“As Christians, we are often confronted with questions about why God lets bad things happen. Today we will explore the origin of bad things, their impact on our lives, and our assurance of a brighter future.” –Brian Cummings
“For years we’ve referred to ourselves as a friendly church. What does that mean? How deep does that go? What are other attributes that we might also embody? We’ll look at the story of Jesus and the woman at the well to explore this. Elder Brian Cummings
Most people assume that the question “where is your faith?” is rhetorical and suggests that the person being asked has no faith at all. In this case, the question is real and specific. Where have you put your faith? In whom, or in what, have you rested your deepest hopes and dreams? Do your actions reflect that? Would an outside observer know immediately where your faith is? Elder Brian Cummings
OUR VISION STATEMENT
We are a thriving faith community bound together by a desire to be like Christ, genuinely demonstrating GOD’S extravagant love and compassion for humanity. We are known for education, whole person wellness and serving others. We accept people where they are as children of God and desire for them the vibrant life that Christ provides, now and forever.
OUR MISSION STATEMENT
To invite our community into a redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ, welcoming people from all walks of life to experience unconditional acceptance within a loving church family.
As Christians, we understand the importance of living in accordance with God’s will. Because of our busy lives, we don’t always devote the energy required of us to be “good” in God’s eyes. Today, we’ll take a closer look at the burden of obedience.
Many Christians think of a peaceful, if somewhat uncomfortable, nativity scene when they think of the birth of Christ. They picture Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and animals lovingly surrounding our Savior as he lay in the manger. While that is true, the rest of the story is that it was also an invasion deep into enemy territory. In the unseen world, this was like the first landing on the beaches of Normandy. It was a daring move to rescue us from the clutches of a determined foe. ~Brian Cummings
We all know that God is the Mighty One. We, as believing Christians, count on His ability to do for us what He promises. We know that His will for us is good, yet we continue to stumble through life on our own strength. Let’s rejoice in God’s power and love and claim fully the promise that He offers.
Bumper stickers say that “Freedom Isn’t Free.” It’s often cited with our troops in mind as those who have paid with their lives. It also applies to Christ who died for us. It was in His death that we were made free, and it is freely given to us. A talent of gold is worth nearly a million dollars. If a rich man were to give you a talent of gold, it would be a free gift of incredible value. How much more so is our very life? Now, what will you do with it?
How many of us can truly say we’ve had a joyful week? I can tell you that from my perspective, I’ve had many, many joy-sucking distractions over the course of the past week. It’s not just work-related either. Much of it has been self-inflicted. Take a look at this ‘smart’ phone. How many of us have looked at ours at least five times this morning? Remember when we used to use them just ‘for emergency phone calls’ or perhaps so we can be ‘free to leave the office’? Many of us can probably even remember before we had them and people simply had to wait until we got their message and called them back.
As I wrote this sermon, almost as if he could read my thoughts, Elijah picked up a toy phone and pretended to talk on it, all while telling us to “be quiet”. Ouch! Nothing can be a more unfiltered ego-check as when our kids imitate us at our worst.
Over the past twenty years, technology has become increasingly present in our lives. For me it’s a love-hate relationship. I love gadgets; I hate what happens to my time, and attention when I use them. I long for the time when I had no choice but to interact with the people around me.
Speaking of time, how many of us feel like it’s in short supply? I imagine all of us do at some point. Why do you think that is? Why does it seem like life keeps getting busier and our ability to appreciate it keeps getting reduced?
Today I’m going to speak about joy, about time, and about the forces aligned against them. I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to talk about gaining victory over those forces and laying claim on our joy again.
My boys are an amazing example of joy at it’s best. They must laugh ten times as much as I do. Moreover, the things that make them laugh are (usually) innocent and demonstrate a keen appreciation for life. I believe it is because of a child’s joy and faith that makes him or her the example that Jesus calls us all to be like in Luke 18:16-17.
What happens between age 6 and 26 that changes each of us so much that it’s no longer easy to just play and just be? Some call it maturity; I call it ‘battle fatigue’.
Each of us is under a sustained assault on our joy. God wills for our life to be filled with joy and love. He created the Garden of Eden to be a place of peace, perfection and pleasure.
Sadly, God’s will is not always done. What did I just say? Isn’t God an Awesome God in whom all things are possible? Absolutely. However, it’s also clear that because God gave us and the angels including Lucifer free will, He chose to limit his ability to ensure everything goes well for us. He wills that not one of us is lost, yet sadly, many of His children are lost every day. Those of us who remain are targeted for separation from God.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10
The adversary, who chose willingly to rebel against God, wages war against God by attacking us. In an effort to separate us from God, he seeks to separate us from joy. His goal is Laodicea. He doesn’t need us to be evil; he just needs us to be lukewarm, to go limp, to check out, in other words to not be for God.
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:14-16
I want to zero in on hot and cold. Of course you’ll agree that this isn’t a gauge of actual temperature. Even today, we use temperature as an analogy for emotion or feeling. This scripture seems to indicate that the people of Laodicea aren’t feeling much of anything. Perhaps dulled into the daily routine of paying the bills and gathering more stuff or perhaps saving up for a nice vacation on the islands.
I believe that most of us at some point (perhaps even today) have been on cruise control. Not really feeling much of anything except stress or the perhaps occasional anger at the driver who just cut us off. Hopefully sometimes we have a laugh or two, but in terms of deep and abiding joy, it is simply not present.
Secular society seems to agree. A recent analysis of five million American and English books written during the twentieth century, both fiction and non-fiction has drawn some interesting conclusions. They looked at use of emotional words throughout the twentieth century. They assigned the words one of six categories: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. They found that joy peaked in the 20’s and hit a low point in 1941.
The most interesting finding is not in the types of emotional words used, but in how often they’ve been used. In general, the emotion expressed in books has been on a steady decline since the beginning of the century, with one notable exception: fear. (The Expression of Emotions in 20th Century Books, Acerbi et al., Published in the journal PLOS ONE)
Can it be that society as a whole is becoming numb to deep and lasting joy? Can it be that real and meaningful sentiment is being replaced by transient and superficial sensations? Why is that? What causes people to check out? Have we only ourselves to blame?
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9
The family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. When I read that, I think of physical death and dismemberment. The reality, however, is much more sinister. The adversary seeks to separate us from God in any way possible, and the most effective path is usually the least obvious. Get us to check out and wither away.
The devil assaults us using distraction, disgust, deceit and dismay. He whispers accusations in our ears about who we are and how we look and what we want. He reminds us of the innumerable tasks we have to do before the weekend or the end of the day. He makes us ugly in our minds eye and convinces us it’s what others think of us as well. Worst of all, he convinces us that these thoughts and feelings are our own or from God and that the devil doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s no wonder why we feel less joyful than we did as children!
I’m here today to tell you that it’s all a lie. Every word. Everything the adversary tells us is designed to destroy us. Each of you is a child of God. We share as equal heirs to the perfect Kingdom. Christ died and rose again to pay our debts and set us free. Christ died to destroy the accusations of the evil one. Christ came to restore “what was lost”, not just “the lost”. Think about that for a moment. Christ came to restore our hearts.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
I love the transformation offered in Ezekiel. Christ removes my unfeeling heart of stone and replaces it with a fully restored heart of flesh.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” Isaiah 61:1
Isaiah 61 is one of my favorite references to Jesus from the Old Testament. I want to examine brokenhearted a little further before we move on. Our modern picture of someone with a broken heart is someone who simply “feels bad”. Perhaps they didn’t get a date for the prom? This is woefully inadequate.
The Hebrew here literally means broken in pieces. As in, not functioning properly because it has been destroyed. This is a literal state of brokenness. A broken heart is incapable of true and lasting joy.
The Good News is that Jesus has come to repair what is broken.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear Him.” Ecclesiastes 3:11-14
Briefly, I want to clarify that the word fear used here is not the fear that is found in books during the twentieth century. A better translation of the word used in Ecclesiastes would be to stand in awe before God.
God set eternity in our hearts? God wants us to be happy and do good while we live? He wants us to eat and drink and find satisfaction in our toil? Yes. All of it is true. All of it is available in this life. The story of the Christian life does not need to be: try harder, feel worse. God’s will for us is to be happy and to do good while we live.
We don’t have to wait for Heaven to be restored. We can be full of life today, in this life. We can seize it and live it for Him like there’s no tomorrow. The victory in Him who died for us is permanent and available today.
Jesus is the personification of God’s will. I want to share with you an example of restoration made available in this life. Yes, Jesus restored many who were physically damaged. Even more importantly, he restored those who were spiritually damaged.
Let’s go back to that fateful night when Peter denied Christ three times. Peter wept bitterly when he realized that he’d broken his promise and let his best friend and Savior down. I’m sure Jesus was also deeply hurt by Peter’s denial. What then does Jesus do about it? (Luke 22, Matthew 26, Mark 14, John 18)
Let’s fast-forward to after the resurrection, when Peter, John, and a few other disciples are fishing. Jesus takes them through the whole, “let your nets down on the other side” miracle again. That has all the trimmings of an inside joke, by the way. What does Jesus do when the boys get in from fishing with their 153 fish catch? He cooks them breakfast!
Most importantly, what does Jesus ask Peter over breakfast?
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17
“Peter, do you love me?” Three times Jesus asks, and three times Peter says ‘yes’. This seemingly random exchange is a window into Jesus’ will for all of us. He restored Peter by giving him an opportunity to declare his love for Jesus three times. Three times denied, three times restored. Think about that for a moment. Jesus not only atoned for Peter’s sin for the next life, he also gave Peter an opportunity to be restored in this life. Jesus’ will for us is to be happy and to do good while we live.
Something else you may notice is that Peter didn’t get it at first. I’m certain that this is something that Peter dwelt on for some time after that interaction before he realized what Jesus had done for him. I’m also sure that many of us don’t recognize when Jesus is in the process of redeeming and restoring us as well. Take heart, we’re in good company!
What shall we do then? God wills that all shall be saved. Is this restoration for us alone? Absolutely not! Our charge is to wake up, to come alive and to be a light for others to be drawn to. (Matthew 5, Mark 4, Luke 8)
“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:33-39
We are more than conquerors. We are equal heirs to the throne with a Holy Commission to share the Light of Christ with all who have eyes to see. We are not alone. As Paul says in Romans, nothing is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is with us. He enables us to overcome sin. He restores us, in this life, to more than we could ever hope to be on our own.
By now, I bet you’re wondering, “What do I have to do to get that?” That’s just it – YOU don’t do anything. Christ, through the Holy Spirit makes it possible. Remember, we do not have to have a ‘grit your teeth and make it happen’ Christian experience. The yoke of Christianity is easy and the burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
So if anything, we need to do less. Less worry. Less guilt. Less shame. Less acceptance of the lies we hear whispered in our ears every day. Can you imagine a life where the burden of salvation isn’t on us?
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Matthew 6:25-27
Jesus is referring to more than the menial things of life. He’s referring to our life with Him. He is willing and able to do for us what we are unable (and sometimes unwilling) to do for ourselves. Our only action is that of surrender. We invite Jesus in to our being to guide and empower us. We recognize our inability to rely on ourselves and rely entirely upon Him.
There is an important difference here between acceptance of His strength and belief that we are weak. Many in the church humble themselves right into irrelevance because they believe the lie that we are wretched and worthless. That is simply untrue. For instance, when Paul says “what a wretched man I am” in Romans 7:24, the Greek means distressed. He’s expressing his distress that many people feel overwhelmed by the sinful nature, particularly because it is so unnecessary. It’s clear that once we ‘die’ through baptism, we die to sin. When we struggle with sin, it is because we are trying to do it on our own. We aren’t releasing the burden to Christ.
So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. Romans 7:4-6
With Him in us, we are strong and capable and motivated to do mighty and awesome things. It requires of us a daily submission to His will. Remember, Paul says we are more than conquerors. With Him in us, the demons tremble in fear from us because we carry the name of Christ.
“The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20
In the first war between sin and salvation, Jesus defeated Lucifer (who would thereafter be named Satan), he saw him fall like lightning from Heaven. (Revelation 12:9) We have that access to Jesus’ power over death and the evil forces aligned against our King and all of humanity. We are free; no, we are commissioned to use His power on behalf of all of those who are still brokenhearted.
Even so, we rejoice not because of the power given us on Earth in this life, we rejoice, we have abounding, lasting joy because our names are written in Heaven. One day will come when each of us receives the white stone with our new name. (Revelation 2:17) Sin and the forces aligned against us will fall away and we will be forever free and one with Christ.