Sunday, December 19, 2010

THREE INDESCRIBABLE GIFTS OF CHRISTMAS


What do we tend to get occupied with most during the Christmas season? If you turn on to the TV or tune the radio every one is enticing us to buy cool gifts even Christian stations are not exempt from this over commercialization. They advice us to buy gifts to impress others and use money you don’t have. To make matters worse some magazines like “The real simple magazine” offer costly advice in regards to buying gifts. I was shocked to see how expensive some items are in what is supposed to be a real simple magazine. One hand bag costs, $999. I wonder who wants such an expensive, outlandish hand bag? Honestly with that kind of money we can do a whole lot more sensible things. So don’t fall for all what you see, hear or read in the ads, use your God given commonsense. The right gift is not necessarily the most expensive, glamorous or the coolest gift. A right gift is something that would meet a particular need or a want. For example giving a thick leather jacket or a woolen sweater to some one living in Africa or India won’t meet their need, right?

What is the greatest gift of all times? The greatest gift must meet the greatest need. Some one said, “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness so God sent us a Savior. Christmas is not all about the material gifts but it’s about forgiveness, it’s about peace and joy. A recent Christmas card I received contained three profound truths: “A Light to follow, A savior to Love and a King to worship.” I believe these are the three indescribable gifts of Christmas. During this Christmas season let’s pause and reflect on these precious gifts.

I. A LIGHT TO FOLLOW: (Mat 4:16, Isaiah 9:1,2)

In Isaiah, 9:1,2 we read, “But there will be no darkness for those who were in trouble. Earlier he did bring the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali into disrepute, but the time is coming when he’ll make that whole area glorious the road along the Sea, the country past Jordan, international Galilee. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows light! sunbursts of light!”

The prophet Isaiah prophesied these words around 690 BC. What does the prophecy actually mean, when it says, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light? Was the prophet referring to John the Baptist who came as a witness to the light? Or Thomas Edison who after many years invented the light bulb? No! neither! He was referring to the true Light of the world Jesus Christ, God’s gift to humanity.

Many scriptures in the New Testament refer to Christ being the light of the world. On the eighth day of his birth in the temple a man called Simeon who had been waiting for the arrival of Messiah, upon taking the boy Jesus into his arms and said, “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” In John 1:4, we read “In him (Christ) was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Listen to the very words of Jesus: John 8:12 “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." This scripture provides an opportunity for every one to walk in the light, in other words you don’t have to keep living in sin, but the reality is that many love darkness instead of light because their actions are evil.(John 3:19)

Jesus was, is and continues to be the Light of the world sent by God to deliver people who are living in darkness. In other words to set people free from their sin, but it is up to us wanting to be set free from sin. How does sin enter our bodies? In most cases sin enters through our eyes, by what we see. Numerous examples in the Bible indicate the fact that people fell into sin by what they saw before they actually committed it. Gen 3:6 “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” Genesis 37:4 “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” They were Jealous of Joseph and their jealousy has blinded their sound judgment. King David has commit adultery with Bathsheba, because he lacked control over his eyes.

Is there a direct correlation between what we see and what we do and how it affects our bodies? In Luke 11:34-35, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good (pure, and content), your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad (greedy, lustful, and spiteful,) your body also is full of darkness. See to that the light within you is not darkness.” In other words, keep your eyes open, your lamp burning, so you don’t get musty and murky.

Who else can dispel the darkness of our soul other than the one who said at the creation “let light shine out of darkness”? The same God makes his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge o f the glory of God in the face of Christ.(2 Cor 4:6) Once we receive this gift of light how can we continue to live in the Light.? By keeping our lives according to God’s word because his word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path then we won’t stumble and fall. That is why reading, understanding and living by God’s word is so important. Scripture tells us that the unfolding of God’s words gives us light.

During this Christmas season my prayer is that we will say, “The LORD is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear. The LORD is the stronghold of my life (Ps 27:1). Let’s unpack the second gift: A savior to love.

II. A SAVIOR TO LOVE: (Luke 1: 39-46 Matt 1:18-21)

Just imagine for 400 years; No visions! No revelation, and No angelic visitations from God? In other words God was silent; the heavens were shut. The whole earth and God’s chosen people Israel were desperately waiting for the arrival of the messiah. All of a sudden the heavens were buzzing with activity again. On the earth some extraordinary things began to happen. Who would have thought that Elizabeth in her old age would give birth to a Child? Or a teenage girl Mary would become pregnant without human intervention? What logical explanation can we give to such supernatural events other than to say is there anything impossible with God?

Mary, upon receiving God’s orders went to see her aunt Elizabeth and greeted her. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting something amazing has happened. Just imagine how it must have felt for these two mothers carrying two unusual babies in their wombs. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for Joy. An unborn baby, jumping for Joy have you ever heard that before? In some mysterious way the Holy Spirit produced this remarkable response. Elizabeth and Mary both recognized that the child in Mary’s womb is no ordinary child but indeed the savior of the world. Mary could not control her Joy so she began to sing, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” In the hustle and bustle of Christmas, busy buying gifts it is so easy to become weary and sullen and forget to enjoy the pure beauty of this season. When was the last time you were filled with unspeakable Joy by what has God done in your life and began to sing songs of Joy?

When the fullness of time came both the mothers delivered their boys and named them as they were instructed. Elizabeth named her boy John later came to be known as John the Baptist and Mary named her child Yeshua, or Jesus which means the LORD will save his people from their sins. While all this was going on an angel appeared to a group of shepherded who were tending their sheep at night, and said, “I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Christ the Lord. Suddenly a great company of angels appeared praising God saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Don’t we all need that heavenly peace?

The first night of Christmas was any thing but a silent night as we are used to singing “Silent Night, Holy Night” There was jubilation and celebration because the savior of the world was born. The shepherds must have been thrilled to hear the angelic choir so they hurried to go and see the savior. In any nativity drama the scene of the shepherds and angels sends the audience into laughter and joy. I can tell it by experience because I acted as a shepherd on several Church Christmas celebrations. Oh how I grieve today because by and large we have lost that innocence and eagerness of the shepherds. We became so technically advanced but spiritually impoverished, nothing seems to spark the joy of Christmas any more.

The Bible tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God loved the world he gave his Son so that the world might be saved and Christ loved us so much, while we were still sinners He died for us on the cross so that you and I might have eternal life. In return what does God expect from us? Nothing much, only two things, one is that we love him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all your mind and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. We have no problems in loving God, but loving our neighbors? That is a tough call.

My life has been profoundly impacted when I received God’s free gift of salvation. I love him today because he first loved me. You may receive all kinds of gifts during this Christmas but nothing can make you as happy as much as the gift of Salvation does. Let’s unpack the third gift.

III. A KING TO WORSHIP: (Mat 2:1-11)

In the Christmas nativity drama one of the most glittering and glamorous scenes is when the wise men enter with gifts in their hands. All of a sudden there is a royal touch added to the story. The scripture calls them Magi means wise men, probably they were astrologers, doctors perhaps from Persia or southern Arabia, both of which are east of Palestine. They came to Jerusalem and asked where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship Him. If the wise men traveled a great distance to worship Jesus, How are we to worship Christ our savior, the light of the world and the King of Kings? They offered gifts as a way of worship to Jesus. What do these gifts signify? The gold represents that Jesus is the King, the frankincense represents Christ’s priestly role and myrrh represents his ultimate sacrifice upon the Cross.

The wise men offered gifts to Jesus not to one another, what could we bring to Jesus this morning? Is he expecting any material gifts from us? No! Frankly in my opinion Satan has succeeded in distracting and confusing the masses about Christmas with fables about Santa and unbridled materialism. In all our preoccupation with gifts, decorations, parties and food we end up stressed and harassed. It takes discernment and wisdom for us to be able to know when enough is enough. We don’t want our children to get the wrong notion that happiness is store bought. We want to make sure that Jesus is at the very center of all our celebration. What can we learn from the wise men? Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and he deserves our Worship.

In Psalm 95:3-6, “For the LORD I s the great God, the great King above all gods…. Come, let us bow down in worship let us kneel before the LORD our maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture the flock under his care.” On the first Christmas day God gave three great gifts to the world. A Light to follow, a savior to Love and a King to worship. These same three gifts can be yours today. All you need to do is to unpack these three indescribable gifts and receive them by faith. Only when you receive these gifts, your Christmas will be truly meaningful and you can bring a smile to others by your gifts, again not by the material ones.

I would like to suggest a few gifts that you can give to your family, friends and neighbors during this Christmas season. Most of them don’t cost you a world. Mend a quarrel, dismiss suspicion, stop spreading gossip, and tell someone, "I love you." Give something away--anonymously. Forgive someone who has treated you wrong. Turn away wrath with a soft answer. Visit someone in a nursing home. Apologize if you were wrong. Be especially kind to someone with whom you work. Encourage someone who is discouraged. Give as God gave to you in Christ, without obligation, or announcement, or reservation, or hypocrisy. Again you can’t give what you yourselves haven’t yet received. May the Lord help you to receive Jesus as your light, as your savior and as your King. Amen

Monday, December 6, 2010

REBUILDING A HEALTHY CHURCH- PART I( Lessons from the book of Nehemiah)

It was around this time in 2007, uncertainty and anxiety were looming large in our family. Uncertainty because we didn’t know where we were going to go once I completed my seminary studies, anxiety because we didn’t know how we were going to make it in life and possibly rebuild a ministry as we gave up everything that was familiar, we left family and friends behind and made a move half way across the world to Boston. You wouldn’t understand what anxiety you go through under such circumstances unless you have made a midlife career decision as our family made.

In the midst of all that uncertainty we had a silver lining. We applied for various pastoral positions in different parts of the USA including Quincy. My wife wrote in her journal on 11/30 2007, “Praying for the options that have come up this week, EGC, Kendal Miami, and ECCOA Quincy. Regarding a multicultural ministry! Francis senses that the Quincy opening may be from the Lord” The profile of ECCOA looked good and promising on the website. But little did we know what we were getting into! That was the beginning of our prayer for Quincy and ECCOA. Fast forward three years, our prayers for our Church and different individuals have never been more intensified.

As we are approaching the end of the first decade of the new millennium I began to ask God what would be his purpose for me, my family and for our Church, in the next ten years. I believe that what we have seen or experienced in our lives so far is nothing in comparison to what God has in store for us in the new decade. The future glory of our church will be far greater than the former glory. We are going to see the hand of God moving mightily upon this Church.
In my seeking I was reminded of the call of God which came to me several years ago from Isaiah 58:12 “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

I sense my purpose is to repair, rebuild and restore the ancient ruins and age old foundations of the Church. I began ask God what are they? The Lord showed me that it is the Church in the post Christian society whose foundations are in ruins. After living here for five years I am convinced more than ever that the core foundations of the Church at large are in ruins. It calls for a response from us. It calls for repairs, rebuilding and restoring. So I searched for a biblical model where God used an individual and a group of people to repair, rebuild and restore ancient ruins.

My search led me to the Book of Nehemiah. Out of my study I’ve learned several principles which will help us in “Rebuilding a Healthy Church.” Did I say rebuilding a Healthy Church? Does it mean the current Church is unhealthy? Hasn’t Christ laid the foundations for a healthy church when he died and rose again? Then how come the Church is not as healthy as it should be?
It’s about time that we get serious with the job of demolishing unhealthy, faulty foundations that we have built our lives on and rebuild healthy and God honoring foundations.

We all know how important for us to be healthy. We do anything to be healthy, because we know when we are healthy we can accomplish more, the same applies to a Church. If the Church is healthy, what do I mean by that is if the people in the pews are healthy then the Church is healthy then it will have a positive influence on our community? Don’t we all want to see a Church that honors God and respects all? I’d like to be a part of that Church. When I say Church I am not referring to a building or a particular denomination but I am referring to the redeemed people. It’s you and I, who have been washed by the blood of the lamb, and gather here every Sunday to worship the living God and claim ourselves to be Christians. It’s not the building that needs repairs but it us who need to be repaired, rebuilt and restored based on his Word then the glory of God will once again shine through our lives which will attract others to Christ.

For a few weeks I will be talking on a series called, “Rebuilding a Healthy Church” Some of the things I will be sharing straight from my heart that may prick your conscience but bear with me. Let the Holy Spirit deal with us in ways that are appropriate. The principles we will discover during our study will help us rebuild our lives and others. My hope is that you will be honest with yourselves before God and none of you would sit in a position and think I don’t need any change, and I have arrived, instead you pray, God purge me, purify me, restore me and use me for your glory. Isn’t it easy to find faults in others than to admit our own mistakes? God is committed to change us from glory to glory. But the challenge is are we willing to be changed?

What God expects from us is maturity and growth. In Ephesians 4:12-13, we read, “So that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”(Ephesians 4:12-13) The Fullness of Christ! That is our Goal! We are not going to settle for any thing less. Let’s begin our study of the book of Nehemiah.

I. THE CONTEXT OF NEHEMIAH:

A bit of background information will help us place the incidents of Nehemiah in the right context. After the death of Solomon his Kingdom fell apart into two rival states, Israel and Judah with two capitals Samaria and Jerusalem. During 627 B.C the southern prophet Jeremiah prophesied the fall of the city of Jerusalem, the exile of Jews to Babylon and their return. In Jeremiah 52:12 we read the destruction of Jerusalem, “The temple, the royal palace, all the houses and every important building was burnt down. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down and many were taken into exile to Babylon. Initially they thought it will last only for two years.
But nearly after 70 years around 520 B.C, Cyrus the king of Persia decreed that the remnant who survived the exile should return to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of the Lord.
Under the leadership of Ezra 42,360 Jews (Neh 7:66) returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, but the walls of the city still remained in ruins. One hundred years after the first return Nehemiah shows up on the scene to repair, rebuild and restore the walls of Jerusalem.

II. A NATION IN A CRISIS: (Neh 1:1-4)
We don’t know much about Nehemiah except he was the son of Hacaliah. Nehemiah means “Jehovah comforts” Isn’t it amazing that God sent Nehemiah to comfort a nation that has endured war and devastation and in a terrible crisis? When all that was going on where was Nehemiah? He was in the citadel of Susa, a winter residence of Persian Kings. Unlike today in those days there was no CNN or Fox News etc to break the devastating news; it has to be spread through word of mouth.

One day Hananiah the brother of Nehemiah and some other men from Judah came to visit Nehemiah. He questioned them about the welfare of the Jews who survived the exile and he also wanted to know what happened to Jerusalem. The men said, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”(Neh 1:3) The Holy city! The city of their ancestors in ruins, and the gates were burned with fire? This is horrible news and a frightening thought for a Jew. It is unthinkable. The nation of was in a crisis!

Let me bring this story into our context. Are we facing a crisis today? The first decade in the new millennium has unfolded several crisis situations in the USA and the rest of the world. To name a few, the 9/11 twin tower attacks in 2001, the anthrax attack in 2003, the Afghanistan and Iraq war, General motors Bankruptcy, the Hurricane Katrina, BC Oil Spill, the current financial meltdown, house fore closures, Job losses and the raising unemployment.

Undoubtedly these crisis situations affect every one. But there is one crisis that comes even closer to home as Christians, that is the Crisis in the Church. The Church in the USA by and large is loosing its impact it once used to have on the nation. The core biblical foundations are in ruins. There is diminishing interest in God and the Church among the general population. This trend worries a lot of Christian leaders. Pastors are concerned about the spiritual and emotional health of their flock.

David T. Olson the author of Turning Church Crisis into a Spiritual Revolution gives a few signs of decay in the American Church: 1. The percentage of the population attending church on any given weekend has declined from 20.4 percent in 1990 to 17.0 percent in 2007. 2. Protestant churches between 100 and 300 in attendance are declining by 2% per year. 3. Lack of new church planting initiatives: to keep up with population growth, 2,900 more churches need to be started every year. 4. The growth rate of evangelical mainline and Catholic churches has been declining throughout this decade.

The painful truth however is that for most churches in America, ministry is more difficult today than it was 10 years ago. My pastor friends have said this and I too say the same with a little bit of experience that I had over the past two years. It is becoming more and more difficult to do ministry here. As I talk to my friends and read various reports I am concerned by the state of the Church in the USA. I began to ask myself why it is so difficult to minister in supposedly a Christian nation. What is contributing to the decay? How can we truly measure the success of the Church? Is it by its numerical growth or by its health? What are the symptoms of a sick Church? What are the signs of a healthy Church? What must we do to rebuild a healthy Church?

I realize that there are no easy answers to these questions, but if we want the Church to become vibrant and have an impact in this nation we must wrestle with these questions. That’s what we will be addressing as we embark on this journey of Rebuilding a healthy Church. When Nehemiah heard about the great trouble and disgrace that his fellow Jews were in, it disturbed him deeply, he sat down and wept. For some days he mourned and fasted and prayed to God out of which the LORD brought forth a plan of repairing, rebuilding and restoring. Nehemiah had to deal with the broken walls of Jerusalem. What are we to deal with, is it our broken lives, broken families and broken Churches? When we see and hear about the decay in the Church at large and our own Church, our personal lives and families, what should be our response? The answer to that question I believe lies in rebuilding a Healthy Church. Amen!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

LIVING OUR PURPOSE IN CHRIST:(JOHN 15:1-10)

Have you ever wondered what on earth you are here for? “There is a fundamental human need for guiding ideals that give meaning to our actions”, states Roger Fisher. According to some philosophies, purpose is central to a good human life. Helen Keller wrote that “happiness comes from being faithful to a worthy purpose". What all these people are saying is that we all need a purpose. A purposeless life is meaning less life. The author of The purpose driven life author Rick Warren defines the primary purpose of human beings existence, “It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

Contrary to what many books, movies, self help gurus tell you, you won’t find your purpose in life until you meet the one who has created you. Are we here by accident, Or by divine providence? Who has created us? Col 1:15 -16 reads, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Who is he? Believing in this truth will we discover our purpose?
We are at different stages in our lives journey. Some haven’t yet begun their journey towards God. Others have started their journey but have drifted away by the expectations of the world. Still others though they have accepted Christ as their Lord and savior but have never grown up in their faith, their growth is stunted. But they are still others who know their purpose and continuing to grow in their faith.

How many of you really know what God’s purpose is in your life? If you want to know God’s purpose let’s turn to John 15:1-10, where Jesus makes it amply clear what God’s purpose is in our lives and how each one of us can live out that purpose in Him.

I. JESUS IS THE TRUE VINE & WE ARE THE BRANCHES :(John 15:1-3)

Jesus used the analogy of the Vine and the branches in order to explain the relationship that existed between the Father, himself and his disciples. Why did he use the Vine and the branches? Why not a tree and the fruit? A number of reasons can be stated. Firstly, the propagation, pruning, and the purpose of grapes is uniquely different than any other fruit bearing trees. Ninety nine percent of growing grapes is not done by planting seeds but by the cuttings taken from a mature vine. In other words in the case of grapes they do not grow from the seed but from the vine. In the same way we can not bear fruit by what we do for Christ but by being rooted in Christ Secondly, unlike other fruit bearing trees the pruning process is imperative to healthy, long-lasting fruit production and it is done every year. Thirdly, in the Old Testament the term ‘vine’ is used when speaking of the nation of Israel. But because Israel is often shown as lacking in some way, Jesus uses this term to say that he is the true vine. In one way he is saying, “Don’t worry about your heritage or the fact that you belong to Israel, follow me because I am the true vine.” Fourthly, grape vines were common during Jesus’ time so his audience easily understood what he was saying.

In John 15:2, by saying my father cuts off every dead branch, Jesus is combining it with Vs 6, “if any one does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. This is in reference to the final Day of Judgment when some will be found worthy to spend the eternity with God and some won’t.
If you are a true believer, accepted Christ as your personal savior and living a life that is pleasing to God and bearing fruit for the Kingdom of God then you have nothing to worry. You will spend eternity in heaven because your names are written in the lamb’s book of life. But if you never accepted Christ as your savior and living a mediocre and self gratifying life, or living on the fence never really following Christ and his teachings then you have all the reason to worry because like that dead branch you will be thrown in to hell for ever. Revelation 21:8, gives a list of those who will end up in hell, “the feckless(without a purpose) and faithless, degenerates and murderers, sex peddlers, and sorcerers, idolaters and all liars for them it’s lake of Fire and Brimstone. Second death. (The Message) That’s the judgment of God on all those who were not bearing fruit for His Kingdom.

If that is how God deals with the so called dead Christians how would he deal with fruit bearing Christians? He prunes them. He cuts them back. Ouch!! That hurts. Right? Have you experienced his pruning in your life? Has he cut you back somewhere? Painful! But necessary. As a fruit bearing grape branch is cut back every year for health and higher productivity, God cuts us back so that we bear much fruit for his Kingdom. What does pruning look like in a believer’s life? It could come in the form of trails and testing. James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance, perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking any thing.” Who goes through more trails and testing in life? Isn’t it It is the righteous, sincere God fearing Christians? As I am talking I know several sincere Christian friends of mine are going through severe testing and trails in their lives. My prayer is that May God gives them strength and grace to face those trails and come through victoriously.

II. WHY DO WE NEED TO STAY CONNECTED TO THE VINE?
The answer is found in Vs 4 & 5, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” What is he getting at? I believe Christ is saying; we may do many good works but if it doesn’t involve God, if they are not done in the name of Christ for the benefit of the kingdom then they are just dead works which will have no eternal value.

It is not by doing good works we will earn our way to eternal life but by believing in Christ and closely following his teachings. Why is it important that a branch is connected to the vine? The answer is simple; unless a branch is connected to the vine it will not bear fruit because its nourishment comes from the vine. In the same way our life and sustenance comes from Christ which will enable us to bear fruit. Do you remember when Christ called his disciples to follow him what was his primary purpose? It is not that they will go out and great things for him but they will be with him so that he will send them out to do mighty things.(Mk 3:14) The irony of the modern day disciples of Christ is that we are so busy doing things for him, so much so we have no time to be with Jesus on a daily and consistent basis. If you are driven to do things for Christ remember your doing should come from your being with Him. Learn to rest in Him!! If our life totally depends on remaining in Christ then how are we to remain in Christ?

III. HOW CAN WE REMAIN IN CHRIST?
How do we do this “remaining in Christ”? Jesus in this passage gives three practical pointers towards the art of remaining in Christ. The first one is in chapter 15 verse 7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be given you.
If Jesus words have to remain in us, how do we do that? By being non-stop digitally connected? I am afraid not, though we may find some handy tools to do so virtually. I believe it takes intentionality, a commitment to be people who make daily reading and pondering Gods word one of our life’s priorities. In doing this we will be more aware of the will of God. Our priorities and pursuits will change and we want to live to fulfill God’s purposes rather than our own selfish agendas and ambitions. Then we can truly say “Lord not my will be done but let your will be done in my life”.

The second pointer is that we must understand how deep and wide is his love for us and remain in His love. John Piper says in one of his books, “We bring the most glory to God when we enjoy Him the most.” Our basis of remaining in Christ’s love comes from the understanding that we are crazily loved by Christ. Incase you wonder whether you are loved by Christ. Let’s pause and ponder this amazing statement, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you, now remain in my love.” It is almost as if Jesus is saying here ‘now don’t go running back to your false sources of love that cannot truly satisfy you’ instead learn to be satisfied in my love” Draw near to me I will draw near to you and transform you.

Our recovery will be complete and our striving for significance and acceptance will come to rest if only we understand the depth and the meaning of the heavenly Father’s love. How has the Father loved Jesus? Or more precisely when did the father love him? Is it when he was doing all those great and mighty miracles? No! The Father Loved Jesus even way before he did any miracle or preach a sermon. Do you remember that incident of Jesus’ Baptism? When he came out of waters what did Jesus see and hear? “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, this is my Son, whom I love with him I am well pleased.” This was a significant event so it is captured by all the three synoptic Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Isn’t that amazing that you and I don’t have to do anything to earn God’s Love, except simply receive it by faith. How could we quantify God’s love? The Biblical writers fell short of words when it comes to explaining God’s extravagant and exuberant love for us. They employed adjectives such as, unfailing, abundant, deep, wide, and a couple of verbs like poured, and lavished.

Third pointer in remaining Christ is found in Vs 10 & 12, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in his love. What is his command here? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Loving others is not a good suggestion from Christ but a command. John 13:34-35, “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.” It is only by our love for one another we can let the world know that we are Christ’s disciples, not by having more programs and events. Though they are good, in the end it is our love for one another that wins people to Christ more than anything else.

What are the benefits of staying connected with the vine or remaining in Christ? The benefits are two fold, one we become productive and fruitful for Gods Kingdom, Secondly “God will grant our wish.” Does it mean that God will grant us any and everything I ask him? Let’s not be carried away here by that statement. This doesn’t warrant for us to come to God with our wish list of “bless me, bless me” prayers; instead we will take up his wish list; we will carry his burden in prayer. The answer is No! then what does he grant us? It’s the salvation of Souls? I guess the challenging question is, “Are we bearing fruit that will last?” The secret to this is available to us all if we learn to remain in Christ and his love. Amen

Sunday, November 21, 2010

AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE

It was our annual fall health walk from our church. A few of us braved the weather and started our walk through the beautiful Blue Hill reservation. The foliage was gorgeous. Our guide chose a rather difficult terrain for our walk. We climbed the hilly slopes carefully; I almost slipped on a couple of occasions. But when we finally reached the top of the hill, the scenery was simply breath taking. The various hues of fall foliage made for a fabulous view. The city of Boston was standing in a far distance like a small block of concrete surrounded by vast trees and undeveloped land. By looking at that I realized what a huge and beautiful country America is, in comparison to some dusty and crowded cities in India.

What a blessed country are we living in! Few nations in the history of mankind have had over 200 years unbroken absence of foreign invasion, poverty and plague. Never have any people enjoyed such freedom, peace and prosperity. Yet how often we take those very things for granted. K.P Yohanan the founder of Gospel for Asia, in his book “The Road to Reality” takes his western readers on a reality check trip lest they forget their blessings and become oblivious of the needs of many poorer nations around the world. Yohanan notes, “North Americans don’t know what an unbelievable privilege it is to be born or to live in the United States or Canada. There’s nothing a person needs here that isn’t inexpensive and plentiful. While much of the Asian world works from dawn to dusk for a few handfuls of rice, many Americans are more concerned with how to loose weight. While many people in the world can’t read or write, Americans worry about choosing the “right” school for their children. While much of the world barely has two changes of clothes, many Americans are concerned primarily with the latest fashion and color.” What a contrast! While many in this world are suffering and struggling to make ends meet aren’t we blessed beyond belief? Yet how often do we and our children complain about the things we don’t have and fail to be grateful for the blessings already received?

Every year on the 4th Thursday of November the nation celebrates “Thanksgiving Day”. While we enjoy our carved turkeys, Pumpkin Pie, Corns, Cranberry Sauce and shop the following day let’s pause and think, is Thanksgiving Day all about eating and shopping? By the way Thanksgiving for us didn’t start with Puritans or by J.C Penny, incase you are wondering who started this, it goes way back to Jewish roots. As God’s people our roots too are connected with the Jewish people. What does Thanksgiving really mean for us Christians? Is it a holiday that we celebrate once a year or is it an attitude that each of us need to develop? Are we really required to give thanks in all circumstances? As we learn about Thanksgiving from scriptures my prayer is that we will also cultivate the attitude of gratitude towards God, life and one another.

I. IS THANKSGIVING A COMMANDMENT?
The Jewish community in the OT was required by God to offer several offerings and celebrate festivals. One of such offerings is called the fellowship offering of thanksgiving. Unlike the other offerings it is offered as an expression of thankfulness. It is rather an extravagant offering. The list includes, “cakes of bread, wafers, cakes of fine flour well-kneaded and mixed with oil, and meat.”(Lev 7:12-15) King Hezekiah after purifying the temple gave a call to the people to bring sacrifices and thank offerings. The assembly responded willingly. On that day seventy bulls, a hundred rams and two hundred male lambs were offered to the LORD.(2 Ch 29:32). People didn’t shy away when it came to bring thank offerings.

God doesn’t require of us to offer bulls and goats any more, nevertheless he still expects us to be grateful. Thanksgiving is not just limited to offering materials to God but it can also be expressed in a Song of Praise. David wrote many Psalms expressing his gratitude to God. Thanksgiving was not a good suggestion but was a command from God. “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles and the judgments he pronounced.” I Ch 16: 8-12

Paul in his letter to the Hebrews chapter 12 :28 Therefore since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe for our God is a consuming fire. Marva Dawn in her book “ A royal waste of time” says that the Jews were so worried about blaspheming God’s name YHWH, that they never spoke it, but said the name Adonai or LORD instead. Don’t you wish such respect still existed today? In fact, among Orthodox Jews it still does. They will not say the name of God because they do not want to mis-speak it. This morning as we think about Thanksgiving we could benefit from a bit more of their awe and reverence, their concern that we not mis-speak what God is like.

The Jewish community has a practice of saying 100 B’rakhot a day which means saying blessed are you God for 100 things. One of such blessing goes like this, “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech Ha-Olam, it means, “Blessed art thou, O LORD our God, King of the universe” In general we think we are grateful to God, at least when it comes to thank at three meal times a day, but 100 times? That would be pretty hard isn’t it? But there is indeed a blessing in Blessing the LORD. Marva Dawn notes, “Can you imagine what it would be like if you tried at least 100 times a day to say sentences like Blessed are you O Lord our God, King of the universe, that you created men and women with intelligent minds who have invented alarm clocks so that I woke up on time this morning.” Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, that you have caused the sun to shine and rain to fall so that the fruits of the harvest could be made unto this breakfast cereal,”? How might this change our attitudes?

What the Jews sought and still seek to accomplish by saying 100 Barkhots a day was to find Joy in every aspect of life because they realized that God is behind it all. You might be saying well it is good for the Jews, but does God really require me to be grateful for what?

II. WHAT ARE WE TO THANK GOD FOR ANY WAY?
Our forefathers saw the hand of God in every aspect of life and were grateful. Listen to the words of a popular Hymn written in 1897, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God hath done! Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” When was the last time you saw the hand of God in your life? Is God still involved in the lives of his people? If he does then why are we failing to see his works in our lives? The answer lies in our modern lifestyle. We eat packaged food, live in packaged homes, drive luxury cars, and rely upon plenty of gadgets for our convenience as a result we don’t see the need to rely upon God. We think we can do it ourselves.

When everything is going well we think we don’t need God? But when things aren’t going great that is when we become all worried and anxious. I can’t tell you how many times we had to cry out to God for his intervention in the last five years. In his mercy he kept us depending on him for our needs. When we look back we have many reasons to be grateful to God for. In case you are wondering what you are to be grateful for, the scriptures do give us some reasons for thanksgiving. Scripture tells us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down fro the father of lights.”James 1:17

The following scriptures give us reasons to be thankful to God for: We are thankful to God because he delivers us from sickness. Psalm 116:16-17 “O Lord, truly I am your servant; you have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to you.” Think about how many times God has healed you from sickness? When you are sick, if you have money you’ll pay to be treated but if you don’t what will you do? You pray! On numerous occasions God heard our prayers and healed our bodies by doing so he kept our doctors visits to a minimum.

We thank God because he delivers us from our troubles. Have you witnessed the amazing rescue of 33 Chilean workers who were trapped for 69 days? Some attribute this to nothing less than a miracle, but the skeptics attribute it to the ingenuity of human brains. I believe that it was God who heard the cries of the miners and the prayers of the families and the world at large and rescued them by using the human skills and the modern technology. The Washington Post reported, “Prayers and well wishes from around the world reached the miners. Pope Benedict prayed for them after a mass in August. The Baptist Press reported that two miners "accepted Christ" during their ordeal. Florencio Avalos was the first man taken up from the mine. His wife, Monica, said "This rescue was so difficult, it's a grand miracle." The second miner to emerge, Mario SepĂșlveda , told the press in Spanish: "I've been near God, but I've also been near the devil. God won."

Your trouble may be different; nevertheless when you cry out to God He will deliver you. In Ps 107:19, 21, 22 we read “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he saved them from their distress. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of Joy.”

Three major areas where we must be thankful. Firstly, we thank God for the victory over sin and for his gift of salvation. Romans 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” I thank God for his saving grace and his great gift of salvation. Secondly, for his deliverance from the punishment of sin which is eternal death? Psalm 56:12 “I am under vows to you, O God; I will present my thank offerings to you. For you have delivered me from death.” Here the Psalmist was recollecting the times that God spared him from death, but was he totally delivered from death? Not yet! But thank God! a day is coming and is not too far from us that is the day when Christ returns to earth. I Cor 15:24, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the Kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Oh how I love this, I wish that day is today. One day there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more agony, no more good byes and no more death, all is over. God’s children will live with him in his heavenly Kingdom for ever and ever what a glorious day that would be. So thirdly, we thank God for allowing us to be part of his kingdom: Hebrews 12:28 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” There is no eminent threat to God’s Kingdom, no terrorist attacks or dirty bomb will destroy his Kingdom they won’t even get there in the first place. His Kingdom is eternal. Aren’t you grateful? In fact God wants us to excel in thankfulness Col 2:7.

III. HOW TO DEVELOP THE ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE?

If we dare to admit we all have a tendency to grumble and complain for the things that we don’t have and others seem to have. We tend to believe the lie of the enemy that “the more things you posses the more happy you will be.” That is not necessarily so. You can have all you ever want yet if you don’t have gratitude you feel miserable. Paul exhorts young Timothy about the “Get rich trap” In 1st Timothy 6:6-10 “6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain, when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.

We read in the book of Proverbs “Two things I ask of you, O Lord; don’t refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches; but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you, and say “Who is the
Lord or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God.” During these economic hardships it is wise to pray the prayer our Lord taught us. “Give us this day our daily bread.” The secret is the art of contentment, through which we can develop an attitude of gratitude. May the Lord help all of us to say like Paul did, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?” Phi 4: 12 Amen

Sunday, November 14, 2010

GOD'S AMAZING GRACE



Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both had churches in London in the 19th century. On one occasion, Parker commented on the poor condition of children admitted to Spurgeon's orphanage. It was reported to Spurgeon however, that Parker had criticized the orphanage itself. Spurgeon blasted Parker the next week from the pulpit. The attack was printed in the newspapers and became the talk of the town. People flocked to Parker's church the next Sunday to hear his rebuttal, instead they heard these words from Parker, "I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead." The crowd was delighted. The ushers had to empty the collection plates 3 times. Later that week there was a knock at Parker's study. It was Spurgeon. "You know Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved; you have given me what I needed.”[1] Isn’t that amazing, that is precisely what grace is all about. It is not giving what we deserve but something better. It’s the unmerited favor.

The title of my message “God’s Amazing Grace” is borrowed from a well beloved Hymn "Amazing Grace" written by John Newton in 1779. John Newton grew up without any particular religious conviction. As a young adult he was pressed into the Royal Navy and became a sailor, eventually participating in the slave trade. One night a terrible storm battered his vessel so severely that he became frightened enough to call out to God for mercy, a moment that marked the beginning of his spiritual conversion.”[2]

The message of this Hymn is that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of the sins people commit and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the grace of God. Not only John Newton was saved by grace, if it was not for the grace of God I wouldn’t be standing here today. I am sure many of you have similar stories to tell. Fast forward two hundred years since John Newton wrote that hymn. Times have changed the world we are living is not as innocent as it used to be. Open the news paper there is crime and violence everywhere but there are still some people left who extends grace.

Recently I watched a documentary on CNN about serial killers. Over fifty innocent girls became victims of one man’s lust and gruesome brutality. Gary Ridgway was convicted of killing those young girls. For the first time one of the fathers of one victim was facing Ridgway in the court. I was moved by what this father had to say, “Mr. Ridgway, I had prayed for about two or three weeks before as to what to say. There are people here that hate you. I'm not one of them. I forgive you for what you have done. It's a commandment that you forgive thy enemy. - God doesn't say to forgive just one, you've got to forgive all. So you are forgiven, sir.” Upon hearing that profound statement every one in the court room was shocked. I could see Ridgway, was visibly shaken and tears flowing down his face.

What a powerful demonstration of forgiveness. I do not know whether Mr. Ridgway has repented of his sins or not but I do know one thing that the father extended grace beyond words to an undeserving sinner, in doing so this father has reflected the heart of our heavenly father”[3] Like Ridgway we too do not deserve God’s grace.

All we deserve is to be burning in hell forever. But because of God’s Amazing Grace you and I can escape eternal punishment. How did God demonstrate this grace in the Bible? Can God forgive any and every sin? What should be our response to Amazing Grace? Let’s go back to where everything began; the Garden of Eden.

I. GRACE IN THE GARDEN

The Garden of Eden was a perfect and safe place to live. There was harmony, peace everywhere. But when Adam and Eve sinned, everything changed. They rejected God’s commandment instead chose to follow Satan. In a sense they rejected God’s love for a moment of pleasure. Were they happy with that decision? No! Instead they were ashamed and afraid and ran away from God. Isn’t that what sin typically does to us? It may give you a moment of happiness but robs the joy out of your relationship with God and with others.

Max Lucado writes about God’s unconditional love towards his people in his book “Just like Jesus” “The Love of people often increases with performance and decreases with mistakes. Not so with God’s love. He loves you right where you are. God’s love never ceases. Never! Thought we spurn him. Ignore him. Reject him. Despise him. Disobey him. He will not change. Our evil cannot diminish his love. Our goodness can not increase it. Our faith doesn’t earn it anymore than our stupidity jeopardizes it. God doesn’t love us less if we fail or more if we succeed. God’s love never ceases.”[4] That is giving grace. For the first time we see a grace encounter in the Garden. Though Adam and Eve rejected God, he loved them so much therefore he came right to where they were. He called out to Adam saying where are you? He didn’t say why you did this. That was a call of grace which leads to repentance.

Had Adam and Eve repented of what they have done the story of mankind would have been different, instead of admitting their wrong and asking for forgiveness they blamed each other. Now God had all the reason to wipe them out and do everything all over again instead he wanted to work with the fallen man. That is nothing but absolute grace. How did that grace play out in the Garden? After cursing the serpent, Eve and Adam God made a few provisions for them. He covered their nakedness with leather garments. He pronounced the way of salvation to mankind through Christ. He sealed the destiny of Satan forever.

Finally, he banished them from the Garden, how could that be an act of grace? Think for a moment. Had they reached out and eaten the fruit of life won’t they have remained in their miserable sinful state forever? Then what hope would you and I have? These are all acts of grace in the Garden. In the same way God loves you the way you are. He will come to you where you are, but won’t leave you the way you are. He wants to transform you into the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. John Newton has experienced the power of God’s grace when he wrote these heart wrenching words, “Amazing Grace (How sweet the sound) that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

II. GRACE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT:

Since the Garden of Eden God has shown his grace (unmerited favor) in numerous occasions not only to his Children but also to those who did not acknowledge him as God. The following scriptures indicate God’s graciousness.

Genesis 21:1 “Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised.”

Exodus 34:6 “And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,”

Psalm 145:8 “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” God extended his grace to a generation which continued to rebel against Him.

Isaiah 30:15-18, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it…. Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” God has shown his grace not only to his children but also to the wicked.

Isaiah 26:10 “Though grace is shown to the wicked, they do not learn righteousness; even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil and regard not the majesty of the LORD.”

The gracious God who showed his mighty acts of grace to the willing and the un-willing in the Old Testament has personified his grace when he sent his Son Jesus Christ into this world.

III. CHRIST: THE MANIFESTATION OF GRACE.

In the Life in Christ series we have seen Christ being, the King, the redeemer, healer, deliverer, prince of peace and the savior of the world however this series would be incomplete if we overlook Christ being the manifestation of grace. He not only came to give us grace but he himself was full of grace. In other words grace is no longer an abstract distant nature of God but now it has a human body so that we can feel and receive his grace. This aspect of God’s grace was largely overlooked and misunderstood by the Pharisees and Sadducees of his time.

Christ did some radical things while demonstrating grace that did not sit well with the experts of the Mosaic law. Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." 'But wisdom is proved right by her actions." In John 1:14 we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the father, full of grace and truth.”

Christ came to show us, his grace first and his truth next. How often do we get this wrong? Are we quick to point people their faults by telling them the truth but seldom extending grace to them? Christ was called the friend of sinners, in other words sinners were attracted to him they liked to hang around with him, why don’t sinners like being around us? What scares them away? Philips Yancey in his book the “Jesus I never knew” recalls a story told him by a friend who works with the down and out in Chicago. A prostitute came to him in wretched straits, homeless, her health failing, unable to buy food for her two year old daughter.

Her eyes awash with tears, she confessed that she had been renting out her daughter- two years old! To men interested in weird sex, in order to support her own drug habit. His friend could hardly bear hearing the sordid details of her story. He sat in silence, not knowing what to say. At last he asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for help. With a pure look of astonishment on her face the woman cried, “Church! Why would I ever go there? They’d just make me feel even worse than I already do![5]

What a sad picture of a Church in the eyes of this hurting single mother? A Church should be a place where the hurting, and lonely are attracted to, accepted and comforted by the love of God which will be manifested by its members through acts of random kindness. If they are living in sin they will be convicted by the Holy Spirit as they worship, and listen to the word of God being preached. How about our church? Is it a safe environment for sinners? Or is it a place where people feel condemned and judged?

I believe and pray that our church will truly become a loving and healing place where lives are refreshed, restored and transformed. That’s what Christ came to demonstrate. Remember the story of the prostitute in the Bible who had received grace from Jesus (Luke 7:36-50). One of the Pharisees asked him over a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of every expensive perfume and stood at his feet, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair she dried his feet, kissed them and anointed them with the perfume.” What a powerful lesson can we learn from that? Some of us who want to live decent lives try very hard to do it in our own strength in the process we become faultfinders and judgmental. Instead of love, criticism and irritation flows from our life, then we are not operating in grace. We forget that we too were sinners once and only saved by grace.

Here is a woman whose life was exploited by the lust of men, but when she received God’s grace all has changed. She showed her love by pouring expensive perfume on the feet of her savior. That was worship. Jesus commended this woman for it much to the annoyance of the host of the party who labeled her “a sinner.” The astonishing bottom line of that story is that those who are forgiven more, love more. How are you expressing your love for God and for people? Or have you become self righteous like that Pharisee who could not pass beyond his own “Holier than thou attitude?

May be some of you are like that woman in the story wondering whether God can forgive your sin. Yes he can and he will, if you repent of it. May be others are sitting on the saddle like the Pharisee riding on self-righteousness and being irritated by the expression of worship of those who were saved by His grace. Thank God that whether you are in need to receive God’s grace today or whether you are in need of becoming a grace giver the Lord is here to meet you. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen!



[1] Moody Monthly, December, 1983, p. 81.

[3] http://www.edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1011/06/se.01.html

[4] Max Lucado, Just Like Jesus

[5] Philip Yancy, Jesus I never Knew, Page 148

Sunday, November 7, 2010

CHRIST: THE PRINCE OF PEACE(Life in Christ Series)

If there is one region in the world which is starving for peace what would that be? The Middle East and more specifically Israel, right? At the end of the IInd World war, Robert Montgomery of the University of Texas warned, “Another war in an atomic age would mean the end of humanity. Montgomery declared, “We’ve got to have peace.” Since it is established as a sovereign state in 1948 Israel has been searching for peace” In fact the search for peace even goes back to the biblical times. In Psalm 122 6:8, we read, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my brothers and friends I will say, “peace be within you.” Let’s pause and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Since that time many efforts have been made to establish peace in Israel. One of such modern efforts was the development of the United Nations in 1945. Let me give you a brief tour into the U.N campus. You will b e confronted throughout by the many works of art and gifts from nations emphasizing the theme of peace. Many of these arts contain biblical illusions. A gift from Russia is titled “Let’s beat Swords into Plowshares.” With in the Security Council chamber is a large stained glass, “Peace Window” It was created by a Jewish artist Marc Chagall. The window depicts the tree of the Garden of Eden, the serpent, and the cross of Christ. There is even a mosaic called “the Dove of Peace” given by the Vatican. A gift from the small nation of Luxembourg a bronze sculpture of a .45 caliber revolver with the barrel twisted into a knot. Everywhere you look there are works of art portraying the world’s desire for peace?”

In spite of many world class leaders’ efforts, peace in the Middle East and in the rest of the world continues to be unattainable. Why has it been so difficult to achieve this goal? Are our methods and means faulty? Or are we looking for peace in wrong places or in the wrong person? Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” In other words, no amount of methods or declarations will be able to bring peace; only through peaceful ways can we achieve peace. How can we find peaceful ways when people are not having peace within themselves and with one another?

Can the politicians and policies be able to bring about total peace? Is finding peace a distant dream in a world full of unrest? Is peace a thing or a person? Can we accomplish it by displaying bumper stickers on our cars? They may convey the message in a powerful way but they are not the answer. Let me introduce to you the one and only one who can truly give us and the world peace. He is the Prince of Peace and His name is Jesus!! Today we will be exploring scriptures to understand what biblical peace is all about; the hindrances of peace, why we should live in peace and how we can receive peace. Let’s begin by looking at what peace is and what it is not?

I. WHAT PEACE IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT?

When it comes to understanding and experiencing peace people differ in their opinions. Peace is not the end of all wars, but in the middle of wars (Dan 9:26) It is not positive thinking but wholesome thinking (Ph 4:8). It is not external but internal (deep within) (Col 3:15). Peace is not yearned by striving, but by trusting in God (Isaiah 26:3). It is not doing things right but living righteously ( Ps 85:10). In the English language peace means, a state of tranquility or quiet, a freedom from civil disturbance, a state of order within a community, provided for by law or custom, harmony in personal relations, a pact or agreement to end hostilities and enmity.

In the Bible the word used for peace is Shalom which has a range of meanings. The Hebrew word SHALOM is understood around the world to mean peace. In Israel, even though they don’t have peace they greet one another with Shalom. It is much more than saying hello or a goodbye. It means Completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, and the absence of agitation or discord. So in essence, when they speak out the word SHALOM – they are not only proclaiming peace, but all the above meanings of the word over that person - that's a mighty blessing!!! No wonder why the nation of Israel is blessed beyond belief. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we replace our greeting from Hello, howdy, or how are you doing to Shalom? Maybe we too can be blessed like the Israelites. Who can truly give us peace or Shalom other than the one who was called Sar Shalom the prince of peace.

II. CHRIST: THE PRINCE OF PEACE
Isaiah 9:6 is a familiar passage for many of us. It is often red during the Christmas time. This scripture unveils the coming messiah, his name, nature and his mission. One of the names that were given to the messiah was Sar SHALOM (Prince of Peace). Eugene Peterson, in the message bible translated as the “Prince of wholeness or completeness.” We normally stop there, but Vs 7 says, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

The prince of peace; Christ is coming back to establish a kingdom of peace which will last forever and ever. I am glad that I am going to be part of that eternal Kingdom so is every one who believes in Him. Is the Kingdom of God something that we are only to look forward to? Or can we experience some of those blessings of the Kingdom here and now on the earth? The answer is a resounding Yes! We can indeed experience those blessings here and now.

Several scriptures indicate how God promised to bless his Children with Shalom (wholeness).
Psalm 29:11, “The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.” What is that blessing? The blessing here is long life. Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” When we read and hear the current news we have plenty of reasons to be fearful about the state of affairs. But for the child of God no matter what happens around him he will not be afraid because, Is 26: 3 reads “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”
Not only will the LORD keep us in perfect peace but He also becomes our Peace. Micah 5:4-5, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth.” Christ the good shepherd promised that peace to his disciples before he was taken up to heaven. In John14:27, “Peace I leave with you my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Here is the difference; there is a way to get peace in the world but that is not lasting, but the peace the Christ gives us lasts forever which is eternal life. But so often we don’t experience the wholeness or the abundant life that Christ has promised. What hinders us from receiving the Shalom from God?

III. THE THREE FOLD HINDRANCES TO PEACE (SHALOM)
Several hindrances will block us from receiving the fullness that God has promised his Children would enjoy. Three major hindrances to peace. A. Disobeying God’s commandments: Our early parents Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s commandment as a result they inherited a curse instead of a blessing. The LORD cursed the ground too because of their disobedience.
Subsequently, in every generation some obeyed God’s commandments and enjoyed God’s blessings while others disobeyed hence came under his curse.In Deut 11:26-28 “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today, the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God.” What curses would they inherit if they disobeyed God? Deut 28: 15-18 “You will be cursed in the city, and cursed in the country. Your basket and kneading trough will be cursed; the fruit of your womb will be cursed and crops of your land and calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.” In other words, “You will be completely destroyed”

There is a classical story of disobedience in the Bible. God was displeased with Saul because he did not follow the clear instructions given by him through his prophet Samuel. God was fully aware of Saul’s deliberate disobedience, He sends his prophet to confront him with these words, I Samuel 15:22-23 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings, and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination and arrogance like the evil of Idolatry.”

God is not impressed by all the great things we do for him outside of his will but he is delighted when we obey his simple yet straightforward instructions revealed in His word. For example if we obey God’s law of respecting and regarding others better than ourselves we live in harmony with each other otherwise we devour each other. If we forgive others when they sin against us God will forgive our sins. But when we harbor bitterness and resentment, we will destroy our lives. Some one said, “Bitterness is like the acid that ruins its own container.” When we love our wives they way Christ loved the Church, we will have harmony in our marriage. When we discipline our Children and train them in the ways of God when they grow up hopefully they will continue to live for God. Our commitment to moral purity can save us from a lot of heartache. There are many such instructions are in God’s word.

When things are going wrong instead of asking why everything always goes wrong for me? We must ask ourselves, am I obeying God’s revealed truth in his word? Am I walking in his will? That determines my blessings more than anything else.

C. UNRECONCILED CONFLICTS:
Why do nations go to war with other nations? Why do people fight and even kill each other? Why do marriages fail, families break up, churches split, and relationships become sour? While there can be several factors, one factor I believe is common in all of them that is an unreconciled conflict. As we talk, several countries are fighting both internally and externally due to unreconciled conflicts. For example, Kashmir in India, the conflict over Kashmir is the longest unreconciled conflict on the UN Security Council docket. It began in 1947 and has continued for six decades, without any progress towards peace. As a result there have been continues border tensions between India and Pakistan, lot of bloodshed and unrest in the region.
Mankind has been living in conflict with God due to their disobedience. In other words they became the enemies of God. Romans 5: 10-11 beautifully explains how Christ has reconciled us. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.

Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” 2 Cor 5:17-18 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” At a personal level any one who has ever been involved in a conflict understands that conflicts are never pleasant and they hurt, sometimes hurt so badly. Undoubtedly unreconciled conflicts rob our peace, joy, health and breakdown our relationships, that’s why Christ exhorted us to be reconciled with those we have offended.(Matt 5:23) In Romans 12:18, we read, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is a hard task to accomplish but is a worthy goal to pursue.

3. UNBELIEF IN GOD’S CHARACTER
Unbelief is sin. When we move in unbelief in one way we are saying to God you are a liar and can not be trusted. Unbelief grieves God more than any thing else. Repeatedly the children of Israel acted in unbelief as a result God has cut them off from him just like a gardener would cut off an unyielding and non fruit bearing branches from the vine. In Hebrews 3:18-19, “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? Christ rebuked his disciples for their lack of faith time and again. We need to repent of our unbelief, because it robs our joy of trusting and destroys our God given dreams.

God wants us to live in peace with him, with ourselves and with others. Christ the prince of peace died on the cross and rose again after three days so that we might have life and peace forever. Now it is up to us to receive that peace. How? We are to make sure that we walk in obedience, work on our conflicts and believe in God, then “the Peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

CHRISTIANS AND THE EVIL

A Haitian pastor illustrated to his congregation the need for total commitment to Christ. His parable: A certain man wanted to sell his house for $2,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn't afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one stipulation: He would retain ownership of one small nail protruding from just over the door. After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the house became unlivable, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail.

The Haitian pastor's conclusion: "If we leave the Devil with even one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it, making it unfit for Christ's habitation."[1] This illustration may be sounding so dramatic, but there is a scriptural principle in there. Two 6 year olds struggled with the problem of the existence of the devil. One boy said, "Oh, there isn't any devil." The other, rather upset, said, "What do you mean, there isn't any devil? It talks about him all the way through the Bible!" the first replied, "Oh that's not true, you know. It's just like Santa Clause, the devil turns out to be your dad."[2]

We may pretend that he doesn’t exist but the truth of the matter is that the Devil exists, he is real and you can’t make fun of him. We must be informed, be aware and take a stand against his schemes. What warnings are found in the Bible concerning the Devil? What is the origin of the Devil or Satan? How active is Satan in the world today? What is the final destiny of the devil? How should Christians respond to pagan rituals? Let’s look at the origin of the Devil

I. THE ORGIN OF THE DEVIL

Think of the most grotesque and evil things people do to one another. Think of the 9/11 terrorist attacks where 2,976 innocent people were killed. In 2008 Mumbai attacks, nearly 200 people were killed and 300 were wounded. How about all the violence, crime, and wars, the killing of innocent babies, broken marriages and families, and other devastations in the world? Does this make you wonder who could be behind all this tragedy? Dean Sherman the author of Spiritual warfare writes, “We recoil in horror from these terrible things that men do to one another. For the most part, we are sheltered from the terror of these realities. But these things have all been spawned by our enemy. Satan is far worse than anything real or imagined.”[3]

Who created the Devil in the first place and has he always been bad? No one created the devil!! It is not even the Holly wood, but it certainly has added to the “fascination and fun” and popularized by a wide assortment of fictional characters—demons, monsters, vampires, werewolves, mummies, and psychopaths. Is it improving the American mind? But it sure is making someone a lot of money. Initially the Devil was one of the angels created by God. The Bible calls him “the morning star, son of the dawn” (Isaiah 14:12). He was the anointed chief cherub, blameless, perfect in beauty until wickedness was found in Him. (Ezekiel 28:14-15).

Satan wanted to exalt himself and be worshipped instead of him worshipping God. Since his fall he has deceived many and continues to deceive by making them believe lies about God, life, the world, heaven and hell. Without realizing many are becoming his victims. Satan intends to destroy our minds, bodies, character, reputation and our relationships through certain evil practices. The Bible warns us against his schemes and evil practices. What are those warnings?

II. WARNINGS AGAINST DEMONIC PRACTICES:

In his latest book Storm warning, Bill Graham notes the importance of heading the warnings by sharing what happened on that gruesome night where Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. “Warnings had gone out. But instead of boarding up and escaping the city, there were those who actually prepared for a “Hurricane party” The wind was howling outside the posh Richelieu Apartments when Police Chief Jerry Peralta pulled up sometime after dark. Facing the beach less than 250 from the surf, the apartments were directly in the line of danger. A man with a drink in his hand came out on the second floor balcony and waved. Peralta yelled up, “You all need to clear out of here as quickly as you can,” The storm’s getting worse!” But as others joined the man on the balcony, they laughed at Peralta’s order to leave. “This is my land,” one of the yelled back. If you want me off, you’ll have to arrest me.” Peralta didn’t arrest anyone, nor could he persuade them to leave.

The officer wrote down the names of the next of kin of the twenty or so people who gathered there to party through the hurricane. They scoffed as he took their names and ignored. Finally the front wall of the storm came ashore, it was 10:15 P.M Raindrops hit with the force of bullets, and waves off the Gulf Coast crested between 22 to 28 feet high.

Reports later showed that the worst damage occurred in the little settlement where the party of twenty came to an end literally. Nothing was left of the three story apartment structure but the foundation; the only survivor was a five year old boy found clinging to a mattress the following day.”[4] What a tragic end of twenty lives simply because they deliberately ignored the warnings. In the same way if we ignore the biblical warnings against the demonic practices we may have to face the same tragic end.

The Biblical warnings against demonic practices

God forewarned the Israelites not to take on the abominable practices of the nations around them. Deut 18:10-13, “When you enter the land the God, your God, is giving you, don’t take on the abominable ways of life of the nations there. Don’t you dare sacrifice your son or daughter in the fire.

Don’t practice divination, sorcery, fortunetelling, witchery, casting spells, holding sĂ©ances or channeling with the dead. People who do these things are an abomination to God. It’s because of just such abominable practices that God; your God, is driving these nations out before you. Be completely loyal to God, your God. These nations that you’re about to run out of the country consort with sorcerers and witches. But not you, God your God forbids it.” (The Message Bible)

Why was God so against his children consulting the mediums? Why should Christians avoid these abominable practices? Because God has distinguished us from the rest of the people, to be his very own and to live Holy lives because he is Holy.(Lev 20:26-27). By dabbling in the occult or traffic with mediums pollutes our souls (Lev 19:31 The Message) finally, when we consult a supernatural source for understanding we open up ourselves to the powers of darkness.

God wants us to consult him when we need understanding. He wants us to ask him for wisdom. On the contrary, according to Dean Sherman, “the growth and widespread acceptance of the occult has been increased in the recent decades.” You may say well I don’t get involved in that deep stuff just only the innocent stuff would I be affected by the Devil? Yes you may be. How do Christians protect their Children against evil influences? What should be our response towards Pagan practices such as Halloween, and other festivals?

III. CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO PAGAN PRACTICES

Throughout the centuries Christians had to wrestle with the pagan practices and traditions seemed to infiltrate the Church. Every generation of Christians had to take a strong stand against such evil practices and our generation is no exception. In light of that what should be our response or stand against one such pagan practice Halloween? In a meeting I shared my concern with my fellow pastors and the response I got from them was “we simply ignore it” I wonder whether that is the right response? On the other hand one pastor friend of mine boldly put it on their church’s monthly bulletin “Happy Hallowen.” I am not here to criticize, and hurt any ones sentiments of practicing an age old custom by many not only here but around the world. I would like to share my concerns in the light of the scriptures and leave you to judge it for yourself.

The name “Halloween comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian Church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of the martyrs. All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints Day, began the time of remembrance. “All Hallows Eve” eventually became “Halloween” The pagan Samahin festival celebrated the final harvest, death and the onset of winter, for three days October 31st to November 2nd.

The Celts believed the curtain dividing the living and the dead lifted during Samahain to allow the spirits of the dead to walk among the living-ghosts haunting the earth. As the centuries passed, Samhain and All Hallows Eve mixed together. Halloween didn’t become an American holiday until the immigration of the working classes from the British Isles in the late 19th Century. The mischievous aspects of the holiday attracted the American young people. Younger generations borrowed or adapted many customs without reference to their pagan origins.

Hollywood and the consumer market makes this holiday even more appealing. Young people and kids in particular look forward with excitement to celebrate the darkest, spookiest holiday of the year. On an average of $41.77 per household is spent in decorations, costumes, candy, and greeting cards? Hallowen will bring in approximately $3.3 billion this year. Is that spending justified when the country is facing $13 trillion dollars debt?

Not to mention the dangers posed for the safety of our children and the environment. In recent years many children have been “tricked into partaking of deadly poisons and other harmful things that were placed in candies and treats that were distributed. One report suggests, “Roughly four times as many children aged 5-14 are killed while walking on Halloween evening compared with other evenings of the year, and falls are a leading cause of injuries among children on Halloween.”[5] Parents please take caution before you send your young ones into the streets for “Trick or Treat” by the way this practice has its direct roots in Samhain when people played tricks to earn food meant for wandering souls. In 19th century there was an Irish belief that fairies played pranks on Halloween?[6] When we hear these warnings what should we do?

How should Christians respond to respond to Halloween? Is it irresponsible for parents to let their children trick or treat? What about Christians who refuse any kind of celebration during the season are they narrow minded? As I read various articles on this subject matter and talk to several Christians I gather that some are wary of it’s pagan origins, others of its dark, devilish imagery, still others are concerned for the safety of their children. But other Christians choose to partake of the festivities, whether participating in school activities, neighborhood trick or treating, or a Halloween alternative at their Church. What ever decision you make this season like any other decision it is between you and God.

Paul gives us a few hints in making a wise choice. Romans 16: 19-20, “I want to you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” The message Bible reads, “I want you also to be smart, making sure every “good” thing is the real thing. Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peach will come down on Satan with both feet stomping him into the dirt.” There will come a day when God will completely destroy Satan and all his works and all those who follow him in the lake of fire.

We must take head of the warnings and become wise. The scriptures tell us that Christ has rescued us from the dominion (control) of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.(Col 1:13). We were once darkness, but now light in the world. We must walk as children of light.(Eph 5:8). We must take our stand against the Devil and his evil practices. We don’t need to be afraid to take such a stand because Greater is he that is in us than the one who is in the world.(I John 4:4)



[1] Dale A. Hays, Leadership, Vol X, #3 (Summer, 1989), p. 35.

[2] G. Lewis, Demon Possession, ed. J. Montgomery.

[3] Spiritual Warfare; Dean Sherman Page 35

[4] Storm Warning, Billy Graham Page 8,9

[5] http://pediatrics.about.com/cs/safetyfirstaid/a/halloween_safty.htm

[6] The Church in New York City, Children’s meeting lesson