Why

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him.” – John 11:45

Sometimes in life things happen that just cause us to say, “Why, God?” It’s usually after an unexpected event, something we did not see coming and the outcome was something we did not like. Things can just seem so unfair. The loss of a loved one suddenly or maybe being diagnosed with cancer are just some of the examples that could cause a believer to wonder, what’s going on. In these moments it’s hard to understand how God is at work; we just want everything to be ok, but sometimes it’s not.

Jesus was even asked this very question of why as he was on his way to meet with some very close friends in John 11. Jesus was apparently very close with three siblings: Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. Jesus gets word that Lazarus is sick and after a few days begins a journey to where the family lives in Bethany. As Jesus is approaching, Martha comes out to him and basically asks Him why, saying “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Why weren’t you here? You could have stopped this!

To get the full understanding of this passage, we need to look at the immediate response from Jesus in John 11:4. “When Jesus heard this (that Lazarus was sick) Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified.’” The answer for why is so that Jesus may be glorified. Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead! Now we need to read John 11:45. “Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in Him.” The people saw and believed!

We have the same answer to our questions of why. To bring glory to the name of Jesus. Maybe it sounds odd, but that is the answer. When we are in our struggles to understand why, and in those moments find comfort in Christ, that shows something to the people around us. It shows that we see a bigger picture in life. God is in control and through His Son, we can find hope, peace, and comfort even in the moments that make it seem like there isn’t any. When people see the Gospel lived out in that way, they can see and put their faith in Him.

Yearning

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God
.  – Psalm 84:1-2

Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose walk is blameless.
Lord Almighty,
blessed is the one who trusts in you.
– Psalm 84:10-12

Recently I was listening to a podcast where a missionary from the jungles of Peru shared a story about a villager who travelled all by himself to a local Bible convention. The man’s village was three miles away along the river! The missionary was amazed that the man would travel such a distance on the river, all by himself. The man said, “with every stroke of the oar, I said to myself, I’m going to be with the brothers, I’m going to be with the brothers, we are going to meet with God together and break bread.” The man had a yearning to be with his brothers in Christ. A dangerous three-day trip along the rivers in Peru was not going to stop him from meeting with his brothers in Christ.

Isn’t that an amazing testimony of someone who can’t wait to meet with the people of God? It pretty much makes me feel bad for those moments when I lay in bed and wonder about the short drive I have to church. Life gets busy and especially with summer time approaching our calendars can be filled with many exciting things. But there is something that our calendars should never be too busy for, and that is being in the presence of the living God.

The writer of Psalm 84 cannot get enough time with God; his soul yearns to be in the presence of God. He can’t get enough time with God; there is no place he would rather be. He would rather be a lowly doorkeeper in the Temple, than to dwell in the great tents of the wicked. Church is a place where we gather in God’s presence. We meet together and encourage one another to be stronger in the Lord. When we are not in the presence of the Lord, life can become draining and dreadful. My prayer is that we as a church yearn for meeting together much like the villager in Peru. That our cry would be, “I’m going to meet with my brothers and sisters and worship the living God!”

Passion

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ – Philippians 3:7-8

What do you have a passion for? We can use the word passion to describe our feelings for many things – sports teams, foods, a restaurant, or even various social causes. In Scripture, though, I think we see a passion for the gospel that drives the lives of Paul, the Disciples, and the Early Church. The word passion has its root meaning in the Latin word paserr, which means to suffer. So passion can mean whatever a person is willing to suffer for. A desire so strong in your life that not even suffering can keep it away from you. Often the death of Christ is called “The Passion of the Christ,” the suffering of Christ. Christ had a passion that was so strong that death would not stop it. A passion for the lost, for the gospel message that the cross saves those who are lost in their sin.

Paul in the verses above says he counts everything as loss or rubbish in comparison to knowing Christ. Nothing mattered to Paul except knowing Christ and making Him known to others. This was Paul’s passion. It did not matter what the world would throw at Paul – imprisonment, whippings, getting stoned, being mocked. None of those things got in the way of the gospel. In fact, those events would help his cause on many occasions.

Isn’t this the passion we want? A passion that says, “I don’t care what this world throws at me, I just want to know Christ and make Him known!” This requires dying to self and not letting our interest be more important than God’s. This passion cost Paul; if we want it, it’s going to cost us as well. Dying to ourselves brings us into focus for what God wants. We can block out the world around us and then see His desire for spreading the gospel. This requires prayer. I do not think Paul was one to say a 20-minute prayer once a day and think that was enough. I think Paul was constantly in prayer and communication with God. We constantly need to be in communion with God as well. Floyd McClung says, when we find this passion for God, “we become the most dangerous people on the planet. The world no longer rules your heart.” Our passion should be the gospel, living it out and seeing others come to Jesus. A passion so strong that not even suffering can stop it.

City on a Hill

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

My route to church causes me to drive west on Ebenezer Road and come up from behind the building. If you have ever taken this route you notice our building sitting up high on the hill, similar to a Medieval Castle in a movie. It makes me realize how visible the building is to the neighbors around us. What do they know about Faith Fellowship Church? What do they know about God and His Son Jesus Christ? This past weekend we had our annual Flea Market, which brings many from the neighborhood and surrounding community to our parking lot. Maybe, many of these people had driven by our building on numerous occasions. At the Flea Market, hopefully they had a good interaction with people from Faith. Hopefully they saw the love of Christ shine through all the volunteers.

Jesus in this passage from Matthew uses these same pictures to describe believers. They are to be a city on a hill and a light that shines in the darkness. Why would anyone light a lamp and then cover up the lamp? The lamp is to give its light within the darkness and it make it easier to see. Believers are to be visible in the world around them; they should not be in hiding. My prayer is that the light of Christ shined bright through the Flea Market and that people left with a picture of who God is. I know not everyone is like this but I find myself always aware that I am representing Christ wherever I go. Now that does not mean I always act rightly but I am often able to catch myself quickly when my light is not shining its brightest. I want to be someone whose light shines bright for Christ. Paul instructs the Corinthians to follow his examples as he follows Christ (1 Cor 11:10) and then Peter gives believers the instructions to always be ready to share with someone the hope you have (1 Peter 3:15). When we follow the example of Christ and share our hope, our lights shine bright and we are a city on a hill for all to see. This is what moves people from driving past the building to wondering what is going on inside those walls and how they can find that light. We come to worship within the walls, but we leave to minister outside these walls.

Truth

And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. – 2 John 6-7

In the movie “A Few Good Men” Tom Cruise delivers one of the most famous movie lines of all time: “I want the truth!” Jack Nicholson’s character responds with another great line, saying, “You can’t handle the truth!” The truth Tom Cruise’s character wanted was in relation to a crime that had been committed by Marines on the Naval Base in Cuba. Truth is something everybody wants to have; everybody wants to know what is true or right about life and its choices. But where is truth found? Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” Truth was standing right in front of him.

We live in a society that says truth is whatever a person wants it to be. However, if truth is whatever someone wants it to be, is that really truth? This is what turns society into what we have today, no real foundation, an anything goes culture. As believers in Christ we are swimming upstream against a society and culture that cannot accept only one foundation of truth. Truth is God. Truth is found in His Word and in Jesus Christ. If this is not the foundation we build on, then we find truth in the wrong source. One big problem develops when churches start to compromise on God’s Word. People can now find a church that will teach whatever they want to hear. But are they really hearing the truth? Truth won’t always be popular, but God calls us to proclaim His Word and His truth.

The Apostle John in 2nd John writes to warn the believers about deceivers that have gone out and taught a message of truth built on a different foundation. He encourages them to stay in the Word, which will keep them properly aligned with the truth. As a church we have committed to preaching book by book through the Bible over the next 2 years in order to give us a foundation in God’s Word. We have also committed as a body to read God’s Word through at least twice over that time. We need to know what God’s Word says. The Bible says that the times are only going to get worse and we need the strong foundation of the truth found in Scripture and in God. Are we willing to stand for truth in the love of Christ?

The Power of the Gospel

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
– Philippians 1:12-14

This Sunday during the New Members Class we share our testimonies of salvation and how God continues to work in our lives. We always think of our testimonies as our stories but really it is God’s great story of sending His Son to sacrifice Himself on the cross and then to rise from the dead. There is power in the Gospel! The message of Christ changes lives! The beautiful thing about the Gospel is that it knows no boundaries. It does not matter the life situation, the background, or even the eloquence of the speaker; God’s Spirit can break down any wall and lives will be changed.

One great example is Paul, who was a murderer of Christians. While Paul was on his way to persecute Christians he met Jesus and Paul’s life was changed. Paul wrote many of the books within the New Testament, and one of those books is Philippians. In Philippians Paul talks about this great power of the Gospel. In Chapter 1 of Philippians Paul mentions two examples of the Power of the Gospel. The first is Paul’s situation of being in jail. Jail is often a broken place full of hopelessness, especially during Paul’s time. Yet the Gospel breaks through the situation, and Paul makes it known that throughout the whole imperial guard the Gospel has gone out. The second situation is the speakers themselves. Paul says that some are not preaching with the right motives, yet Paul says, “…whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” The Power of the Gospel breaks through any situation, the darkness of prison or the poor motives of the speaker.

The Gospel brings eternal life and it knows no boundaries; no matter the situation, the truth of the Gospel does not stop. This gives us strength to speak Jesus Christ to those God brings into our lives. People need to know the Gospel, people need to meet Christ. That is why we serve, go on Mission Trips, go to Breaking Bread, and much more. Paul in Romans says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Who do you know that needs to hear the Gospel? By that I don’t mean just invite them to Church, but God wants you to share. Don’t be ashamed of the Gospel. Speak truth and watch God break down the walls.

Samuel

And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” – 1 Samuel 3:8-10

If you’re a parent I’m sure you’ve had the experience in which you were calling one of your children but they would not respond. You call them and maybe they hear you, or maybe they don’t hear you, so you keep calling over and over again. Usually this can lead to frustration within the relationship.

God and Samuel find themselves in an almost similar situation. Samuel has laid down for the night to rest and he hears what he believes to be Eli calling out for him. So he runs in and asks Eli what he wants. Eli says that he had not called for him. This happens two more times and each time Samuel thinks Eli has called for him. By the third time, Eli catches on to what is happening. He realizes that it is God calling out to Samuel. Eli instructs Samuel to answer the Lord next time he hears the voice. A fourth time now Samuel hears the voice, and instead of running to Eli, Samuel says these great words: “Speak, for your servant hears.” Samuel now understands who is calling him and he responds to the Lord and seeks what He wants. The Lord tells Samuel a difficult message, that God has rejected the sons of Eli. This is a hard message for Samuel to pass on to Eli, but he is faithful to God’s words to him.

The story points out that God had not spoken much to his people at this point. It even points out that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, so all these things led to confusion for Samuel. Samuel heard the voice but he didn’t know it was God calling to him. So often in our lives we can seek out God’s plan and yet miss it simply because we weren’t listening. We don’t hear God’s voice in the same way as Samuel; instead we hear it through His Word, through prayer, and through the counsel of other believers. In those areas we know that God still speaks, often all He wants is for us to acknowledge that we hear him and we desire to listen for what He has for us. That is the second lesson from Samuel. He was faithful. He did not get the most uplifting message from God, yet when Eli asked, he knew he had to tell even though he didn’t want to. God desires that we are faithful to him. That we follow through and live the life to which he has called believers. Sometimes it can be easy, other times it can be difficult. Yet in everything, God wants us to acknowledge Him and be faithful to His instruction. God wants us to repeat the same word as Samuel: “Speak, for your servant hears.”

Caleb

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” – Numbers 13:30

“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:24

On Sunday, Jim opened up the Word and spoke about the failure of Israel. They were afraid to enter the land because of the negative report about the land. The 10 bad spies informed the Nation that there was no way they could take the land because the cities were too strong and it was filled with giants. However, two spies tried to tell Israel that God was with them and would fight the battles for them. Those two were Joshua and Caleb. Joshua gets a lot of attention in the Bible; he takes over for Moses and leads the Nation eventually on their conquest of the Promised Land. I want to look at the life of Caleb and what we learn from him. He is a small character in the story of Israel, but he makes a big impact.

We first hear of Caleb in Numbers 13, where he is introduced as one of the twelve spies. Scripture mentions that he is from the tribe of Judah (13:6). The tribe of Judah is probably the most famous tribe within all of Israel. It is from the tribe of Judah that the future kings of Israel will come, and Christ will ultimately come from this family line as well. Eventually when the Nation becomes two Nations, it is broken into Judah and Israel. But we will learn more about that later.

Caleb, along with Joshua, knew that God had promised this land to His people and that He would fight their battles for them and give them the land. But over and over the people refused to listen to them; at one point they even took up stones to try and kill Caleb and Joshua! They knew the truth but the people were unwilling to listen to them. So, Israel refuses to enter the Promised Land and it costs this generation their lives.  The Nation will again wander in the desert for40 more years. Of this generation only Joshua and Caleb would enter the land, in the Book of Joshua. For his trust in God Caleb is rewarded with land for him and his descendants when they eventually enter the land.

Sometimes it is easier to go with the majority, to just agree with what is being said because you know if you speak against the majority it might cost you something. Caleb found himself in this type of situation. The 10 spies had made the people see the land as dangerous and impossible to conquer. Caleb was in the minority; he had truth on his side but the people were unwilling to listen. Truth is not decided by numbers, truth is God’s truth and it does not matter how many people are against it or against us as believers. We need to take the courage of Caleb and follow God wholeheartedly knowing that the truth is on our side. People will not like what we have to say, but we need to be loving as we express the truth of God. Israel did not listen and it cost them their lives.  In the same way those who do not hear the truth of God will find eternal death away from God. Like Caleb, we need to be willing to silence the crowd and speak the truth, and God will reward those who stand up for him. I want to be like Caleb – do you?

Joshua

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. – Joshua 1:6-7

Israel is finally ready to enter the land that was promised to Abraham. The generation that did not trust God in the Book of Numbers has died, and Joshua is now ready to lead the Nation. Israel is about to cross over the Jordan River and face many enemies that are in the land God is giving them. God in Chapter One will encourage Joshua and give some important instructions.

Three times in Chapter One God tells Joshua to be “strong and courageous” (1:6,7,9). Israel is about to face many battles as they clear the land of the godless nations. But God wants Joshua to be strong and courageous in the battles they will face. God will give the land to Israel; He will fight their battles. God wants the Nation to trust Him and it starts with Joshua as their leader. Joshua was one of the spies, along with Caleb, in Numbers 13 who said they should go and take the land. Yet, the people did not trust God. God now wants Joshua to lead the people with humility, looking to God for their strength. God also instructs them to keep the Law of Moses and not depart from its teachings. If they follow the teachings within the Law it will go well for them, but if they depart from it, struggles and hardships will come upon them.

For us today this chapter teaches some great principles to live out in our lives. We are most likely not about to head into an actual battle, but we can apply these teachings to our lives as well. Israel knew the outcome; God was going before them in battle and would give them victory. We know that the battle is already won – sin has been defeated, and we know that when Christ comes back the battle with evil will come to an end. We should be strong and courageous knowing that anything this world throws at us finds defeat in Christ. Now that does not mean that things always go well. Remember, Israel will lose their first battle against Ai. We are not guaranteed the easy, struggle-free life. The second part of the instruction is to remember God’s Word. They only had the first five books; we have much more revelation now. I know my day is just different when I have been in God’s Word. It aligns me to where God wants me to be. He wants us thinking and meditating on His Word daily. God wants His people to trust Him. We read His Word and we learn to trust Him more and more. He is there, He has not left. God wants us to be strong, courageous, and in His Word, so that we can put our trust in Him in the good times and in the bad times.

Deuteronomy

“In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses spoke to the people of Israel according to all that the Lord had given him in commandment to them…” – Deuteronomy 1:3

Deuteronomy is, for the most part, the final messages from Moses to the nation of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. The book is described as being similar to a constitution for the people.

In the opening four chapters Moses is retelling how Israel has failed, yet also how God has protected and guided them and the grace He has shown over and over. It must have been hard for the Israelites to hear again how they had not listened to God before when He wanted them to enter the Promised Land. But the point Moses is trying to make is not the failure of Israel, instead he wants them to understand the mighty acts of God in saving His people. Yes, they failed and were punished, but God never gave up on His people. He was there with them in those moments. The goal was for them to not dwell on how they failed; the goal was to remember how God was there for them. Over and over in the Old Testament Israel is called to remember all the great things God has done for them. This remembering should give them confidence and help them trust God with their future and follow His ways.

We fail also in our lives as well. Sin gets the better of us and it’s usually in those moments that we feel ashamed and unworthy of God. The last thing we feel God wants is us in our sinful and broken state. But this is when God’s grace shines the brightest; we can see the goodness of God sometimes in the lowest moments of life. It is why Paul can say, “…where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” (Romans 5:20) God’s grace in our lives gives us the confidence to know how God has worked in our lives. Israel could look back and remember what God had done for them; we as well can remember all that God has done for us. Think about what God has done for you. How have you seen God provide? How have you seen God protect? How does the grace of God change the way you live?