Sunday, October 8, 2017

GLORIFYING GOD

GLORIFYING GOD
John 17:1-5 
Introduction: At a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6, 2001, Billy Graham received an honorary knighthood from Sir Christopher Meyer, the British Ambassador to the U.S., on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II. In this excerpt from his address, Billy Graham speaks about the great honor and gives all the glory to God: “I especially want to ask you, sir, to convey to Her Majesty the Queen, my deepest gratitude for the high honor she has graciously bestowed upon me this evening.  I accept it with humility and unworthiness.
            I read a quote that appeared in The Daily News in 1903 about Queen Victoria.  After hearing the dean preach a sermon about Christ’s return to earth, Queen Victoria said, “Oh how I wish that the Lord might come during my lifetime.”  When the dean asked her why, she replied, “I should like to lay my crown at His feet.”  And that’s the way I feel tonight about any honors that may come to me.  I’d like to lay it at His feet and plan to do it some day and at my age it won’t be too long.
            In the same way, I want to give God all the glory and all the praise for what has been accomplished in my life and those of my family and associates that are here tonight.  I, too, look forward to the day when I can see Jesus face to face and lay at His feet any honor I’ve ever received because He deserves it all.” Here is a noble man who knew how to truly Honor God.
            Last week we began to unpack our mission statement at Hope Church that reads: “Glorifying God by becoming devoted followers of Jesus.” We will look at the ultimate example of Jesus, to understand what it is glorify God, how Jesus glorified the father and how we might glorify God in this postmodern world where you and I are called to represent Christ.

GLORIFYING GOD! John 17:1-5
            Last week we looked at how God’s glory was manifested in nature and his creation, and how God wanted man to give him the glory that is due to Him. How can we mere mortals glorify God? Can anyone of us add anything to the splendor, and majesty of God? Then what does it mean to glorify God? Let’s refresh our memory again. What is glory? The Hebrew word Kabowd means, weight, honor esteem, glory, abundance and wealth. The Greek word, doxa from where we get the word doxology, means: appearance, reputation, glory, recognition honor and renown.
            In John chapter seventeen, Jesus offered a prayer which is known as the high priestly prayer. Jesus prayed this just prior to his going to Gethsemane, where He became the High priest offering Himself as the pure sacrifice. He prayed this prayer, for himself, for the disciples, and for all of us only hours before His betrayal, arrest, flogging, shameful ridicule and crucifixion.

I.  A PATH WAY TO GLORIFYING GOD.
            Vs1-2 “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”
            These two verses talk about the intimate relationship Jesus cherished with God the father in heaven, and the goal of Jesus’ coming to the earth and the path he took to accomplish that goal. When Jesus said, father the hour has come, glorify (honor) your son, so that your son will glorify (honor) you, he was talking about his imminent death which ultimately would glorify the son. The goal is that the father may be glorified.
            In Hebrews we read how this plan of glorifying God has worked out “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory..” Hebrews 2:9-10
            Jesus Christ came into the world to reveal the glory of God to man, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” John 1:18. The apostle Paul refers God’s glory to the hidden mystery which was made visible in Jesus Christ, “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col 1:26-27
            If it was not for Jesus we would not know the essence of God’s glory let alone how to give him the glory. Jesu showed us what it means to glorify God through his exemplary living. Paul writing to the Philippines encourages them to have the same attitude of Jesus Christ. “Who, being in every nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant…humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:1-9.
            When we look at the life Jesus, he always did what he saw his father was doing. He lived and died and rose again in obedience to his father’s will. That obedience did not come automatically, he needed to learn through all that he suffered. Jesus was crowned with glory and honor which has always been there. Jesus brought glory to the father by completing the work of salvation, when he said it is finished on the cross.
            But that was not the end, after he rose from the dead, he was ascended to heaven, since that time he has not stopped working to bring many of his sons and daughters to glory. You and I and all those who are born again belong to that list of the ones who are being glorified. Since Jesus glorified God through his death, and God glorified him by raising him from the dead. Jesus sent his disciples to complete the remaining work of taking the good news of salvation to all four corners of the earth. Now the remaining work of glorifying God is left to us, his Church.
            The path way of glorifying God is marked with suffering, humility and obedience. Jesus, the son of God set the pace for us. The only way we can ever come to glorify God is through our humility, obedience and suffering, even if it means dying for the sake of the gospel.

II. WHAT IT MEANS TO GLORIFY GOD
            It is hard to wrap our minds fully around all the glorious aspects of God’s glory. The Greek word, doxa also means honor, praise or to esteem. When we say we glorify God one way we are saying we are honoring, showing reverence and esteeming him above all else. Keeping these aspects in mind let’s now read this verse again “Father the hour has come, honor your son, so that your son will honor you.” When Jesus said, the hour has come, he was referring to the time of his imminent death on the cross and followed by his resurrection was at hand. Vs, 4 “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”
            Jesus honored God by completing the work he was given to do on the earth, that was to bring salvation to all people. God honored Jesus by raising him from the dead (Acts 2:24). God honored him by esteeming him on high, “Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” Philippians 2:9-10.
            Can you imagine the weight, the scope, and implications of the name of Jesus that is greater than any other name? These days there is a controversy about taking a knee, but there will come a time when all the people in the world, including our president, and the world leaders will bow before Jesus, some out of reverence and others out of utter shame. How else God has honored his son?
            “The Father handed all authority to judge over to the Son so that the Son will be honored equally with the Father. Anyone who dishonors the Son, dishonors the Father, for it was the Father’s decision to put the Son in the place of honor.” John 5:22-23 (The Message). We know a thing or two about honor. We want our kids get into honor rolls in their education, we admire sports people who enter the hall of fame. We honor the firemen, police and the first responders who risk their lives. We honor our veterans, and those who are currently serving in the army.
            We stand up in respect and honor of our flag whenever it is raised, especially during the singing of the national anthem. When just mere humans of this earth are getting that much honor, and praise how much more our God the creator of the universe deserve honor? But where is the honor that is due to God? What does honoring God look like?

III. A FEW PRACTICAL WAYS OF HONORING GOD.
            Here I suggest a few practical ways whereby we at Hope Church can honor Jesus. By surrendering our whole life to him if you haven’t yet already done so. By practicing the empowering presence of God. By engaging in God exalting worship. We honor God when we recognize all good things, including our very own breath comes from our father and give him praise and glory for all who God is and all he has done, is doing and will continue to do.
            We honor him by committing ourselves to become healthy disciples. God is honored when we sharing the good news of the gospel with our family, friends and neighbors. We honor God when we esteem on another and not to judge, or gossip about one another.
            We honor God by giving and receiving forgiveness. We honor him with our tithes, offerings, and using our God given talents to serve one another, without complaining and grumbling We honor God by becoming Salt in the community and by letting our light shine through good works, people seeing our good works will honor our Father in heaven.
            Finally, we honor him when we live in unity and love one another. Listen to the word of Jesus, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35. As we leave this morning, let’s take these words of Jesus to heart. It is not through our preaching, evangelistic efforts, or works of service people will see us as the followers of Christ, though they all have a place in the kingdom of God, but it is through our love for one another. If we love Jesus, then we must obey his commandments.
            How your love for Jesus is reflecting in your love for your fellow brother or sister in our Hope Church Family? I want to challenge all of us to make a firm commitment t to live out our mission statement that reads, “Glorifying (Honoring) God by becoming devoted followers of Jesus. Let’s honor one another by doing so we will be honoring God. Next week we will look into what it means to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. Amen



Sunday, October 1, 2017

THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD

THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD
Psalm 19:1-6, 
Introduction: Let me begin with some words from the famous American colonial missionary to the Indians, David Brainerd, who died at the age of twenty-nine. His diary reveals a young man intensely committed to God. Brainerd once said to Jonathan Edwards:  I do not go to heaven to be advanced but to give honor to God. It is no matter where I shall be stationed in heaven, whether I have a high seat or a low seat there. My heaven is to please God and glorify Him, and give all to Him, and to be wholly devoted to His glory."
            The greatest musician of the 1700 AD Johann Sebastian Bach said, "All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul's refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub." At the beginning of every authentic manuscript one will find the letters “J.J.” This stands for Jesu Java (Jesus help me). At the end of each original manuscript you will find the letters “S.D.G.” This stands for Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God).
            Brainerd and Bach remind us of our ultimate purpose in life and in the life to come is not to live for ourselves but to live to glorify the one and only God, the father of us all who is worthy of all glory and power. Our mission statement at Hope Church reminds us every week of this very fact: “Glorifying God by becoming devoted followers of Jesus.” Do we really know and understand the depth and the scope of our mission statement?
            When people see or hear our mission statement they may think what a lofty statement. It may sound great but it would do nothing if it remains on the Church board outside or on the bulletin. But it can make all the difference when we understand what it means to glorify God, and what it takes to become a devoted follower of Jesus.
            Before we look at what is to glorify God we need to understand what is the glory of God and how is it manifested in the world, and why we should give glory back to God in all that we do. Let’s begin our Journey. Psalm 19:1-6

I. WHAT IS GOD’S GLORY?
            It is very difficult to define what the glory of God really is. It is like defining the word Beauty. We say something or someone is beautiful because we see them. We can point. But if we try to explain beauty in words it would be very difficult. Similarly, when it comes to explaining the glory of God. In the Biblical history people after seeing the powerful manifestation of God’s glory, fell short of words in explaining it. All they could come up with two words.
            The Hebrew word Kabowd means, weight, honor esteem, glory, abundance and wealth. The Greek word, doxa from where we get the word doxology, means: appearance, reputation, glory, recognition belonging to a person, honor and renown. It also means, magnificence, splendor, grandeur, majesty, and greatness often attributed to God.
            John Piper attempts to explain this difficult concept, “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections. The infinite beauty and I am focusing on the manifestation of his character and his worth and his attributes, all of his perfections and greatness are beautiful as they are seen, and there are many of them.”
            In essence the glory of God is, all that comprise of who God was, is and is to come, and what he did, is doing and all that he will be doing during his final revelation. Let’s see how God’s glory is manifested in the nature, in mankind and in His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
            When we look at the star light sky in the night or clear bright blue sky in the day, what comes to our mind? When we look at the luscious green valleys, or colorful flowers, beautifully snow caped majestic white mountains, who do you think created this beautiful world?
            How absurd it is for anyone to think that all these wonderful wonders came into existence by chance or due to a BIG bang in the cosmos?  Or may be a better way to respond is to say what a splendid world we are living in, who is the architect and the sustainer of this wonderful world, how do I get to know Him? Well we, see the handiwork of God, in all that he has created.

II. THE NATURE SHOUTS GOD’S GLORY
            “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.” Psalm 19:1-6
            The heavens are telling the glory of God and the skies are speaking of the work of his hands. What does that mean? It means God is shouting at us. He shouts with clouds. He shouts with blue expanse. He shouts with gold on the horizons. He shouts with galaxies and stars. The Psalmist is saying, in this passage, “Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” The heavens are shouting that God is glorious. God is shouting at us through all that he has made saying I am glorious. Are we opening our eyes and see this marvelous creation of God? Are we opening our ears to hear God’s voice shouting through his creation?

III. THE PEOPLE DECLARE GOD’S GLORY
            Not only God is the master architect who designed this wonderful earth for us to call our home, but he also sustains it by his powerful hand. Among all his handworks, he created man, and endowed him with his glory, so that they will declare and reveal his glory on the earth.
            The Psalmist was amazed at the wonder of man was created, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:35
            That was how God created man, so that man can reflect and represent God’s glory on the earth. But man sinned against God and had fallen short of God’s glory God got involved again to display his power and glory to man through his wondrous works so that man will glorify Him.
            “O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him, tell of all his wonderful works. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually. Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, O offspring of his servant Israel, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.” I Chron 16:8-13
            Let’s recount some of God’s wonderful works:  Sending unbearable plagues on Egyptians to let them see the power of God.  Parting of the red sea so that his people could walk on a dry ground. Bringing water from the rock and feeding 600,000 people for 40 years with food from heaven, breaking down the walls of Jericho, conquering the land of Canaan to mention a few.
           
            The Israelites witnessed these awesome acts of God, so one would think that they would be grateful, right? Yet they failed to recognize and give God the glory. This Psalm one way was a rebuke and a call to repentance. Elsewhere the Psalmist laments, He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold…. They exchanged their glorious God for an image of a bull, which eats grass.” Psalm 106:10-2-

III ARE WE DECLARING GOD’S GLORY?
            So far, we talked about, what the glory of God is like, how the nature declared God’s glory, and how His people who were redeemed and set free from bondage, quickly turned away and exchanged God’s glory to an image of a bull, which eats grass. What is going through your mind as you hear this message? Are you declaring God’s glory as you were meant to?
            Living in a postmodern world it is very hard for us to recognize the work of God in our lives let alone to pause and give him the glory and praise. Weather we admit or not we all are being jaded, tired, bored, and lacking enthusiasm when it comes to worshipping the true and living God. What can we attribute this modern-day malady that seem to be affecting all of us?
            Pete Scazerro in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality says, “the global culture like a beast threatens to swallow us these days. The core values of the twenty first century tend to scream at us for attention for example computers, billboards, televisions, DVDs, I pods, music, schools, newspapers, movies, magazines and so on.” We falsely believe the notion that happiness is found in having things, the more things we have the more we will be happy. We work hard, sacrifice relationships in order to acquire things but in the end, we are more dissatisfied than before.
            How can we say no to the pressures this culture is putting on us? It can only happen when we can regain what was the original purpose that God created us for. Let, me reiterate what I said, earlier, our ultimate purpose in life and in the life to come is not to live for ourselves but to live to glorify God. That’s why St. Augustine cried out, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord and our heart is restless until we find rest in thee.” I want to challenge you with these questions. What is truly valuable to you? Who are you living for? Are your restless? Have you discovered the purpose for which God has created you? Are you willing to keep God at the center of your life, and worship him in spirit and truth, giving him all the glory? Amen






Sunday, September 24, 2017

MUSHROOMS OR MAPLE TREES?

MUSHROOMS OR MAPLE TREES?
Luke 8:4-15
Introduction: I like mushrooms in my Chinese fried rice and maple syrup on my pancakes. Do you know the difference in how they grow? Mushrooms sprout up overnight and then wither away in a matter of days. Maple trees, on the other hand, grow gradually while learning to withstand the forces of nature that threaten their existence. They result in a majestic fruit bearing entity that lasts for generations. So, it can be with people who follow Christ.
            Unfortunately, some, wither away rapidly; others grow deep and strong and produce the fruit that God designed for them. In Luke chapter eight we will discover elements of a Christ-follower that produces this depth and substance to life. Just as Jesus was preparing and grooming the first disciples to be Maple Trees so we will discover that as we apply the lessons to our lives we, too, will grow and become Maple Tree style disciples.
            During his ministry on earth Jesus told a farming story to illustrate the importance of spiritual fruit bearing in his followers. In this story, we will see the seed and four types of soils that were compared to the hearts of people. (Luke 8:4-15).
            The Parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. Some of it fell on the road; it was trampled down and the birds ate it. Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn’t have good roots. Other seed fell in the weeds; the weeds grew with it and strangled it. Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop. Are you listening to this? “Really listening? (Message Bible). In eastern practices, the seed was sometimes sown first and the field plowed afterwards. Roads and pathways went directly through many fields and the traffic made much of the surface too hard for seed to take root in. You may be asking what do these four different soils represent. What is the seed?  What does this have to do with me today?
            In the parable, the seed is the word of God and the soil represent four types of people.  I would call them, 1. The Skeptics 2. The Enthusiastic 3. The Compromisers 4. The Practitioners.

I. THE SKEPTICS: “As the farmer sowed some seed fell on the road, it was trampled down and the birds ate it up” The way side people are mainly the skeptics, the unbelievers, they hear the gospel preached over and over again but they never respond to it because the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they won’t believe and be saved.
            Have you wondered why in spite of many wonderful Christian TV channels preaching the gospel, churches doing evangelistic outreaches, yet so many still remain un-touched by the Gospel? Even some of those who regularly attend church, and listen to inspiring messages every Sunday could also remain unchanged. Why? Because there truly is satanic opposition.
            The devil doesn’t want people to come to know the “Truth”, if they come to know the truth they can no longer be under his control, they will be free indeed.  Paul writing to Corinthians exposes the strategy of the devil, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The message of the gospel can be stolen by Satan if we let him.

II THE ENTHUSIASTIC:
            Other seed fell in the gravel; it sprouted, but withered because it didn’t have good roots. During one spring, we did some gardening and learned a few lessons in the process. One thing we learned that plants need water, warmth, nutrients from the soil, and light to continue to grow. In order for plants to survive and bear fruit their roots must go deep into the ground.
            If they are shallow they will wither and die quickly. The same principles apply to the followers of Christ. In order to grow and bear fruit for Christ, we need to go deep.
            There are some who respond to the gospel with great enthusiasm but never go deeper in their understanding of who God is and what his will is for their lives. Initial enthusiasm is great, but that is not the end in itself, we should learn to go deeper with God. That is why discipleship is so important. I encourage you to attend our Wednesday Life Group, where we will be talking about how to become a healthy disciple of Christ, ten traits of a vital (fruit bearing Christian).
            Let’s suppose you were enlisted in the army, it may be a great feeling initially but if you never attend the nine-week intense Basic Combat Training (BCT) where you were not only trained in skills but also in character by learning the core values of the army, such as receiving orders, loyalty, teamwork, duty, respect, selfless service, honor and integrity, you will never come out to be a proud soldier of the United States Army. Right?
            We cannot keep on surfing on the waves of enthusiasm, and excitement forever, sooner or later they will crash. When the rubber hits the road, what makes us stand strong is not our enthusiasm but our discipleship, which is our personal commitment to obedience. The crowds followed Jesus because they were excited about his miracles and message. Jesus was not impressed by their initial enthusiasm, he turned to them and said “unless you pick up your cross daily and follow me you are not my disciple.” That must have shocked them, every one left except the twelve. These twelve Disciples tasted the goodness of the Lord and they were willing to go deep with Christ. In the end, they became like the Maple Tree followers spreading the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

III. THE COMPROMISERS:
            Other seed fell in the weeds; (In other translations it reads thorns, but I think in this part of the world we can relate better to weeds) the weeds grew with it and strangled it.” When we first came to Sharon, we were surprised to see so many bitter-sweet roots choking up the trees like a boa constrictor. In our backyard Wilma and I went to war with them and removed a lot of bitter-sweet roots making room for the trees to grow.
            The seed that fell in the weeds represent, what I call “The Compromisers. These people hear the truth, they respond to it and they seem to be growing in it but along the way some things happen and they begin to compromise with the truth. They let other things (weeds) come in between them and God. What are these weeds?  It is important to take note of this, what are the 3 things that could easily cause anyone of us to stagnate in our Christian growth? 
            In the NIV it says it crystal clear; the word is choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures. Is it wrong to worry about life?  Is it wrong to become rich and enjoy pleasures? Most Christians nowadays would be quick to say No! there is nothing wrong with enjoying the good life.  Over the years I have come to observe a difference though in the life and the fruit of Christians who want to have it all and those who are willing to deny themselves certain legitimate riches or pleasures for the sake of the Kingdom.
            The world pushes us towards self-advancement; whereas Jesus calls us to a life of self-denial and sacrifice. Moses grew up in the palace, he could enjoy everything to his heart’s content if he wanted to, but when God called him to follow Him on the narrow way, Hebrews 11:25 “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” Are you letting the weeds grow in your spiritual garden? Are you letting the bitterroot like pleasures, and riches entangle you? There is a better path to choose. Come to Jesus, he will fill you with eternal joy and pleasures of his very own presence (Psalm 16:11).
IV. THE PRACTITIONERS:
            “Other seed fell in rich earth and produced a bumper crop.” The seed that fell in the rich earth represents the people I call, “The practitioners” They hear the truth, receive it, retain it and practice it through thick and thin hence they produce fruit. Similarly, the more truth of God’s word we practice the more growth we will experience. In the Bible, the word “hear” is often associated with obedience, and action. In the NT, several times Jesus emphasized the correlation between hearing and obeying.
            We all are familiar with a Sunday school story of “The wise and foolish builders” the main point in this story is not whether you should build your house on the sand or on the rock but it is about hearing and obeying. Matthew 7:24 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…Matthew 7:26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man.
            We attend church regularly and hear great sermons, or tune into Christian TV/radio listen to the best preachers, but ironically how much of it do we really apply in our lives       Why is bearing fruit so important? Because God is looking for fruit in our lives. John 15:1-8. What kind of fruit is God looking for in our lives? He is looking for the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8). He wants us to put an end to our past sinful life style and cultivate a God honoring life style. A life style that is in step with the Holy Spirit.
            God is also looking for the fruit of the Spirit in us, Galatians 5:22-23, “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The more we are lead by the Holy Spirit the more of the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in us. He is also looking for the fruit of good works, “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.” Col 1:10.
            We don’t do good works in order to be saved but we do good works, because we are saved and love God and want others also experience the love of God. Jesus said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16. This morning we have looked at how mushrooms and maple trees grow. We also learned about four different categories of people. Which category of people you might identify with? You may be a skeptic, have listened to the word all your life but never paid enough attention to believe it.
            You may be the enthusiastic, always looking for the next exciting thing but never making that commitment to go deeper with God. You may be a compromiser, you have heard the word but let the worries of this life, the pursuit of riches and pleasures keep you from bearing fruit for the Kingdom. May I challenge you to be a practitioner!  A follower of Christ who is not easily falling away because of discouragement or distractions but one who keeps being nourished by the Word of God and keeps growing and bearing fruit. Amen!
















Sunday, September 17, 2017

A CALL TO PRAYER

A CALL TO PRAYER
2 Chronicles 7:11-16
Introduction: If you were living in Key West, Florida and heard the news that a Category 5 hurricane was heading your way how would you respond?  After weathering the hurricane when you return to your home of three decades only to find out it is ruined, what would you do?  We all have watched with shock some heart wrenching scenes of such devastation. These pictures caught my attention as they seem to convey the mixed responses of people to tragedy.
            Peoples responses are generally based on either fear, pragmatism, and or faith. Many have headed the warning and moved into shelters, hotels, friends and relative’s homes. Others took pragmatic approach, stored up food, water, gas etc. and were ready to brace the storm. Yet others no matter what happens could not seem to get over their foolishness.  I don’t know what to make of headlines like this one, “Damage heavy on Key West, but booze still flows.” Hurricane Irma took power, water and cellphone service, but she couldn't take this tiny island's party spirit — or the cold Coors Light.
            Many concerned people both in Florida and around the world took their position in prayer and interceded on behalf of Key West. At hope Church, we prayed that God would decrease Irma’s intensity to a Category 1 or send it back to the ocean. After praying I kept watching the news. I was relieved and praised God when I heard that it was reduced to a Category 2 storm and then to a Category 1 tropical storm. As if that was not bad enough, can you imagine what would have happened had it not changed its intensity and actually landed on Keys west as a Category 5 Hurricane? How could anyone explain, why it has suddenly changed its direction? As we speak millions are without electricity and running water. Food supplies may be running out. Many are struggling to terms with the aftermath. Let’s continue to pray for God’s mercy and his provision.
Let’s pray that many would turn to Christ during this crisis.
            When we see these back to back biblical portions natural disasters, terrorist attacks from within our own backyard, and a looming nuclear war threat, what goes through your mind? Have we gone too far from God as a nation? Have you wondered who sends these natural calamities? Maybe you are going through a personal storm of some sorts. What should be our response when we encounter natural disasters and life-threatening situations? Let’s see how a battered nation dealt with these types of devastations. A CALL TO PRAYER. 2 Chronicles 7:11-16
            Let me give you some context to this passage. 2 Chronicles covers the period from the beginning of Solomon’s reign (970 BC) to the Babylonian exile (586 BC). During this time, the Israelites desperately needed a new look at the past. Their ancestors had also been torn from home, beaten and dragged off in chains to serve as slaves in a foreign country.
            In Babylon, a new generation grew up knowing little of the Israelite past: the covenant with God, the promised line of kings, the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. When captive Israelites were finally allowed to return home, they found a pile of rubble. The book of 2 Chronicles was written to those refugees who returned. For that dispirited group of people, the author recounted the glory days of Israel. He wanted to restore the Israelites faith, courage, confidence and bring hope to their future. Though this passage directly deals with the remnant Israel, but the lessons are applicable for our times as well. 

I. GOD ALLOWS NATURAL CALAMITIES FOR A REASON.
            Vs 13“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land or send pestilence among my people.” Whenever there is a natural calamity the environmentalists’ quick to jump in saying the cause is Global warming or Climate change. While some of these disasters can be attributed to absolute irresponsibility, some are beyond our understanding, explanation and control. In insurance circles these are called, “Acts of God.”
            Therefore, let’s look to God this morning for some answers. The scriptures tell us that God has absolute power over nature. “Who is like you, Lord God Almighty? You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.” Psalm 89:8-9. “The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.” Psalm 104:2-4
            In the passage we read, God was saying to the Israelites that he had the power to shut up the heavens so that it won’t rain, or send locusts to eat up the crops and send plagues (like Ebola) that would kill thousands of people. If God is truly in control, He must be able to control weather events and natural disasters. The question then becomes if God is truly good, how could He allow so many people to die as the result of something under His control? God is not necessarily in the business of sending hurricanes, storms and earthquakes to torture people. But at times he allows these natural calamities for a reason. In some cases, he may use nature’s force to focus our attention on Him and the greatness of His power. I am reminded of a familiar story in the Bible, Jonah in the belly of a fish. But what landed him there in the first place, what lessons did Jonah learn from that horrible experience and what would he tell us about Gods greatness?
            As we know out of disobedience, prejudice and the stubbornness of heart Jonah started to run away from God on a ship sailing to Tarshish. But God wouldn’t let him go away very far. The Lord sent a mighty storm on the sea, the ship was threatened to break up. The mariners were afraid and each began to pray to their god. Jonah was fast asleep in the lower deck of the ship. They came to him and woke him up and asked him where are you from and what do you do?
            Listen to Jonah’s response, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” The men were exceedingly afraid.” Upon his suggestion, the mariners threw Jonah into the sea and God provided a Big fish that swallowed Jonah and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD.” After three days and nights being in the belly of the fish Jonah repented and prayed, then God commanded the fish to throw Jonah out on to the shore.
            The key lesson here is you cannot run away from God too far, he will catch you. This story is a stark reminder to all of us to know who actually is in charge over the wind and the nature? When God allows a natural disaster to come our way is to draw our attention. He uses these calamities to show the world His power and teach his children obedience and prayer.
            Coming to our context, the recent two back to back hurricanes, Harvey and Irma have left millions devastated. Many have lost their properties, and several lost their lives. Could it be that the Lord has allowed these two storms to bring our nation back to its knees? Could it be possible as a nation we have gone too far from worshipping the true and living God, and began to worship our own idols? It would have been more profitable if our president tweeted during these difficult times calling the nation to repent, pray to God and seek His mercy and favor. It is the responsibility of the leaders to send out a call of prayer during the natural calamities.  
            Can God prevent natural calamities from happening at a certain time and place? Has he done it in the past? The answer is a resounding yes! James 5:17-18 teaches, "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit." Recently, we have seen God, how God decreased the intensity of the Hurricane Irma to a category one, otherwise it could have been much more of a catastrophe. What can actually move the mighty hand of God and avert a disaster? It is prayer! Not the kind of prayers we pray at our meal times. But prayers that come from a heart that is desperate, humble and repentant. God answers such prayers.

II. GOD ANSWERS THE HUMBLE AND THE REPENTANT.
            Vs 14, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” You may have seen this verse or heard it quoted by pastors and preachers a like each time there is a huge crisis or natural calamity. This verse has often drawn me to my knees in repentance and prayer. This is a sure criterion, when it comes to seeing the gracious hand of God moving towards may it be a whole nation or individual, and experience His redemptive and healing power.
            “It starts with my people, who are called by my name” It is a narrow promise but can have wider implications. Then, it was to the nation of Israel, but now it applies to all those who call themselves Christians or followers of Christ. As the saying goes that, “there are no atheists in the trenches” points to the fact that just about everybody in trouble prays to whoever might be there to listen. They cry for help. And sometimes, no doubt they are helped as they asked to be.
            But Christians however have received a special call to prayer, have seen the power of God at work as a result of prayer. God is calling us to humble ourselves, repent of our sins and turn away from our wicked ways and seek his face and pray to Him. Then he will hear from heaven and forgive our sins and will heal our land. Do you think our country needs healing? How about you, and your family do they need healing? Does your marriage need healing?
During the service, we have heard a powerful testimony of Mercy, how God has reached out to her and healed her. We rejoice with her and give praise to God for her healing.
            Our God is not the respecter of people. He can bring about a similar miracle in your life too. All you need to do is to repent of your sins and cry out to God from your desperate situation. God will hear your prayers and come to your rescue. There is a call of God going out not only to a few intercessors, but to all of his people to pray. Because the need is so great. My prayer is that we will hear his voice and commit ourselves to become the people of prayer. Amen

             

Sunday, September 10, 2017

WHY BAPTISM?

WHY BAPTISM?
Matthew 3:11-17 
Introduction:  One day I was talking with an Unitarian Church member, he asked me is Hope Church still a Baptist Church and do you still dunk people in water? I said, yes, we are still the Baptists and we still dunk people in water. But why do we baptize people in the first place, is it because we are Baptists or is there another reason for it?
            When it comes to church traditions and practices Jesus made it simple. He instituted and established two ordinances for His Church. They have been prescribed and ordered by Jesus Christ and practiced by the Church. The early Church is known for practicing those ordinances. Acts 2:41-42, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
            From these two verses we conclude, Baptism and Communion are the two ordinances that are to be followed by the Church of Jesus Christ. Over the centuries Christians have kept up these sacred traditions. Today, we will have the privilege of witnessing four believers getting baptized after the Church service in lake Massapoag. I would like to share a few thoughts on the purpose of Baptism, the significance of baptism and who should be baptized. Matthew 3:11-17.
Background: It was during the 1st century AD, a man named John, later on came to be known as John the Baptist. He was born in a priestly family. His parents were Zachariah and Elizabeth. John was sent by God with a message. John proclaimed a message of repentance. Many, were confessing their sins and getting baptized in the Jordan river. John said to them, “I baptize you with or in water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with or in the Holy Spirit and Fire.”

I WHAT IS BAPTISM?
            The concept of Baptism was familiar to both the Jewish and Greek audience of that time. Ancient Israel had a ritual purification practice called, Mikveh or mikvah. After the destruction of the Temple, the mikveh's main uses remained as follows: By Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirth before they and their husbands may resume marital relations. By Jewish men to achieve ritual purity. As part of the traditional procedure for conversion to Judaism. To immerse newly acquired utensils used in serving and eating food.
            Most forms of impurity can be nullified through immersion in any natural collection of water. A Biblical example we see here is the Syrian commander Naaman the Leper, who was instructed by Elisha to dip himself seven times in Jordan River 2 Kings 5:14.
            The word “baptize” comes from a Greek word, “Baptizo” meaning “to dip” or “dip into dye or to immerse.” It is also used in ancient writings of vessels which are cleansed by immersing them in water. The word baptizo’ was especially prominent in the dye trade. A cloth would be dipped or immersed into a bucket of dye.  Or the material was “baptized” in dye. When the cloth was removed from the bucket of dye, it had a distinct and new appearance.[1]  
                Christian denominations argue about which method sprinkling or immersion, the infant or believer’s baptism is the right way. We want to be respectful of those who believe in infant baptism, but as we look at the word meaning and scriptural incidents we see more evidence for believer’s baptism through immersion in water rather than infant baptism through sprinkling. In our Church, we dedicate babies to the Lord, and baptize believers by immersing them in water.


II. WHY BAPTISM?
            First reason, we baptize people because Jesus himself modeled it so when they get baptized they are following his example. In the passage we read, “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. Have you wondered what was the need for the sinless son of God to be baptized like the rest of us sinful people?
            There were several reasons for his baptism: The first mentioned here, was “to fulfill all righteousness.” His baptism indicated that he was consecrated to God and officially approved by him, as especially shown in the descent of the Holy Spirit and the words of the Father, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” All God’s righteous requirements for the Messiah were fully met in Jesus.
            Secondly, at Jesus’ baptism John publicly announced the arrival of the Messiah and the beginning of his ministry (Jn 1:31–34). Thirdly, by his baptism Jesus completely identified himself with humanity’s sin and failure (though he himself needed no repentance or cleansing from sin), becoming our substitute, 2 Cor 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin[a] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Fourthly, Jesus’s baptism was an example to his followers. Not only was Jesus baptized but he commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that he had taught them. The disciples went out and obeyed the lord’s command, of baptizing, discipling and teaching. The tradition continues.

III. FIRST THINGS FIRST!
            Various denominations argue on who should be baptized, when should be baptized and how. Some don’t even baptize people stating that baptism has nothing to do with salvation. In the midst of conflicting views, let me clarify a few things. First things, First. Baptism cannot and will not be able to save people from their sin. Only Jesus can save. Salvation is a gift from God. According to Romans 10: 9, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
            Coming to Church doesn’t make you a Christian anything more than going to McDonald makes you a Hamburger. What saves you is when you actually make the confession saying that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead then you will be saved and become his. When John the Baptist was baptizing, people were repenting of their sins first and then getting baptized. The main criteria for salvation is not baptism but belief. Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. Mk 16:15-16
            What would be right time to baptize someone? In the scriptures, we see people were baptized soon after they got saved. Here are a few examples: On the day of Pentecost after listening to a message from the Apostle Paul, 3000 people repented of their sins and were baptized. Acts 2: 41. The Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized after believing in Christ. (Acts 8). Saul was baptized soon after his conversion on the road of Damascus (Acts 9: 18).
           

            The relatives and close friends of an Italian army officer named Cornelius were baptized after professing their faith (Acts 10:47). A jailer and his entire family were baptized in the middle of the night after believing in the words of Paul. (Acts 1631-34). These scriptures indicate that immediately after getting saved, the next step a believer ought to take is baptism.

IV. WHAT HAPPENS IN BAPTISM?
            Baptism has a beautiful symbolism. Paul equates Baptism to an identification with the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:3-4.
            Metaphorically speaking, when we go into the water we are letting our old man (flesh) die and be buried. And when we come out of the water, we are now beginning a new life with Christ. It is important here to understand the Greek concept of Baptism, how a cloth dipped into the dye takes on the new color of the dye and looks that color, similarly a believer who is fully immersed into Christ, takes on the identity of Christ and starts to look and live like little Christ.
            Keeping that in mind, Paul writes to Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
            Something else happens in Baptism, we will be entering into a covenantal relationship with Christ and his Church. As members of Christs new found family we get to enjoy the privileges and share in the responsibilities. This morning it is our joy to see four believers expressing their faith in Christ by taking their next step of baptism.
            Let’s welcome them with arms open wide into our Hope Church family. Let’s enfold them into our discipleship process. Let’s support and cheer them on as they embark on this new journey of faith. Above all let’s be committed to pray and encourage them. So that together we will glorify God by becoming devoted followers of Christ. Amen
           










[1] https://www.westernseminary.edu/transformedblog/2014/02/25/baptisim-meaning-and-mode/