In school we all have taken some sort of history classes either of American or of a world history study. During the course many of us have come across historical figures whose lives have been given written accounts of. Some of these have written their own life accounts in the form of an autobiography. Benjamin Franklin is a well-known individual of early American history and was one who wrote a great deal, including his autobiography. I have not done so, but if I were to read that man’s own life account I would be able to describe to you many events that were noteworthy in his life as well as many details about who he was. However even if I were to memorize his autobiography I would never be able to make the claim that I truly knew who he was or that I had a relationship with him or him with me.
Can we be this way with God? Can we be people who come to church week after week, year after year and hear many bible verses, sermons and classes and not actually know God? I believe that we can and do fall prey to this if our personal prayer life is not treated with greater care than that of the time and care we devote to our closest earthly relationships. As Paul would instruct “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) to the early Christians, knowing the power of prayer to the Creator and what it does to our relationship with Him. In the New Testament, there is never stated a number of times one should pray to have prayed enough, but if prayer is our only avenue of direct communication to our Heavenly Father, then how many times does it take for you to say you have a close bond with God? Close enough to feel as John said a true believer should – as one of God’s children? This is what he says in 1 John 3:1-3 –
3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
The point of knowing God, having that real relationship with Him, is clearly stated a couple chapters later:
1 John 5:13-15.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Pray more every new day God gives us. He hears those who are His children, and those who truly know Him will also know that eternal life is given to them, and that Christ will come again soon to take His children home to be in heaven.
If there is anyone here who needs the prayers of the congregation or needs to begin their relationship with God by being baptized, come forward now as we stand and sing.
“For all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” Romans 3:23, 24
Romans 3:23 is a well known verse to many, and a verse well worth memorizing for all who strive to grow and keep their Christian faith strong. This verse has the power to humble all those who accept the Bible as absolute truth, it’s first phrase equalizing man, from least to greatest, as all possessing the same problem that has existed for every man and woman since the first couple. To understand this verse is to understand that from the perspective of being justified by grace – if I have been a Christian for my entire adult life I am in the same state as a lost soul – we both need equal amounts of God’s grace for falling short of His glory. With personal divisions of all types of groups of people being the source of so much conflict in society today, there is a dire need for more people come to see the identical conditions of ourselves and all those around us. To reach the lost, the saved must relate both the need and the possibility of salvation.
The problem of sin and its consequence of a complete severance of our relationship with God must be our motivation to avoid sin at all costs. The solution to this problem must be the recognition that sin can be avoided, and that the free grace of God can reign in the hearts of all men, conquering sin and it’s consequential death. This allows those who have accepted His grace to live in redemption, a state that brings true peace to one’s life, thanks only to Jesus Christ, to whom we can never repay, but can continually express our gratitude to the debt he paid by being faithful to our Father every day of our lives.
Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17).
God prepared a great fish. There are no fish like this today! Jonah was running from God. Three days and three nights in the fish brought Jonah to his senses. He was ready to do what God asked. What does it take to bring us to our senses? Must we end up like Jonah in the pits of despair with no hope? Serving God gives us hope and happiness. We may suffer for a while but we look to the reward as Moses did (Heb 11:24-26). A life without God is a life without hope.
By the way, Jesus confirmed the true account of Jonah and the great fish in Matthew 12:40.
By Derek Long
Kindness is a virtue we all can appreciate. Everyone wants others to treat them with kindness. If we are going to heed Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 7:12 to do unto others as we want them to do unto us, we should develop the quality of kindness in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 lists kindness as a part of the fruit of the Spirit. It says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” People who are walking in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit and living in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 18,25) will possess kindness. Kindness is a part of the fruit of the Spirit because it is part of the character of God. The people in Nehemiah’s day remember God’s dealings with the nation and say, “They refused to obey, and they were not mindful of Your wonders that You did among them. But they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they appointed a leader to return to their bondage. But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17). Joel reminds the people of God’s kindness as an incentive to repent. He tells the people, “So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm” (Joel 2:13). The Psalmist on occasion will contemplate the kindness of God. Psalm 31:21 says, “Blessed be the Lord, for He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city!” Psalm 117:2 says, “For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” The New Testament speaks of how God displays kindness to the unthankful and evil by giving temporal blessings (Luke 6:35).The New Testament also reminds us of God’s kindness toward us in sending Jesus to die for our sins. Titus 3:4-7 says, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” See also Ephesians 2:4-7 for a similar description of God’s kindness. God displays His kindness by being willing to do good and forgive others, even those who have wronged Him. God’s kindness allows Him to be slow to anger. God’s example helps us see what is involved in showing kindness to others in our own lives. If we are going to, “be imitators of God as dear children” (Ephesians 5:1), we must learn to show kindness in our lives (Colossians 3:12). Kindness needs to be displayed when we are teaching others the truth. Paul spoke of the way he acted as an apostle so “that our ministry may not be blamed” (2 Corinthians 6:3).While we are not apostles entrusted with the same sort of ministry, we should seek to imitate his example lest we bring reproach to the cause of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 6:6 he commended himself as a minister of God by the kindness he displayed. As we teach others, do we use gentleness and kindness (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Galatians 6:1)? People need to know we have their best interest at heart when we teach them the gospel. People need to know we do not have any ulterior motives behind teaching them the gospel. Let us be people who are“speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Kindness needs to be displayed in our relationships with our brethren. 2 Peter 1:7 mentions qualities we are to be adding to our lives as Christians and among the list it mentions“brotherly kindness.” Kindness should be expected among brethren but we need to make sure we conduct ourselves in this manner. “If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:15).Kindness needs to be displayed in our relationships with our enemies. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and by doing so we are imitating the example of God (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:34-36). It is typically easy to be kind to someone who is kind toward you but more difficult to be kind when someone is being mean toward you. Romans 12:20-21 reminds us of the power kindness toward our enemies can have. It says, “Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” When others mistreat us, do we respond with kindness and mercy? Are we willing to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32)? Kindness needs to be displayed in the home. It is said of the virtuous wife, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26). The relationship between husbands and wives as well as the relationship between parents and children would be improved by having kindness. Love is kind (1Corinthians 13:4). If we love our spouse, children, and parents, we will show them kindness. Remember the proverb, “What is desired in a man is kindness, and a poor man is better than a liar” (Proverbs 19:22)! Are we kind people? If not,let’s make the necessary changes in our lives so we can be filled with the fruit of the Spirit.
To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain
In as brief a statement as was possible for the apostle Paul, we are given his philosophy of life and death. In a few short verses we discover what it was that made him so effective in life and fearless in the shadow of death. May God help us to adopt this same outlook in our lives.
First we observe Paul’s purpose statement – Now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death (v.20). In a moment we will look at Paul’s quandary, which will make no sense unless we first understand his understanding of the purpose of his being which is to magnify Christ. The word magnify (Grk – megaluntheésetai) means to show great. Paul’s desire in life and death is to make much of Christ. He wants to show others how excellent, wonderful and glorious the Lord really is. Christ is great, but because of our sin and self-absorption we fail to see Him for what He really is. Paul says, “my life is devoted to helping people come closer to seeing Him for what He is.” He also says he wants to have the courage and boldness to face death in such a way as to show others the greatness of Jesus.
There are so many great applications of this. So much for us to learn if we only will. Paul is saying, “I don’t want to waste my life.” He is saying, “I don’t want to waste my imprisonment.” He even says, “I don’t want to waste my death.” For Paul, freedom means going about preaching Jesus as Lord. Prison means influencing the Praetorian guard and household of Caesar for Christ. Death meant showing his executioners that the glorious and loving Christ was standing just beyond the veil of death to catch him when he passed through it. So, Paul is telling us, no matter what our circumstance, don’t waste your life!
From his imprisonment, Paul awaits his trial. What will be the verdict? Will he be put to death, or set free? Which option does Paul prefer and which does he anticipate? Paul describes this quandary as being hard pressed v.23. But he views it not as being hard pressed between two difficult decisions, but between two wonderful possibilities. To depart and be with Christ is far better. To continue in the world would be beneficial to his brethren. He summarizes his feelings about the situation with the well known words, For to me, to live is Christ, to die is gain (v.21). To live is to preach and live and labor for Christ. To die is to gain the unsurpassed profit of being in the very presence of Christ. Paul want’s both so bad, that he is hard pressed to choose between them, let’s explore the meaning of each of these a little closer.
To Live Is Christ & To Die Is Gain (v. 21). To live is Christ is expressed elsewhere this way, For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God (col 3:3), or like this, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20-21). To die is gain. When we come to see Christ as the source of every earthly blessing, we are willing to say farewell to the blessings, that at last we may enter into full fellowship with the Blesser. This is not a rejection of life or a hatred of creation. It is simply the surpassing desire to be in the embrace of Him from whom all life and creation flows. We should not hate life. Do not want to die so that you won’t have to live here anymore. To live is Christ! But, nurture your relationship with Christ so that your desire to live on in this world, though great, is eclipsed by your desire to go and be with Him.
I want to close by revisiting the quandary Paul faced. Is that the quandary before you? How would you fill in the blanks:
“For me, to live is , and to die is
If you needed encouragement and someone encouraged you, how would you be different? Having been encouraged, what would be the difference between the “before” and “after”?
Unfortunately, most people would say that being “encouraged” mainly means they “feel better” emotionally. In an age of subjective individualism, where human feelings are the ultimate value and highest authority, nothing is more significant than how we feel. So problems like discouragement are defined primarily in terms of feelings. To be discouraged means to feel “down,” while to be encouraged means to feel “up.” And in this cultural milieu, “encouraging preaching” usually amounts to some variation of “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Now, feelings of defeat and depression are certainly unpleasant, and we like to avoid them whenever we can. But these feelings, which often accompany discouragement, should not be confused with the problem itself. The real problem lies deeper and has to do with our will rather than our emotions. What we need is to be jolted into action.
Look at the word “encourage.” You can see the root word “courage.” The basic meaning, then, is “to impart courage to.” And as any soldier can tell you, courage is more than a feeling; it’s an action.
So test yourself. Did you find last Sunday’s sermon “encouraging”? Was it “encouraging” to have that heart-to-heart talk with a friend? Be careful how you answer. If you say yes, but all you mean is that you feel better, I would suggest that you have not been truly (or at least fully) encouraged. In the deepest sense, you will have been encouraged when you do what is right — and you keep on doing it.
There is no more encouraging book in the New Testament than Hebrews. Written to Christians whose faith was wavering, this powerful treatise says one thing: don’t give up. I read the entirety of Hebrews to a church one time as my last “sermon” to them. I wanted to encourage them, and I could think of no better way to do it than to read Hebrews. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus , the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1,2).
So to those of us who teach, preach, and write, let’s be careful in our definition of “encouragement.” If the result of our work is that people simply feel better but they are still too afraid to jump that dangerous chasm in front of them, we have not really “imparted courage” to them. So let’s be truly — and deeply — encouraging. Let’s embolden people to take those scary steps that faith would take, even if their hearts are quaking. Courage, as has been said, is not the absence of fear; it is going ahead and doing the right thing even when our feelings are failing us.
Gary Henry – WordPoints.com