Sunday, November 28, 2010
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
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 Sepúlveda , 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
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.” 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.”
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” 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.” 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!
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!
Sunday, November 7, 2010
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.