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Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Ship in the Ocean

Below is a post I wrote four years ago.  I hope you enjoy it.

A Ship in the Ocean

An often used, if not overly used, Christianese phrase is "In the world but not of the world."  When I say it's possibly over used, I'm not saying it's not a useful or good phrase.  What I am asking is: Do you know what it means?

Let's look at Jesus' final recorded prayer in John chapter 17:

"I (Jesus) have given them (the twelve) your (the Father's) word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it." John 17:14-16

In Jesus' prayer He institutes, or at least reiterates, the idea of 'in the world but not of the world'.  But still left asking "What does it mean?"

Let's look at the word 'world'.  What does this word mean in this context?

I believe 'world' does not mean planet earth.  Obviously, Jesus' is not from planet earth originally; but I don't believe that is what He is referring to, because Jesus made planet earth.  I believe, Jesus is referring to the culture of the world, the way of the world, when He says the word 'world' here.

So, we are in the culture of the world, but not of the culture of the world.  What in the world (excuse the pun) does that mean?

In the world but not of the world means that we are called to be in the world influencing it.  We are called to not be influenced by the world.

Let me steal a metaphor from my friend Harold that he stole, or should I say borrowed, from a chaplain:

A ship in the ocean is a good thing.  In fact, the purpose of a ship is to be in the ocean.  But when the ocean starts getting into the ship disaster ensues.

We are commissioned by Christ to go into the world.

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  Matthew 28:18-20

We are also commissioned to be set apart or in other words sanctified.

"Sanctify them by the truth; your Word is truth." John 17:17

So be in the world but not of the world.  In fact, use this Christianese phrase, as long as you use it correctly.  Be ships in the ocean spreading the Gospel, but keep the ocean out of your ship today.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Jesus Can't Just Die For Us

Today I began reading the book of Judges.  Judges summarizes itself before beginning to tell all the stories we remember when we think of the book.  In this summary a question is begged.  See if you notice the question that is begged.

"They were in great distress.  Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshipped them.  Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the LORD's commands.  Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, He was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.  But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshipping them.  They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways." Judges 2:15b-19

This introduction to the book of Judges begs the question: "What if the judge never died?"

The pattern of the book of Judges is: sin, oppression, rescue by a judge, peace and prosperity under a judge, judge dies, people become even more sinful, oppression, repeat.  What if the judge never died?  The people needed a judge that never dies.

We need a Judge that never dies.

The book of Judges causes us to dream of a judge that could rule forever.  The New Testament proclaims that Judge.  Jesus is the Judge who lives forever.

We desperately needed Jesus to die for us.  We needed His atoning sacrifice on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins.  We needed the Judge to swoop in and save us.  But like the people of Israel in the time of the judges we don't just need rescue, we need the Judge to continue to live and rule.

Jesus came and rescued and that is so important, but we must never forget that Jesus lives for us today.  Because He lives we can have assurance of faith.  I know that I will remain faithful to Jesus because He is the Judge that never dies.  He died once to pay the penalty of sin, but He was raised from the tomb to never die.  Jesus' rule as Judge will never end and neither will the peace and prosperity of His Kingdom when He brings it to earth.  Those saved by this Judge will remain faithful to God because this Judge broke the cycle of the book of Judges; this Judge lives.

Thank God that Jesus didn't just die for us.  Thank God daily for Jesus' death, but also thank Him for Jesus' never ending life today.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

As For Me and My House

21 years ago I heard a song that I've not heard more than a few times since, but it has never left me.

The year, I believe, was 1996 and the hugely popular Promise Keepers men's rallies were going from stadium to stadium across the U.S.  Promise Keepers made a stop at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, about a 45 minute drive from where I lived in Missouri.  So my dad, my Granda Ray, my Papa and other men went.  

I only went to one of the two days of the rally due to having a little league game on same day as day two, but I'll never forget a few parts of that one day.  We went to the stadium full of tens of thousands of men.  I was surrounded by the men in my life and so many other men.  I was taken back by the number of guys both young and old filling this stadium for something other than a Chief's game.  I'll be honest, I don't remember who the speakers were.  I don't remember much from the speakers other than learning what a man't loins were from one of them (he was an African-American preacher who repeated the phrase "from your waist to your thighs several times while I assume talking about sexual purity).  I don't remember much but I do remember the chorus of a song.

I remember the bass rumble as a stadium built for 74,000 was filled with men singing.  You can imagine the vibrations in my chest as my dad and grandpas and tens of thousands of other men sang, "As for me and my house we will serve the Lord."



I'll never forget that moment and that promise that my dad and grandpas sang that day.  I'm reading the Bible through in a year and as I was in Joshua today I read this:

"But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Joshua 24:15

That was my Old Testament reading.  Then I read in Luke chapter 6 Jesus' story about the man who built his house on the rock.  The flood came, the torrent struck the house but could not shake it.  But another built a house without a foundation and the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?  I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them to practice.  He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.  When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well build."  Luke 6:46-48

The storms of life will most definitely come.  I would love to prevent the floods of life from hitting my son, the torrents of life from striking my marriage and the rainy days from my family, but that isn't going to be accomplishable.  Instead, I will build my household on a firm foundation.  I will build my life and establish my family on the Rock, the Stone that was rejected but that has become the Cornerstone.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord today.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

10 Reasons to Church Hop Forever

Below is a satirical post I wrote two years ago.  I was reminded of it after seeing the stinging humor in the "Church Hunters" videos.

10 Reasons to Church Hop Forever

"Church hopping" or continuously "church shopping" is something that is quite common today.  I want to give you ten reasons to church hop forever, to never land in one local church body.

1) You'll become an expert on church services.  You could even start a website giving reviews and ratings for all the churches around you.  You could rate children's programs, musical worship and sermon quality.

2) You'll often be the center of attention.  Many churches are so warm and welcoming to newcomers, imagine getting a warm and over the top welcoming once a week forever.

3) You'll never have to be vulnerable.  If you're never vulnerable no one can hurt you and you'll never have to go through the terrifying and awkward experience of opening your soul up to another person that isn't in your family.

4) No one will ever expect you to tithe.  Think about what you could do with an extra 10% every check.  This would completely free you from the additional financial effort all of those suckers who faithfully give to their church have.

5) No one will notice if you miss a Sunday... or seven Sundays.  You could go your whole life without ever being accountable in church attendance or any other spiritual discipline.

6) You can attend a church without the burden of serving.  I mean, who wants to serve in the nursery or help on the finance team?  Not serving will give you so much free time.

7) No one will ask you to join a small group or Bible study.  Who needs another evening activity in their schedule?  Plus, in a small group you might have to contribute... yuck!

8) No church business meetings.  Need I say more?

9) Fewer people prying into your life wondering how they can pray for you?  Seriously, it's none of their business anyway.  Why would they want to know where you're hurting or struggling?  Do you think they really want to love you?

10) No expectations of spiritual growth.  You're probably very comfortable in your faith life, right?  Why push it then?  If you grew maybe things wouldn't be so comfortable anymore, maybe you'd feel convicted.  What a nasty feeling conviction is and growth usually is painful and no one needs pain.

So there you are, ten reasons to hop from church to church forever.

Obviously (if you know me I hope this is obvious), I wouldn't recommend a word of what I just wrote.  I feel it is incredibly important to be a part of a local church family.  If you are "church hopping" currently I have one question for you:  Do you have any intentions of landing at a local church?   Churches aren't for your entertainment.  Christians aren't meant to be church connoisseurs, we are meant to be members of a local church and members of the Church universal.

If you are church hopping now, I encourage you to land somewhere.  I guarantee you that you'll never find a perfect church, but I also guarantee you that you'll grow more as part of a church than apart from one.  Please become part of a local church today.  


Monday, March 27, 2017

'Tis But a Scratch

I recently read a very familiar story and was struck by a major part of the meaning.

"After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.  'Follow me,' Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed Him.

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to His disciples, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?'

Jesus answered them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:27-32

Now there is a way that I've read this passage and it's not wrong but it was missing a major piece.

See, I've read this before and been grateful that Jesus came to heal and forgive the sickest of society, that Jesus did not come to sit in the Temple all day but rather to go to those who were outsiders and proclaim the Gospel to them and to love them.  Jesus most certainly did this.

I've always wondered what sorts of people we may be surprised to see Jesus around.  Would we be surprised to find Jesus dining with: a democrat? A republican?  A homosexual?  A prisoner?  A drug addict?  A __________?  This is a great question to ask.  In Jesus' day tax collectors were outsiders and Jesus was dining with tax collectors and other "sinners" and this shocked and disgusted the religious leaders.  Who would we be shocked to see Jesus around?  We should ask ourselves this question and then repent of our blatant disregard for God's love for that group of people.

But this interpretation is missing a major piece.

The Pharisees were told by Jesus, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."  We read this and think that Jesus must have been in the right place and with the right people to complete His mission.  What I saw recently is that the Pharisees should have fallen at Jesus' feet and said, "Heal us Great Physician!  We are sinners!  What must we do to be saved?"

The Pharisees heard that Jesus came for the sick and had no idea they were suffering from a terminal cancer.  Sin spreads in us and without intervention it kills us every time, no matter how visible it is on the outside.  Many of us have read this passage and thought about all the "sinners" that Jesus came for.  We put ourselves in place of the Pharisees except we think that we're the nice, righteous people who, unlike the Pharisees, follow Jesus.  We aren't those sick "sinners" but we're also not those unbelieving Pharisees.  When in reality we should read this passage and praise God that He came to call sinners like me and you to repentance.

The Pharisees were like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  They were armless. legless and willfully oblivious to their wounds.  Too often we are like that, too.  We see the mortal wounds of others but think our sins are but a scratch.

The Gospel is offensive because it declares that you are a sick sinner in need of saving no matter how good you think your are.  And the Gospel is such good news because it declares that Jesus came to heal and forgive the terminally sick sinners of the world, you and I included.

Recognize your need for the Great Physician and when He comes to heal you, when He calls you to repentance be like Levi and leave everything to follow Him.  Leave your sinfulness, leave your self-righteousness, leave your pride... leave everything and follow the only one who can heal your sin-sick soul today.

(Pardon the couple moment of mild language)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Standing on the Promises

This morning at worship service we sang songs that encouraged me.  We sang "Redeemed, Restored, Forgiven", "Always", "Cornerstone" and "Standing on the Promises."  Sundays during Lent I want to take a closer look at some of the songs we sing during worship.  Today let's look at the story behind "Standing on the Promises."

Below is an excerpt from Thrive Magazine online about the story behind "Standing on the Promises" by Russell Kelso Carter.  Enjoy the story and stand on the firm promises of God today.

"... it wasn’t until Carter faced his own mortality that he came to understand exactly what it meant to rest on God’s promises. Diagnosed with a critical heart condition by age 30, Carter was facing imminent death.
Connie Ruth Christiansen writes: “He knelt and made a promise that healing or no, his life was finally and forever, consecrated to the service of the Lord.”  Christiansen goes on to say that from that moment on the Scripture took on new life for Carter and he began to lean on the promises that he found in the Bible. He committed himself to believe, whether or not God granted him healing.
God chose to heal him and Carter lived, with a healthy heart, for another 49 years, though he would later suffer many other health issues from which God did not choose to heal him. In the end, Carter came to the conclusion that healing was God’s choice to make and that God also chose the instruments through which that healing, if granted, would come. His hymn was a personal testimony to his faith."




Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Sweet to Hold a Newborn Baby

I'm about eight weeks away from holding my son for the first time.  Today I'm overwhelmed by the excitement of that.  I'm wondering what I will feel.  Will I cry?  Will I have a heart exploding with joy?  Will I be able to do nothing in response but kiss him and my wife?  Will I be struck with terror?

This morning I got to speak with some men that I deeply respect as they talked about their children.  Their children range from very little to their 40's.  They spoke of the paths their children have taken.  They spoke of children that took a very direct path to Jesus and those whose path was corkscrewed.  As they shared about their children I thought about how the same little boy I'll hold in my arms will cause all kinds of joy and sorrow for me.  How the boy that I hold might one day rebel.  I thought about how the men I greatly admir have children that took various paths and I felt my utter lack of control for my son's path.

I will do my best to raise my son.  My wife will do her best to raise him, but we need help.  We will get help from the wisdom of our parents.  I will get it from other men who know better than I do.  My wife will get help from godly women who are great mothers.  But even with all this help we still won't have complete control over the way our son ends up.

There is a modern hymn that I want sung on the day we dedicate our son to the Lord at church.  The hymn is "Because He Lives" by Bill and Gloria Gaither.  In 1970 Bill and Gloria were expecting their son Benji and they worried about the world he would be born into.  They worried about all the things outside of their control that could harm him.  Then one day Gloria felt a calm inspired by the Gospel and she and Bill wrote the song.  Below are the lyrics that give me comfort as I eagerly await holding my son and wonder about all life might hold for him.

"How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he brings;
But greater still the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because He lives!

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know, He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because He lives!"

I will make many promises to my son.  I will do my job to the best of my abilities.  Christine and I will raise him to love Jesus, but there's only so much we can do.  We will trust Jesus with the rest.  We will trust that He has good plans, even the corkscrew shaped plans.

For now I'm just going to go back to daydreaming about holding my son today.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Continually Praising, Doing Good and Following Well

Today is the final post in a series of post on Hebrews 13 based on a post from 2013 entitled, "10 Signs of a Mature Christian."  Let's finish looking at what the 13th chapter of Hebrews has to say about being a maturing Christian.

"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise... the fruit of lips that confess His name.  And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifice God is pleased.

Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Pray for us.  We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.  I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen." Hebrews 13:15-21

Mature Christians are:

Continually offering a sacrifice of praise.

Are you fearless in confessing the name of Jesus?  Do you hide your praise in some situations?

Mature Christians, Hebrews 13 says, continually offer a sacrifice of praise.  Now what is that?  Well, here it is lips that confess His name.  Confessing is stating the truth; therefore, mature Christians are ones that state the truth about God.  They confess His name, which is who He is.  Do you spend time rehearsing the character and attributes of God?  Do you sing them?  Do you pray them?  Do you write them?  Do you tell others about them?

“Aslan" said Lucy "you're bigger".
"That is because you are older, little one" answered he.
"Not because you are?"
"I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger".” C. S. Lewis Prince Caspian

Maturing Christians are increasing in awe of God and are compelled to praise Him.  Maturing Christians are increasing compelled to share with others the great things they know about the Lord.  Until we are bold in confessing His name in any situation we have room to mature.

Good followers.

Are you a joy to lead?  Or do you make leading you a burden for the leaders of your local church?

Mature Christians realize that the leaders of a church must give an account for the souls they lead.  This is a big deal.  I am blessed to be an elder at my local church and I can tell you that this verse turns my stomach.  I must give an account to God on how I lead, I'm not worthy of that but I'm called to that.  I can tell you that most of the time it is a joy to be in that role, but there are times when it is hard.

Do you follow your leaders, not blindly, but in a way that you are a joy to lead?  The writer of Hebrews would say, and did say, that being a burden to lead is of no benefit to you.

Often we think every mature Christian is someone in a leadership role and that simply isn't true.  Some of the most mature Christians I know are not leaders, but they do bring joy to those who lead them.

Doers of good.

What do you do that is a good deed?  Does your local church provide ways for you to do good?

James wrote that faith without works is dead.  Mature Christians will be people who do good.  The good the maturing Christian does may not be the same good that another Christian might do, but they do good deeds nonetheless.

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10

Mature Christians do good, not to earn salvation because salvation is a gift, but because of salvation.  When God enters your life you will do good deeds.  Hebrews 13 says that God can equip with everything good to do His will.  In fact, it says that the same God who raised Jesus from the dead equips us to do His will.  How amazing is that!  We have no excuse not to do good deeds, because the God who raised Christ from the dead uses that same source of power to do good through us.

As I've written the last several days about being a mature Christian I've been convicted of the many ways I don't act like one.  I don't think anyone who has read the Hebrews 13 or the original post I wrote in 2013 or the ones from the last few days walks away from it feeling like they've achieved complete Christian maturity.  But I hope these post have encouraged you to pursue it, not discouraged you.  If you're convicted, that's great, but don't lose heart because you've not hit the finish line while running the race.  Friends, we're running a marathon; we simply need to keep pressing on and we will achieve Christian maturity in this life perhaps and certainly in the next.

Grace be with you all today.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Be Rooted Imitators With a Mind in Heaven

Today is day three in a short series of post based on Hebrews 13 and a post from 2013 called "10 Signs of a Mature Christian."  Let's continue to look at what Hebrews 13 says about being a maturing Christian.

"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.  It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.  We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.

The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.  Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."  Hebrews 13:7-14

Mature Christians are:

Imitators of those ahead of them on the path.

Do you have someone whose life you watch?  Are you mentored by someone?  Does your local church have avenues for this to happen?

This point was not in the original 2013 list of ten signs of a mature Christian, so I guess we've got eleven now.  I thought about not including it but it is so important.  The writer of Hebrews says to remember their leaders and to consider the way they live and then imitate their lifestyle.  Now, we all are to follow Jesus, but we also need someone to imitate that is striving to imitate Jesus.  We need someone or several someones to watch.  My wife is due soon and I can tell you that I'm watching good, Christian fathers and hoping to imitate what they do well.  Perhaps you watch and imitate from afar; perhaps you ask for a more formal mentorship to be discipled by someone.  See, following Jesus isn't just a series of Bible studies; we all need people we imitate as they bring their faith to bear in their workplace, in the mini-van, in their social media account... we need the lives of solid Christians to imitate.

Then, if the man or woman of faith that you're imitating falls, if they fail (and they most certainly will at least sometimes) we must remember that the ultimate One to imitate is Jesus because He is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Are you humble enough to consider the outcome of someone's life and imitate it?  Are you aware that someone is likely imitating you right now?

Rooted in sound doctrine.

Are you familiar with Christian orthodoxy?  Is your local church committed to sound doctrine or to the latest trend?

Mature Christians study sound doctrine.  Mature Christians know that doctrine isn't just something for seminary students.  Mature Christians, even if they couldn't tell you exactly what's wrong with something, notice when a teaching is off base.

The book of Hebrews was written to a church that was dealing with people that were teaching that the grace of Jesus was not enough, they taught that one needed the grace of Christ and to follow Jewish customs.  The entire book of Hebrews was written to say that if these laws and ceremonies had been good enough then why on earth did Jesus come and die?  Jesus and His blood are enough.  We are to be strengthened by the good doctrine of grace, not by to-do lists.

Parents, are you teaching your kids Jesus' grace or moralism based on a to-do list?  Do you believe in grace for yourself but works for others?  Have you studied the Word enough to know what is the Master's voice and what isn't?  Have you placed yourself under teachers and preachers that are rooted in sound doctrine?

Mature Christians build their house on the Rock of Jesus, not man-made religion.

Prone to think of the Kingdom of God.

Are you Heavenly minded?  Is your local church a place that tunes your heart to think of the Kingdom to come?

Throughout the book of Hebrews the writer makes the point that the Christians with the strongest faith, that is the most active and mature faith, are those Christians who think about "the city that is to come."

If we think of this temporal world we will make decisions based on the limited economy of time and finite resources.  If we think about our eternal home we will make decisions based on the the economy of unlimited time and infinite resources.  If we live for the here and now most often, we will make decision devoid of courage.  When we think primarily of this life we will think of the Christian life as sacrifice; however, if we are Heavenly minded we will think of the Christian life as investing.  Throughout the Scriptures we are told of the mass benefits of following God, most of which will come in the eternal Kingdom of God.  If we don't think of Heaven we will turn tail and run when life gets hard.  We must have our minds fixed on the New Heaven and New Earth more than this earth.

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next." C. S. Lewis

Mature Christians see life as it really is, they aren't fooled by the illusion of this present life being all there is.  Maturing Christians are prone to think of the Kingdom of God.

Press on to Christian Maturity.  Imitate those further along the path in a given area of life than you, be rooted in sound doctrine and think of the Kingdom of God today.




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Honor Marriage and Be Content

Today I'm continuing in a series of posts based on Hebrews 13 and a post I did in 2013 called "10 Signs of a Mature Christian."  Let's continue on in Hebrews 13 and look at what it tells us about being a mature or rather a maturing Christian.

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

                  'Never will I leave you;
                   never will I forsake you.'

So we say with confidence,
   
                  'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid,
                  What can man do to me?'" Hebrews 13:4-6

Mature Christians are:

Honorers of marriage.

Are you an honorer of marriage?  Is your local church a place where marriages are supported and marriage is encouraged to those who want it?

The writer of Hebrews says that marriage is to be held in honor by all, married and single.  Why must marriage be held in honor?  Well, in Ephesians chapter 5 the Apostle Paul showed us that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church.  Married people are to demonstrate a profound mystery.  A married man and a woman are to display a beautiful and complex aspect of God's love and the Church's devotion through the object lesson called marriage.  Marriage is to be held in honor by all because it is a tool for showing Christ's glorious, sacrificial, unending love.

So, what does this mean for single people?

I believe that single people can honor marriage in a variety of ways.  For those singles planning on being married one day, this passage will have you honor your future marriage.  Singles, imagine having to tell your future spouse about your sexual and relational failures, because we all must be honest with our mates.  Imagine the future hurt you may bring to him or her, imagine the shame of having to confess that.  Honor your future marriage by keeping your marriage bed pure before you ever get into it.

Singles can also honor marriage by supporting marriages.  Singles, do you actively cheer on and support your married friends?  Have you ever watched the kids for them so they could invest in their marriage?  Have you ever prayed for their marriage that it would glorify Christ?  There are many ways to honor marriage even if you intend to remain single.

Married people, do you view your marriage as a means to glorify God or as a means to be happy?

We must aim to make Christ glorious in our marriage.  This involves fidelity.   We must remain as faithful to our wives or husbands as Christ has been to the Church... which is completely.  Jesus said that looking on another woman with lust is adultery; do you guard your heart and eyes to keep your marriage bed pure?  Do you enjoy your own marriage bed?  So often we focus only on the negative side of this command, and we should, but how about enjoying the purity of your own marriage bed?  If your thoughts are captivated by your own wife's body, your own husband's skin, then it is harder for your mind to have time to think about somebody else. Don't just remove a thought, replace it with a pure one.  A healthy sex life is a key to honoring your marriage.  Marriage is SO much more than that, but let's not forget that.  It is dying to self, it is putting her/his needs above yours, but it is also delighting in your spouse.

The final thing I leave you with to help you honor marriage is this: Honorers of marriage NEVER, outside of physical abuse, encourage someone to abandon their marriage.  I have seen Christians sit in the pew one day and then encourage divorce the next.  This is wrong!  We must honor marriage.  Marriage is not easy, there will be valleys if you stay married long enough, but honorers of marriage encourage those in the valley to keep on going.  Honorers of marriage don't let go of their marriage and help others to hold on to theirs, too.

Content.

Is your life marked with a holy discontentment for Christ and a deep contentment with Christ?  Are you struck by the disease of materialism and the love of money?

Contentment is a hard virtue to own, but is a key Christian principle.  Contentment is difficult because it gets to the crux of one of our chief loves: money.

We are implored to keep our lives free from the love of money.  This is so hard to do and so hard to identify, yet so important.  Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had to follow Him, but the young man didn't because he had great wealth.  But this isn't just about the wealthy, the love of money hits poor and rich alike.

We are to fight for contentment because it shows what we love and what we trust.  In times of trouble do we trust God or our savings?  When it comes to where our extra effort goes does it go toward pursuing more of God or more money?

Mature Christians are content because they know that their security is not found in cash but in the God who will never leave them nor forsake them, in the God who is their helper.

So, how do we do this?

To those young people starting off I say make contentment a goal right away.  It is so much easier to begin with contentment than it is to lower your "standard of living."  Begin with an un-extravagant lifestyle that prioritizes giving rather than spending.  This is a wise thing to do.  For those of you that have already begun the rat race of living for more and better stuff, this is the time to take inventory of what you have.  This is the time to ask where your heart lies.  I don't believe, necessarily, that God is calling you to give up your things, but if the thought of doing that strikes fear in your heart then I think the disease of materialism and the love of money already has you.

Contentment is a treasured possession of the wise and maturing Christian.  The content man or woman can shake their heads at the hoards waiting in line all night and day for the latest iPhone.  The content man or woman knows that the only thing they don't have enough of is their Lord and they will pursue more of Him with what pastor Matt Chandler calls a holy discontentment.

We must press on to Christian maturity.  Let us begin be loving marriage and fighting for contentment in Christ today.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Loving, Hospitable and Empathetic

Four years ago, when I last carefully studied the book of Hebrews, I wrote the post "10 Signs of a Mature Christian."  This post has been one of the most read post I've ever written mostly because the chapter it was written about, Hebrews 13, is one of the most straightforward in the Bible as far as answering the question, "What does a maturing Christian need to do?"

I want over the next few days to look at a few of these ten signs of a mature Christian more carefully.  Today I will look at Hebrews 13:1-3 and the writer of Hebrews' urging of the readers to love each other, be hospitable and be empathetic.

"Keep on loving each other as brothers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.  Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."  Hebrews 13:1-3

Mature Christians are:

Loving toward their local church body.

Would your local church be described as a place where you love one another?  Would you be described as a person who loves others?

"A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."  John 13:34-35

Jesus said that a defining characteristic of Christians WILL be their love for one another.  Now, I say that we are to be loving toward our local church body.  I say this not because we are not to love Christians around the world, but rather because those near us and covenanted to us in a church are the ones with whom we get to practice these one another commands, this love is an active love.  It's easy to love my brothers in India in theory, but it may require some work to love my brothers and sisters I see enough that they could annoy me.

Also, notice the writer of Hebrews says, "Keep on loving..."  This means to continue and don't stop loving.  Why did he/she write this?  I believe because it is sometimes easy to love, but to keep on loving is a whole different animal.  Enduring in our love for Jesus is often hard, how much more difficult is it at times to endure in our love for blatantly imperfect people!

Mature Christians love the local church body and don't stop doing so.  Mature Christians have an enduring, familiar love for the Christians in their local church especially.

Hospitable.

Would you describe yourself as a hospitable person?  Would you describe your local church as a hospitable place?

Hospitality is an esteemed virtue from Genesis to Revelation.  Abraham and Sarah were hospitable to strangers and those strangers turned out to be angels and one may have been a Christophony.  Conversely, the men of Sodom were so extremely inhospitable that they wanted to rape those same angels and thus the city was destroyed.  Hospitality is commanded or commended in places like: 1 Peter 4:9, Romans 12:13, Leviticus 19:34, Titus 1:8, 1 Timothy 3:2, Proverbs 31:20 and so many other places.

Hospitality is not the same as entertaining.  Some of you have very neat homes and have very organized activities for your guests to do.  Others of us simply say welcome, make yourself at home and don't mind the mess.  There are many ways to be hospitable, but the bottom line is that a mature Christian's hospitality is the recognition that nothing we have is ours, that our things are tools to use to serve God and that the reward given to the hospitable is worth it (Matthew 25:34).

Empathetic

Would you describe yourself as an empathetic person?  What causes your heart to break?

Mature Christians feel the heartbreak of others and do something about it despite the cost.  They visit those in prison.  At the time Hebrews was written Christians were being imprisoned on account of their faith.  Hebrews 10:34 says that when people would visit Christians in prison the visitor's things would be confiscated.  The authorities would identify Christians by seeing who would visit these poor Christians in prison and then take their belongings.  Mature Christians view the treasures of Heaven as of far greater worth than the things they might lose here; they view the ability to offer encouragement to a fellow Christian as something worth risking for.

Mature Christians can put themselves in the shoes of other suffering Christians.  Whether that person is suffering on account of righteousness or stupidity, they can suffer with them in empathy.  Do you have the ability and soft heart to empathize with your Christian brothers and sisters around the corner or around the globe?  Have you ever visited a suffering Christian to cry with them or encourage them?

We must press on toward Christian maturity.  The 13th chapter of Hebrews has a lot to say to encourage us on that path.  I'll look at three more signs of a mature Christian tomorrow, but examine yourself on how you're doing on these three today.


Monday, March 20, 2017

The Curse and Being Beastly

Saturday night my wife and I went to see the movie Beauty and the Beast at the theatre.  To be honest, this was a movie for her, I would have rather seen Logan, but I sure do love my wife.  Even though it wouldn't have been my first choice I can say that it was a well done, well casted, nearly shot-for-shot remake of the 1991 animated film.

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of the movie, here's the gist.  A young prince fails to show hospitality to a woman who ends up having the power to curse he, his castle and all who dwell there.  The curse causes the rich young ruler to become a beast rather than a human.  It also causes his servants to become objects rather than human and the castle becomes increasingly deteriorated.  The young prince and his castle are doomed unless the curse can be reversed.

In the 2017 version of the film they do an excellent job of showing the curse's progression.  As the curse continues it progresses; the castle groans and crumbles a bit more, the servants become more like stiff clocks, wardrobes or candelabras than human beings.

The only way the curse in both versions of the film can be reversed is if the beastly, rich young man can give up his selfishness and earn the love of a young woman.

Of course (and if this is a spoiler alert you need to get to a movie at least once every several decades) Belle, the beauty, wins over the Beast and eventually the two fall in love and the curse is broken, and I'm sure they live happily ever after.

The 2017 version does a tremendous job of showing the unending progression of the corruption of the curse.  It also shows the reversal of the curse in a beautiful way.  The castle walls that once groaned and crumbled become bright and strong.  The people who had been dehumanized kept their identifiable characteristics while transforming at once into their original human design.  The Beast is changed from an animal to a man that the Beauty could marry.

I couldn't help but notice as I watched the climax of the live action version of Beauty and the Beast how much this story and so many good stories take their lead from the greatest story ever told.

See, when the curse came humans lost so much of what the original design of humanity was.  We became too often objectified and animalistic.  The dwelling place of man began to crumble, to be more dingy and to groan.  But when Beauty wins the Beast and the curse is fully reversed we will see the dwelling place of man as it was designed to be, we will see our perfected bodies as they were originally planned to be, we will see each other not as objects or animals but as beautiful people.  And the best part, Beauty will come live with the former Beast made truly man.  God Himself will make His dwelling place with man on the New Heaven and New Earth.

Pray for the curse to be reversed.  And if you do go to see Beauty in the Beast try not to miss the Gospel, whether it was meant to be included or not, today.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rejoice

The song today that stuck out to me in worship was our exit song "Rejoice".

Listen to the song and notice the Gospel truths all over it.  Notice the awe and wonder directed toward Almighty God.  Notice the good news about the love God has for us His children.  Notice the reconciliation and unrelenting love sung about.

Enjoy this song and rejoice today.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Spiritual Amnesia

Have you ever had a case of spiritual amnesia?

I mean, have you ever been in a rough spot and seen God come through for you and then some time later been in a similar spot and been terrified or doubtful?  I think we've all had a case of spiritual amnesia.  For instance we've prayed for a spouse and thought he or she would never come; saw loser after loser until we finally fell head over heels for that good man or woman.  We've prayed for the job and despaired that it would never come, then got the right job at the right time.  We've searched for a house and saw "the one" get sold over and over until we found the house that became our home.

We've all seen God work and then a decade later, a year later, a month later or even a day later wondered if God was able to come through for us.  Spiritual amnesia is as pervasive as real amnesia is on a soap opera.

"During those days another large crowd gathered.  Since they had nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, 'I have compassion for these people, they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.  If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.'

His disciples answered, 'But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?' Mark 8:1-4

Spiritual amnesia had struck all 12 disciples.  This is Mark chapter 8, just a few pages earlier in Mark chapter 6 Jesus had taken five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 5,000 men plus women and children and had 12 baskets left over.  Now, there are 4,000 men plus women and children and the disciples can't seem to fathom how Jesus could feed them.  This is NOT the same story told twice, this is a second mass feeding by Jesus and the disciples don't seem to remember the first.

"How many loaves to you have?' Jesus asked.

'Seven,' they replied.

He told the crowd to sit down on the ground.  When He had taken the seven loaves and given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the people, and they did so.  They had a few small fish as well; He gave thanks for them also and told the disciples to distribute them.  The people ate and were satisfied.  Afterwards the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  About four thousand men were present." Mark 8:5-9a

There were fewer people and more bread than last time and the disciples couldn't imagine how Jesus could come through.  We read this and think, "Silly disciples" but how often do we do the same thing?

My dad has said this in sermons before as something we should recite to ourselves in times of need, "God has been there for me before and He'll be there for me again."

This doesn't mean that every time we ask for a specific miracle that God will give it.  What this means is that we need to remember the wonderful things God has done for us in the past and remember that He is able at all times.  The Israelites were given books of history to remind them of God's past deeds.  We are given the same thing.  We have the stories of the Bible, we have the stories of our family, we have the stories of our own happenings.  God has been there before and He'll be there for me again.

If you've self-diagnosed with spiritual amnesia I recommend you recite that phrase.  I recommend you keep a record of the ways God has been victorious in your life.  We are so quick to remember our valleys, we need to be as quick or quicker to remember our mountaintops.  Fight spiritual amnesia by remembering the wonderful things God has done for us today.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Beauty Wins the Beast

Today the movie Beauty and the Beast is being released.  Below is a post I wrote last June.

Beauty Wins the Beast

In 1991 Disney released Beauty and the Beast and in 2017 Emma Watson will star as Belle in a live action retelling of the classic story.  When Disney made the announcement that the new film was to be made people (including my wife) got very excited.  If you remember the '91 original you'll remember that throughout the film (unless you were a young boy like me who wanted to become a bison-man-beast) the audience is left wondering time and again why Belle, the beauty, would love a wretched beast who had little to no beauty on the inside or outside.

Sunday during at church I was left wondering a similar thing.

We sang the song "Jesus Thank You" and we got to the bridge when it hit me.  During the bridge we sing, "Lover of my soul.  I want to live for you."  I had to sit down because I was so struck by what I had just sang.  Lover of MY soul?  Lover of MY soul?  I want to live for you.

As I ponder/think about/gaze on the beauty of God I'm left with a great question.  When I consider His eternally perfect qualities and compare them to my own I can't help but ask perhaps one of the greatest question: How could God love me?  But then we all discover that our greatest problem is: How can I love God?

See, while God is the very definition of beauty, pre-conversion me was a hardened rebel.  While God's true North perfection was burning white hot, my soul's compass was fixed toward Hell.

This is much like Beauty and the Beast, Beauty has to win the Beast.  The one worthy of love in the movie had to sacrifice and be thought a fool by the rest of the town to win the heart of the Beast.  When the town was wondering "how could she love him?" she was working on making him love her.  This is strikingly similar to the Gospel.  The definition of beauty humbled Himself to win the hearts of beasts.

Ezekiel chapter 16 paints a more ugly picture of us to make this point, the book of Hosea paints a similarly disgusting picture of us and both to make the same point: God sought after and won the hearts of those who lacked any inner and/or outer beauty that could draw Him to them.

"But God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

But not only are we loved in this ultimate Beauty and the Beast story, but we're also loved in a Princess and the Frog way.  The lovely Royalty of royalty, the King of kings finds we toads and loves us.  He loves us in a metamorphic way that transforms us into princes and princesses ourselves.  Through His sanctifying and glorifying love He transforms us "from one degree of glory to another" into something really beautiful.  The King bends down to beautify the frog, warts and all, into a gorgeous queen.

How could God love me?  I truly don't know how or why.  How can I love God?  Only through the power of His love.

Give thanks that Beauty wins the Beast today.


St. Patrick's Day

Today is St. Patrick's Day so I want to repost something I wrote in 2014.

St. Patrick's Day

I'm part Irish, or Scot-Irish more accurately, and I enjoy St. Patrick's Day.  It's fun eating corn-beef and cabbage or Irish stew.  Or drinking an Irish stout, or at least a Shamrock Shake.  Today people wear green.  I got a chance to play Irish music from bands like Flogging Molly, Snow Patrol and U2.  It's a fun day to celebrate, or exaggerate, being Irish.

That all being said, I think we've really missed an opportunity to celebrate St. Patrick on St. Patrick's Day.  I think the saint himself would wonder what getting drunk, pinching folks not wearing green and trying to River Dance has to do with his life.

With that in mind let me tell you a little bit about St. Patrick.

Patrick was the son of a wealthy Welshman.  When he was 16 he was kidnapped by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland to be a slave.  While being held in slavery he took care of sheep on the emerald island of Ireland.  While a slave Patrick was left alone with the sheep and his prayers; it was during this time that he made a true conversion to Christianity.  Six years into his slavery he's said to have had a vision from God.  The vision led him away from his master and to a port where he was able to board a ship back to Britain.

Once back in his homeland he had another vision that featured an Irishman begging him to come back to Ireland with the Gospel.  So, Patrick, now a man in his early 20's, returned to Ireland.  He returned to bring Good News to the very people that had wrongfully enslaved him.

Patrick had immense success in his ministry.  Using things like the shamrock to explain the mystery of the 3-in-1 Holy Trinity he taught the Gospel to the Irish.  Patrick wrote that he baptized thousands of people on the island.  Converts became priests and nuns in large numbers.

Patrick also is said to have faced stiff opposition.  He was beaten, robbed and put in prison.  Yet, he continued to preach to the people who had enslaved him when he was a teenager.

Today, Ireland is not a pagan nation.  Today, Ireland is a Catholic country and St. Patrick's courageous love is a big reason why.  Patrick came back to the people who enslaved him with a message of love and redemption.  He changed the course of history because he chose to act like Jesus and the apostles rather than acting out the revenge he deserved to get.

What an awesome story!


St. Patrick's Day is a fun holiday featuring Irish culture and everything green; but don't forget St. Patrick on St. Patrick's Day.  More importantly, don't forget the God that enabled St. Patrick to bring love when he received evil and the freedom of the Gospel when he was given the chains of slavery.

Love courageously.  Share the Gospel boldly.  Remember the real reason for St. Patrick's Day today.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3:16

Today is March 16th or 3:16.  So, I want to take a look at one of the most famous verses in the Bible, John 3:16.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16 KJV

This is one of the first verses I learned as a child.  In fact, I remember the first time I committed it to memory; I'm not sure why or exactly what age I was, but I do remember it and I remember that I was very young.  I was a little boy in the bathtub while my dad was in the room with me.  My dad would often sit there and talk with us or sing stupid songs using our various pet names; he'd sing, "Scoobalow the boobalow was a good 'ole boy..."  But sometimes he'd just talk with me.

On one such occasion he was helping me learn John 3:16, in the King James Version, of course.  I remember the thrill of committing it to memory and I've never forgotten that verse.  I thank God that my parents talked about God as we walked along the road, as we sat at home, as we lay down, as we got up and even as we bathed.

John 3:16 is a familiar verse to so many and if it isn't a verse familiar to you I encourage you to memorize it.  However, have I, have we lost it's meaning in the familiarity?

The word that sticks out to me tonight is "whosoever".  Whosoever, or who ever, or whatever your version says is an important word.  Do we really believe that whosoever means whosoever?

Often, we think that the Gospel is for some types of people but not others.  We think nice people can be given everlasting life, but some are just too far gone.  Now, we might say in our minds or aloud that we believe that God can save anyone without distinction, but we declare the opposite with our actions.  Are there people you refuse to share the Gospel with because you think it'd be a lost cause?  Are there those you've not invited to your church because they're not the church type?

See, if we proclaim John 3:16 and we memorize John 3:16 but ignore the whosoever we insult God's only begotten Son who died to give those whosoevers everlasting life.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16



Honor God's love, God's sending of His only begotten Son, God's salvation from perishing, God's gift of everlasting life by sharing the Gospel with whosoever today.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Ugly Thing That Lives Inside

Last night I was confronted by my sin.

I had a thought that shook me; I thought a thought I never thought I'd think.  I was confronted by my sin.  It wasn't a sin that I committed, but a sin that lives inside me.

Again, it wasn't a sin I did, but a sin that lives inside me.  I was confronted once again by my capacity for evil.

Before I tell you my thought, and I have debated whether or not to share it or to just remain vague, let me tell you about two other times it happened.

When I visited Germany I went to a concentration camp.  Before going to the Flossenburg concentration camp I had the opportunity to stay as a guest with a few different German families.  I loved that experience.  The families were loving, fun and so relatable.

When I went to the concentration camp I was expecting to be appalled at the atrocities committed, and I was.  I expected to be chilled when they talked of the 30,000 men, women and children who died there, and I was.  I expected my heart to ache when they retold the story of Bonhoeffer's death there, and I was.  However, I didn't expect to be able to relate to the Nazi era Germans.  In Flossenburg I was hammered by the realization that I likely could live in one of the homes near the camp and say nothing.  I could have been silent as so many nice Germans were.  I realized that I had a deep capacity for evil in me.

Before my wife and I dated I thought that not having sex before marriage was a fairly simple accomplishment.  I thought that weak people caved in to that particular sin.  During the time dating and being engaged to my wife I realized that I should not be surprised when Christians do have pre-marital sex but rather when they don't.  Following God's command was more difficult than I expected.  We did manage to wait, but I found that the very thing I judged lived in me.

So, last night I was confronted by my sin.  Not a sin I committed but a sin that lives in me.

During my wife's pregnancy my moments of realizing that I am the father of my son are much fewer than I expected.  To be honest, I spend more time having it not feel real than having it feel real.  It's hard not to on this side of birth.  It was last night that I realized that the capacity to forget the humanity of my son lives in me and sometimes owns too much real estate in me.  And this is the same feeling that allows men and women to electively abort (I'm not talking about situations where the life of the mother is at risk, simply elective abortions).  Abortion is never an option for me, but I saw one of the seeds of it in me.  I stared that feeling in the face last night and I hate that I did and I'm glad that I did.

The Bible is clear that not speaking up for the justice for the least of these is wrong.  It is clear that sex outside of the covenant of marriage is wrong.  It is clear that electively aborting a young life is wrong.  I'm not denying that, nor would I.  However, when I've stared at the ugly thing that lives in me it's caused me to judge less.  But for the grace of God I could commit many more sins that I do; I'm a talented sinner.  I'm capable of more evil than I often think.

I pray that God allows you to see the ugly thing that lives in you.  The closer we get to the light of Christ the more we will do this.  I pray that He lets you see what He's saving you from.  I pray that it makes you more committed to purging the evil within you.  I pray that it makes you judge less, not compromise more, but judge others less.

May your heart be softened and may you mortify the seeds of sin within you today.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

You Must Be Born Again

Unbeknowst to my dad but knowst to you, he is my guest blogger for the day.  Take a few moments to read what he has to say about John chapter 3:1-21 today.

Jesus: The Giver of Eternal Life
You Must Be Born From Above
John 3:1-21

The theme of our messages from now until Easter is: Jesus: The Giver of Eternal Life.  As we think about the story of Jesus and his death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, there is one reason why all this happened. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead so that people can have everlasting life.
Today we are going to look at a very familiar passage to all Evangelical Christians. It is the story of an encounter of Jesus and a man named Nicodemus. In these verses of the Bible two very important statements are made. The first important statement is when Jesus tell Nicodemus that “You must be born again to enter the Kingdom of heaven.” The second important statement is probably the most famous verse in all the Bible, John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believieth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Let's read these verses and see what God has to say to each of us today.
John 3:1-21.
The first thing this passage says to each of us:
  1. It is not enough to be devout or religious: You must be born again to go to heaven.
    There was a man named Nicodemus who came to see Jesus. What do we know about his man? He was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were the strictest group among the nation of Israel. They were committed to obeying every word of the Law of God. They looked back at the history of their nation and saw a continuous cycle of obeying God, drifting away from the Lord, God sending punishment to bring them back and then a return to the Lord.
    The Pharisee decided enough of that. We want to obey God all the time, we want to obey every commandment of the law. Some even thought if they could keep every commandment of God for a few days, then the Messiah would come. Nicodemus was a member that group of dedicated Jews.
    Nicodemus was also a member of the Ruling Council of the Jews, that was the Sanhedrin, the 70 Elders of the nation. This group would be something like all the Bishops of the Methodist Church, or the members of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee or the Catholic College of Cardinals. Nicodemus was a very religious man and man committed to his faith.
    But I believe Nicodemus felt something was missing from his life. All his religious activity did not fill that empty space in his heart. Then Nicodemus heard about Jesus and listened to the things Jesus said. He heard about the miracles that Jesus had done and believed Jesus must be a prophet from God.
    Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. What is significant about his coming at night? Perhaps Nicodemus did not want his fellow Pharisees or fellow members of the Sanhedrin knowing that he was going to talk to Jesus. He thought that they would be critical of him for talking to Jesus.
    Sometimes people do not come to Jesus because they worry about what other people would say or think. My friends may think I am a religious nut.
    My family may reject me if I change religions. My son Patrick preached a sermon in Minnesota recently titled: "Embrace the Shame of Following Jesus.” Patrick said, if you follow Jesus completely some people will not like you, they will persecute you. Patrick leads a Slavic church, a church where the people speak Russian and his church is for the second generation who speak English. Most of his members' parents were from somewhere in the old USSR. Patrick said he asked them, “How many of you know someone who was persecuted for being a Christian? Every one of them raised their hand. It was not just being ridiculed or mocked that they talked about. They had parents or grandparents or uncles or aunts who went to jail or were put in a mental hospitals because they were Christians.
    Maybe Nicodemus feared what people would say if he went to see Jesus, so he went at night.
    Jesus does not engage in small talk with him, he says, I tell you the Truth. That was a formula for saying something very important. Verily, verily. In the King James Version. Aman, Aman in the Greek New Testament.
    “ No one can see the Kingdom of God, unless He is born again. Or born from above.” In the King James Version, “Ye must be born again!” If you want to go to heaven.
    Being religious will not get you to heaven. Reading the Bible will not save you. Praying daily is not enough to take you to heaven. Getting baptized, going to church every Sunday; none of those things will make you right with God. You must be born again, or born from above. You must have a supernatural transformation that happens when you trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.
Secondly:

  1. Being Born Again is something that happens through the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Nicodemus asks Jesus as question. How can a man be born again, can he enter a second time in his mother's womb and be born? Nicodemus was thinking in purely literal terms. Each one of us was born some time ago when we came out of the womb of our mother. My son Matthew's wife Christine is pregnant and the baby should be born in May. They are very excited, but each of us has only one physical birth. Once we are out of our mother's womb, we can't go back. We are not like marsupials like kangaroo's. Those babies go back and forth, not into their mother's wombs but into their mother's pouch. Up till they are about a year old a joey kangaroo can jump back into mama's pouch. But not so for humans.
    Jesus said you must be born of water and of the Spirit. “ Flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to the Spirit. “ It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to do the work in a person's life when they are born from above.
    What did Jesus mean by being born of Water and of the Spirit. Some Bible Scholars think that refers to physical birth and spiritual birth. Inside the mother's womb the baby is carried in a sack of amniotic fluid. Sometime during the birth process the water breaks. Shortly after that the baby is born.
    So John was talking about physical birth and spiritual birth.
    Others believe Jesus was referring to baptism. When you come to believe in Jesus you are baptized. Yet we do not believe in baptismal regeneration, the idea that baptism saves you. Yet Jesus tells those who believe in him to be baptized.
    One writer thinks Jesus might be referring to John the Baptist’s baptism. Thousands came to be baptized by John, but the Pharisees would not do that. They would not do what Gentiles did before they converted to Judaism. Maybe Jesus was telling Nicodemus you must repent of your sins as those did whom John baptized and then the Spirit will give you a new birth.
    But the main idea Jesus was saying being born again has to happen by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    The world for Spirit in Greek is Pneuma, which is also the word for breath and wind. A pneumatic tool uses the power of air. Jesus said the Wind blows where it pleases but you cannot see the wind. Last week we had 90 mile per hour wind around here. You cannot see the wind but you can see things flying through the air. You cannot see the wind but you can see what it does.
    How can you tell if a person has been born from above, or born again? You cannot see the Holy Spirit inside of a person. But there will be changes in life that you can clearly see. They will have a desire to please the Lord with their life. They will have a hunger to worship God and be with other Christians. The Bible which had once been a boring book to them suddenly comes alive.
    Now no new Christian suddenly becomes perfect, but you should be able to tell something is different about them if they have really been born again.
The third thing we see.
It took the death of Jesus on the cross to make it possible for you to be born again.
Nicodemus still had questions. How can these things be? Jesus said to him. “You are a teacher in Israel, yet you do not understand these things!”
Jesus said I speak about what I know. I know about heaven because I came down from heaven. Why should we believe what Jesus says about heaven or hell? He came from heaven, he descended into hell after he was crucified. He has been there, he knows what those places are like.
Before I visited my daughter in Australia, I read books about Australia. I had a picture of what it would be like in my mind. When when I got there it was different from what I imagined. Now I know what Australia is like, at least the part near Adelaide, because I have been there. Believe what Jesus says about heaven or hell, he knows he has been there.
Then Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so shall the son of man be lifted up.” What was Jesus talking about? He was referring to a story from Numbers 21:4-8, Turn in your Bibles and read this. 
When the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness they often grumbled and complained. They did not have the faith to go into the promised land and so God let them wander for 40 years. This time they complained about the food and water. God go so tired of their complaining and lack of faith God sent poisonous snakes to bite them and some died.
We should be glad God does not do today what he did then. If you whine and complain too much he sends snakes to bite you. I think in that way as a parent I am like the Lord. I hate whining and complaining, We do not like the food. We do not like our drinks. Wah, wah, wah! I would tell my kids just eat what I give you and shut up, kid or else you get dog food to eat.
After the snakes came the people cried out to Moses. “ Pray to God to take the snakes away. Moses prayed to God. God did not immediately take the snakes away. Instead God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on the pole in the center of their camp. If any one was bitten by a poisonous snake, then if they looked at the bronze snake on the pole they would be healed and not die.
I can imagine someone saying, that is stupid, give me anti venom, looking at a snake on a pole will not save me, I will not do it. If that is what they did, then they died.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, just like the snake was lifted up in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up. When a lost sinner looks up to Jesus on the cross and believes that He is the Savior of the world, then he will live. The curse of sin is removed, the penalty of sin is taken away, you life instead of dying for eternity. Some people say that is stupid. How can believing on Jesus save my soul?  I will not do it. Okay then do what you will but if you do not look to Jesus on his cross you will die and go to hell.
Jesus came to give us eternal life, but it cost him his life, he died on the cross to save your soul.
Finally one more thing from this passage:
  1. Your eternal salvation depends on what you will do with Jesus.  It was in this story that John records this most famous verse in all the Bible. John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” KJV

Why did Jesus come? God sent him here. He came willingly. Being Equal with God, he became like a servant, he was born in a stable, he was willing to die for sinners, even to die on a cross. At the Comedy Cafe, Grace Matus was interview by Kayla Biegler. Grace said she thought Jesus had to go to the earth and die for us, but Kayla told her Jesus did not do that because he had to, he did that willingly because he loves us..
And God said, “Whoever will believe in Jesus, that this is why he came, should not perish but can have eternal life.
God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, God sent Jesus to save the world. Whoever will believe in Jesus will not be condemned. But if you reject Jesus you are already condemned. Either you accept God's way of salvation or you reject it.
Why then would not every one accept God's gift of eternal life? Well everyone should accept this free gift. But as Jesus said, God is light and people love darkness more than the light. When we come to the light people can see our evil deeds. The closer you get to Jesus the more you see your sin and it does not look pretty. But the purpose of getting into the light and seeing your sins, is not to shame you, it is to show you where you need to repent. I may look pretty good compared to some criminal in a jail somewhere, but compared to Jesus, I look pretty bad, But God will forgive me if I repent and forsake my sins and trust in Jesus for my salvation.
Have you been born from above? Have you ever been born again...If not trust in Jesus today and you will receive God's gift of eternal life.
Maybe you say, not today Pastor. Do not delay, you have no promise of tomorrow. The devil's strategy is not to make you deny the truth of the Gospel. NO his greatest strategy is to tell you, that is a good thing to do, but not now just wait. When you wait in put it off, soon the sense of urgency is gone. After a while you forget how important it is to be saved...
Do not fall for that trap. Trust in Jesus today and be saved.
Christian are you living for him who died for you. Jesus gave his life for you and me. We than should give our whole life to please the Lord. Is God pleased by how you lived this last week? If so, great. If not, pray, "Lord help me do better. I want to please you, because you gave your life for me."                                                                                                                                       
Maybe you have heard this story many times. The question is what are you going to do about it? Will you trust Jesus as your Savior today?