unclean man. He’s not good enough. Yeah, no kidding, Isaiah! None of us is, this is true.
    But what I know from the Word of God, from my relationship with Jesus, is that even though I am not worthy, I am unclean, His righteousness covers me and His Holiness is in me! His glory is seen in me! He makes me holy, and so I don’t have any shame before Him. I can boldly approach His throne in confidence.
    But when the enemy is working, I feel like nothing I do is good enough, like I’m not good enough. Technically, this is true, but it’s not my focus when I am really pressing into Jesus. The enemy is the one who wants us to dwell on how we are not enough. Press in to Jesus, He is enough, and His holiness lives in you.
    Jeremiah 23:23-24, “Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord, “And not a God far off? 24 Can a person hide himself in hiding places So that I do not see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord.” God Himself says it, He is a God who is NEAR. This is similar to God’s presence going with us always, but a little different. God being near has more to do with Him being attentive to our cries for help, to being close enough to hear when we need Him, just like a child needs their father.
    But when the enemy is working, you may feel like God is far away. That if you were to cry out to Him for help or you needed Him for something, that He wouldn’t be able to hear you. Nothing could be further from the truth, but that’s what the enemy does when He comes for us. When you start to feel that God is far away, the enemy may be working to steal you from God’s loving arms. Press in to Jesus, draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.
    And finally, Hebrews 12:28-29, “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let’s show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire.” We have confidence that as co-heirs with Christ, we inherit the Kingdom of God. We inherit a kingdom that will never pass away.
    But the enemy will have you believing that you have nothing to live for. No purpose in living, no reason to be around. When you start feeling like this, that could be the enemy trying to destroy your inheritance. Press in to Jesus, who is preparing a place for you in His Father’s house.
    When we’re close with the Lord, gratitude naturally flows out of the heart of the believer. We become more grateful, thankful people because we are more aware of His blessings enriching every aspect of our lives. The opposite of that is thanklessness, and an attitude that says, “everything is horrible”. Yep, sometimes life circumstances are in fact, horrible. But the enemy will make these things an overwhelming focus for us, so much so that we are blind to God’s blessings and goodness. The thief will make this feeling of horribleness so overwhelming that it will feel like there is no good at all. When you notice this feeling, that may be the thief trying to steal your joy. Press in to Jesus, who works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, and look for His goodness in all things.
    Be ready. The enemy is marching, if he is not already there, right before the fortress of your life. Press in to Jesus, and don’t stop. What he has to offer is life abundantly, but the thief, we know, is waiting to steal, kill, and destroy that life. Jesus is your only hope.

1. Continue spending 1 hour a day with the Lord, allowing these questions to draw you close to Him: Who do you say I am? Do you know what I have done for you? Are you listening to me? Do you love Me? (Feed my sheep) Do you believe Me?

2. The last three weeks as you’ve committed to spend more time with Jesus every day, have you noticed the enemies efforts to steal, kill, and destroy? How has he tried to do this? How does being more aware of his work help you stand firm in your life in Christ?

Do You Believe Me? (John 11:17-26)

    I have been praying that your quiet times the last two weeks have been refreshing, reviving, renewing, restoring, stimulating, and provoking as you have followed the commitment to meet with Jesus for an hour every day. I bet this week was more challenging to consistently carve out time for this important challenge, but again I encourage you to keep rising to the challenge and coming to meet Him and sit at His feet and hear what He has to say to you. He has so much to say, and what you’ll find as you meet with Him, is that He always speaks what you really need to hear. Sometimes it’s not what you want to hear, but it’s always what you need, and what is good for your life.
    This week as I met with Him, I found exactly that. I found strength in Him to just keep persevering through a situation where I just want to throw in the towel and call it quits. But as I said in worship today, He has been my strength. This week I literally have felt like Moses in the battle with the Amalekites, where as long as he held up his staff the Israelites were winning, but then he got too tired to hold up His staff. He needed help, he needed strength to just keep holding up his staff, and Aaron and Hur jumped in and supported Moses and gave him their strength to keep holding up the staff. I feel like God has been Aaron and Hur for me, holding me up, supporting me, giving me His strength to keep hanging on. He is always so good to me, revealing Himself to me in ways that speak to what I am dealing with in any given moment, and He has always been faithful to do this.
    Do you believe He can do this in your life? Do you believe that He can work in the impossible things you face and make them possible? This is the essence of the last question we’re going to look at today that you can use as part of five questions we’ve been going over to help you draw closer to the Lord during your one-hour quiet time commitment this week. Let’s look at John 11:17-26.
    “So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia away; 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them about their brother. 20 So then Martha, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha then said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise from the dead.” 24 Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; the one who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (NASB)
    The fifth question for our one-hour time with Him this week is this same question Jesus asked of Martha, “Do you believe…Me?”
    There’s two possible interpretations for this question, the first is that Jesus was asking Martha if she believed that He could raise Lazarus from the dead, the second is that Jesus was asking Martha if she believed that all those who believed in Jesus would never die. The really neat thing about both of these possible interpretations is that both can be and are true, because both acts would seem impossible to Martha. Indeed, both resurrection and eternal life go against all laws of nature, don’t they? Yet, Jesus was assuring her that He could do both, He can do the impossible, and all that is required of us is faith.
    Remember if you will, the words from James 2:17, “In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (NASB) We know that faith must include action. Faith has to be acted upon to be true faith. When we make a statement of faith, a statement about what we believe Jesus will do, it helps affirm our faith in an actionable way.
    What I mean by that is, that when we say something like, “Jesus, I believe that you will give me the strength that I need to keep walking in this very difficult situation when I have no strength left,” I am making a statement of faith that I am going to act on. I believe He is going to give me the strength to persevere and endure, and so I am going to actively rely on His strength, and not my own.
    It’s much like when Jesus called to Peter to step out on the waves. If you recall, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” This was Peter’s statement of belief. He believed that if the person he was seeing truly was Jesus, Peter had enough faith that if he stepped out of the boat and went toward Jesus, he would be able to walk on the waves just like Jesus was. Walking on water certainly is impossible, just like resurrection of the dead, just like eternal life, but acting in faith in Christ makes the impossible…possible.
    Let’s think about how this affects us in our every day lives. What are the things you can’t do? It’s probably not something as drastic as walking on water or raising the dead to life.
    But, maybe you’re dealing with a relationship in your life that you are unable to restore. A strained relationship that seems impossible to mend. There are so many fences built between you and that person, so many harsh words and miscommunications, so many hurt feelings. Can such a relationship ever be restored and healed? Matthew 19:26, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
    Maybe you’re stuck in financial insecurity. You’re unable to make ends meet and the prices of things just keep increasing. Maybe you’ve lost a source of income and the stress of paying the bills is starting to take its toll. First, off, come talk to me because this is part of what the body of Christ is here for. I’ve felt the anxious uncertainty of not knowing how I was going to pay for something, and those times feel hopeless. Can God bring security in finances? Yes, absolutely.
    Maybe, like me, you’re faced with a dilemma, an impossible situation and you just don’t know which direction to take, what decision to make that will make it all turn out alright. You feel lost, confused, and directionless. You’re unsure of what decision to make, or how to make it. You lack wisdom and knowledge. So, then turn to the One who knows which direction to take. Turn to the One who is already working to make it all work out alright. Turn to the One who is never lost. Turn to the One who is the source of wisdom. He can make a way where there seems to be no way.
    Or maybe, you’re trying to overcome consuming emotions that keep welling up in your heart. Maybe anger, grief, anxiety, fear, whatever it is. You feel unstable, like your heart and mind are betraying you. You feel swallowed by that emotion and you just want to feel some sense of relief and peace. You’ve tried just “letting it go”, and it doesn’t work. Can Jesus work in this, too? Can the Prince of Peace give you peace? Yes, He can.
    I know I haven’t covered all the situations in life that are difficult and impossible that we face, because life is varied and the trials we go through are many. But here’s the point of this question: when you sit before Jesus and He asks you, “Do you believe Me?”, it’s your chance to make a statement of faith regarding any situation in your life that you can’t do/handle without the power of Christ.
    This is your time to say what you are believing Jesus can do, what work He can do in the things that are impossible for you to do in your own resources, your own power, time, energy, emotions, etc.
    This question is a time to echo the words of Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, “Make me know Your ways, Lord; Teach me Your paths. 5 Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; For You I wait all the day. 8 The Lord is good and upright; Therefore He instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the [c]humble in justice, And He teaches the [d]humble His way. 10 All the paths of the Lord are faithfulness and truth To those who comply with His covenant and His testimonies.” (NASB)
    Trust that He will show you His WAYS. When you don’t know what way is His, what is right, trust that He does and will make His ways known to you when you need them. Trust that He will teach you what is right and righteous in His eyes. Trust that He will show you what is pleasing to Him.
    Trust that He will show you which PATH to take. When you don’t know what decision to make, which direction to go, what to do, trust that He does. Ask that He teach you His paths, and stand firm in faith, knowing that He will do as He has promised.
    Trust that His compassion and FAITHFULNESS will cover you. We know He is faithful. We see His faithfulness clearly displayed throughout Scripture. Sit down with a slip of paper and a pen someday and write out all the ways you’ve seen His faithfulness in your life. He is faithful. If He says He will do something, we can trust that it will be done. If He has promised something to you, you can trust it will be done.
    Trust that He will teach you in faithfulness and TRUTH. Trust that His truth and wisdom can guide you through all the things that you don’t know. Trust that His truth can be an anchor when things swirl in to overwhelm you. His truth can anchor you and keep you from believing things about who you are and what you’re meant to be that are lies. Trust in His truth when everything else around you seems subjective and constantly evolving.
    So, what are you believing He will do today? Nothing is impossible with Him, even those things that seem impossible, even when you’re at the end of everything you have, He is not done yet. What are you believing in Him for?

Add the question from today’s message to your time with Him. Do them in this order:
Who do you say I am?

Do you understand what I have done for you?

Are you listening to Me?

Do you love Me? (Feed My sheep)

Do you believe me? (Statement of trust)

Are You Listening? Do You Love Me? (Matthew 17:5; John 21:15)

    God is so, so good! Like, He is amazing!! I know this shouldn’t surprise me, but I have just been overwhelmed with His love this week, and so blow away at what He has done in my life. As I showed up to my one-hour commitment to spend with Him, He showed up, too. He showed and gave me new perspectives into His character and the depths of His love and care for me and attention into the details of my life. I sat each new morning in awe of what He had done in me and for me and through me the previous day.
    On Monday He brought someone into my day who had been turned off of church life by the Catholic church, and had tried to go to a Christian church and was turned off by the lack of connection in the mega church she tried. I thought, “Perfect. We’re a small church, and there’s lots of opportunity for connection and the change to develop meaningful relationships.” And I got to speak about the hope of Christ and the community of His church.
    On Tuesday I was encouraged by hearing from some of you about how He has shown up in your hour with Him and He showed me His encouraging faithfulness yet again.
    On Wednesday I was struggling to know how to answer one of the questions we’ll go over today, how He wanted me to show His love to someone that day and no sooner had I finished praying then He immediately brought not 1, not 2, not even 3 people, but 4 people to mind that needed some encouragement and love that I could give in a meaningful way.
    On Thursday, He helped me in an area that I am broken and at the end of my rope with. It was very clear to me that I simply do not have what it takes to deal with the situation or to fix it in the slightest. I feel lost, confused, and unsure of what to do. I still don’t know what to do. But He does, and He reminded me that He is the source of all wisdom, and that He can not only give me an answer about what I should do, but He can guide me through it.
    On Friday, He assured me of the confidence I have in Him, as He reminded me that I have been in desperate situations before and when He got done working, they were all worked out for my good because I love Him and am called according to His purpose.
    On Saturday, He gave me endurance to get through one of those days where it was a perfect storm of all the activities colliding on one day. Was I tired? Absolutely. But His gave me patience and strength, and I was able to be there for my family with a cheerful and glad attitude. The schedule was a recipe for disaster, but God worked in my attitude.
    He showed up. He always does. But this last week I was looking for Him, ready for Him, hungry for Him, and so I saw Him more, I saw Him in everything!
    I know from words and conversations from many of you that He’s been doing the same thing in your life this week because you committed to show up.
    Today’s message will help us enrich our one-hour with Him even more this week. We’re going to look at 2 more questions that He asked His disciples that will help us draw into His presence in a really powerful way. It’s through these 2 questions in particular that you will give Him freedom to speak to you and you will be actively listening for His voice. It’s going to be so, so good.
    Remember that the first two questions we went over last week are “Who do you say I am?”, and “Do you understand what I have done for you?” The first question aims at getting us to reflect on who Jesus is to us right here and now, not in generalizations, but who He is in the moments and circumstances that we’re in right then. The second question has us looking for good things Jesus has done in us, through us, and for us, and praising Him for those good things.
    Our first question today comes from Matthew 17:5, “While He was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (NIV) This was God’s command to the disciples who had gone up to the mountain with Jesus: Peter, John, and James. The command is for Jesus’ disciples to listen to Him. It’s imperative! We must listen to Him, or we are utterly lost.
    So after you’ve asked those first two questions during your one-hour quiet time each day, Jesus has a question to ask of you: “Are you listening to Me?” During this time, you will stop and read the Scripture for that day. Read it several times. Let it soak into your mind and heart. Underline or highlight things that speak to you and seem important. Write down questions you have and observations you have made in your journal. What sticks out to you? Ask Jesus to speak to you through what you’ve read. In your journal, write down the application from what you’ve read. As God speaks to your heart, what might Jesus want you to do with what you’ve read? There’s nothing He can’t say to you, unless of course it goes against His word or character, so just sit quietly and listen to what Jesus says to you.
    You know, talking to Jesus in our quiet time is great, and it’s not wrong to come to Him with requests and intercessions, but we often neglect to just sit and listen. Just listen. Practice hearing His voice. Here’s the thing, it’s okay to not know. Really. I DON’T KNOW IS OKAY, just practice listening to His voice.
    We cannot underestimate the value of just sitting in His presence and listening for His voice.
    Let’s look at the second question from John 21:15, “When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (NIV) Most of us have heard this conversation before. Jesus asked Peter this question 3 days, each time Peter answered with increasing frustration.
    “Peter, do you truly love me?”
    “Yes, Lord, I love you.”
    “Feed my lambs. Peter, do you truly love me?”
    “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
    “Take care of my sheep. Peter, do you truly love me?”
    “Yes, Lord, you know I love you more than anything!”
    “Feed my sheep.”
    Look at John 4:34, “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” (NIV) Does that mean Jesus didn’t eat food? Of course not. What He was saying was that what truly sustains Him, what truly keeps Him going day to day, what fills Him up and gives Him life and purpose, isn’t bread, it’s doing the will of God. Obedience is our spiritual FOOD, when we obey we GROW in faith and in our relationship with the Father.
    During this time, when Jesus asks you, “Do you love me?”, He’s giving a command to feed and care for His sheep. Listen for the command. Look for the command.
    It can come several ways:
    1. Obedience in caring for and feeding yourself. You can’t feed someone if you yourself are hungry. It’s like what they say during the airline safety briefings at the beginning of each flight: please put on and secure your oxygen mask first before you help those you love. Care for and feed yourself, obediently. Doing this challenge to spend one hour with Jesus every day will definitely help you do that, so if you haven’t made the commitment yet, do that today! It’s never too late to commit to spend more time with Jesus.
    2. Obedience in caring for and feeding your FAMILY. They were given to you to care for and tend to, to pray for, to share truth with. Nurture your relationships with them, and most importantly, lead them to Jesus.
    3. Obedience in caring for and feeding the body of Christ. This may be surprising to you, but it isn’t just the job of pastors to feed the body of Christ. That’s part of our call, yes, but the call extends to each member of the body. Maybe God is asking you to encourage a brother or sister, to pray for a need, to lay hands on for healing, and so many other things the Lord may ask us to do to feed His sheep.
    4. Obedience in caring for and feeding the LOST around you. They are His sheep too, though they have not yet become a part of the fold. Maybe He is calling you to give a bottle of water to someone who is thirsty, or buy a meal for someone in need. Maybe that looks like praying for a co-worker who is greatly struggling.
    The point is, there are man ways we can be obedient to Jesus’s call to feed those He loves, so we have no shortage of work to be done. Listen to what His Spirit says through His word, and write down what you sense Him asking you to be obedient in.
    And again, it’s okay to not know. Practice listening to His voice, and ask Him to reveal to you someway that day that you can feed someone in need of the bread of life.
    As we did last week, this week I’ve got a hand-out for each of you with details about these two questions we find in Scripture that help us develop our ear to hear the Spirit and to draw close to Him during our one-hour commitment to spend with Him. You’ll also find on the back end of that hand-out, a list of Scriptures for each day this week, as well as a suggested worship song to listen to, and worship along with. As with last week, you can head over to our website, llcnaz.com and go to the Most/Best tab to find the link to the playlist for this week’s worship songs.

Add the two questions from today’s message to your time with Him. Do them in this order:
Who do you say I am?

Do you understand what I have done for you?

Are you listening to Me?

Do you love Me? (Feed My sheep)

Who He Is, What He's Done (Matthew 16:13-15; John 13:1-15)

    “What you think about God is the most important thing about you.” A.W. Tozer said this. Think about this for a moment. What you think about God is the most important thing about you.
    If a person doesn’t believe in God, their whole life will be built upon the presumption that God doesn’t exist. Everything they do and say, all of their life, whether they realize it or not, is affected by their belief that God isn’t real.
    If a person believes that God exists but that He just created everything and walked away, once again, their whole life will be built upon that belief. The things they choose for their life will look slightly different than the person who doesn’t believe that God exists at all.
    This can be said for every belief that there could possibly be about who God is or isn’t. What we believe about God shapes our entire world view and perspective. Our world views shape our actions and our words. What we create our lives to be comes from what we believe.
    The same is true about Jesus. A person who believes he was just a man will build a different life than someone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God and seeks to follow Him. For Christians, this is why it is so important for us to have a clear grasp of who Jesus is, because what we believe about Him does affect our lives everyday, whether we realize it or not.
    For example, if I believe that Jesus gives me the power through the Holy Spirit to live a life where I can say no to sin, my life will look differently than someone who believes that it is impossible to live a life free of sin.
    If I believe that Jesus calls us to lay down everything for the sake of following Him, I will choose different actions in life than someone who believes that Jesus just wants us to live happy, comfortable lives.
    The same is true about what we believe Jesus has done. A person who believes that Jesus sacrificed Himself to atone for our sins will live differently than someone who believes He just lived a good life. Two things should be clear in the Christian’s mind: who Jesus is, and what He’s done.
    Join me in Matthew 16:13-15 as we look at the first of two questions that Jesus asked His disciples. “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (NIV)
    Tomorrow will start our church-wide Most/Best Challenge. It’s a challenge to give Jesus more of ourselves every day, to give Him the best of our day, so that we are intentionally growing our relationship with Him. The challenge will be to spend one hour with Him every day. If you’re not in the habit of spending that much time with Him every day, don’t panic. At first, it may feel like a stretch to carve out an hour or fill an hour, but I guarantee, as you do it more and more, you’ll find that you get to a point where an hour isn’t enough.
    How can that be? Well, we were created for a relationship with Him. So when we’re spending time with Him, we’re doing the thing we were created for. That’s why we walk away from time spent with Him feeling indestructible and filled up and encouraged and full of passion for Him!
    The good news is that there are a lot of things we can do to spend time with Him. It isn’t all just praying for our long grocery list of prayers. It isn’t all just sitting in silence and listening for Him. It’s worship, it’s praise, it’s thanksgiving, it’s prayer yes, and silence, and it’s spending time in His word, and it’s journaling thoughts about His word, and thanking Him for insights that He gave you, it’s confession and repentance. Just like a conversation with a friend is rarely ever the same, the same words in the same place, with the same cup of coffee. Time spend with Jesus is never the same as it was the day before.
    This question that Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew 16:15 is a great way to start off a quiet time with Him. Just like I did during our time of worship this morning, I just told Jesus who He is to me. He is faithful to me. I praised Him because He is faithful, and I thanked Him for His unfailing faithfulness in all areas of my life.
    If you look on in Matthew 16, you see Peter answer this question and he told Jesus, “You are the Messiah!” Did you know there are 198(ish) names or titles for Jesus in the Bible? It’s true! And in your challenge materials for this week, one of your papers has a list of about 65 names or titles for Jesus found in the Bible. There are so many! Why are there so many? Well, each name or title given tells us something different about who He is.
    Here’s one we find in the book of Hebrews, that Jesus is our mediator. So instead of just reading it and going, “yeah, Jesus is my mediator,” and moving on with the reading, I stop and think about what that means. What does it mean to me that Jesus is my mediator? Why is that title important to me? What difference has Jesus as mediator made in my life? Do you see the difference here?
    We’re personalizing the question, “Who do you say I am?” We’re using the question to reflect on who Jesus is to us individually and what that means personally, how that name or title of Jesus has changed your life! And then, and here’s the cool part about it, we’re telling Him who He is and why that Has been life-changing for us.
    Just like Peter did, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” I look at Jesus and I say to Him, because He is here with me in this conversation and I say, “Jesus, you are my fortress. Life has beat me up so much lately and you are the only one I can go to where I don’t feel like I’m constantly being attacked.” See how personal that is? I even go so far as to try to actually see, to imagine Him here in front of me so I can talk to Him.
    Just like I also touched on during our worship time, who He is encompasses His attributes. 1 John 4:8 tells us that God is love, so logic tells us that Jesus is LOVE as well. He is the very picture of what love looks like. He is merciful, but He is also MERCY itself. He is just. He is righteous. He is holy. See how that works? We not only have almost 200 names and titles to praise Jesus for, but we also have all these attributes that describe who He is! In short, it should be rather easy for us to pick just 1 and use that as a way to simply come before Him and praise Him for who He is during our time with Him.
    The other passage we’re going to look at is John 13:1-15. This passage took place during the Passover meal, or rather just before the Passover meal. Jesus prepared Himself to wash the disciples feet and Peter asked if this was what Jesus was going to do. Jesus told Peter that Peter didn’t yet understand what He was doing, but would later. Peter told Jesus that He would never wash his feet. Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” And so then Peter said, “Okay, then not just my feet but my hands and head as well!” Let’s look specifically at verse 12, “When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.”
    This is another great question to use to spend quality time with Jesus. Reflect on what He has done for you personally, and use it as fuel for your praise. The washing of feet showed the disciples three things, and these are things that we look for when we reflect on what He has done for us.
    First, the washing of their feet showed them an act of humble love. That the Messiah, the Anointed Son of God would humble Himself to wash the feet of even those who would betray Him, that is love. When we look at this, we remember His FAVOR toward us. He shows us love, humility, kindness, gentleness, patience, faithfulness, and so many other things that we simply don’t deserve. When we come before Him in our quiet times, we can look for moments in our daily lives where He has shown His favor toward us, and let this remembrance become thanks. Let it bring us closer to Him as we start to see more and more that He is always working in our lives.
    The washing of their feet was also a symbol of the inward cleansing needed. The cleansing of their sins by Him was necessary, but what they didn’t understand at the time was that the outer washing that they were used to as part of Jewish rituals was not what Jesus was talking about. Their hearts needed to be cleansed. When we look at this, we remember His WORK in us. We look for those moments when we clearly see His forgiveness. We respond to a situation and see how He has changed the way we respond from the way we might have in the past. We see how He has softened our hearts to things that we once turned an eye to. Again, we look on those things and we give Him thanks and let it bring us closer to Him.
    The washing of their feet was also an example of how our attitude toward others ought to be. In verse 15 He told them, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Just as He humbled Himself before us, our attitude toward others should be the same. We must have an attitude of service toward others. When we look at this example, we remember His LOVE through us. We look for moments in our day when He used us to extend His grace and mercy to someone. We look for times when He was working in us to bring comfort or encouragement to someone. We look for those moments when He uses us to teach someone some truth about Him. We look on those things and we give Him thanks and let it bring us closer to Him.
    Let’s talk about the Most/Best Challenge more. As I said before, it’s a church-wide challenge that we’ll be doing. Does that mean you have to do it? No, of course not. That is entirely up to you. Here’s why I’ll be doing it though: 1. I can never have enough time with Him. Though I walk away from my quiet times with Him feeling full of His presence, the world is very dark and it doesn’t take long for the darkness of the world to take its toll on my peace. 2. I don’t know His word as well as I’d like. Even the most adept Biblical scholar will say that they don’t know all the nuances that God’s Word holds. I need to know more, which only comes with more deliberate study. 3. I don’t always hear His voice very well, which means I must practice. Knowing His voice better means sitting in quiet more and listening so I know what His voice sounds like better. 4. I’m not yet the person I should be. I’m rough around some edges. I don’t always respond in love, mercy, kindness, or patience. I need more of His fruit in my life. That comes only from time spent with Him. This is why I’m taking up the challenge to spend at least 1 hour with Him every day. I hope you’ll join me, for these reasons, or maybe your own reasons that you have for needing more of Him, and less of you.
    Here’s some things that will help you. I’m handing out instructions for the challenge to each of you, that way you can decide to do it or not in the privacy of your own home. What you’ll need is a Bible, a journal, and maybe a devotional book. However, you don’t need a devotional book. The goal is to not spend time with someone else’s words about Jesus, but to spend time with Him through His word.
    The commitment is to these 3 things: spend an hour with Him every day, so go ahead and write down the time and place you’re going to do this and don’t change it! Write that time and place in your journal. The commitment also includes an accountability partner. Someone that you will check in with every day. Iron sharpens iron, right? And finally, the commitment is to talk about Jesus to someone. Talk about what He shows you in your daily time with Him. Share what He’s doing in your heart, no one can dispute that. I know, if you make this commitment with me, you will not be the same in 30 days. You will not be the same.
    In the materials I’ve given you, you’ll find more detailed instructions for your devotional times, and you’ll find detailed instructions for your time with your accountability partner. You’ll also find a review of the two questions we looked at today, use those questions to talk to Jesus about who He is in your life and what He has done that you are thankful for. Be specific when you talk to Him, it will help you see His work in your life more clearly and consistently. Finally, you’ll find a suggested daily reading for the first week, as well as songs that might help you worship freely. To make this really easy to use, I put all these songs for the first week in a playlist. You can find it by going to our website, llcnaz.com. Click on the Most/Best tab and there you’l find the website for the woman who put all this together, as well as a PDF file for the whole challenge in case you miss one Sunday. On the right you’ll see a place to click to go to the worship playlist. You just find the one for each week, and click “play all”. That’s it! Let’s commit to grow our time with the Lord and grow together.

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