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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Singleness of Focus

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Matt's Messages - Real Christians Are in a Real Battle

“Real Christians Are In a Real Battle”
Real Christians
November 25, 2007
Ephesians 6:10-20

We are continuing our series on Real Christians.

Last week, we learned that Real Christians Walk in the Light.

We are simul justus et peccator, simultaneously righteous and sinful.

We are saved sinners. Saints who still sin.

We are called to walk in the light and not in the darkness, but we still sin.

And when we sin, we confess. We completely agree with God about our sins and we receive forgiveness! He is faithful and just (because of our advocate!) to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness!

This week, we’re going to learn that “Real Christians Are in a Real Battle.”

Ephesians 6, starting in verse 10.

[scripture reading, prayer]

I have some bad news for you this morning.

If you are a Real Christian, you are in a war.

There is a battle raging. And there are only two sides. The stakes are higher than life and death. The stakes are eternal life and eternal death.

The battle rages all around. And no one is neutral.

If you are a Real Christian, you are in a war.

Not to scare you, but your enemy is fearsome.

You have a Real Enemy.

Your enemy is one of the most powerful created beings in all of the universe.

He is smarter than you.
He is more dangerous than you.
He is more experienced at combat than you are.
He is stronger than you.

And He hates you with a vengeance on a scale that you cannot imagine.

Your Real Enemy wants to utterly destroy you. He wants to rip you to shreds. He wants to devour you.

If you are a Real Christian, you have a fearsome enemy who hates you and wants to see you eternally dead.

You are in a war.

That’s the bad news.

Here’s the good news:

There are resources available to everyone who is a Real Christian that will enable you to withstand the onslaught of this fearsome enemy.

The good news is that there are resources available IN GOD to ever Real Christian that will enable you to STAND YOUR GROUND when this enemy attacks.

That’s the point of Ephesians 6:10-20.

There are resources available IN GOD to every Real Christian that will enable us to STAND OUR GROUND when this enemy attacks.

The Apostle Paul is saying in this passage that every Real Christian the possesses the armor God–the resources necessary to withstand the onslaught of Satan and his warhost.

And Paul is saying that God wants every Real Christiain to engage in spiritual warfare (this is not just for some special class of believers) every Real Christian to engage in spiritual warfare TAKING UP and PUTTING TO USE the resources of God Himself to fight spiritual battles.

Real Christians Are in Real Battle with Real Spiritual Weapons.

That is good news! Let’s see how Paul describes the battle. Look at vv.10&11.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.”

In other words, “Get ready for a fight.”

Paul says, “Get your strength up because you are going to need it.”

You are going to have to take your stand against the schemes of the devil.

Were you aware that Satan has schemes, battle-plans, tricks, plans of attack for taking you down? What he doesn’t have ready, he’s drawing up right now! Paul says, “Real Christian, get ready for a fight with Satan’s schemes.” Get your strength up because you are going to need it.

But notice. (And this is all-important.) Where does it say to get your strength?

It doesn’t say to pump iron. It doesn’t say to look deep within yourself. It doesn’t say to beef up your moral resolve and your will-power for defeating the enemy.

You haven’t got what it takes! You are going up against the most powerful weapons of mass-soul-destruction in the universe––where are you going to get strength to withstand the spiritual equivalent of the atom bomb?

What’s he say? V.10

“Be strong...IN THE LORD and IN HIS MIGHTY POWER.”

Get ready for a fight. But don’t think that you’ve got what it takes to stand up to Satan. You don’t.

But if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (You should have that one memorized, again: 1 John 4:4!)

There is a fuel supply, an energy shield creating source, a spiritual armory that is more than able (more than able!) to successfully repel the attacks of the evil one.

God Himself. And God Himself has committed His own resources to fight your battles in this world.

Real Christian, get ready for a fight by drawing strength from God.

V.12 makes it clear who the enemy is.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

We often think of our enemies as being other humans. Flesh and blood. And sometimes, in some senses, they are: child abusers, murderers, thieves, rapists, hostile nations and so on. But, standing behind them and below them is a darker evil.

We sometimes think that our enemies are movie producers, pornographers, liberal theologians, dangerous politicians of certain political persuasions, magazine publishers, internet enemies. But standing behind them and below them is a darker evil. They are but puppets in the hands of these enemies: rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, spiritual forces of evil.

Are you aware that Satan has a huge network of secret-agents? There are demons on every level with orders to attack, a “spiritual Mafia.” Behind the scenes, on different levels, joined together for a dark and dangerous purpose–the tearing down of human souls.

That’s who we battle. And where are they? Last phrase of v.12:

“...in the heavenly realms.” It means the unseen realm. The world that is more real, more concrete, more substantial than this one. But the world that is, for right now, unseen by human eyes.

Your Real Enemy is fearsome, in control of a huge army of fallen angels who are joined together to destroy you. And your human eyes cannot even see them coming.

So, Paul says, get ready right now by drawing on God’s power.

That’s what the “armor of God” is. The armor of God is the powerful resources of God to fight every spiritual battle we will ever face in this life.

So, Paul says (now v.13), “Therefore...”

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

What do you think is “the day of evil?” I don’t think it means just one day. I think it means the times when Satan seems to be really be on the attack.

Sometimes, he pulls away and retreats and re-groups and looks for an opening. He did that with Jesus. Do you remember that? Satan left Jesus after the temptation in the wilderness–not for good–but to wait for an opportune time to strike again.

So sometimes, Satan and his minions aren’t on “full attack mode.” But that doesn’t mean the war is over. It means, get ready because he’ll be back with a vengeance. I think that’s what the “day of evil” means. Those times when Satan seems to be coming on strongest.

Maybe you are in the midst of the “day of evil” right now.

Maybe in the midst of a trial. A loss. A relational problem.

Or maybe in the midst of a temptation. Some sin that keeps dogging your heels.

Or maybe in an accusation. Some sin you have been forgiven of that He keeps pounding on you. ["When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within!"]

Or maybe even some kind of a supernatural manifestation of his power. A paralyzing fear, or a demonic oppression, or something like that.

“The day of evil.”

But God has something for you on that day, in those times, to (v.13) “be able to stand your ground.”

Do you believe that this morning?

Do you believe that God has something for your every spiritual need?

Do you believe that God has purchased resources by the death of Jesus that will help you to not fall when “the battle presses in hard?”

That’s what this text says. And it’s the greatest news in all the world for living the Christian life!

We don’t do it on our own. We don’t have to muster up the courage. We don’t have to arm ourselves. We don’t have to find it in ourselves to live the Christian life and fight the daily battles with the Tempter, with the Accuser, and with his agents of darkness.

God will do it for us. God has done it for us. We have a Mighty Mighty Savior! And He has made it all possible (through His Holy Spirit) for us take full advantage of His mighty power for living.

That’s what it means to “take up” the full armor of God. I love that phrase, “full armor” of God. There are other words for “armor” in the Greek language. But this one means everything you need for success in battle.

So that when it’s strapped on, you’ve got everything you need to stand your ground.

And that’s exactly what Paul tells us to do in vv.14-18. We don’t have to retreat from Satan. And we don’t have to fear. We just have to, “Stand firm.” he says. God has an armor for you. Put it on. And stand firm. Put it on.

Vv.14-18 are a description of the armor of God and a call to put it on. To appropriate (by faith) the mighty, powerful resources of God.

There are 7 armor pieces (or weapons) here. Lots of imagery that is easy to remember.

There are 7 resources here from God for doing real battle with our Real Enemy. Let’s look at them one at a time.

First, the belt of truth. V.14.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”

The belt of truth.

Truth is pictured as a great belt tied around your midsection. And remember this is God’s armor that He is giving to you. Paul is saying, “Tie God’s truth around your waist.”

Let me give you a definition of biblical truth because there is a lot of misunderstandings about truth out there.

Truth is a description of what really is. Did you get that? Truth is real description of what really is. Truth is an accurate description of reality. When you go into battle, you want to know the true state of things. You want to know how bad the fighting is going to be. You want to know how strong your side is. You want to know if your weapons will do any good. You want to know if your armor will withstand the attacks of the evil one.

And you don’t want to be deceived about it. You want the truth.

And I think that the reason truth is pictured here as a belt is because everything else on your armor is attached to it.
The belt was more than just to keep up your pants.

On a Roman soldier (by the way Paul might, have a firsthand idea of what a Roman soldier wears. He might be writing this chained to one!) On a Roman soldier, the belt kind of hung everything together. It was the first thing you put on to get yourself ready to fight.

So the question is, do you know the truth of God?

Satan is coming to attack you. He might be doing it right now as I speak. And if you are deceived and don’t know the truth of God–what really is–how are you going to stand?

1 John 4:4 (that verse I quoted a couple of minutes ago). That’s the truth. “Greater is He that is in you than he that is the world.” That’s truth. It won’t feel like that on the day of evil! That’s why you’ve got to put on truth be ready for the fight.

Put on the belt of truth.

Second, the breastplate of righteousness. V.14 again.

“Stand firm...with the breastplate of righteousness in place.”

The breastplate of righteousness. Or the “body armor of righteousness.”

Holiness must be close to your heart.

God has provided righteousness, purity, holiness to you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You need to put that on daily, practicing holiness, to be able to stand in the day of evil.

It’s another way of saying, “Walk in the Light.”

Satan is going to tempt you. And it’s going to be powerful. You are going to want to go his way, not God’s. But all the resources you need to say, “NO!” including holiness, purity, and righteousness, are available from God.

Did you know that you no longer need to sin?

You still have indwelling sin living inside of you. It will be an internal struggle all of this life. But sin’s authority over your life has been broken. You don’t have to sin any more! God’s righteousness is right at hand for you. And you can put it on any time.

It won’t feel like that on the day of evil! When Satan is attacking, it seems (sometimes) like sin is your only choice. But God has a breastplate, close to your heart that you can put on, any time, anywhere.

The breastplate of righteousness.

Third, the boots of readiness. See what Paul says in v.15.

“And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

The picture here is a soldier binding his feet up with leather boots or sandals so that his feet don’t twist and turn and lose their sure-footing. No teetering and losing your balance. Your feet being “readied” for battle.

Have you ever seen all the trouble that professional athletes go to to make sure that their ankles don’t pop out from under them? There, the stakes are just winning and losing a game. Imagine going into war without sure-footing!

And readiness (the surefootedness) for spiritual battle comes from the real “gospel of peace.” That is, the good news that Jesus Christ died for sinners like you and me.

Peace with God is possible because of Jesus.

You need to know that when Satan comes knocking! You need to know that no matter what accusation he tries to push you over with, you are accepted by God through the blood of Jesus and the gospel makes you untoppable.

“When Satan tempts me to despair...upward I look and see him there that made an end to all my sin!”

It won’t feel that way on the day of evil. If you aren’t prepared, it will feel like you have no place with God when Satan attacks. He’ll accuse you of being the worst sinner imaginable. Unworthy. Unacceptable. Wretched. And he’ll be half-right!

You are an unworthy, unacceptable, wretched sinner. But God has made you worthy, acceptable, and loved in Jesus. You have peace with God if you have come to believe the gospel. And that will keep you from tottering on the day of evil.

Stand your ground with the boots of readiness.

Fourth, the shield of faith. V.16

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

Do you see the picture here? Satan is attacking from a distance. He is dipping the tips of dangerous arrows in pitch and then lighting them on fire. And aiming them your way.

He has red-hot missiles of temptation, trial, and accusation flying through the air–with you in the cross-hairs. You are the bullseye for Satan’s fiery attacks.

But God has a shield for you. It’s called FAITH. Take it up.

Trusting the promises of God will extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.

One of you wrote on the survey, “Real Christians Believe God’s Promises.”

That’s what this is talking about.

The Roman shields were about four feet by two feet and often covered with leather. The soldiers, afraid of these kinds of blazing attacks, would soak their shields in water before battle.

So get the picture. You are in a fight. It has gotten hairy. The enemy is shooting the arrows at you. When they land, flames shoot up everywhere. But when they land on your shield .

That’s what faith does. God has a faith for you to use in spiritual warfare. Every one of His promises is true.

What if the flame is a temptation? “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man. There is a way of escape.”

What if the flame is a trial? “Consider it joy when you encounter various trials because the testing of your faith will lead to maturity in Christ.”

What if the flame is an accusation? “There is now NO condemnation to those who in Christ Jesus.”

What if the flame is hardship? “And my God will meet all your needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus.”

What if the flame is demonic oppression? “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

Raise up the shield of faith. Trust God’s promises! And the arrows go out. They seem powerful on the day of evil. But not against the armor God has for you. Don’t fear! Trust God! He is powerful to save.

Fifth, the helmet of salvation. V.17

“Take up the helmet of salvation.”

No solider goes to battle without his helmet. This helmet is the reminder of the salvation that is to come. Elsewhere, Paul calls it the helmet of the HOPE of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8).

That’s because victory is certain for the children of God!

When Satan attacks, put your hope in God’s salvation which is ready for you, prepared for you by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The helmet of salvation.

Let me give you an idea of how that works. When you are in the midst of the war, it seems like the war will never end.

But you need to remind yourself DAILY that this war is already won!

It’s a Real Battle. Satan is a Real Enemy.

But Satan is a defeated enemy. The Cross took the fangs out of Satan. He tries to convince himself that that isn’t true. He is still fighting. But the decisive blow has been struck. And while God has some rescue missions to accomplish, we still have to fight with Satan. But he is a defeated enemy. “Lo! His doom is sure.”

And the “helmet of salvation” is our reminder to ourselves each day as he comes at us, that we have victory, we just have to wait for it.

Did you know that? You don’t have to win the spiritual battle!

It’s already been won.

You just have to stand your ground for Satan’s last ditch attempts to gain an upper hand in your life. Put on the helmet of salvation and remind yourself of the victory which is God’s for you.

Sixth, the sword of the Spirit. V.17 again.

“Take up...the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

Sixty six books. Notice that this is your ONLY offensive weapon.

Learn this. Know this. Use this. The Spirit of God Himself has written it, preserved it, and put it in your hand. Get to know it. Whip it out and slash it at Satan. It’s powerful!

The word for “sword” here in v.17 is for the short-handled sword that Roman soldiers used for hand-to-hand combat. This is for the times when Satan and his soldiers get right up in your face. You can’t flee! You’ll want to. But there is no back to this armor. Don’t retreat. God calls you to stand your ground. James 4:7, “Resist the devil {slash back with the word of God} and he will flee from you!”

Are you strong enough to make Satan flee? No. But the word of God is.

Didn’t Jesus use this in the wilderness?
“It is written...It is written...Be gone, Satan for it is written.” Jab. Jab. Jab. And the devil actually has to run.

Take up the sword of the Spirit.

Seventh, and last, the walkie-talkie of prayer.

Okay. The words, “walkie-talkie” don’t appear in v.18. But Paul is still talking about spiritual warfare here. And if we were writing it today, it would be “walkie-talkie” or some kind of military communications device. V.18

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions (whenever Satan is attacking and all the time!) with all kinds of prayers and requests (praise, adoration, intercession, confession, thanksgiving). With this in mind (this war), be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

You are not in this war alone. If you are a Real Christian, you have fellow-soldiers, comrades-in-arms who need “air-support.” Call it down! That’s what prayer is. It is asking God to come and to win the battle for you!

And He wants to. He is ready to. He has provided everything that you need for success. A full-armor and all the air-support through prayer that you need.

He even wants to help you pray! It says, “Pray in the Spirit.” That means in the power of the Spirit. He’ll help you do it if you lean on Him!

Call on Him. Trust Him. Take up and put on his provision for your battles.

“So that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.”

I don’t know what your battle looks like right now.

But I know that if you are a Real Christian, you are in a Real Battle with a Real Enemy.

But you don’t have to lose it. It’s already been won!

You just need to take up the Holy Spirit’s resources for you and stand your ground.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Mr. Big Hat


On Sunday afternoon, we had enough snow around for Mommy, Drew, Peter, and Isaac to make a snow man that they named: "Mr. Big Hat." Mommy snapped this picture of the boys just hours before Mr. Big Hat melted down.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Matt's Messages - Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving

“Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving”
West Branch Community Thanksgiving Service
November 21, 2007
Psalm 100

Good evening. It’s a real honor and privilege to be asked to open the Word of God with you this evening.

I want to thank my colleagues in the West Branch Area Ministerium for asking me.

It’s been 10 years since I last had this honor. I preached from this pulpit in 1998 at the community Thanksgiving service then.

That was 4 kids ago! And I was just a “rookie pastor” who didn’t hardly know what he was talking about.

But now, I’m a seasoned pastor...who doesn’t really know what he’s talking about!

If you have your Bible with you, would you turn with me to the 100th Psalm? Psalm 100.

The superscription for this Psalm marks it as “A psalm. For giving thanks.”

And it’s the only psalm with that marking in the whole psalter, so it is particularly appropriate for our Thanksgiving worship service.

Let me read it to you. You follow along.

1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
2 Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100, New International Version)
Thanksgiving is my favorite of all of the holidays because it is not yet as commercialized as the others.

The day after Thanksgiving...well, that’s another story!

But Thanksgiving is pretty much still a day to gather some family around, to have a feast, to reflect on what God has given us in the last year, and to give thanks.

And watch some football! Right, guys?

Psalm 100 is a psalm (a song) for giving thanks.

One of the things I like about this psalm is how we’ve already been applying it this evening.

Now, I haven’t heard any shouts of joy tonight. At our church, we like to say, “Wahoo!” when we are particularly joyful. Anybody got a wahoo for the Lord tonight?

But we have obeyed v.2:

"Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs."

And I think, we’ve also been doing verse 4.

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name."

That’s why we’ve gathered tonight...to “Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving.”

And Psalm 100 gives us two basic reasons for our thanksgiving worship.

Here’s #1.

We should Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving BECAUSE THE LORD IS GOD.

“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth [not just Israel, but all the earth!] Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”

We should be thankful because the LORD is God.

Have you ever heard this quote?

“There’s two important facts to get in life. God is God, and I am not.”

That’s true, isn’t it?

The psalmist says, “Know that the The LORD is God.”

Know it. Know it deep down inside of yourself.

Be convinced of this. The LORD is God.

Now, when the Bible has L-O-R-D in capital letters, that stands for the covenant name of God, sometimes pronounced Yahweh.

This is saying that Yahweh is God.

Not just any god is God. But the God of the Bible.

The God Who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The God Who rescued Israel from Egypt.

The God of Joshua, David, and Solomon.

The God who is all powerful, all knowing, all wise, all present, all holy.

The God Who has most fully revealed Himself in the person of His one and only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Not Allah, not Krishnah, not Buddha, and not some generic God of our own choosing, but the God who really is, the God of the Bible–YHWH, the LORD.

Know that the LORD is God.

The most fundamental reason for our thanksgiving are not the good gifts from God.

It is God Himself.

Are you thankful that God is God?

The Bible says in Romans 1 that the root of all sin is a failure to thank God for being God.

It says, “since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Adam and Eve were not thankful that the LORD was God. They wanted to be like God!

And that’s why there was a Fall.

Are you thankful that the LORD is God?

The next phrase says, “It is he who made us, and we are his.”

He made us!

The King James preserves another reading of the Hebrew that says, “it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves...”

God made us. We didn’t!

Have you ever thought of yourself as a created being?

As a product of Someone else’s creativity?

God made us, and therefore He owns us.

That’s humbling, but it’s a good reminder, that we aren’t our own. And that we aren’t God.

The LORD is God. And we should be thankful.

How would you like to be in charge of all Creation? I know that I sometimes act like I know what God should do with things, but I wouldn’t make it one second at the helm of this world!

That should keep us from being armchair quarterbacks when it comes to God’s world.

“Ah, what was God thinking when He did that Katrina thing?

Ah, I wouldn’t have done that! Or these San Diego fires. Or the drought in Georgia.

What’s God thinking? I would run a different play!”

Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his.

And He doesn’t think like us all of the time.

Instead, Psalm 100 says that we need to think of ourselves as sheep.

Now, that should be humbling.

Because the most famous thing about sheep is that they are dumb and needy.

I mean dumber than Mater the Tow Truck!

I’ve read that sheep can get lost going into a garage!

Not a very impressive picture!

But that’s what we are. We are foolish, and we are needy people.

So, it’s not just humbling. It’s also good news.

Because we need a Shepherd.

We are dependent people. So, we should be thankful that the LORD is God, and the LORD is our Shepherd.

...If He is our shepherd.

The only people who can truly sing this psalm are those who have come to know Jesus Christ as their own Lord and Savior.

The only people who can be truly thankful in this way are those who know Jesus as their Good Shepherd.

And that is only possible through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

The Bible says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on [Jesus Christ] the iniquity of us all.”

At the Cross, Jesus was gathering sheep into His flock.

And you and I can be a part of His flock by turning from our sins and putting our trust in Jesus and Jesus alone and what He did on the Cross for us.

It’s so simple a child can do it.

In the last couple of weeks, my three year old son Isaac has done it.

A few nights ago, he seemed to be under conviction for his sins. And he seemed to understand the gospel in a clear way.

And Heather prayed with him and the next day, he began telling everyone that God had given him a new heart.

In our house, we call that, “becoming a found sheep.” He once was lost, but now he’s found.

He is now part of God’s people, the sheep of His pasture.

I asked my church family what to say tonight to our community. I passed out some surveys at church and asked if they had the opportunity to address our community like I have tonight, what would they say.

Here are some of their quotes for you:

I would tell the community:

“That Jesus is Christ and Lord.”

I would tell the community:

“We need revival in this area–people need hope, opportunities, etc…….but we need Christ first and foremost.”

I would tell the community:

“That Jesus cannot be denied; in grace nor power.”

I would tell the community:

“That we need Jesus! That he is the way.”

I would tell the community:

“True satisfaction in the world can only be found through Christ. How thankful are the hearts of those who know the Lord.”

I would tell the community:

“There is a difference between believing that there is a God and salvation through believing in Jesus.”

I would tell the community:

“That there is only one way to God, Jesus Christ.”
“Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people [through faith in Christ Jesus], the sheep of His pasture.”

We need to enter His gates with thanksgiving because the LORD is God..

And then #2 (and last), We need to enter His gates with Thanksgiving BECAUSE THE LORD IS GOOD.

Listen to verses 4&5.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

The LORD is not just God. He is good.

He loves His people.

He is not a bad shepherd. Or just an okay one.

He is the Good Shepherd.

And His love and faithfulness are forever. They continue through all generations.

He was loving and faithful to our grandparents in the Lord.

And He will be loving and faithful to our great-grandchildren if they trust His promises, too.

God always keeps His promises.

And He’ll be forever GOOD to His people.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it.

One of the surveys I gave out came back with this:

"I would tell the community:

'Be thankful even when things are going wrong.'”

It often doesn’t seem like Psalm 100 is true.

Sometimes (often!), life hurts.

But even in those times, because we KNOW that the LORD is God and because we KNOW that the LORD is good, and loving, and faithful, we can trust Him.

And even thank Him.

When I spoke here 10 years ago, I preached on 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

“Give thanks in ALL circumstances for this God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

All circumstances. Even the bad ones.

Because God is sovereign over all of those bad ones.

And He will work them out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.

We won’t always understand them! The LORD is God, and not us!

But we can trust Him. And in those circumstances, we can thank Him.

Last Friday, my daughter Robin got hit with a cannonball and broke her collarbone.

Well, she was hit with a basketball thrown by a little boy whose last name is Cannon.

So, we say she got hit with a cannonball.

And while she was in the hospital, she picked up a bug. And now, she’s got a low grade fever.

But she’s been a real trooper all along.

And she’s trusted her Mom and I as we’ve tried to take care of her, as we’ve shepherded her.

Maybe you’ve gotten hit with a cannonball this year, too.

Know this.

“The LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

You can trust Him.

We need to Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving:

Because the LORD is Good.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

• Because the LORD is God.
• Because the LORD is Good.

Shout for joy to the LORD, all West Branch Community!

Worship the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.

Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.

For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Matt's Messages - Real Christians Walk in the Light

“Real Christians Walk in the Light”
Real Christians
November 18, 2007
1 John 1:5-2:2

I want to thank everyone who turned in a Sermon Survey over the last several weeks. A number of you wrote me very helpful comments about what you would say to the community if you had the opportunity I have on Wednesday night to preach at the Community Thanksgiving Service.

I plan to work in as many of your comments as possible when I speak on Wednesday night.

Can I ask you to pray for me today, tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday as I prepare? I hope to speak on 5 things I’m thankful for this year, and all of 5 of them are about the Main Character in our life-story: God! I’d appreciate your prayers.

The second question on the survey asked what aspects of being a Real Christian were you hoping that I would speak on before this series was over.

And there were a number of you who asked questions about a Real Christians’ present relationship to sin.

For example, one of you wrote, “Real Christians Face Temptations–How to Not Give In.”

Another one of you wrote, “What do ‘Real Christians’ do when they sin?”

Another one: “Real Christians stumble, please preach on where true and lasting mercy is found.”

And this one said, “Being a real Christian in today’s society means pressure to compromise. Please speak on how to recover when we blow-it.”

I like that: when we blow it.

And we all have, haven’t we?!

I think that one of the best places for us to go to to see how to answer these questions is the book of 1 John.

Turn with me, if you would, to John’s first letter, chapter 1.

I might be tempted to call 1 John, “The Real Christian Book of the Bible” because 1 John is all about real versus fake. Authentic versus counterfeit. How you can know if you are really a believer, if the Truth is really in you. Most of the things we’ve learned together this Fall can be found in 1 John.

Believing the Real Gospel
Really Loving God
Really Loving People
Really Praying, Really Delighting in God’s Word

1 John is all about Real Christians.

And after a short introduction about how Jesus Christ is real and how John really knew Him, he gets down to this message: Verse 5.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (NIV)
Here’s the title of today’s message. It comes right out of verse 7.

“Real Christians Walk in the Light.” Let’s see what that means.

In verse 5, John declares to us a message about the bright holiness of God. Verse 5.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

God is light. In fact, He is so full of the radiance of glory and holiness that, “in him there is no darkness at all.”

In a few minutes, we’re going to sing, “There is no shadow of turning with Thee.”

God is holy, holy, holy. There is no darkness in Him at all.

He doesn’t do anything wrong. He isn’t tainted by sin in the slightest.

He is the brightest light, and there isn’t any darkness in Him!

Wow! We can’t really imagine how holy God is!

And we are called to “walk” in His light. To live in His light. To live like He does–in holiness and bright righteous living.

And Real Christians do.

John says that fake Christians claim to have a relationship with God but don’t walk in the light. Look at verse 6.

“If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”

You see what he’s saying? God is light. So, if we claim to know God, we will walk in light. But some people claim to know God and walk in the darkness.

They live lives of unholiness. They habitually live in sin.

They claim to love God, but their life does not show it.

John says that people like that are liars and do not live by the truth.

We would say they are not Real.

This is a warning to each of us. If we claim to have fellowship/relationship with God, but walk in the darkness (and I think we all have an idea of what that means), then we are not Real.

Not that habitual sinning would cause us to lose our realness, to lose our salvation, but to show that the truth was never really in us.

Real Christians Walk in the Light, Not in the Darkness.

That’s what John says in verse 7.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

So, that’s application point #1 this morning: WALK IN THE LIGHT.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Walk in the Light.

What does that mean?

Well, partially, it must mean to walk in holiness.

To say “No” to temptation.
To do what is right and upright.
To live wisely and not like we used to live before we knew Jesus.
To walk in bright righteousness.

But I think a big part of the key to understanding this walking in the light is the little phrase that comes after it: “as he is in the light.”

It’s about our relationship with Him.

If we are close to Him, we’ll be walking in the light.

If we are distant from Him, we’ll be playing with the shadows.

“Walk in the light, as He is in the light.”

Are you close to the Lord right now?

Do you want to know how to say no to temptation?

A big part of it are these phrases, “walk in the light, as he is in the light.”

Are you driving down the middle of the road with the Lord right now?

I have a friend who talks about “riding on the rumble strips.”

Flirting with the darkness. Not going down the off-ramp, not yet.

But just riding on the rumble strips, coming close to the shoulder. Coming close to the shadow.

That’s not where God wants you. He wants you driving down the middle of the road, where He is.

That’s where the light is good. That’s where you need to cruise.

“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light,” John says, “we have fellowship with one another [not just with God, but with one another–sin will separate us, too, but holiness will bring us together], and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Now, here we’re getting to the other side of the equation.

Some people claim to be Real Christians but they live lives of habitual unconfessed, unrepentant sin.

But other people claim to not sin at all! John has heard that one, too. Look at v.8.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Real Christians still sin!

We’re called to walk in the light, but we don’t do it perfectly.

We all stumble. All of us.

One of you said it best, “Often, we blow it!”

I almost titled this message, “Real Christians Often Blow It!”

We just sang, “Prone to Wander, Lord I Feel It. Prone to Leave the God I Love.”

There are no perfect Christians. And those who claim to be, John says, are deceiving themselves and the truth is not in them.

It’s time now for our yearly lesson in Latin!

Can anyone pronounce these words and tell us what they mean?

“Simul Justus Et Peccator!”

This was one of Martin Luther’s favorite descriptions of Real Christians.

Simul = Simultaneously
Justus = Righteous
Et = And
Peccator = Sinner

Real Christians are simultaneously righteous and sinful.

Saints and sinners at the same time.

Real Christians are simultaneously righteous and sinful.

There are no Christians who are perfect.

We all lie in the tension between the already and the not yet.

Already saved and perfect in Christ’s righteousness.
Not yet perfected and still getting caught by temptation and sin.

Simul Justus Et Peccator.

If you claim to be sinless, you aren’t a Real Christian.

We all blow it.

So, what do we do? “What do Real Christians do when they sin?”

We confess our sins. V.9 It’s glorious. Everyone here should have this one memorized!

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Application Point #2. CONFESS YOUR SINS.

At least part of what it means to walk in the light is to regularly confess our sins!

What does it mean to confess?

It isn’t just to feel bad about being bad. That isn’t confession.

Confession means to completely agree with God about our sins.

It means to tell God that we have sinned, to name it, to own it, and to agree that it was wrong and an offense against Him.

Confession means to completely agree with God about our sins.

I say “completely” to stress that it isn’t, “Well God, the devil made me do it!”

Or, “She made me do it!” Like Adam did, “The woman you gave me, Lord, she made me do it!”

Or, “Lord, I kind of feel bad about that thing I’ve done, but if you knew the circumstances you’d have done it, too!”

That’s not completely agree.

Completely agreeing is, “Lord, what I have done here was wrong. I shouldn’t have done it. It was against your law. It wasn’t walking in the light. And I wasn’t glorifying you when I did it. It wasn’t sourced in love for you. And I’m sorry.”

Completely agreeing includes your emotions. Isn’t not just feeling bad about being bad, but it is not less than feeling bad about being bad.

True confession includes agreeing with your whole heart that what you did was sin.

And I don’t think that Christians practice confession enough.

I don’t know about you, but I’m often tempted to just say every once in awhile, “Lord, forgive me for the things I do that are bad.”

But it would be a lot more helpful to start listing them.

Even better would be to confess fast. To confess as soon as conviction comes.

To turn around and agree with God quick as you can.

That’s the goal. Not sinless perfection, but short accounts.

Real Christians keep short accounts with God.

Confess your sins.

Not just at night in general terms. But specifics and as soon as conviction hits.

Confess your sins.

And here’s the good news. V.9

“If we [Real Christians] confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We don’t have to live in guilt and condemnation.

God forgives.

And more than that, God purifies. He makes us righteous.

He cleanses us from our sins and sets us on a new path.

Isn’t that good news?!

Here’s how to recover when we blow-it: confession. Because God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.

I got the sense from some of these blue survey forms that a number of us are struggling with guilt, with feeling like we’ve blown it, and living under a cloud of condemnation.

The Bible is full of hope for sinners like you and me.

It doesn’t pretend that we’ve been or what we’ve done is good. We have to say that it was and is bad.

But when we do, we can experience the forgiveness of God! And purification for our sins!

We don’t have to live out of fellowship with God.

You understand that sin doesn’t destroy a Christian’s relationship with God, but it does hamper our fellowship with God.

If one of my sons disobeys me, he’s still my son. But a cloud has passed between us. Our fellowship has been hindered.

So, there needs to be confession and forgiveness for that full fellowship to be restored.

It’s the same with God.

Real Christians blow it. But God invites us to confess our sins and then promises to forgive us and to purify us from all unrighteousness.

How can He do that?

He must do that. It says that He is faithful to do it.

That means that He has promised forgiveness, and God always keeps His promises.

Are you worried that He doesn’t really forgive you? That maybe he’ll bring up your sin again and thrust in your face?

He won’t. He’s faithful to forgive.

And more than that, He would be unjust to not forgive.

What does that mean?

Why does it say, “faithful and just” to forgive?

What is it just, right, holy for God to forgive?

It seems like it should be just for God to punish! And it would!

The just punishment for our sins is God’s wrath!

He should bring wrath and punishment and condemnation for our sins, not forgiveness!

But, it says, that He is just. How is that just?

You probably know the answer. Let’s keep reading. V.10

“If we claim we have not sinned [again], we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. [God has said that all are sinners. No one consistently does what is right. And so we’re saying He’s a liar if we say that we have not sinned. Chapter 2, verse 1.]

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin [He’s not advocating sinning just because God forgives. The whole point of the letter is to help us to walk in the light.] But if anybody does sin [and we know that we will], we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One [our advocate!]. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

What’s he talking about?

He’s talking about Jesus and the Cross!

Jesus Christ died for our sins!

The Righteous One, the One in whom there is no darkness at all, took on our darkness and was crucified for it!

He bore the punishment that we deserved.

He became (v.2) the “atoning sacrifice.” The big word for that is “propitiation” for ours sins.

We just sang about it, “The Father’s wrath completely satisfied!”

Jesus died for our sins!

Real Christians are those who have put all their faith and trust in what Jesus did for them on the Cross.

And so now, Jesus is our advocate. V.1 “We have one who speaks to the Father in our defense!”

That’s what makes it “just” for Him to forgive!

Because that sin has already been paid for!

It would be unjust to not forgive.

That sin has already been paid for.

That’s why Real Christians don’t do “penance.”

As I understand it “penance,” is taking on a penalty or a punishment to help atone for a sin (at least, that’s how it seems to be practiced).

But our sin has already been paid for!

That’s what makes it “just” for Him to forgive!

That’s why John said in verse 7, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

The Cross is so powerful, brothers and sisters!

Sin is powerful. We almost always underestimate the power of sin.

But the Cross is so much more powerful.

Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Anyone, anywhere who puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice can be forgiven!

The Father’s Wrath Completely Satisfied.

No more condemnation...because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Application Point #3 (perfect for Thanksgiving week).

THANK JESUS FOR HIS CROSS.

If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, your King and your Rescuer, I invite you to do so today.

He is the atoning sacrifice for all who believe.

He invites you to turn from your sins (to repent) and to put your trust in Him and Him alone and what He did for you at Calvary.

And you will be forgiven. The blood of Jesus, God’s Son, will purify you from all sin.

And you can begin to walk in the light!

I invite you to do that right now.

And all of us who have, need to thank Jesus every single day.

Your Blood Has Washed Away My Sin.
Jesus, Thank You!
The Father’s Wrath Completely Satisfied
Jesus, Thank You!
Once Your Enemy, Now Seated at Your Table
Jesus, Thank You!

You might have noticed that there is new white card in our fish bowl. A second one.

A number of you have been praying for my son Isaac this Fall.

His sister, Robin, has been praying for him every night. He was on her fish card this Fall.

Well, this week, Isaac seemed to come under conviction and understand the gospel in real way.

And Heather prayed with him, and he’s been telling everyone since then that God has given him a new heart!

And we’ve also seen a real difference in him this week, too.

I’m happy to believe that Isaac is now a found sheep.

And I thank Jesus for His Cross!

If you have never turned and come to trust in Jesus, today could be your day of salvation.

If he is dealing with you right now, don’t ignore Him.

Conviction is fleeting. Don’t ignore it.

Turn from your sins and put your faith in Jesus Christ.

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Even you. Even you can say, “Jesus, Thank You!”

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

New Meaning for the Term "Cell Church"

Jack Brooks on the church as a Semi-Permeable Membrane.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Gospel Dimensions

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is as wide as human diversity and as deep as human complexity.”

David Powlison, Seeing With New Eyes (Phillipsburg, PA: P & R Publishing, 2003) 162.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Matt's Messages - Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial

“Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial”
Real Christians
November 11, 2007
1 Peter 1:6-7

This is the next message in our series on Real Christians.

We’ve learned:

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.
Real Christians Really Love God and Really Love People.
Real Christians Are on a Real Mission and Really Love Missions.
Real Christians Really Pray, and Real Christians Delight in God’s Word.

Today, “Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial.”

1 Peter 1, starting in verse 3.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. [And here’s our text...] In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Let me ask you a question:

What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

The worst thing that has ever happened to me (so far) was in April of 1999.

Heather and I were expecting our first child, a baby girl.

And we had traveled out to Ashland, Ohio for the Allegheny District Conference. We were staying with my folks in nearby Shelby, Ohio.

And we came to realize that our baby had died.

No movement. No heartbeat. No life.

I’ve never cried like that before in my whole life. I wailed like a baby in the Emergency Room.

She was at 6 months gestation.

We drove all the way back to State College to deliver our little baby at Centre Community Hospital under the caring supervision of Heather’s doctor, Doctor Gary Schell.

And we got to her briefly, and say goodbye.

That’s the worst thing that has ever happened to me, so far.

What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

Let me ask you another question:

What’s the worst thing that is happening to you, right now?

Are you going through a trial?

Are you having a struggle, a difficulty, a problem?

What’s the worst thing that is happening to you, right now?

And how are you responding to it?

I remember driving through the pouring rain on that wretched night in April 1999, and being confronted with a decision: How would I respond to God in this trial?

How would Heather and I cope?

What would Heather and I choose to think, to feel, to believe if our worst nightmare had come true? And it had.

Would we turn away from God–the very God that had called us into pastoral ministry?

Or would we trust Him?

The Bible teaches that Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial.

Let’s read verses 6 and 7 again.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Peter knows that these Christians he is writing to are struggling.

He’s written this little letter to encourage them in their sufferings. And that’s why he begins with the gospel. He talks about God’s mercy, and a new birth, and living hope because of the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he talks about an inheritance that never be taken away and a total salvation that is on the way.

That why he says, that these Christians greatly rejoice:

“In this you greatly rejoice,” that is, in this great gospel of salvation, you rejoice.

But right now, there is trouble.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.”

Peter knows that the Christian life is a life of painful joy.

We live in a world that is still under a curse.

There is a better day coming, but it is not yet here.

God has broken into this broken world with His Son and has broken the curse, but its effects remain.

So now, for a little while, we have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

All kinds.

For these Christians, it was persecution. Today is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

They were experiencing it, firsthand.

But it says, “all kinds” not just persecution.

This includes losing a daughter.
It includes cancer or heart trouble.
It includes divorce and family discord.
It includes losing a job or being robbed.

All kinds of trouble.

I look around this room, and I know a lot of the trials that you have faced or are facing right now.

Peter says that it will be just for a “little while,” but that little while could last 70 or 80 years! That’s not a long time compared with eternity!

Even though Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel and REJOICE IN IT, Real Christians also have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

But even so, they trust God.

Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial.

Fake ones don’t! When the going gets rough, the fake Christians lose heart.

But Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial.

I see 3 major reasons, in verse 7, why Real Christians Trust God when times are tough. Let me point them out to you.

#1. Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial, BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT GOD HAS A PLAN FOR OUR PAIN. V.7

“These [painful trials] have come so that....” Wait a second, stop there.

These are two of the most important words in this verse: SO THAT.

Why does he say, “So that?”

You only use the words “So That” when there is a purpose hiding somewhere in the sentence.

“I knocked on the door SO THAT she would open it.”
“I stole 2nd base SO THAT we just might win this one.”
“Teachers grade on the curve SO THAT some of the students can get a better grade.”
“Pastor Matt yells SO THAT everyone can hear him.”

Peter knows that there is PURPOSE, a PLAN, for our PAIN. Trials come for a reason! We don’t always know the reason. But we know that God has one.

God never wastes pain. He has a plan for it. There is a “so that” for every trial you have ever faced. Every one (if you are a Christian)! Even the ones that you can’t figure out yet.

There is a SO THAT, a plan, for our pain.

Many people don’t believe that. They think that God (if He exists) is just making things up as He goes along. And that maybe He isn’t strong enough (or heaven forbid!) good enough to keep bad things from happening to His children.

But that’s the not what the Bible says.

The Bible says that there is a plan for our pain.

God will use it to do what seems best to Him. And I can trust Him for that.

We don’t always know what the plan is for our pain.

One thing the Bible says is that we sometimes suffer so that we can offer comfort to others that are going to suffer in the same way.

You’ve experienced that, haven’t you? You went through something hard, and you didn’t know why, but then you met someone who had the exact same problem, and you could help them.

Another biblical reason is to provide a testimony to unbelievers.

When the world sees how we respond to our trials, they have to sit up and take notice.

Peter says in chapter 3 that we should be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us. When they see us suffering, and we don’t fall apart, they have to wonder where we get our hope.

I remember 6 and half years ago when Keith and Pennie lost their house in a fire, how they had a number of people ask them how they coped with it so well.

And they will them about the Lord and how He has a plan for their pain.

It blew some people away. And it was a great opening to share the Lord with others.

We don’t always know what God’s plan is. For some of our suffering, we may have to wait for heaven to find out the whys and the wherefores.

But God’s says, “So That.” There is a purpose. There is a plan. And we can trust Him.

#2. Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT GOD PROVES OUR FAITH THROUGH FIRE.

“These [trials] have come SO THAT your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine...” Let’s stop there now.

One of God’s chief purposes of suffering in our lives is to refine us with something hot and hard so that we are shown to be genuine or [our word for this Fall] “real”–faith proved through fire.

God judges our faith to be a lot like gold but much more valuable. Gold, if fired in a furnace, can be refined to be costly, perfect pure gold. The more you heat it, the better it becomes. But even gold will perish in the end. So our faith is of greater worth than gold.

And like the gold, God brings fire (trials, pain, suffering, heart-ache, fire) into our lives to refine our faith. Did you ever think about that as we sing that song, “Refiner’s Fire?” We are basically asking God to bring us trials! Or at least, to use our inevitable trials to make us holy–“set apart for You, Lord–ready to do your will.”

If you want to know if something is real–you put it through the test. And if it comes out shining like gold–[guess what?]–it’s gold. If it doesn’t, you have something else on your hands.

And God does that to us. He lets the fire burn and the dross rises to the surface for Him to scrape off. And little by little, He perfects us. But only if we are Real. If we aren’t real, the fire just burns us up until there is nothing really there.

If you are fake, you completely fall apart and fall away in times of trial.

“Where is God now?” is your unbending, unbelieving question if you are fake.

If you are Real, your answer to that is “God is right here. And God is calling me to trust Him and to show with my words and actions and attitudes in this trial that I REALLY do believe that He exists and that He rewards those who come to Him. He is trying me by fire to show Himself and to show THE WORLD that I am real.”

When we respond in faith, we are shown to be real, AND we are made even more real. Our faith is purified–we are made holy, complete, lacking in nothing.

In fact, we begin to look like Jesus Christ.

You’ve probably heard how a refiner of precious metals can tell if the metal he is working with is being purified. Every time he heats up the metal, and the dross bubbles to the surface, and then he scraps off the dross–the refiner looks into the metal to see if he can see his own image. When he looks into the metal, and he can clearly see his own face–his work is done.

If you are real, your trials, your pain, your suffering, your heart-ache–the evil that comes your way–is God’s fire to refine you into the image of Christ.

So you can trust Him! Trials really hurt, but when you come out of the fire, your faith is proved genuine and your character looks like Christ’s.

And more than that, you experience a deeper fellowship with Christ when you trust Him through a trial. Paul calls it “the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.”

I’m not sure I really know what that means, but it sounds worth it to me!

Real Christians know that God proves our faith through fire.

Are you trusting Him with that “worst thing” that is happening to you right now?

“When Through Fiery Trials Thy Pathway Shall Lie
My Grace, All Sufficient Shall Be Thy Supply
The Flame Cannot Hurt Thee, I Only Design
Thy Dross to Consume And They Gold to Refine.” (How Firm a Foundation v.3)

And #3. (and last) Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trials BECAUSE WE KNOW THAT GOD WILL BE HONORED BY OUR HOPE IN HIM.

V.7 again. “These [trials] have come so that your faith...may be proved genuine and may result [there is a final purpose for this pain! May result] in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed!”

One day soon it will all be over!

And for those who trusted, God will say, “Well, done good and faithful servant! Well done, Real Christian,” and you will feel the pleasure of the Master wash over you in waves of endless grace and enjoy sharing and experiencing the praise, glory, and honor of the Lord.

And Jesus Christ will receive that praise, glory and honor! It is His work in you–His death, His resurrection, His Holy Spirit, His refining purposes, His New Birth, His Living Hope placed in your heart. Jesus Christ will receive honor as you hope in him through your trials.

If your faith is real–on that glorious (almost indescribable) day in the future when (v.7), “Jesus Christ is revealed” GLORY, AND HONOR AND PRAISE will rain down upon Jesus forever because of the reality of your faith and hope in Him.

And that, my friends, is worth the trial!

So a Real Christian can say, “It is worth it! I don’t understand why I have to hurt like this. But God has a plan, and God is refining me by it, and God will get the glory if I trust Him through it!”

Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18)!!!

What a day that will be!

Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial Because They Are Living for THAT DAY.

They know that God will get the glory for their hope in Him and Him alone.

And they will get to enjoy that glory forever!

And that makes it all worth it.

That worst thing that has ever happened to you? Worth it! Not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in you.

That worst thing that you are going through right now? Worth it.

Not even worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in you!

Eight and half years ago, my wife and I chose to trust God with the death of our first child.

We named her, Charis, which means “Grace” in Greek because we looked upon her life and even her death as God’s grace to us.

That God had plan for our pain.
Both to comfort others and to give a testimony to others.
But also a plan to deepen our faith.
That God was proving our faith through fire. And making us more Real. More conformed to the Image of His Son.

We realized that if Jesus suffered, then why should we think that we would be exempt?

We trusted that God will be honored by our hoping in Him.

And that our loss was not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Are you a Real Christian?

Are you trusting Him?

If you are not yet a Real Christian, I challenge you and invite you right now to put your trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and the hope of His glory.

If you are not yet a Real Christian, then all of what I’ve said does not apply to you.

Your suffering does not necessarily a part of a divine plan for your good.
Your suffering will not show you to be real or make you more real.
Your suffering will never end in glory if you are not a Real Christian.

Your suffering will never end!

Jesus suffered the penalty for sin so that believers will not have to.

Put your trust in Him today.

Tell Him that you need Him and that you want to know Him as Savior and Lord.

And He will begin to bear your burdens for you. Not so that you won’t suffer, but tso that you won’t be crushed under them.

And He will come to get you. When He is revealed, you will enjoy His glory.

Praise, Glory, and Honor forever!

Real Christians, let’s trust Him!

Whatever you’re going through right now. Trust Him with it.

Don’t turn your back on Him.
Don’t cut out your prayer times.
Don’t give up on God.
Don’t give in to complaining.
Don’t seek comfort in all the wrong places.

Trust in God in your time of trial.

Later in this letter, Peter writes, “So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good...”

Real Christians Trust God in Times of Trial.

Fellowship with Christ

“Fellowship with Christ is so honorable that the sorest sorrow is a light price by which to procure it.”

- Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 255.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Quotable Quote

"Christianity is a life of painful joy."

-Source Unknown

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Matt's Messages - Real Christians Delight in God's Word

“Real Christians Delight in God’s Word”
Real Christians
November 4, 2007
Jeremiah 15:16

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.” (NIV)

This Fall, we’ve been learning about Real Christians.

How can you spot a Real Christian?

What are the marks of a Real Christian?

How do you know that you are a Real Christian

How do you know if someone is not a Real Christian?

How do you spot a fake?

We’ve learned, so far, that:

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

There is only one Gospel that saves. And it is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. We’ve sung about it this morning.

Real Christians Believe the Real Gospel.

Second, Real Christians Really Love God.

And Third, Real Christians Really Love People.

When a Real Christian comes to believe the Real Gospel, there is real change inside of them that gives them a love for God and a love for others, even for their enemies!

And then, Real Christians are on a Real Mission. We are called to make Real Disciples of Jesus Christ. Last week, Roger Dorris taught us that Real Christians Really Love Missions. We are both senders and goers on the Great Commission. Ambassadors and senders of ambassadors for the King of Kings.

When I last taught, we saw that Real Christians Really Pray. Real Christians don’t just talk about prayer, they actually do it. And God answers them.

Real Christians Talk to God.

Today, is the flip-side of that talks. God talks to Real Christians. And they love it.

Here’s our title for today:

“REAL CHRISTIANS DELIGHT IN GOD’S WORD.”

Jeremiah 15:16. A prayer of the prophet: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

When I was a resident assistant at Moody Bible Institute, as floor-leaders, we were supposed to create a decoration to cover both the bulletin board in the elevator lobby and on each of the doors of the students returning in the Fall.

There was supposed to be a theme and each decoration match the theme with the names of each of the roommates on it.

And most of you probably know what kind of an artist I am–not much of one!

My stick people can’t even recognize themselves!

So, I was in a real quandary as to what I should put on my door decorations my first year as a Resident Assistant.

And then one night, during a dream, the Lord brought this verse of Scripture to my mind and a bright idea for the door decorations.

I bought paper plates! And I put each student’s name on a paper plate and taped them to their doors. Very artistic, eh?

And I bought a plastic tablecloth, red and white checkered and put it up on bulletin board in the elevator lobby. And I stapled up this verse:

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

This is part of a prayer of Jeremiah. It’s one of the darkest prayers in the whole Bible. Jeremiah almost wishes that he’d never been born because life was so dark for him and for the nation of Israel.

But this is the brightest spot in the prayer. And it’s very bright.

“[Lord,] when your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

When God’s words came to the prophet, He ate them.

I think that means that he received them hungrily.

He took in God’s words avidly, passionately, energetically, ardently.

Jeremiah devoured God’s words.

I don’t think that this was literal. The prophet Ezekiel had to do something like that literally, but the Bible never says that Jeremiah had to literally eat a scroll.

I think he’s talking figuratively, evocatively, and powerfully.

“When your words came, I ate them.” Yumm!

Thank you, Lord, your words are Yummy!

Here’s how he describes them: “[God’s words] were my joy and my heart’s delight...”

They tasted so good going down, and then, they were so satisfying and so filling.

Why? Because Jeremiah was real!

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, [why?] for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

You see, Jeremiah was a true believer. Jeremiah bore God’s name. God had put His name on Jeremiah–that’s why Jeremiah loved God’s words.

He was real.

Real Christians Delight in God’s Word.

True believers throughout history have loved God’s Word, the Bible.

The Psalm writers did.

Psalm 1 talks about a blessed man who doesn’t go with the flow of the culture around him, but delights in the Law, the Torah, the Teach of God’s Word. And on God’s Word, he meditates day and night.

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter of the whole Bible. It’s one long praise of God’s word.

Every verse mentions God’s words in some way!

Listen to this, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path” (v.105), “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” (V.97), “I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.” (V.174)

Here’s what David says in Psalm 19.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”

What is your greatest possession and what is your favorite food?

David didn’t know anything greater than gold or sweeter than honey.

So that’s what he used to describe God’s word, and its life giving effects.

The scriptures are more precious than my 401K. They are more precious than Fort Knox. They are more precious than Wall Street.

They are sweeter than Texas Sheetcake. They are tastier than Apple Pie!

That’s how Jeremiah felt, too: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

Is that your feeling about the Bible?

Real Christians Delights in God’s Word.

Donald Whitney tells the story about a man in Kansas City who was severely injured in an explosion. “His face was badly disfigured, and he lost his eyesight as well as both hands. He had just become a Christian when the accident happened, and one of his greatest disappointments was that he could no longer read the Bible. Then he heard about a lady in England who read braille with her lips. Hoping to do the same, he sent for some books of the Bible in braille. But he discovered that the nerve endings in his lips had been too badly damaged to distinguish the characters.

One day, as he brought one of the braille pages to his lips, his tongue happened to touch a few of the raised characters and he could feel them. Like a flash, he thought, ‘I can read the Bible using my tongue!”

That man read through the Bible four times (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, pg. 31)!! With his tongue!

Is that how you feel about the Bible?

Real Christians Delight in God’s Word.

I think that everyone here would agree that the Bible is God’s Word. Holy, inspired, inerrant in the original writings, our rule of faith and practice.

But do we love it?

Are we enamored with the Scriptures?

If you went blind, would you learn Braille just so you could get the Word?

Do we approach the Scriptures like hungry men and women?

Do we eat them and enjoy them?

If you have no desire to know the Word of God, then I doubt that you are a Real Christian.

Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy.

Sometimes, we go through a season when the Bible doesn’t seem to speak to us. We are cold to it. Or it’s confusing to us.

But it is such a gift, friends, such a gift!

Do you know what a gift of God’s grace it is to own a Bible in your own language?

For a thousand years, the Bible was chained to a corner in the Church in the language that only priests and scholars could read. A thousand years of a Latin Bible and a Latin Bible only!

And most people couldn’t read Latin (if they could read at all).

But now, we have all have Bibles in our own English language that we can read!

What a gift!

It’s a delicious meal. It’s words are richer than gold and sweeter than honey.

It is sufficient for our problems. It has answers for the deepest problems of humanity.

It is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that we can be fully equipped for every good work.

It is full of promises, great and precious promises that we can learn and take to the bank.

And it is full of commands, wise and loving commands that teach us how to live.

And it is full of story, God’s Big Story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.

A story that climaxes in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again!

It’s all here!

Eat it! And Love it!

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

Real Christians Delight in God’s Word.

Let me give you 3 short practical applications of this truth.

I had 11 for prayer two weeks ago! This week, just 3.

#1. READ THE WORD OF GOD.

God’s Word has come in this book (Old and New Testament), now it’s time to eat it!

Read the Word of God.

Do you do that?

Like prayer, it probably won’t happen unless you plan for it.

You need to set aside some time, make an appointment with God to read His Word.

You could read the whole Bible or just a part of it.

I recommend both approaches at different times.

But you’ve got to read it.

It won’t be your joy and your heart’s delight until you do.

I remember reading a biography of Billy Graham when I was at Bible school.

There came a time for Dr. Graham that he had to decide whether or not he was going to believe and preach the Bible. He had some doubts. He new that there were some good answers to his questions.

And he knew that he couldn’t waver between doubt and faith for much longer. He had to choose.

And he chose to believe and to read the Bible. And the rest is history.

Read the Word of God.

What is your plan to do that?

Do you get up early or stay up late?

Do you use one of the plans in the foyer for reading through in a year?

Don’t just read the words to read the words.

These are God’s words! Eat them!

#2. HEED THE WORD OF GOD.

Here’s I’m talking about application.

James says to not just be hearer only, but a doer of God’s Word.

For us to feel the delight and joy of God’s Word, we’ve got to plan to do it. To apply it to our daily life.

If the Word says, “Forgive your enemies,” then we need to forgive.
If the Word says, “Love your neighbor,” then we need to love.
If the Word says, “Hate sin,” then we need to hate sin.
If the Word says, “Eat this book,” then we need to eat the book.

Heed the Word.

Jesus told a story about that, you know?

It’s a tale of two houses.

One built on rock.
The other house was built on sand.

Question. Which house encountered a storm?

Both did, didn’t they?

Both houses encountered a storm.

“The rain came down, and the floods came up.” On both of them.

But the outcome was drastically different for the two houses, wasn’t it?

The house built on the rock “stood firm.” It did not fall.

The house built on the sand “fell with a great crash.”

The difference was in the foundations wasn’t it?

Jesus said, “[anyone] who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

“But [anyone] who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Crash!

Heed the Word of God.

Is there some area of your life where you are in disobedience to the Word of God?

The storm will come. And Crash!

I am amazed at the number of Christians who do not make the Bible the standard of their life and choices.

As if the Bible didn’t have anything to say about families, or priorities, or church, or relationships, or work, or education, or whatever.

We need to Heed the Word of God.

Of course, that won’t always be easy! Jeremiah was depressed because he loved God’s Word, but no one else did.

If we heed God’s Word, we will often stand alone.

But it’s worth it! It will be our joy and our heart’s delight because we bear His name!

We need to Heed the Word of God.

And #3. BLEED THE WORD OF GOD.

I’m sure you’re wondering what that means.

Do you know who John Bunyan is?

What book did John Bunyan write?

Pilgrim’s Progress.

I think that that is still the number one best-selling book after the Bible of all time!

Pastor Charles Spurgeon said of John Bunyan:
Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.
We need to be so full of the Bible that it comes out of us all of the time!

I pray that our blood at Lanse Free Church would be “Bibline.”

And that if anyone pricks us, that the Word of God would come out of us. If anyone even gets around us, that the Word of God would come out of us.

Bleed the Word of God! That’s what was happening Jeremiah’s prayer.

He couldn’t help but thank God for the His words.

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.”

This month is Thanksgiving Month. And we need to start it by giving thanks for these words from God that are our joy and our heart’s delight.

Because we are Real Christians who bear the name of the Lord God Almighty.

Worship at the Lord’s Table

One reason why Real Christians Delight in God’s Word, is that God’s Word is where we find out the Good News of Jesus Christ.

God’s Word tells us that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.

And that all who turn from their sins and trust in the Savior alone will be rescued.

That’s what this memorial meal means.

If you have come to eat the words of the Gospel and they are your joy and yours heart’s delight, you are invited to eat and drink this meal with us.

If you have not yet come to know Jesus as your Savior and Lord, you are not invited at this time. Instead, use this time to think about Jesus. Who He said He was and what He did.

He is the only way to the Father. And He challenges you to trust and to follow Him today.

We know this on the authority of God’s delightful Word.