Sunday, January 29, 2017

KNOWING GOD PART II (What does it mean to know God?) Hosea 2:14-20

Introduction: We are working through a series called Knowing God. We answered the question why we should know God? We should know God, so that we may know ourselves. God is challenging us to get to know him and Knowing God is eternal life. Today we will look into what it means to know God and how we can know Him. Before we get to that, let’s deal with one of the challenges we face as Bible believing Christians when we try to engage our friends, colleagues, and even some of our unbelieving family with the gospel. You might have heard them say, you have your religion and I have mine, it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere. Or they may challenge you saying, “Don’t all religions lead to God?
            Having lived as a Christian in a highly, pluralistic and syncretic country as India, I often encountered this question. What I have learned by interacting with people of various religions is that not all religions have the same view of God, life, salvation and life after death. Michael Green, in his book notes, “Many who urge that all religions lead to God offer us the image of a mountain, with a number of routes going up to the top. It does not matter which route you take: any of them will get you to the top.  We have seen that this view is indefensible. I want to offer you a different analogy. What if the real situation is like people trying to find their way through a maze? There are lots of routes that bring us to a dead end and fail to get us out of the maze. There is just one Way through.” 
            Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life and no one comes to the father except through me.” John 14:6. No other religious leader ever made such an exclusive claim.
This is extraordinary though it may sound as an absolutely ludicrous and arrogant claim of Christ. The apostle Paul noted in Colossians 2:9, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” If we want to know what God is like, we need to get to know what Christ is like.
            In Luke 19:9- 10 we read the purpose for which Jesus came into this world. “Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This scripture sums it all up. In all the other religions man is doing everything to earn his salvation. But in Christianity we find that man is utterly lost in his sinfulness. Christ has done everything to save the lost. He is still going after the lost. If all religions in the world are man’s search for God, then Christianity is God’s search for man. Keeping that as a back drop, let’s look at what it means to know God, and how do we cultivate an intimate relationship with Him.     

            Let me clarify something before we go further. These days the word God could mean anything. Whenever I am talking about God, I am not talking about a higher power or an unknown powerful entity or force, but I am talking about the God of the Bible. I am talking about Jehovah, or YHWH the proper name of the God of Israel in the OT. I am talking about Jesus Christ.  We read in Colossians 1:15, “The Son is the image of the invisible God.” So, when we say we are to know God we are talking about knowing Jesus Christ.
            The prophet Hosea describes God’s relationship with his people, Hosea, 2:14-20, “It will come about in that day declares the Lord that you will call me “Ishi” and will no longer call me “Baali” (NASB). In NIV it reads, “In that day, “declares the LORD you will call me my husband; you will no longer call me my master.”
            God is prophesying here that a time will come where Israel and all those who will believe in Him will enter into an intimate relationship just like a husband and wife who are committed to each other. Vs19-20, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.”
            This passage talks about how intimately God has loved his people Israel. In spite of God’s tender love Israel became unfaithful to God. But He did not abandon her, he kept reaching out to her. The words, “speak tenderly to her,” in Vs 14, speak of God’s reassurance, encouragement, and comfort. In the midst of judgment God continually shows his love to his rebellious bride, Israel. Vs 16-20 speak of God’s promise to Israel when they repent and turn back to God. This promise holds good not only for all of Israel who repent but also for everyone who acknowledges Jesus Christ as their personal savior by asking forgiveness of their sins. All those who are born again, can now reap the benefit of that age-old promise of God.
            The Apostle Paul picks up this OT analogy to reassure what our future relationship is going to be with Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ so that I might present you as pure virgin to him.” These scriptures explain the kind of relationship that God is seeking to have with us. For now, let’s talk about what that relationship would look like?  

            Is knowing God merely an intellectual and academic pursuit? Or is it relational and experiential? The scriptures we have looked into indicate that God wants his people to have more than an intellectual understanding of the principles of His Kingdom, more than a mere awareness his existence. He wants to enter into a very personal and the most intimate relationship with them. In the OT, the Hebrew verb “Yada” means “to know” is one of the most important roots and it occurs 944 times.  It has a wide range of meanings such as, “to perceive, to understand, to acquire knowledge, to know, to discern, to be acquitted with, to become acquainted with a woman (in a sexually intimate way). This is the most intimate form of knowing.
            When God wanted to express his love, to his people he chose the most common human expression of love that existed between a husband and a wife for over centuries. God wants to relate with us at a much deeper and intimate level as a husband would relate to his wife. The heart of God for his people is that they would experience the purest form of God’s love, that they would only be committed to Him and not turn to other false gods. But as we know, time and again his people have disappointed Him. The Bible calls it, “they have committed adultery”
            What does this all mean for us today? Living in a fallen world, I am fully aware that this may be not the best analogy in our society where there is so much of domestic violence and wife abuse going on. However, God is calling us to enter into an intimate relationship with Him. He is inviting us to experience his abundant love, trust, comfort, provision, protection, grace, peace, faithfulness and forgiveness that he only can give and no one else will. He wants us to stay committed to him and not to be wavering in our loyalty and faithfulness unlike the Israelites did.  He wants us to delight in him by developing an intimate relationship with him. However, the challenge remains how to cultivate such an intimate relationship with God.

             In our attempt to cultivate intimacy with God we must realize that there is nothing we can do to initiate such a relationship with him, because Christ has already made a way for us.           When we were born again, from that moment on we began an intimate relationship with God.  The apostle Paul using the sexual intimacy between a man and a woman as an example explains the believer’s oneness with Christ. I Corinthians 6: 17, “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” Here it is not talking about physical union but spiritual union. What does it mean to become one with Christ? It means a number of things: First, we are secured in his love. We are confident that nothing can separate us from His love.
            Secondly, as we spend time with him God will expose the inner workings of our heart, so that we will get to know ourselves better.  Thirdly, God will reveal His heart for the people of all nations, so we are burdened with the things that he is burdened with. Fourthly, our vision and purpose in this life will be further clarified. Fifthly, our resolve to live lives that are Holy and pleasing to God will be further strengthened. On a practical level, we recognize how difficult it is to maintain an intimate relationship with God. I understand! Let me make a suggestion.
            Those of us who have been married for a while would know nurturing intimacy with our spouses doesn’t happen automatically, it calls for intentionality.  Early on in our marriage, Wilma and I were very fortunate to have a lot more discretionary time. We used that time, talking, walking, cooking, and ministering together. We would grab every opportunity to be together, simply because we enjoyed each other’s company, and we still do.
            Since coming to America, even more so for the last two years we realized that it has been increasingly challenging to have quality couple time together.  I attribute that to Wilma’s full time work and some ministry challenges. We recognize that busyness and a 24/7 activity oriented culture can be detrimental for our marriage, for that matter for any marriage. So, we are doing everything we can to keep romance alive, and nurture intimacy in our marriage.
            I know several of you might feel that way. The same principles that apply in keeping a marriage relationship together, vibrant and enjoyable for a long time apply in cultivating nurturing our intimacy with God. In closing, my humble request is, please do whatever it takes, “never sacrifice our intimacy with God on the altar of busyness.Let’s be intentional and passionate about protecting our alone times with God. Let’s press in to get to know him deeply, and I guarantee, in due time we will reap rich benefits. Amen

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Why Should We Know God?
John 17: 1-5
Introduction:  In his book “A Mind for God” James Emery White, former president of Gordon Conwell Theological seminary writes about the predicament of one of his daughter who was a freshman at a leading university. “In her first history course, her professor announced to the class that the entire historical record that Christianity is based on is untrue: Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah, none of his followers saw him as divine until centuries after his death; there was never an intention to form any kind of “church,” and the four Gospels in the Bible today are riddled with discrepancies and errors.
            In order to pass her first exam, she had to write that Jesus was born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem, deny Pauline authorship of I Timothy, and maintain that four canonical Gospels are in complete disagreement on the major facts surrounding the death of Jesus.” Dr. White says, “I will never forget my daughter calling me almost in tears over the statements made by the professor about her faith.”[1] In a way, this is the anguish of Christian parents who send their children to public schools and secular universities. It seems like in increasing numbers of teachers and college professors instead of educating our children they are indoctrinating their students, our children in their classrooms.
            They are discrediting the truth about God, the claims of Christ and our core fundamental Christian beliefs and values. In the midst of this aggressive cultural war against the Christian faith, how can we keep our faith alive, engaging and pass it on to the next generation? In order to find some answers, I invite you to a three-part series with me as we take a fresh look at this vast subject matter called “Knowing God.”
            A walker on the beach noticed a little boy making several trips back and forth from the sea with a small pitcher of water emptying it into a pit on the beach. Out of curiosity he asked the little boy, “young man what are you trying to do? The little boy without a blink said, “I am emptying the Ocean;” This morning I realize that I am like that little boy attempting to explain God who is unexplainable, and indescribable, who is awesome, and almighty, who is majestic and magnificently impressive. I would like to share with us a few reasons why we should know God, and the three key attributes of God that every Christian must know, and what does knowing God mean and how should we know Him. So, let’s get started.

            In a society where mentioning God is not politically correct, and among your friends and colleagues talking about God is not a cool thing, you may wonder why should I know God.? Yes, why should we know God? I will let the 16th century reformed theologian John Calvin answer this question. The first line of John Calvin’s famous book, “The Institutes of the Christian Religion says, “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: The knowledge of God and of ourselves.”[2] Think of it for a moment, of all the true and sound wisdom you may ever possess in your life time consist of only two parts, to know God and to know ourselves.
            If life is all about knowing God and knowing ourselves how well are we doing with those two most important aspects of our lives? Let me share with us a few reasons why should you and  I know God?

I. Know God that you may Know yourself:
            For generations people, have been wrestling with questions pertaining to life, and how to live it. Consider these questions: Who am I, where do I come from? What is my purpose in life? What is my final destiny? but the problem is that many look for answers in wrong places. For example, if you want to know everything about an iPhone who would you go to? You would get a manual from the company that has developed it.
            Similarly, if you want to know answers to life’s complex questions who would you go to, other than the one who gave you life in the first place and to the scriptures that talk about Him. The scriptures tell us that God created us in his own image. The Psalmist, marveled at how wonderfully God has created him.
            Psalm 139:14-18, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you.”
            It looks like these days, a lot of confusion in the area of gender and sexual identity. Some people never seems to be satisfied the way God has created them. Particularly young people seem more insecure, when it comes to their looks. They are trying to find out who they are, why they were made and what they were meant to be. Instead of coming to God they put themselves on wisely on social media for validation. Don’t let the social media fool you.
            I encourage you to pursue knowing God. Come to God for clarity and understanding of your true identity. Be assured that you are fearfully and wonderfully made and no one loves you the way God loves you. No one cares for you the way he cares. No one understands the way he understands. Awareness of yourself and your relationship with God are intricately related. In order for you to becoming your authentic self you need to know who God really is.

II. God’s challenge for us is to know him.
            Three little boys were arguing about whose father got home faster from work each day. The first boy boasted that his father was a former Olympian middle distance runner and ran in record times. He left work at 4:00 P.M every afternoon, and although his home was three miles away, he would grab his briefcase and run all the way, reaching home by 4:15.
            The second boy was not to be outdone. His father, he said, had competed with professional auto racing, and once he put his foot to the pedal, nothing could get in his way. He also worked three miles away and also left work at 4:00 but reached home by 4:05. The third one was just chuckling at all these boastful claims. He knew he had them both beaten. His father, he said, actually worked 5 miles away from home. He left work at 4:00 P.M every afternoon and got home half an hour before he left work, at 3:30 P.M. He worked for the government.
            The point I want to make is that it is human nature to brag about something or someone as being exceptional or superior to everyone else, whether it is about our car being superior than our neighbor’s car, or house being bigger or my culture is better than your culture, or my race is superior than your race, or my church is better than your church, or my dad is stronger or smarter or faster than your dad so on goes the bragging and the game of “one-upmanship.”
             In the OT, we read it seemed like the wise, the strong and the wealthy were bragging to no end, and God was tired of them so he challenged them saying, “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24 At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter how wise, strong or wealthy you are, but what matters is whether you know God and understand his plan for your life.
            God always wanted us to know him, love him, fear him, serve, him, worship him and follow him and no one else. To that extent, he revealed himself in many ways throughout the scriptures. Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” Isaiah 55 :6, “Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.”
            Psalm 103:7, “He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel.” It was said of Moses, whom the LORD “knew face to face.” These and many other scriptures in the OT explain that God has revealed all that we need to know pertaining to our lives in his Word. The devoted Jews earnestly searched the scriptures so that they might find eternal life. But when they came face to face with the one who actually offered them eternal life they had hard time accepting him as their Messiah. Jesus addressed their unbelief in John 5:39-40“You study the Scriptures diligently, because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” That brings me to my third reason, why you should know God.

III. Knowing God is eternal life.
            In John 17:1-5 we read the portion that contained Jesus prayer for the salvation of the world. Vs 2-3, “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life; that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Jesus the perfect fulfillment of the Judaic scriptures.
            In this passage, Jesus is establishing his divine authority, and his ability to grant eternal life to all those who would come to know God. Jesus came to this world to reveal to the world what God is really like. Through his death and resurrection. He paved the way for us to get to know God. Getting to know God is not a magic formula but a process. It begins with a first step of faith. By faith you ask Jesus to forgive your sins and reveal the father to you.
            By faith you obey Christ in the waters of Baptism. You seek to become part of a Bible believing church and part of the life of that church, when you take these steps hopefully you are on the right path of knowing God. In closing let me repeat these three reasons why we should know God. Know yourselves that you may know God, God’s challenge for us is to know him and knowing God is eternal life. My challenge to you is from Hosea 6:3, “So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord,” Amen

[1] A Mind for God, “James Emery White” P 9, 10
[2] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol.1ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), p. 35

Sunday, January 15, 2017


“Sons of Issachar”  
I Chronicles 12:23& 32 
Introduction: Charles Dickens begins his historical novel A Tale of Two Cities (1859) with these words. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,…” It looks like to me in some way Charles Dickens, was prophetically talking about the 21st century. Are we not “living in the best of times as well as the worst of times? We have the best of everything that was ever available to mankind since the creation, yet we are living in the worst kind of deception and moral depravity.
            In our pastors group the other day, we were discussing and lamenting over an article, titled, “Five reasons Spirituality is No Longer important to the American Church.”  Here is one reason, “Mainline Protestantism has often had no more than a situational interest in spirituality.” The spiritual but not religious asked themselves if there were people and pastors in the church who could help them and declared, “No, no help there, but Oprah, Oprah is interested in the spiritual life.” When the “cool kids” on the American landscape declared themselves “spiritual, but not religious (SBNR),” it was embarrassing for the church to find itself out of step with the culture around it.
            A class of seminarians were asked, “whether they would want to go to heaven, if it meant contemplating the glory of God. Most of them voted no.” Really? That doesn’t make sense, does it? If the seminarians, those who were training to become pastors, teachers, evangelists and Christian ministers were not excited about glorifying God in heaven, who else will get excited? You may wonder in times like these where Church seems to have lost its significance and to most people appears to be irrelevant, why would I not prefer to stay home on Sunday morning, read the Boston Globe or watch Patriots food ball game on the TV?
            Why would I still bother to commit myself to the tedious process of working together with other fellow Christians? Why bother trying to come to church, be involved in the worship team, share the gospel, going on a mission’s trip, when everybody else is happy to do their own thing? Why? Why? Why? In order to find answers to these questions let me introduce you to a group of people In Chronicles 12:32, who understood their times and knew what they were to do. I like to title this message, “UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES.” Background to this story.
            During 1050-1010 BC, the kingdom of Israel, went through similar crisis as our world is facing today in the 21st century. Saul was reigning over Israel as the sovereign King. Due to his several acts of disobedience and impatience he brought judgment of God upon himself. God was about to tear down Saul’s kingdom and hand it over to a man after his own heart. But not before a gruesome encounter between Israel and the Philistines. The war was intense.
            The Philistines not only killed Saul, but they cut off his head, send it throughout the Philistine territory to the people and their “idols” as a trophy of war, and strapped his body to the city wall. The mood in Israel was one of terror and of fear. They just lost their king. Now this was a time of transition and change. The mantle of Kingship had fallen on David the son of Jesse, who was not only appointed but also anointed by God.
            Tribe after tribe came together, bringing their troops to support and fight for David incase of another war. Among those tribes there was a small tribe, the whole tribe amounted to only 200. These were called “the men of Issachar. Though they were the fewest of all, they were ready to serve David and his purposes of the Kingdom. What do we know about the sons of Issachar? What can we learn from them?

            We know that Jacob had twelve children out of them came the twelve tribes of Israel. Issachar was the fifth son of Jacob born to Leah. Issachar means, “God has rewarded” When Jacob blessed his children, this is what he said of Issachar, “Issachar is a strong donkey, lying down among the sheep folds.” Genesis 49:14 This blessing suggests, that through their hard work they will bring forth a reward. Just like a strong donkey, they will be able to carry the burdens of those whom they serve, and become obedient, faithful and loyal servants.
            Another interesting thing was said of them when they came to join David in Jerusalem. I Chronicles 12:23 & 32, “These are the numbers of the men armed for battle who came to David at Hebron…from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” How do we understand this and what does it mean for us today? This is what I see in this verse. When everybody else in Israel only saw gloom, doom and destruction, the sons of Issachar saw something beyond the political, geographical, and economic crisis.
            They saw the hand of God upon David, so they came to support, strengthen and fight for David to establish his Kingdom. They understood the covenant that God made with David. We read about Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7 9-16. Part of the covenant reads, “God will raise his “seed” and establish his kingdom (vs 12-13). God will be a “father” to David’s son, and he will be God’s “son” (v 14).  David’s house and his kingdom will endure forever (v 16)
            It was an everlasting covenant that God has made not only for David but keeping all of us in mind. In Psalm 89:3-4, “You said, I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.” Our God is not only a covenant making God but also a covenant keeping God.
            Most of the covenant has already been fulfilled by the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ who was referred to as, “the son of David” and the rest of it is being fulfilled through us and it will be completed when our Lord returns for the second time. Coming back to our test, “the sons of Issachar understood the times and they knew what Israel should do.”
            You might be wondering what does this have to do with me?  Well it has everything to do with us, I believe, that the followers of Christ are to be like the sons and daughters of Issachar. As they have understood the times and advised or warned their then known world, similarly we are to understand our times, we need to understand where do we fit in the larger scheme of God and his movements in the History of the Church.

             It seems like the political and corporate world better understands the times we are living in than the church. The current election results are a clear example, where the president elect and his team understood the pulse of the people, and what people really wanted and that’s brought about a dramatic change in leadership. Giant profit making companies study their consumer’s likes and accordingly come up with the products. Take for example, “Apple” The company has enjoyed a revenue growth from 2004 to 2014 — $8 billion to $180 billion. What is the key for their success?  They understand what the customers like, and they create cool products like the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad.  
            How do we Christ’s followers understand the times we are living in?  When I look at our modern society what do I see? In the past 100 years, the Christian faith has come under severe attacks by several Isms such as: Skepticism, Nihilism, (the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless), Hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence), and Atheism: disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.
            While Christianity is on the decline in the western world, it is flourishing and thriving in Africa and Asia. For example, in China. “China's Protestant community, has already overtaken those of countries more commonly associated with an evangelical boom. In 2010 there were more than 58 million Protestants in China. Prof Yang, a leading expert on religion in China, believes that number will swell to around 160 million by 2025. That would likely put China ahead even of the United States, which had around 159 million Protestants in 2010 but whose congregations are in decline. By 2030, China's total Christian population, including Catholics, would exceed 247 million, placing it above Mexico, Brazil and the United States as the largest Christian congregation in the world.”[1] This should give us a reason to celebrate.
            Here we are a small number of us at Hope Church still committed to gather on Sunday for worship, to study the word and for fellowship. Why do we do that?  We do it because we belong to Christ and we are called and set apart to serve the purposes of God in our generation.  Too often we forget who we are as sons and daughters of the most high God as we go about our regular day to day life. Wilma had an eye-opening moment the other day.  She supports people with mental illness, Wilma overheard a person struggling with paranoia and psychosis say to another person.  There must be poison in the meatloaf today, it is Friday the 13th.  Wilma chipped in and said: “No way Patricia we wouldn’t dare do that” Patricia looks up, smiles and says to the other person “Whenever I think of Wilma I come back to normal.
            In closing, Romans 8:19-20 “for the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration not by its own choice but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the Children of God.  Amen


Sunday, January 8, 2017


Colossians 3:12-17 
Introduction:  A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time, I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”
            This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:  I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
            In case you are wondering today, why go to Church? We go to church because, Church is A New family that we belong to. For some it is a family they never had, for others it may be the only family they ever knew. Among several metaphors used to describe Church, in the N.T, the family of God is perhaps the most endearing one. God the father adopted us into his family through the life, death and resurrection of his beloved son Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul more than anyone uses, “family metaphor” when it comes to describing God’s intentions and the functions of his Church. Through his letters, he reminds his audience that they belong to a New family, the family of God. He also gives them certain behavioral principles to help them function better in their new family of God. We read a few principles in his letter to Colossians 3:12-17

Background: Colossae was an important city of Phrygia in Asia Minor, situated to the east of Ephesus. Most probably this Epistle was written by Paul while he was a prisoner in Rome, about A.D 62. In ancient times Churches met in people’s homes. Tradition tells us that “The Church in Colossae may have met in the home of Philemon.”[1] Paul’s tone while writing this letter was personal, intimate, filled with love and concern, as if was writing to his close family members. Moreover, he uses a Greek word (adelphoi) to address the members of this house church, which literally means “brothers & sisters.” He uses this form of address quite frequently. These are the believers both men and women who are a part of the family of God.
            Let me bring this to our context. In reading the history of Hope Church I found that “Hope Church was begun in 1957 by several families who were dedicated to the scriptures and missions. The founding group met first in a home, then moved to an auditorium in the Sharon Town Hall, eventually were able to purchase land and build this beautiful church building. The common bond of shared experience and ideals that the founders enjoyed is still present.” The family atmosphere here in Hope church is, what I was attracted to. 
            Just like the Church in Colossae you had your beginnings in a humble home where relationships have begun, survived, thrived, and continued for a long time and some are still continuing. We have some wonderful, God fearing men and women of God who have toiled and labored for Hope Church and several of them still do so, we are grateful for them. Those of us who have joined Hope Church recently, need to know that we belong to a family and we have a “family heritage and mandate.” Now it is up to all of us to take the values, the mission and the vision of Hope Church further. If we want to see our Hope Church family not only survive but thrive, it takes all of us working and moving together in one direction.
            Though we come from different families, bringing our unique strengths, weaknesses and values, and call hope Church our family, we must recognize that first and foremost we belong to A New Family, a much wider and diverse family of God. The Apostle Paul was reminding the Church in Colossae that they were not just on their own, but were interconnected with the New Family of God. In this letter, he introduces a process of Spiritual Formation. It is a process of becoming personally and interpersonally mature. This process contains three sub categories: Cultivating spiritual disciplines, Corporate Worship and Collective Service.
            Before we discuss these categories. How does one become a member of this New Family?  As we did not choose our birth family, similarly we cannot automatically become a member of God’s family. It is the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. When we respond, to the Spirit and believe in Christ then we will be saved. Jesus said, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12.
            Our initiation into this New Family begins by Christ, continues in Christ and completes in Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Salvation is free but Discipleship will cost all your life.” According to the apostle Paul believers in Christ are “chosen by God, are holy and are beloved” Because of what Christ has done we are already made holy and we are dearly loved by God, this is the basis of working out our spiritual formation. Let the process begin.

             The apostle Paul gives us a command to cultivate these virtues of: being compassionate, being kind, exhibiting meekness the antidote for pride, remaining gentle when treated with harshness, and being patient which is also translated, “longsuffering” the opposite of quick anger, resentment and revenge. What keeps all these virtues in perfect unity? It is love.  Just like in any family we are to put up with one another with all our idiosyncrasies in our church family.
            We are to forgive one another as Christ forgave our sins. When we keep, practicing these virtues the peace of Christ will reign in our hearts. The Greek word “peace” refers to both the call of God to salvation and consequent peace with him and the attitude of rest or security that believers have because of that eternal peace. The second category: Corporate worship:

             Sharon is a very religious community. For a city of eighteen thousand people we have 7 synagogues, 9 churches and 1 mosque, and there are a number of Buddhists and Hindus among us. We can learn a lot from our fellow Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu communities.  For them, going to a Synagogue, or a Mosque or a Temple on certain days is an honor and a privilege. They do it with such pride and dignity. We see whole families going for worship.
My cousin is a Lutheran church pastor in Abu Dhabi, where Friday is the religious holiday and Sunday is a working day. Though they have a church service on Friday, he conducts a special worship service on Sunday evenings as many were accustomed to go to church on Sundays.
            How are we showing enthusiasm when it comes to coming to church on Sundays? Let’s make this as our new year resolution, that we go to church each Sunday to worship God corporately unless we are sick, travelling or away on another assignment. Hebrews 10:25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” What kept the early Christians strong in their faith under tremendous persecution? It was their habit of coming together in homes. In vs 16, the Apostle Paul gives us a model of what we do when we come to church to worship God corporately. We give him thanks and praise through our singing of spiritual songs and hymns. We come to listen to a message of Christ through the pastor or a preacher. We encourage, admonish and spur one another towards good works. The third category is collective service.

            We are to be profoundly grateful for the gift of salvation we have received from God. Now it is our turn to let our light shine among people through good works. Through our love for one another and for the world many will glorify our father in heaven. Our Church family is a great place to start serving the Lord through our gifts and talents. As I said earlier it takes all of us doing our part to take the mission, values and vision of Hope Church further.
            Just like in any family, there is no place for spectators in our Church. If you have a gift, or a certain talent and you want to use that to serve the Lord please speak to me or one of the elders and we will see how best we can facilitate your desire to serve. Our collective goal and vision should be that people get saved and they become committed followers of Jesus Christ.
            In order to see this goal accomplished we may do a number of things but let’s keep one thing always in mind, we are not here to please anybody except our Lord, so whatever we do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God our father. In closing let me reiterate the main points again. We belong to the Hope Church family. Hope Church belongs to a New Family of God. As members of this New family of God we are called to work out our Spiritual formation. Our Spiritual formation is best worked out by cultivating spiritual disciplines, getting involved in Corporate Worship and Collective Service. Amen


Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Promise of Restoration: Ezekiel 11: 14-21

Ezekiel 11: 14-21; 01/01/2017
Introduction: Ezekiel was deported to Babylon in 597 BC. Ezekiel was unconventional, he used pantomime, would cry and wail and slap his thighs, ate a scroll and did many other unusual things to burn the message into the minds of the people. Through Ezekiel’s unusual visons and hard hitting prophecies we get the picture of a holy and transcendent God whose name and glory must be protected. By contrast Judah had sunk to the depths of depravity in national apostasy. God had to punish His people because of His hatred of idolatry, so he sent them into exile in Babylon, but He never stopped loving them.
        In Chapter ten we read about one of the saddest days in the history of Judah, where Ezekiel saw the glory of God departing from the temple in Jerusalem. Can you imagine what it must have been like for Ezekiel, to actually see the glory of God leaving the temple? To add to his shock, there were twenty-five leaders giving misleading advice to the people.  As if these were not enough, the Lord has exposed the apostasy of the nation of Judah.
      Seeing all these at once, Ezekiel must have been heart broken. So, he fell on his face, lifted his voice aloud and said, “Alas, Lord God, “Will you bring the remnant of Israel to a complete end?” Let’s pause here! What does this 597 BC prophecy concerning Judah have to do with us the people of Hope Church in Sharon? The nation of Judah in general represents the heart of every human that turns against God, more specifically an individual Christian believer who has hardened his heart and is not responding rightly to God.
      In the 21st century, are we any different than the nation of Judah of 597 BC?  Whether we like it or not Christianity in the US and the rest of the western world is on the rapid decline. What is causing this sharp decline of Christianity in the West? What must we do to stop it?
The reasons could be many, and one of the reasons I believe is, “Prosperity and affluence,” they distract people from a life of devotion to God and being committed in a church. Just before Christmas, Wilma and I visited someone who claimed to be less spiritual and not interested in going to Church. At the same time, he lamented that very few these days still go to Church, we asked him what he thought might be the reason for this lack of interest, he said, “people are simply too lazy to go to church and they have lost respect.” It is so true isn’t it?
     Coming back to our text. The Lord gave a promise of restoration through Ezekiel to the remnant of Judah. God was going to restore true worship of himself, he was going to give them a new heart and spirit, and he was going to restore their vision to serve him. I believe on this New Year’s Day because He loves us, God is making a similar promise to us. Let’s look at it in detail.
            From the time of its formation, God’s intentions have been that the people of Israel would love him, call him father, worship and serve him only and nothing or no one else. The first two of the ten commandments declare that intention. But as we know time and again they broke their faith with by worshipping idols and false gods. As a result, he punished them by removing them from Jerusalem where the temple, God’s dwelling place was located.
            We need to understand that the temple played a major role in the religious, social, and civic life of the Jews at that time. For them it was unthinkable to be removed from Jerusalem, but now they were living in other nations, longing to one day return to Jerusalem, and worship God again in the temple. Though the Lord scattered them among the nations he did not leave them without a place of worship, he himself became their sanctuary or dwelling place. God promised that one day they would return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and restore worship.  
            What can we learn from Israel’s History? God, had chosen the people of Israel to serve and worship Him alone, but they rebelled against God. We see some similarities in the way God has saved us. There was no good in us, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Not by works but by His grace we have been saved. The purpose was that we might love and worship and serve him, let’s admit just like the people of Israel, we too at times turn our backs against him. Instead of worshipping God we worship our self-made idols of wealth, success, fame, and popularity.   When all of our mind, attention, time and energy is focused on these become idols that rob us of our desire to spend time with God in worship and prayer. 
            E.M Bounds, while explaining the importance of worship in prayer, notes how grace affects our worship, “Where grace abounds, song abounds. When God is in the heart, Heaven is present and melody is there, and the lips overflow out of the abundance of the heart. This is as true in the private life of the believer as it is so in the congregations of the saints.  The decay of singing, the dying down and out of the spirit of praise in song, means the decline of grace in the heart and the absence of God’s presence from the people.” [1]
            On this First Sunday, how is your heart?  Are you weighed down by the heavy burdens of life, unable to break forth in singing praises to God? Do you feel like God is millions of miles away from you? God wants to draw you into his presence where there is fullness of Joy, He wants to put a new song in your heart so that your heart once again will be filled with worship of God. When God comes to your heart and restores worship it will be like in heaven.

            Vs 19, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” There is rich theology in this verse. This scripture speaks of the sovereignty of God. He can do what he wills to do. He can harden hearts and he can soften them if he wants to. Has he hardened hearts in the past?
            There were a few instances where God hardened the hearts of people, for example God hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Ex 7:3). God hardened the hearts of the enemies of Judah so that he might destroy them (Joshua 11:20). But more often than not, in most cases, it was the people of Judah who have hardened their hearts. They simply refused to believe, and obey God. They remained stubborn and obstinate. So, he scattered them abroad.
            Through the prophecy, we learn that the remnant will repent and return and when that happens he has promised to give them one heart (an undivided heart) and put a new spirit, and in the place of a stone heart a tender heart that will respond rightly to God’s leading and guidance.
            How does this promise of a new heart and a new spirit work for us? First of all, we need to recognize that we have been distracted by many things in life. The cares and worries of life choke our faith and hinder us from growing in the Lord. Our hearts are divided and our loyalties have been compromised. Unless we repent and return to God we might be in a danger of incurring the wrath of God due to our stubbornness and obstinacy. Though we come to church, regularly, hear convincing messages, attend bible studies and are active in small groups, we must ask ourselves how much of what we hear have we been practicing in our day to day lives?
            In a gracious way, God is appealing to us, if anyone here is hardening their heart, listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, Hebrews 3:7-8, “Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts.” What is the prerequisite for God to give you a new heart and a right spirit?
            That you repent, and turn to God and put away anything that might be displeasing to God, then He will give you a willing heart and a new spirit. What is the purpose of God in restoring true worship and giving us one heart and a new spirit? So that our vision might be restored.
            God does not do anything randomly, behind his every act there is a divine purpose. He can cause and use all things and all people to work together to fulfill that purpose. What was the purpose behind choosing Israel from among the nations? That they become a beacon of light and bring hope to all nations. Ezekiel 5:5-6“This is what the sovereign Lord says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees.”
            But Israel has disappointed God, they have lost their God given vision of serving Him. I believe that one day God will restore His vision for all Israel, and He has been patiently waiting for that day, but in the meanwhile he has raised up people for himself from among both Jews and Gentiles, who have accepted His son Jesus Christ as their Savior. Hope church is a part of that worldwide movement of God. What is God’s vision for Hope Church? That we might become a beacon of hope not only in Sharon but around the world. His vision for us is that we might walk with Him and through our faith and obedience we might glorify Him.
            How can we practically do that?  We do it by intentionally reaching out with the gospel to people of all nations. We do it, by becoming devoted followers. We do it by embracing people regardless of their race, gender and ethnicity or background.. On this first Sunday of 2017, my prayer for Hope Church is “Oh, Lord please restore true worship, give us an undivided heart and a willing spirit and restore our vision so that we might serve you and glorify your name.” Amen


[1] E.M Bounds on prayer, page 27