Monday, April 20, 2009

At the Crossroads to Bethel and Ai

How many of you have ever gone mountain climbing? Or gone climbing on one of those rock wall places? When I was growing up as a boy in North Idaho, we lived on a dairy farm out in the country and our farm set right up against the base of a mountain range. I have two brothers and a sister, and I remember the many times that we would explore and climb on the mountain. One of the places we spent a lot of time on was what we called the "cliff". It is a large rock formation that goes up at about an eighty degree angle...almost straight up. We had a nice trail paved around it so we could get to the top and look out over the valley below and feel like we could see forever.

As I mentioned, I have two older and one younger. I'm the middle one, but that's a different story. My older brother and I are very similar physically, but my little brother was, and is, different. He's small and wiry...and can climb like a monkey. One day when we were playing up on the mountain, he decided to see if he could climb up the face of the cliff. So he starts up and my older brother and I are urging him on. He got about a quarter of the way up and he stopped. It seemed like he couldn't go any further. He had nothing to try to grab a hold of. He couldn't go any further up. But, he had another problem...he couldn't get down either. He couldn't look down to see where to place his feet or reach for a handhold. Eventually, he had to let himself just slide down the face of the cliff he had climbed. Fortunately, other than scraping a lot of skin off of his hands, and ripping the knees out of his blue jeans, he was OK. But he had discovered an important life lesson...sometimes, the further you go, the more difficult it is to go back.

I'd like to turn to our key text for today. It is found in Genesis 12:6-8. God has called Abram to leave Haran, where he had lived with his father until his father died. So, Abram obeyed God and set out for the land of Canaan. Beginning in verse 6, "Abram travelled through the land as far as the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time, the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' So he built an alter there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there, he went toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. Then he built an alter and called on the name of the Lord." Like Abram, we are also being called and each one of us is on a road, going somewhere. And like Abram, we all find ourselves somewhere between Bethel and Ai. I found it interesting as I read about these two ancient cities that their names had specific meanings. Bethel literally means "house of God", while Ai means "ruin". And right now, we find ourselves someplace between the two. The name of my message tonight is "At the Crossroads to Bethel and Ai" and I want to talk about several things that this message tells us about how to navigate our way on this road.

What does this passage tonight tell us that we can apply to our lives today? First of all, we find ourselves surrounded today by the Canaanites! You may be asking yourself what I'm talking about. In ancient times, the inhabitants of the promised land...the Canaan...were called Canaanites. This encompassed a number of different tribes, but collectively they are called Canaanites. Throughout the Old Testament, we read of God's anger and wrath directed at these peoples. We read in Joshua that the Israelites were to completely destroy every man, woman and child who were Canaanites in the Promised Land. Why? I know in my own thinking, it seemed pretty extreme to kill the women and children. But everything about the Canaanites was polluted by sin. Everything was defiled. There was sexual sin and perversion everywhere. The laws against homosexuality and bestiality that God gave to Moses were given specifically because that is the culture that the wandering Israelites would find themselves surrounded by when they crossed the Jordan River. Not only did the Canaanites relish in sexual perversion, they also sacrificed their own children at times shedding innocent blood. And finally, they worshipped false gods and idols.

I hope you can see the similarities between the Canaanites of nearly 4000 years ago and the world we live in today. Pornography, prostitution and sexual sin is a multi-billion dollar industry in this country. Gay lifestyles are readily accepted as normal in our society. Thousands of unborn babies are murdered every year in the abortion clinics in this country. People everywhere are worshipping at the alter of money or drugs or fame or name it. Let's face it, we live in a new Canaan.

We find ourselves in this evil, immoral, polluted place but our passage today gives us directions. Verse 6 says that Abram stopped at the "tree of Moreh". As I've shared before, the names we find in the Bible always seem to have a meaning and this is no exception. In Hebrew, Moreh means "instruction." We need to do the same thing that Abram did. God has left us a "tree of Moreh"...a place of "instruction". It's found in the Holy Scriptures. Everything we need to make the right decisions in life are found in the Bible. But, like Abram, we have to stop there for awhile. God appeared to Abram at Moreh, and He will appear to us and reveal Himself to us through His Word...His instructions.

In verse 8, we read that Abram built an alter to God and called on His Name. How do we apply this passage today? We need to understand the purpose of the alter. We think of an alter as a place of worship, but it's primary function is a place of cleansing. The Hebrews sacrificed bulls and sheep on their alters, and the blood of the animals provided for a temporary cleansing of the sins in their lives. We need to do the same thing, but not by sacrificing live animals. The sacrifice for our cleansing has already been completed...2000 years ago on a lonely hillside of Jerusalem. On the Cross of Calvary, by our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Like Abram, we need to call on the Name of the Lord and accept Christ's sacrifice...worship the slain Lamb of God, who died for yours sins and mine.

Tonight, we all find ourselves like Abram, somewhere between Bethel, the presence of God...and Ai, the ruin and destruction of our old lives. We are at a crossroads. We have to go one direction or the other. Like my little brother on the face of the cliff, he had to either keep climbing up or come back down. We can't stay in one place...we will move one direction or the other.

Many days, it's not easy to choose to walk toward Bethel. We seem to take two steps forward and then one back. Or, on some days, one step forward and two steps back. We find the pull of the world so strong. It seems like we're wearing a suit of armor instead of the "armor of God" and the enemy has a giant magnet drawing us toward him. But, the Bible warns us not to turn back. In the story of Lot and his family fleeing from Sodom and Gomhorra before it was destroyed, they were warned not to look back. But sadly, Lot's wife did. And it cost her her life. The same thing can happen to us. We start walking toward Bethel, but we turn back to see what we're last time, and we stumble back into sin...and death.

If God has called you to go to Bethel, to join Him in His presence, and His Kingdom, the Bible gives us all the directions we need. In Genesis 35:14, Jacob is called to return to Bethel with his family. Before they leave, Jacob instructs his family to get rid of all their foreign gods, to purify themselves and to change their clothes. God is giving us the same instructions tonight. What kind of "gods" do you have in your life? Get rid of them! Allow yourselves to be purified by the blood of the Lamb, by the blood of Jesus Christ! Take off your filthy rags and follow Paul's command to the Romans to "clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Romans 13:14)

As we decide to walk on the road that leads to Bethel, we need to use this book of instruction that God has given us. 2 John 6 tells us that we need to walk in obedience to His commands. We are to walk in love and compassion with those God has placed around us. We are to rid ourselves of anger and hatred, and jealousy and pride and lust. In the book of Acts, Luke tells us in 14:22 that we will encounter many hardships in our journey to enter the Kingdom of God. We will lose family members and friends to death that we can't understand. Someone we love will turn their back on a relationship with the Lord. Bad things will happen to us that we don't understand. There will be days when the attack by the enemy will be so great, so intense...that we don't think we can survive another day. When that day comes, go to the book of 1 John 4:4 and be encouraged by remembering the source of our strength. In the passage, the apostle John reminds us, "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." Men, we've already won the battle if we stay on the road to Bethel.

As we close tonight, remember that we can't stop moving. God doesn't call us to rest...we are called to walk with God. When things get tough, don't turn back... away from God. Recognize, like the twelve disciples in John 6:68 when Jesus asked them if they wanted to leave Him too. Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?" Men, stay on the road to Bethel. The journey may be difficult at times, but the destination is worth it.

**Let's pray**
Photo from Flickr

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Roadmap to Repentance

I'd like to ask you a question tonight. I'm going to start with an assumption...that is that all of you have driven a car while you were on the outside. This is the question: How many of you have gone on some kind of a trip to someplace that you've never been before and you're not exactly sure how to get there? OK, so how many of you looked at a map? How many of you stopped and asked for directions? How many of you discovered that you'd driven right past the place three times before finally figuring out where you were supposed to be? Sometimes, trips can be really frustrating because you know where you want to go, but you're not always sure how to get there! And , all too often, our pride gets in the way of stopping and asking for help along the way, or to get directions.

Tonight, I'd like to talk about a trip that, prayerfully, we are all on right now. That trip is to repentance, and I've entitled my message tonight, "A Road map to Repentance." Why did I choose to speak on this particular subject? Well, most importantly, according to Matthew 4:17, it was the first thing that Christ preached. And, we find in Rev. 2:5 and 2:16, it's one of the last things He preached in His letters to the seven churches. That tells me that it is a pretty important topic.

There is a passage in 1 John that I'd like to begin with tonight. I have to admit, I struggled with this passage for quite a while. It's found in 1 Jn 5:3-4. "This is love for God; to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world." The New Living Translation states it this way: "Loving God means keeping His commandments, and really, that isn't difficult.: I don't know about you, but I don't always find it "not difficult" or "not burdensome" to always obey God's commands.

Early in my Christian walk, I became really good at confessing. And, it seemed the more I confessed, the more I found myself NEEDING to confess. And often times, for the same repeated sin. I've discovered that my problem was that I was really good at confessing, but I was really lousy at repenting. Do you want to know why? I really didn't understand what repentance was all about. I tended to confuse repentance with remorse. I was using the wrong definition for what I was wanting to do. As we look at the meaning of repentance, it means to change any or all of the elements composing one's life: attitudes, thoughts and behaviours concerning demands of God for right living. I'd be really sorry about what I'd just done, but I didn't know how to change.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the importance of understanding the difference. In 7:9-10, he says, "yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended...Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." What Paul is saying is that if all we are is sorry for our sin, it's going to lead to spiritual death. That sorrow must lead to repentance. And tonight, I want to share three essentials to mark your way on the road to repentance.

First, we need to be RENEWED. This is a critical step, but sadly, too few Christians focus on what that means, and why it is so important. 2 Cor 5:17 tells us that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come." What does that passage mean? When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, your "old" self dies. He's dead! He has no more power in your life. I heard it described like this one time. How many of you have ever gone to a funeral? The casket is usually up front...and sometimes it is opened for a final viewing. Let me ask you a question. What would happen if you went up to the casket and said, "come out John, let's go play a round of golf." Would the dead man get up? Why not? Because he is dead!! He has NO power! When you are renewed by the power of Jesus Christ in your life, your sin is the same as the man in the casket. It has NO power! It is dead! You are a new creation! But, too often we resurrect the sin in our life. We try to bring it back to life, or, we act like it is still strong and powerful. You need to remember that you have been are a new creation...a new creation in the image of Jesus Christ.

The second point on our road map is that we need to know how to RUN. And not only how to run, but also when to run. We live in a world that is filled with traps that Satan has set for us. Traps that include drugs and alcohol, old friends, greed, lust, people who irritate us. No matter where we go in this world, we can find temptation to sin. And if we are not careful, those temptations will overpower us. Sadly, I know from personal experience all too well. But Paul gives us one of the most encouraging verses in Scripture related to sin and temptation in 1 Cor 10:13. "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

There are some critical points to this passage I want to explore. First, you are not alone! Other people deal with the same temptations that you do. But the enemy wants you to think otherwise. He wants you to believe that you alone have those kinds of thoughts and desires. "You can't tell anyone. Do you know what people would think of you if they knew? You have to keep this a secret. You can handle it all on your have to." I want to tell you something...those are all lies directly from the pit of Hell! Remember why the enemy is here...he's here to kill, steal and destroy, and he doesn't care what he has to do to accomplish that.

The second point is that the temptation will NEVER be so great that you can't bear it. It may feel like it is too big, or it has too much power. But remember, it may have been too big for the "old" you, but he is dead. You are a new creation. And second, you don't have to bear it by have help. That help is Jesus Christ. Psalm 68:19 tells us that the Lord DAILY bears our burdens for us.

And the third point is that God will show you how to RUN. He will give us a way out if we only ask Him. He won't leave us in our temptations any longer than we want to stay there. Some of you may recall a time when you were strongly tempted to do something wrong, and said a silent breath prayer. And what happens...miraculously, the phone rings. Or, someone unexpectedly shows up. Or, the words to a new Christian song pops into your head, and the temptation is gone. A coincidence? Never! A miracle from God? Without a doubt!

After we have recognized that we are renewed in Christ and we have learned how to run, the third essential point on our road map is to REPLACE. We all carry about a lot of garbage in our minds and in our hearts. This stuff haunts us, and continually words to drag us back into our old way of life. So, what do we do? We follow Paul's advise in his letter to the Philippians. Phil 4:8 says, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praise worthy--think about such things." This is one of the ways that we turn from the life we lived to the life God desires for us to live.

I encourage you to do this exercise sometime. On a small card, write each of the key words from Phil 4:8..."true", "noble", "pure", etc. And beside each of the words, write an example of what that word means to you. What would you be doing if you were "doing" each of the words listed? Those words become a picture of whatever repentance looks like. A picture of what your life will look like when you consistently walk the path of repentance.

I've described three key components of changing your life turn from a constant battle with temptation to a walk of repentance. I've given you the three "R's"...RENEW, RUN and REPLACE. They should be easy to memorize. But, I want to leave you with one final "R" word tonight. That word is REMEMBER. What is that I want you to remember? Remember the guilt and misery that you felt every time you sinned. Remember the pain and sadness and suffering you caused to those you love and who loved you because of the sin in your life and the consequence for that sin. Remember the pain and agony that Jesus Christ bore for your sins when He hung on the cross of Calvary! Remember that Christ dwells in you, and He is sinless...draw on His power to walk in obedience to Him. Remember that you are a renewed creation, a child of the Creator of the universe. Remember that you can't get to the destination...repentance...if you try to do it on your own...follow the road's all right here in the Word of God!

Let's pray.

Message delivered at TCI on February 8, 2007

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Take the "Mulligan"!

How many of you here tonight have ever played golf? I love the sport! I'm not very good at it, but I do love to play. One of the things about the game of golf is, that unless you're a professional, no one is really all that good. And as a result of that, there is a practice common to golf called "giving a mulligan." What's a "mulligan" you may be wondering? I'm glad you asked! To put it's a second chance. If you mess up the tee shot, often times those men you're playing with will just say, "take a mulligan." I've learned to accept this gift. Before I came in here, I lived on a golf course and nearly every hole had deep woods, water or 'out of bounds' on it. And my ball frequently found one of those places. Receiving a mulligan saved my score on a number of occasions.

You may be wondering what playing golf and this "mulligan" thing has to do with our walk with Jesus Christ. Since I've been at TCI, I've kept a sticky note in front of my Bible that lists a bunch of people that God gave a second chance to in the Scriptures. I was reading a book last week and one of the chapters was titled, "The Lord of the Mulligan" and I didn't have to read a word of it to know what the author was going to talk about. We serve a God who gives us a second chance...who gives us a "Mulligan". For that reason, my message tonight is simply called, "Take the Mulligan!"

You know, the Bible is a strange book for a Holy book. If I had been the author, I think I would have written different stories. I would think that it should be full of stories about "perfect people", but it's not. It would be a stretch to say that many of the people we read about are even least when left to themselves. But, the more I read this amazing Book, the more I understand that it's full of stories about people just like me...and you. And what I want to do tonight is take a look at a few of those people's stories.

One of the great characters of the Bible is Samson. When I was growing up, I didn't know a lot about the people in the Bible...we didn't go to church. But, I knew who Samson was. He was the strongest man around, and what boy wouldn't want to be just like him. I was no exception. He could beat everyone, even Hercules. We find the story of Samson in chapters 13-16 in the book of Judges. There are a few things about his story I want to touch on. First, Judges 13:5 tells us that Samson was set apart to God from birth. Like Isaac, Samuel and John the Baptist, Samson's birth was miraculous because his mother was sterile before God intervened. We read in Judges 13:24-25 that Samson was blessed by God.

Even though Samson was chosen by God and blessed by Him, he had a serious sin problem. He had a real problem controlling his sexual appetite. We read in Judges 14:1-2 that he decided to marry a Philistine, which was forbidden under Jewish law. We also read that he frequented prostitutes in 16:1. That wasn't Samson's only problem. He also had a problem giving into pressure, at least the pressure exerted by a nagging woman. He gave in and told his bride-to-be the solution to his riddle and gave the secret of his strength to Delilah after she nagged and prodded him day after day.

How many Samson's do we have here tonight? I'm not talking about those of you who have Samson's muscles...I'm talking about his weaknesses. Do any of you struggle with sexual sin? how about allowing yourself to be talked into doing something that you didn't really want to do, or that you knew was wrong? That was Samson's story.

But it's important that we read the rest of the story. Even in his sin, God didn't forget about Samson. We read in 16:21-22 that after his hair had been shaved off and his eyes gouged out and he was made a slave to the Philistines, his hair started to grow back. His hair that had been his strength when he was set apart to God. Samson could have just wallowed in his own self-pity and misery, but god had ordained a purpose for him from before his birth. God gave him a "mulligan", another chance, to serve God's purpose for Him. When given the opportunity to destroy more Philistines at one time than all the he had killed during his lifetime, he called on God for strength and toppled the temple on top of 3000 Philistines who were in it. God offered him a "mulligan" and he took it.

Another man described in the Bible is one many of us don't think or talk about very much, and I've never heard anyone say that they wanted to be like this man. His name was Zacchaeus, a tax collector and we read about him in Luke 19:1-9. During Jesus' time, tax collectors were a despised profession, much like it is today with the IRS. They were considered traitors by their fellow Jews and often were not men of integrity. But as we read his story, we find a man who is steeped in his sin, seeking to see who Jesus is. We know the story...Zacchaeus is too short to see Jesus over the crowd so he climbs a tree. And Jesus stops under the tree and called him to come down...that He wanted to eat at Zacchaeus' house that night. How did Zacchaeus respond? He took the "mulligan!" Zaccheaus repented, gave half of his wealth away to the poor and paid back all those he had cheated.

Do we have any Zacchaeus' here tonight? have you lived a life of selfishness? Have you cheated and stolen...extorted from those who trusted you? God is calling you tonight. "Take the Mulligan!" and live a new life in Christ.

I can't talk about second chances tonight without also talking about Peter. As we read the New Testament, we see him fail so many times. His sins weren't as obvious as those of Samson or Zacchaeus, but his sins are what most of us see in professing Christians every day. Peter relied on his own strength and his own way far too much instead of looking to Christ. He rebuked Jesus because He said He had to go to Jerusalem to die. He told Christ he would never deny Him, but he failed miserably. He walked on the water, but began to sink the moment he took his eyes off of Christ.

Is there anyone named Peter here tonight? Do any of you want to keep seeing things your own way instead of God's way? Do any of you deny Him by remaining silent when you have an opportunity to proclaim His power and majesty? John 21:15-19 is one of the greatest stories in the Bible about second chances. Jesus Christ gave Peter a "mulligan" and he accepted it. He'll give you one too...please take it.

Does everyone in the Bible who is offered a "mulligan" take it? There are several stories I could share, but I'll only mention one. King Saul was anointed as the first king of Israel. He was counseled by Samuel and God gave Saul his directions through Samuel. In 1 Samuel 13:8-14, we read that Saul was rebuked by Samuel for not trusting in the Lord when he made a sacrifice of burnt offerings instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive and do it. God was displeased with Saul but He didn't reject him. Instead, God directed him to completely destroy the Amelekites. But again, Saul failed, and didn't obey God's command. When confronted by Samuel, Saul made excuses instead of confessing his sin and repenting. We know the rest of the story...Saul is later killed in battle and the kingdom goes to David. Saul was offered a "mulligan"...a second chance, and he didn't take it.

The Bible is full of stories about people just like you and me. People who had the same human frailties we have. As we read the stories, so many of them are offered a "mulligan"...a second chance. Some accepted, some didn't.

Where are you tonight? You are hearing this message for a reason! God wants you to know that He can still use you. He's giving you a "mulligan"'s why you're here tonight. The second chance that He gives you might not be the shot that you want to take, but it's what God is giving you. Take the "mulligan" and renew your walk with Christ.

How many of you watched the movie over the weekend called "Gridiron Gang"? The story of teenage gangsters given a second chance to change their get away from the gangs. Sadly, not all of them accepted the "mulligan". I want you to look around this room right now. And later, look around your unit, and around the compound. Statistics tell us that of all the men on this compound, about 87% will re-offend and end up back in jail or prison. A sad number. But, I'll tell you what's even sadder. Of all the men on this compound who profess to be a Christian, who say they live for Christ, nearly the same percent, more than 80% will re-offend and end up back in a place like this. Eight out of ten in this room. Why? Because they are walking along with God, playing the game, but not accepting the "mulligan". They are not changing and starting over.

I want to leave you with a passage from 2 Corinthians 5:17. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone and the new has come." Tonight, you can become new. You can become a new creation. You can get a second chance. All it takes is surrendering completely to Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of your life. Don't be like King Saul and make excuses. Don't be like Judas and wait until it's too late. Take the "mulligan"...tonight...right now, and accept the new chance that God is giving you through His Son.

Let's pray...
Photo from Flickr

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Setting the Foundation for a Godly Life

My message tonight is entitled, "Setting the foundation for a Godly life." Let me ask you a question...let me see by a show of hands, how many of you want to live a Godly life? I know that I do. It is the desire of my heart! How do we know when we are actually living that kind of life? What does it look like?

My primary text tonight is found in the second book of Peter, chapter 1, verses 5-7. In this passage, Peter is telling his readers how they can live a Godly life. "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and brotherly kindness, love." He gives us a laundry list of what Godly living looks like.

How many of you remember the devastation that Hurricane Katrina inflicted on New Orleans back in 2005? I remember watching the news footage of the thousands of homes that were flooded. Many had water up to 8-10 feet inside their homes. Others were luckier...the water only came up as far as the porch, and barely entered the house at all. From the outside, there appeared to be a big difference in the damage done to the houses on the two extremes. But, the sad news is, almost all of the homes will need to be torn down...not because of the exterior or interior damage, but because the foundations had been weakened by all of the floodwater.

I read a book recently by Warren Wiersbe where the author made the following statement: "People who try to live what they have not really learned are going to face difficult struggles..." You see, people are like those houses in New Orleans. They can be painted and made to look good, but for the owner, that clean looking house is just trouble waiting to happen. We see people like that all of the time. They learn a little bit, and suddenly, they are the expert. As a former school teacher, there were many times when a student would end up in an advanced class like trigonometry or calculus in math, or maybe a second year of a foreign language. And before long, they class would become a great struggle. Why? Because they hadn't really learned the foundational concepts in their earlier classes. Many times, they tried to take short cuts and learn the bare minimums, or just cram to pass the test, but not really learn anything.

Often times, we are like that in our Christian walk. We want so much to be Godly, to please our Lord, that we look at all of the outward characteristics and practice those, without ever truly understanding the importance of the foundation to our Christian walk.

Let's look at our passage in 2 Peter 1:5-7 again. Notice what the foundation is that Peter identifies. It's not the readily identifiable traits like goodness or kindness or perseverance or even love. Those are all important, but none of them can be sustained unless they are built on a solid foundation of faith! Tonight, I want to focus on faith and why it is essential to our walk with Christ. We will also look at how we get our faith. What I want to do is use the Scriptures to show you why you must set a foundation of faith in order to live a Godly life. I don't want you to take my word for it. I want you to be like the Bereans described in Acts 17:11 and always examine the Scriptures to verify what I will say, or what any may who stands up here says, aligns with God's Holy Word.

So, why is faith essential? First of all, Hebrews 11:6 tells us that "without faith, it is impossible to please God..." God is our Father, and we should desire to have a "sonship" relationship with Him. How many of you are dads? Do you want your wife to trust you? Do you want your kids to have faith that they can rely on you to do the things you have promised? You know...take them to the park, play ball with them, listen to them practice the piano for their recital, be there when you say you're going to be there. How will you feel if instead of calling you, they look somewhere else for the promises to be kept? Like an old boyfriend, or their ex-husband, or their step-dad? God is the same way! God is not, and will not, be pleased if we don't place our total faith in Him. We will not have a strong relationship, and when things start to get a little rocky, and I can assure you that they will at some time, you will look someplace else.

Secondly, you are saved from eternal damnation and separation from God through faith. In Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul tells us that "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." Paul tells us that there is no other way to receive salvation, except through faith in Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God. We can't buy our salvation. And we can't "good work" our way into the Kingdom of Heaven. Look again at 2 Peter 1:5-7. Eight characteristics of Godly living are listed, but only one provides our pathway for salvation. It's the

How many of you know who Bill Gates is? Well, if you haven't been following Forbe's magazine lately, he's the richest man in the world. A multi-billionaire. I remember when I was a little kid, I would dream sometimes that I had a long lost uncle somewhere, like Bill Gates, who would name me in his will and give me a big inheritance. Well, my dream came true, only better. In John 1:12, John tells us that by believing in His Name, He gave each of us the right to become children of God. We were name in His will! We have received the promised inheritance of spending eternity in Heaven with our Lord and Saviour. I don't know about you, but for me, that inheritance is so much greater that what Bill Gates could give me to enjoy for a paltry 10-20 years. Because of our faith in God, our names have been written in God's "last will and testament", the Book of Life. Thank you god for accepting me into your family!

The fourth reason it is essential to have faith is that it gives us access to God. Ephesians 3:12 tells us that "through faith in Christ, we may approach God with freedom and confidence." In John 14:6, he tells us that "no one comes to the Father except through Christ." It is important to have access. When most of us leave this place, we're going to have to go out and get a job. I don't have to be the one to tell you that it's not guaranteed to be easy. What will make it easier for us...having the right connection out there. Someone who will say a good word on our behalf. We have that in our relationship with God. We know the "One" who has the right connections. But it's important to note what Ephesians 3:12 says. It doesn't say that "through Christ", we can approach God. There are many people who have heard of Jesus Christ who cannot approach God through Him. Why? Because they haven't placed their faith in Him as the risen Lord and Saviour of their life. They didn't set the foundation.

There are many other reasons faith is essential as a foundation to Godly living that I don't have time to discuss in detail. Romans 3:25 tells us that our sins are atoned for in His blood. Acts 15:9 explains that our hearts are purified by faith and in Ephesians 3:17, we learn that Christ dwells in our heart through faith. It's faith that we can resist the devil by (see 1 Peter 5:8-9). These are just a few reasons. I pray that you can see the importance of establishing a firm foundation of faith and why it is essential to your walk with God.

So, now you know why faith is important, but you may be wondering how do I get it. I don't know how many times during conversations with my brothers here, or during prayer time, where the issue of a weak faith comes up. Once again, Scripture gives us the answer.

I've got great news for you! Where to you get the faith you need to set the foundation? It's almost too easy. You don't have to climb to the top of some remote mountain to get it, and you don't have to spend your life savings. God gives it to of charge! Romans 12:3 tells us that God gives each of us a measure of faith. I don't know how big a measure is. I don't even know if He gives everyone the same size measure. It sure seems like some people have a lot more that some other people do.

For those of you, who like me, sometimes have what seems to be a really small measure of faith, I have more good news...your faith can grow! Paul tells us this in 2 Corinthians 10:15 and in 2 Thessalonians 1:3...our faith continues to grow. How does it grow? God answers that through Scriptures too. In Romans 10:17, Paul says that "faith comes by hearing the message and the message is heard through the Word of Christ." Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, has freely given us this gift. All we have to do is receive it.

Tonight, some of you might be sitting here thinking, "I've heard this before, Mark, buy you don't know my circumstances! You don't know what I face! You don't know how long I've been praying and God still hasn't answered me yet. It's just not that easy." If you're out there, I'll agree with half of what you're thinking. You're right, I don't know your circumstances, your story...but God does! And He knew there would be some tonight thinking just those thoughts. So, He left us a message in the book of Hebrews (4:2), "the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith." It IS that easy! If it's hard for you tonight, it's because you are making it difficult, not God.

The Bible is full of stories about faith, and the lack of faith. An entire chapter in the book of Hebrews is dedicated to faith only...chapter 11. God wants us to know how essential faith is, and He gives us examples that He doesn't always answer our prayers right away. We may not see His faithfulness until later, if at all on this side of Glory. There have been many grandparents who prayed for the salvation of their grandkids who die before they see them accept Christ, but they never give up.

I'd like to close with Luke 6:46-49. Here, Jesus tells us what happens when we don't have a solid foundation. "But why to you call 'Lord, Lord' and not do the things I say? Whoever comes to Me hears my sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like; He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like the man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately, it fell. And the ruin of that house was great."

We can't pick and choose when we'll have faith in's all or nothing. In every situation, every circumstance, either you have faith in God's promises and believe they are true...or you don't. You way want, and try, to live a life demonstrating all of the qualities in 2 Peter 1:5-7, but you can't maintain them unless you set your foundation on faith in Jesus Christ first. Let's pray.

Presented at TCI on January 11, 2007

Sunday, February 8, 2009

366 Reasons to be Encouraged

The title of my message today is "366 Reasons to be Encouraged" and before all of you get up and leave because you're thinking it may be a very long message, let me assure you that it isn't. I pray that you will gain understanding as I move along. I'd like to start this message with a short story.

As a young boy growing up in north Idaho, one of the treats we would occasionally have were huckleberries. If you're unfamiliar with this berry, they are like big, juicy blueberries, only sweeter. And...they only grow in the wild, so they are relatively scarce. They grow in mountain regions and to pick them, you usually have to compete with the bears and do a lot of hiking. Each year, we would go huckleberry picking several times and collect a total of 4-5 gallons of the berries. These were then frozen and then only used on special occasions. My parents stored them in the old chest freezer we kept out in one of the barns we had on the dairy.

One day, mom decided to use some of the special berries for a meal and went out to the freezer and noticed some were missing...and the evidence of the theft was still visible. After consulting my dad, my parents asked each one of us kids (I have one sister and two brothers) if we took any of the huckleberries. Naturally, each one of us said "No". One of the things that I didn't mention before about huckleberries is that the juice is a rich, deep purple color and it easily leaves stains. Unfortunately for my older brother, while his mouth said "No", his purple stained lips and t-shirt shouted "YES!"

Why would my brother, who was about 8 at the time, lie about eating huckleberries? One word...FEAR! He knew (or thought he knew) that he would get a spanking if he admitted to taking the berries.

I want to talk about fear today, because it is a word we see repeatedly throughout the Scriptures. In the Bible, it has two primary meanings. One, "to show reverence", as in to "fear God". The other is "to be afraid." I'm going to focus only on the latter definition in this message.

Why does God talk about FEAR, or being afraid, so much in the Bible? Do you know how many times we are commanded to "Fear Not!" in the Bible? I have read that it is 366 times! That's right...366. Once for every day of the year, including leap year. That is something worth noticing. It tells me that God has a reason for telling us not to be afraid. It is definitely important.

If we study the word "fear" in the Scriptures, it becomes clear why God directs us not to be afraid. Fear often leads to sin. There are countless examples in the stories of the Bible, but I'll only focus on a few today because of the time we have.

The first reference to "fear" comes early in the Bible, in the Genesis story. In chapter 3 of Genesis, we see that fear causes us to hide. After Adam and Eve eat of the forbidden fruit, they recognize their nakedness and hide from God. Their fear caused them separation from the One who loved them beyond measure. I find that I'm not so unlike Adam and Eve. When I get afraid in a relationship, I find myself "hiding". You may too. This hiding may be in our jobs, in a hobby, in a new group of acquaintances..or just plain old hiding. I remember as a child, hiding under the blankets of my bed to avoid facing mom and dad. Maybe you can remember similar times when fear caused you to hide from the truth.

A second sin fear leads to lying. Genesis 18:15 tells us how Sarah lied when the Lord told Abraham she would have a child. Sarah laughed at that thought because she was quite old, well beyond the age of bearing children. When the Lord asked her why she had laughed, she lied and said she didn't laugh. Why would Sarah lie to God when she knew God was right there, watching and listening to her laugh at the thought of having a child? Why would my brother lie to mom and dad when he still had huckleberry juice on his lips and shirt? Satan loves to use fear to cause us to sin against God and create separation between our Father and ourselves.

The last sin I'll talk about today is letting fear lead you to not believe in God's promises and miss the blessings that He has in store for you. In Nu 13:26-14:9, Moses tells tow the Israelite spies came back from exploring the "promised land", describing how plentiful the land was with food, but...doesn't there always seem to be a but?...but the people that inhabited the land were powerful. And, they were afraid. As a result, God sent them into the wilderness for 40 years and a complete generation missed the blessings of God's promise.

Many of you, like me, may feel like the Israelites. Afraid of what the future holds for you. I get released from here in about 8 months. Presently, I don't know where I'm going, or what I will do when I get out. Right now, I know I could end up homeless. I have to admit, at times, I'm afraid.

That brings me to my key Scripture for today...actually there are two that I would like to share. Remember, I had 366 to choose from. The ones I have chosen are both found in the Book of Isaiah. Isa 41:10 says, "So do not Fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." And in Isa 43:1b-3a, Isaiah says, "Fear Not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour." There is such promise in those words.

The God of the Universe is telling each one of and me...that He will be with us in every situation. We have nothing to be afraid of. Some of you have just arrived in prison and find yourself incarcerated for the first time. It can be was for me when I got here. But...FEAR NOT, God is with you! You may be afraid that your wife is going to leave you, that you are financially ruined, that all of your family and friends have forsaken you. No matter what trial you are facing right now, or will be facing in the future, God tells us not to be afraid. Why? Because He knows that if we don't trust in our faith in Him...believe in the promises He has made to us through His Word...then Satan will come in, prey on our fear, and lead us into sin.

We don't need to make the same mistakes as Adam and Eve, Sarah, or the Israelites. I also could have mentioned the sins that fear caused Saul, David, Elijah, the Apostle John, or countless others to commit whose stories are in the Bible for us, but time today doesn't allow it. The Bible is filled with examples of the damage that fear can do in our relationship with God.

There is a very good reason that God tells us through the Holy Scripture 366 times to "Fear Not! We can be slow learners in our frail human condition. As a former school teacher, I know one of the keys to learning is repetition. God is the Master Teacher and He uses that teaching strategy extremely well. This is a lesson He wants us to understand...and to practice daily in our lives.

I've heard many speakers say that the message they had prepared for their church was also meant for them. That was definitely the case with today's message. God is speaking to me as I am speaking to you.

I'd like you to close your eyes and bow your heads. As men, it is often times difficult to admit when we are afraid. But God knows our hearts and sees when it is full of fear. If any of you here today struggle at times with Fear, I'd like you to raise your hand. I want you to know that my hand is raised right now because there are times when I forget for a moment all of my God's promises. Remember, He says, "Fear Not, for I am with you." If you struggle some times, go back to your Bible, and notice for yourself how often God encourages us with His words, "Fear Not!" Let's pray.

Message presented at TCI on Jan. 10, 2007
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