The Greatest Gift of Jesus

March 20, 2016

Palm Sunday is celebrated all around the world. On Palm Sunday Jesus presented himself to the people of Jerusalem as a king. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He was coming in peace. He was coming in humility and gentleness. As is often pointed out the people of Jerusalem hailed Jesus as king but just days later demanded that he be crucified. You see, Jesus did not fill their expectations. Many thought he would overthrow Roman occupation and reestablish the kingdom of Israel.

O he was Israel’s king alright. It’s just that his kingdom was not of this world. His kingdom doesn’t operate according to the ways of this world. Most of the people could not wrap their minds around what Jesus was doing. He didn’t fit their categories. We’ve been looking at grace gifts from Jesus to us. This morning I would like to bring this series to a close by looking at one last gift. In a sense it’s the most important gift. The greatest gift from Jesus is the gift of Himself.


Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem, going by way of Jericho, which was about 15 miles from Jerusalem. In v.17-19 Jesus took his disciples aside and explained that in Jerusalem he would be handed over to the Gentiles and would be crucified and raised on the third day, but they did not grasp what Jesus was saying. At some point the mother of James and John came to Jesus with a request.

Many believe that the mother of James and John was Jesus’ aunt. She was the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. This would mean that James and John were Jesus’ cousins. If this is true it adds a little drama to the story.

One more observation: while the mother of James and John was not praying, she was bringing a request to Jesus. If we were going to bring a request to Jesus we would call it prayer. So let’s think about this.

She came and knelt before Jesus. It was a mark of respect. She wanted to ask him for something, a gift. Notice that Jesus said, “What do you want.” Jesus often displayed the ability to know what was in the hearts and minds of people. Did he already know what she was going to ask? If so it strikes me that Jesus is very gracious. We can come to him with all our requests. But this request? Look at what she asked for.

She asked that when Jesus would establish his kingdom that her boys would be given the seats on either side of Jesus’ throne. Wow! Well, why not? Someone was going to get those places of honor. James and John were part of the family. Their mother was taking advantage of her position in the family. It’s what you do. Any of us who are parents might have done the same thing.

Last spring we were trying to figure out where Matthew could get a summer job. He applied at a few places with no response. One day it dawned on me that I knew some people in the Oak Park Park District. So I did what you might have done. I spoke with the people I knew and Matthew was able to get a job.

Joe Kennedy, father of the late President, John F. Kennedy, did everything he could do to get one of his boys in the White House. He had money and influence and he used it to his advantage. It’s what you do in this world.

It seems likely that James and John and their mother thought that when Jesus got to Jerusalem, he was going to take over and set up his kingdom. That would explain why this was on their minds. Jesus did not say “Forget it about it,” right off the bat. Instead he told them that they really did not comprehend the gift they were asking for. Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup that he would drink.

Now in the Bible the word “cup” can refer to one’s destiny. Sometimes it speaks of suffering or judgment. Sometimes it refers to good things. In Ps.16:5, we read, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” In Ps.116:13 it says, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.” Here Jesus was referring to his approaching suffering.”

Well, I don’t think the question registered very deeply in their minds. I don’t think they gave it much thought. They certainly did not connect the question with what Jesus told them would happen in Jerusalem. They just responded, “We are able.”

Sometimes when we want something bad enough we are unable to assess things with clarity. Our desire often keeps us from discerning our true motives and hinders us in seeing the consequences of our desires. In v.23 Jesus told them that they would drink from his cup but that those positions of honor were not his to dispense.

When the other 10 disciples caught wind of what was being requested they were indignant. Why? It’s because they also either wanted those places of honor for themselves or they just didn’t want James and John to have those places. It is often difficult to see a colleague promoted to a place of authority over ourselves. It’s a blow to our pride and desire.

Now men and women, this request revealed a huge failure on the part of James and John and their mother to understand the way of Jesus. As we will see in a moment, they were asking for something that was very worldly. That’s why I say they were asking for the world.”

We can ask for the world in any number of ways. Basically whenever we ask the Lord for something that is not in keeping with his ways, we are asking for the world. Maybe it is some material thing that you want. Well, if that thing is more important to you than the Lord, you are asking for the world. Maybe it is wealth that you want. Maybe you want to be in a relationship with someone, someone who doesn’t know or honor the Lord. Well, you are asking for the world. Maybe you want to be acknowledged, consulted, and recognized. You are asking for the world. Whenever we ask for something that will promote ourselves and enhance our pride, we are asking for the world.

And don’t miss the irony here. James and John were asking for positions of honor and power in the kingdom of God. They wanted positions of power in a Christian organization. It is often sad but true that in Christian ministries and churches you find selfish ambition, manipulation and pride. It is often true that the world shapes our desires and even our prayers.

Do you ever ask Jesus for the world? He will let you do it. Ask for what you want. But the gift you want is far inferior to the gift Jesus wants to give.


It was obvious to Jesus that he needed to get his team together for some further instruction. They had learned much in their three years together, but this particular issue seemed to come up again and again. More than once the disciples had argued among themselves about who was the greatest among them.

First Jesus describes how people in the world view power and authority. In the world people are all about having positions of power and authority. We see this in politics. We see it in the workplace. We see it in families and other social relationships. We even see it in churches. We want recognition and we would rather be in charge than take orders from others. The disciples and the mother of James and John, were just being their worldly selves. And as is so often the case, the ways of God in his kingdom are counter intuitive to our ways.

If we are in the kingdom of God then we must understand that the pathway to greatness is humble service. We must become servants. The word for servant is the word diakonos. We get our word, “deacon” from this word. Jesus is not saying that the pathway to greatness is to become a deacon in the church. The word, deacon refers to someone who waits on tables. It describes a position of humble service. Then Jesus adds that the way to go to the top of the class is by becoming a slave. A slave is someone who either willingly or by force gives himself up to the will of another.

Now if you have ever been a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or someone suffering with a debilitating illness, you know how humbling and difficult it can be. Opportunities for frustration, impatience and anger abound. We struggle because the person we are caring for essentially takes away freedoms we feel we are entitled to. As the caregiver you must give help for even the most basic activities of life. In the case of dementia or Alzheimer’s it is common for the person you are caring for to forget who you are, to be ungrateful and to say unkind things to you. In many ways this kind of caregiver has made themselves a slave, a servant to the person they are caring for. This is one of the most difficult ways to serve. But really, whenever we are selfless and humble in service we are on the pathway to greatness in the kingdom of God.

Many of us are far too consumed with our need to be right, our need to be in control, and our need to be affirmed. And these needs hinder us in service. It’s not that rightness is unimportant, or that authority is unnecessary, or that affirmation is useless. No. These things each have their place. But when we are driven by the need for these things then it is difficult to do what Jesus calls us to do.

In v.28, Jesus points to himself as the primary example of what he is talking about. Jesus came to give himself, to give his life. Jesus’ gift to us is himself. And you notice that he gives his life as a ransom for many. What is a ransom? It is interesting to note that this word appears only twice in the New Testament, here and in the parallel account in Mk.10. A different form of the word appears in 1Tim.2. Basically this word refers to a price that is paid to free slaves. Today there are ministries who actually pay a ransom to free girls who have been sold into sex slavery. They are slaves.

When Jesus uses this word he is referring to his death on the cross. On the cross Jesus gave his life as a ransom for us. He died in our place because of our sins. In Is.53:4-6 we read, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned (everyone) to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This is exactly what Jesus did for us. He bore our sins in his body on the cross. He died the death of a criminal so that we might have the forgiveness of sins and receive life now in the kingdom of God. The greatest gift of Jesus is the gift of himself, his life. And that raises a question.


Over-past 9 weeks we’ve seen that JC is so generous, so gracious. He offers forgive-ness of all our sin, eternal living in his kingdom, the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, abiding joy, his love that fills our lives, peace that goes beyond understanding, the gift of prayer, and an eternal home with him in heaven. But all of these gifts are based upon the greatest gift, which is himself. He gives us himself.

All of these gifts that Jesus offers are real and true, and many have already entered into the reality of these things. Have you? You say, “Well, I’m not sure. I have many questions.” Indeed, we all have many questions. But consider this. When Jesus lived on the earth, he invited people to follow him. Many of the people who followed him did not have a full understanding of what he was teaching. Many had questions about Jesus. But they saw enough and heard enough to recognize that what Jesus was doing and saying was good, true, and life changing. Some of his followers were simple fishermen like Peter. Others were skeptics like Thomas. Some had a strong political bent like Simon the Zealot, but what they all had in common is that they became followers, disciples of Jesus. Jesus, God in the flesh, is the One who connects us with the fullness of knowing God.

When a person embraces Jesus as Savior, Lord and king, it means they turn away from the life they have been living. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, “You know, the life I’m living isn’t all that bad. I have a good job, a loving family, friends and outside interests. What am I missing?” Let me just say that these good things are also gifts from God. But there is more to our lives. All of us know what it is to be disobedient to the good commands of God. We’ve all thought things and done things that we feel guilty about. We’ve done things that we know are wrong. We’ve been unloving and have hurt others. We’ve refused to forgive others. We’ve lived for ourselves and our desires and have not acknowledged God or thanked God as our good Creator and Ruler. All of our hearts are filled with pride and self-will, and we are not better people for it. Jesus came to address these important issues by forgiving our sins and by giving us his new life, his new way of living. It’s called life in the kingdom of God.

Gift giving is an important part of our lives. We give gifts on birthdays, at Christmas, on special days like anniversaries or mother’s day. We give gifts when people get married or when a baby is born. We give gifts just out of friendship or love. We give gifts when people retire after years of faithful service. Sometimes the gifts we give are given more because it’s expected. I may not know the couple getting married very well, but I give a gift. Other times the gifts we give are extremely meaningful because we dearly love the person. Think about those kinds of gifts. How would you feel in someone only loved you because of the gifts you gave them? The hope is that we love the person giving the gift. Jesus has many wonderful gifts to give. And many people want whatever they can get from Jesus. But what about the gift of Jesus? Do you want Jesus? Do you love Jesus? Jesus said, “Believe in me.” Jesus said, “Follow me.” Do you want Jesus? Amen

The Gift of an Eternal Home

March 13, 2016

How many of you ever watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? Extreme Makeover: Home Edition was first aired in 2004. The show ended in 2012. On this show needy recipients would pretty much get a brand new house. The family would be sent away for a week of vacation and during that week, a large crew of construction workers would do a complete makeover of the house. It was a great show. Those families were given a gift of a new house.

We have been looking at grace gifts from Jesus to us. Why would a person consider following Jesus? Well, just consider what Jesus offers to give. He offers forgiveness, eternal living, the Holy Spirit, peace, love and joy. He gives the gift of prayer and today we look at Jesus’ gift of an eternal home. Jesus Christ has given the gift of an eternal home with God.


In Jn.14:1 Jesus says to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” It is important to get a sense of the context here. Jesus is maybe 24 hours away from his crucifixion. He has been telling his disciples that he was leaving them. In v.33 Jesus says, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, 'Where I am going you cannot come.” Peter would have none of that. In 13:37-38 we read, “Peter said to him, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” This was all very troubling to these followers of Jesus.

Now just think about the implications for these men. In Mk.10:28, Peter says to Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you." They were committed followers of Jesus and now Jesus was going to leave them? Being with Jesus was wonderful. They felt safe and secure with Jesus. He could do anything. But they could not do anything. In fact Jesus predicted that Peter’s loyalty would fail.

Whether a person is a Christian or not, the reality is that life in this world is troubling to our hearts. To be sure, some of the trouble we experience is of our own doing. We make foolish choices and we pay a price. But much of our trouble is not of our own doing. Our hearts are troubled for many reasons. Some people experience more trouble than others. But all experience trouble and when we experience trouble our hearts are troubled.

In addition to the troubles of life, Christians are subject to the trouble that come with being a follower of Christ. Obviously Jesus was experiencing hostility from the religious leaders and soon he would be condemned to die by the Roman Government, and his followers would run away in fear. Following Jesus can get you into trouble. After Jesus was crucified, the followers of Jesus went into hiding. They were afraid. Where could they go?

Now when our hearts are troubled, there is often a sense of fear and insecurity. It’s true for everyone. When children, who live in a loving, committed family, experience trouble they are often able to find security in their parents. They are afraid but somehow knowing that Mom and Dad are nearby does a world of good. However adults often feel alone in the face of trouble. Of course, as adults we are supposed to be able to handle our troubles. But it isn’t easy. And while we may have a place to live, we may not be feeling the security of home and family. And in that sense we are homeless.

Followers of Jesus who experience trouble because of their faith, may actually be homeless because they are in prison or their homes were destroyed. In Lk.9 when a would be disciple said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go," Jesus responded with the words, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Wow. Jesus was homeless and he is telling us that when we follow him we also may be homeless.

Here in Jn.14 Jesus tells his disciples what they need to do when facing trouble. He said that they were to believe in God and to believe in him. The verse literally reads, “believe in God and in me believe. Jesus is highlighting the truth that he is God in the flesh. He reveals God. To believe in the God Jesus revealed is to believe in Jesus. They are one.

While we are living in this world we will have trouble. Jesus has ascended to the Father and is not with us in the flesh. He is with us through the Holy Spirit. Here he tells us that the antidote for having a troubled heart is trust. God and his Son, Jesus, are big enough for when our hearts are troubled. But there is more.


In 1964 Dionne Warwick sang the song, “A House Is Not a Home,” written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. A house is not a home if no one is living there. Our church owns a house. It’s the house Angie and I live in. It’s your house, but it’s our home. It is often said, that “home is where the heart is.” The word, “home,” conveys images of family, love, comfort and security. Ideally we are at ease in our homes. We are able to be ourselves. Home is wherever we belong.

As Jesus speaks to his disciples who have troubled hearts he says, “There is a home waiting for you in my Father’s house.” Jerome, who died in 420 A.D. translated the Bible into Latin. When he translated Jn.14:2 he used the Latin word, mansiones which referred to a lodging place. When the Bible was translated into English the translators used the word that came closest, which was the word, “mansion.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Well, when you are raised on the King James Version you get the idea that Jesus is saying that he is going to prepare mansions for us. We would sing, “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop in that bright land where we’ll never grow old.” I hope I don’t break anyone’s bubble here, but it doesn’t say that we will be living in mansions in heaven. The idea is more along the line of lodging.

What is Jesus saying in these verses? I believe Jesus is saying that in heaven there is plenty of room for everyone. But more than that, Jesus was encouraging his followers that he would personally see to their eternal welfare. There would be room for them in heaven. Jesus is talking about our eternal home.

But notice that this eternal home is not something we procure by ourselves. Jesus is preparing this place for us. How many people there are who have the idea that somehow they must earn their place in heaven? That’s not how Jesus says it. He is preparing a place.

Why did Jesus say this? He said this because he wanted his followers to know that they had an eternal dwelling place with him. Their lives were secure in him. They belonged to the family of God through him. Followers of Christ may face many troubles and literally not have a place to lay their heads, but that is only a temporary situation. In Christ a person is always at home. Now how is Jesus preparing this place?

Well, after all, he was known as the carpenter’s son! But I don’t think Jesus is in heaven carrying on a huge construction project. The truth is we don’t know exactly what Jesus means by this. Some suggest that the way Jesus prepares these rooms is through his life, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father. On the cross Jesus bore our sins, defeated the power satan, and reconciled all things to God. Through his resurrection Jesus defeated the power of death and brought about our justification before God. The point is that Jesus is the means by which we have a place waiting for us in the Father’s house.

And notice in v.3 that since Jesus puts forth all this effort to prepare a place for us, he will surely come back to take us to be with him. In this verse Jesus refers to the fact that he is coming again. We call this the second coming, the Second Advent. He is coming for his people, those who have embraced him as Savior, Lord, and King.

Why were the disciples troubled in heart? It was because Jesus was going to leave them. They had come to love Jesus. They did not want to lose Jesus. I don’t know what kind of picture you have of heaven. But whatever picture you have, you need to be sure it involves being with Jesus forever. Being with Jesus and the Father is the primary focus of heaven. If being with Jesus forever is not particularly appealing to you, then you need to do some serious thinking. How close are you to Jesus? What place does Jesus have in your life today? If you are not living close to Jesus and following in his way today, why would you want to be with him in heaven?

Men and women, I do not know what empty places there may be in your soul. I do know that everyone has places of emptiness in their souls. Everyone carries hurts, tears and fears. Even today, some of you have troubled hearts. Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled. Jesus is making sure there is room for you in the eternal kingdom of God. The question is how one finds their place in the kingdom of God.


As far as the disciples were concerned it seemed that Jesus was speaking in riddles. When Jesus says, “You know the way to where I am going,” Thomas, speaking for all the disciples, says, “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” If you don’t know the destination, it’s pretty difficult to know the way. It’s one thing to talk about heaven, but who of us knows where heaven is? From these verses we do know that heaven is where God is. Heaven is the Father’s house, but how is that helpful? And even if we did know where heaven is, would that help us know the way to get there? Not at all.

Jesus said, I am the way. The way to heaven is Jesus. In fact, at the end of v.6 Jesus makes it clear that no one goes to the Father apart from Jesus. This is why I am saying that having an eternal home is a gift that Jesus gives to us. So let’s think about how one receives this gift.

Clearly, the fact that Jesus says I am the way implies that we will need to have some kind of relationship with Jesus. Many years ago as a brash young college student, I and a friend got tickets to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet in Orchestra Hall in Chicago. After the concert I said, “Let’s see if we can go back stage and meet Dave Brubeck.” I had a lot more hutzpah in those days. We made our way back stage and someone said to me, “Who are you?” I told him my name and that we wanted to thank Dave Brubeck for the concert. Then he turned to my friend and said, “Who are you.” My friend said, “I’m with Dave.” Well somehow he let us go and we met Dave Brubeck.” The point I want us to see is that no one will enter into heaven without being able to say, “I’m with Jesus.”

When Jesus walked on the earth, he continually called people to turn from their present way of life and follow him. To follow Jesus means to put one’s trust or confidence in all that Jesus says and does. To follow Jesus means you take his teachings to be true and you seek to put into practice what Jesus commanded because you trust that Jesus knows the best way to live. After all, Jesus is not just the way; he is the truth. To follow Jesus means that you come to the realization that up until now you have not followed him. In fact you have followed your own self-centered way and have ignored his commands. To follow Jesus is to abandon personal pride and humbly embrace Jesus as the only way to God.

Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. He is the Savior, Lord and King of the world. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross for us. Jesus’ death on the cross brought forgiveness of sin as he bore our guilt and took our punishment. He rose from the dead. He ascended to the Father and is now reigning over heaven and earth. Because Jesus is alive, it is possible to enter into relationship with him and receive his eternal life to live beginning immediately. To receive Jesus is to receive his life. After all, Jesus is not just the way and the truth, Jesus is the life. He is what life is all about. So how does a person begin a life giving relationship with Jesus? How does a person receive Jesus’ gift of an eternal home with God?

As I answer this question I must begin with the truth that to embrace Jesus is not just to receive the gift of heaven when you die. It is to receive eternal living from Jesus that leads to heaven when you die. The life we receive from Jesus is life in his kingdom, life under his rule. You are not just receiving a commodity called life. You are receiving a life that brings an inner transformation of your character and conduct as you follow Jesus in obedience. This life is a way of living. This way of living prepares us for heaven when we die.

That said, if you are interested in receiving this wonderful gift of a dwelling place with God in heaven, then in your heart and mind turn away from your current way of living and invite Jesus to come into your life. Ask Jesus to forgive your sins. With the help of the Holy Spirit, commit yourself to be a follower of Jesus, attending to his life and teachings and seeking to do all that he commanded. And all that he commanded is found in the New Testament. To embrace Jesus is to become his faithful disciple. Being a disciple of Jesus is how to follow the pathway home.

I’ve been to many funerals and I find that most people seem to have some belief in an afterlife. It is common to hear people say things like, “He’s in a better place now.” “She’s at peace now.” Sometimes people will say, “God needed another angel.” There is no teaching in the Bible that would support that idea. Clearly many people are hoping for a better life after death. Well, that better life is found only in Jesus. What is more, that better life can be entered into now by embracing Jesus as your Savior, Lord and King. The gift is yours if you will have Jesus. Amen

The Powerful Gift of Prayer

March 6, 2016

Parents need to use discretion when giving gifts to their children.1. Sometimes we give gifts that are beyond our children’s ability to handle. I’m sure you have seen these miniature automobiles that run on a battery. The child sits in the car and drives down the sidewalk. Well there is some power there and if the child is too young they might have an accident. Handle with care.

Today as we continue looking at grace gifts from Jesus to us, we are looking at one of those gifts that needs to be handled with care. The gift is appropriate for all ages, but it can be misused and so we need to understand this gift. I’m talking about the gift of prayer. Jesus has given his people the powerful gift of prayer.

I. NOTE THE CONDITIONS OF USE. Mt.6:9-10, 33; Jn.14:13-14; 15:7, 16; 16:23-24

Today many gifts involving technology come with conditions of use. It’s important to read those conditions so that you don’t misuse the gift or render the gift inoperable. There are some conditions of use when it comes to prayer.

Now you may be thinking, “Wait, when you have a need you just pray. There are no conditions of use when it comes to prayer. Anybody can pray.” Are you sure about that? James talks about people who pray but they don’t receive what they pray for because they ask wrongly. Peter writes that if a husband does not live with his wife as an heir of grace, it will hinder his prayers. Prayer is a powerful gift but, in fact, there are some conditions of use. Let’s consider them

In Mt.6:9-10, Jesus is teaching the disciples about prayer. He gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. The first two concerns of that prayer describe important attitudes on the part of the one praying. First, Jesus says, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” This phrase suggests that the person who seeks the Lord in prayer is someone who desires to see God honored for who he is. There is an ongoing recognition that God is worthy of our wholehearted worship. Heartfelt, ongoing worship of God is a condition for opening the gift of prayer.

In addition to this we see that if we are going to use this powerful gift we will want to see God’s will accomplished in all things. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Presumably we are praying about things taking place here on earth. I don’t know many people who pray about things going on in heaven. It is our life on earth that concerns us and so that’s what we pray about. Well, what is most important to us? Do we want to see God’s good purposes accomplished in our lives and circumstances, or are we more interested in seeing our will and our wants fulfilled?

This is reiterated by Jesus in Mt.6:33. There Jesus is teaching about the problem of anxiety and worry. We worry about so many things. Jesus says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The antidote for worry is the pursuit of the kingdom of God the rule of God.

And we can look elsewhere to find similar conditions of use when it comes to opening the gift of prayer. For example, in Jn.14:13-14, Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” What does it mean to ask in Jesus’ name? Does it mean we must end our prayer with the words, “In Jesus name,” or else it’s not a proper prayer? No. Praying in Jesus name means that we pray on the basis of all that Jesus has accomplished through his life, death and resurrection and continues to do as he reigns in heaven and earth. So in prayer there is a recognition that it is because of Jesus and his authority that we have access to God in prayer. Again, in Jn.15:7 Jesus tells us that if his words abide in us we can ask whatever we wish. This doesn’t mean that as long as you read your Bible you can pray for whatever you want. It means that our prayers are shaped by the teachings and actions of Jesus.

O and one more thought. After Jesus teaches the Lord’s Prayer, he says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Those in the kingdom of God are learning to have a forgiving heart, just like Jesus and that has bearing on our prayers.

As you can see, the most important condition for using the powerful gift of prayer is a humble surrender to Jesus. David Fitch writes, “…that prayer to the Father, in Christ, through the Spirit is first and foremost about submitting our lives, circumstances, needs, wants, and struggles into God’s coming kingdom.” He says, “We release our egos, wants, and desires and instead submit to the King and pray for his purposes and righteousness to come right here in this place, whatever that might mean.”

You ask, “Well how do I do this?” Men and women, the way to meet the conditions of use is to daily surrender yourself to the Lord Jesus and have his word dwelling in you. It’s not complicated, but it does involve effort as we attend to Jesus and orient our life around him. If you are a follower of Jesus the Holy Spirit will help you do this, but he won’t do it for you.


In Mt.7:7, Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Here are the operating instructions for prayer. And they are simple to understand. Maybe prayer seems to be a hurdle for you. You hear others pray and they seem to use a special language or prayer seems to just flow from their lips. Some believers pray with what seems to be a special anointing and we begin to feel that we can’t do that.

Jesus makes prayer very accessible. He says that prayer is rooted in request, asking. Prayer is asking. When we pray we are asking God for things that are important to our lives and for things that are important to God. Is God interested in your life? He is. God has invested in your life and future by sending his Son, Jesus and by inviting you to receive his life. As we enter into life with Christ, we increasingly bring everything in our life to Jesus asking for his wisdom, guidance and provision. We bring these matters to Jesus because we want Jesus to order our steps. He is our King. This means that all our relationships, all our affiliations, all our obligations, and all our wants, desires, and needs we bring to Jesus in prayer. And let me quickly add, that we ask. We don’t command. We don’t tell God what he must do. After all, Jesus is the King who knows best what we need.

And then, Jesus says that prayer involves seeking. In other words there is an earnest sincerity in praying. We do not need to convince God or persuade God to hear our prayers. When it comes to prayer, it is not the case that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. When a first grader wants to answer the teacher’s question, he or she will strenuously raise their hand hoping the teacher will call on them. We don’t have to do that when we come to God in prayer. After all, God is right where you are. He is always attending to you. He is a good, good Father. But we do come with earnest sincerity. Do we really want or need the thing we are praying about? Sometimes our prayers are casual. “Lord bless us today.” That is a fine prayer, but it is a little different from, “Lord we need your wisdom as we try to discern what to do in this situation.” I have a prayer journal in which on the left page I have listed various prayer concerns. On the right page I update those concerns as things develop. We earnestly seek the Lord.

And of course, this leads to knocking. We ask, we seek and we knock. To knock is to be persistent and diligent in prayer. The things in my prayer journal are things I am pursuing in prayer. Now recently a Facebook friend I knew when I lived in New Jersey, but have not seen since, asked me to pray for her because she has been diagnosed with bone cancer. Well I pray for her as she comes to mind. But the things in my prayer journal I am praying for regularly.

There are times when the need is urgent and very serious. In those times we pray with fervency. The Greek word for fervent means to boil, to be hot. It is interesting to see that this word for fervent is not used to refer to prayer in the New Testament. The one place where we read about fervent prayer is in James 5. James 5:17 refers to the prayer of Elijah. Most translations say, “He prayed fervently”. It literally says, “with prayer he prayed.” Well, the urgency of our prayers will reflect the depth of our need. If you are a follower of Christ I want to encourage you to regularly turn to the Lord in prayer. You can pray throughout the day, even when you are at work. You see, the Lord is working all around us. Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and in earth. As a follower of Christ you have the Holy Spirit in you and you are a visible expression of Jesus and his kingdom. Seek to bring everything under his good rule through prayer.

As you can see, the operating instructions for the gift of prayer are not difficult to follow. But of course, they should not be ignored either. In this verse Jesus is inviting us to become full participants in his kingdom work and we will need to pray in order to do this.


Gifts that involve technology usually come with some kind of guarantee. In Christmas of 2014 we were given a Samsung tablet. It is a cool gift. It came with a one or two year guarantee. Well, about 6 months in the tablet began to overheat and I had to send it away to get it fixed, and now it seems to be working well. Sometimes with these guarantees you wonder if the company will try to find a way to squirm out of keeping their end of the bargain. In these verses Jesus gives a guarantee when it comes to prayer.

You can see it in black and white. Everyone who asks receives. Everyone who seeks finds. To everyone who knocks it will be opened. We could look at other verses in John where Jesus pretty much says the same thing. In Rm.8 Paul tells us that God is working all things together for good to them who love God and are called according to his purpose. This is the guarantee. And there are any number of reasons why you may not actually believe what Jesus says here.

The reason why a person does not believe the guarantee is because they have prayed for things and their prayers have seemingly been ignored. Has that ever happened to you? And maybe these prayers were very important. Maybe you were praying for healing for a loved one. Or perhaps you were praying for a son or daughter who was headed for deep trouble. Maybe you were at your wits end, needing a job. You prayed and prayed but the answer did not come, or you did not receive what you prayed for. After a while one begins to question, “Why should I pray? God doesn’t seem to answer my prayers.”

Now let me say that God always answers the prayers of committed followers of Christ. He does not always answer our prayers as we think he ought. Some people think, “Well, why should I pray? God is going to do what God is going to do.” Or “Why should I pray? Whatever happens is God’s will.” I do not believe this is how prayer works with God. I do not believe that whatever happens is God’s will. I believe that our prayers do have effect on God. God can change his mind. We see examples of this in Scripture. We pray for what we believe is best, and we seek to do what we believe God would have us do, but we leave the answer in the hands of our good God and we trust him.

Do you need a job? Well, it is important to be looking for a job and praying about it. We need to put feet to our prayers. Where we are able to act, we need to act. Sometimes we cannot act. We must pray and wait. So it all comes down to trust. How long can you wait? How long will you trust in God? And if your request is not met, will you continue to trust in God?

We must be careful how we think about God. Ravi Zacharias tells a story about a man whose horse ran away. His neighbor came by and said, “Bad luck. Your horse ran away. The man said, “What do I know about these things?” The next day the man’s horse returned with 20 wild horses. The neighbor said, “Good luck, you have 20 more horses.” The man said, what do I know about such things?” The next day as the man’s son was feeding the horses, he got kicked by a horse and his leg was broken. The neighbor said, “Bad luck, your son’s leg is broken. The man said, “What do I know about bad luck and good luck? The next day some thugs were going through the village taking young men to be in their gang. When they came to the man’s son and saw that his leg was broken they said, “We can’t use this boy. Let’s move on.” The neighbor said, “Good luck, your son was spared because of his broken leg” At the end of the day, who can ultimately discern the ways of God. We must trust in him and his love for us and others. What we know is that because God sent his son, Jesus, he has only good in his heart towards you. In Rm.8:32, Paul writes, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”

The way of Christ is the way of the cross. We bring our concerns and cares to the Lord as we die to ourselves. We entrust our lives to the Lord because he is our gracious King who has all authority in heaven and earth. Do you believe that God hears and answers your prayers? Jesus says that He does, indeed answer our prayer.

Now perhaps you are one who has been deeply disappointed with God because he has not come through for you. I’ve been there. I understand. I also know that God is faithful. God knows what he is doing and he knows what we need. William Cowper wrote the hymn, God Moves In a Mysterious Way. Listen to the second and third stanzas. “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”

Do not stop engaging the Lord in prayer. Surrender yourself and your will to God and his will. Earnest ask the Lord with persistence for what you need and rest in his guarantee that he will answer according to his loving kindness. Amen


Jesus' Gracious Gift of Joy

February 28, 2016

Who is the most joyful person you know? For me two people come to mind. My grandmother was a very joyful person. She would sing her way through the day. It’s not that everything went well for her, but she was joyful. The other person is the late Dallas Willard. I met him a number of times. Angie and I were privileged to have him in our home. I think he is probably the most joyful person I have ever met. Both my grandmother and Dallas were filled with joy because of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

We are looking at grace gifts from Jesus to us. Why would anyone want to follow Jesus? Well, it is because Jesus brings forgiveness of sins, life in the kingdom of God, the indwelling Holy Spirit, peace, love and today we consider his gift of joy. You can know deep joy in your life. This isn’t just a nice idea. This is a reality for those who are in Christ. Jesus offers to give his abiding joy to his followers.


The first question that comes to my mind is what do the words “kingdom of heaven” refer to. This is important because our first inclination is to think about heaven as a place where we go when we die. Heaven is someplace where we are not. Heaven is a place that we will eventually go to, but it is only something we look forward to. Heaven is above. And for sure, all this is part of the story. In Jn.3:13 Jesus says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Ascending and Descending gives the idea of going up and down.

But there is more to this story. Jesus spoke about entering into the kingdom of God. In Mt.3:2 Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus taught us to seek first the kingdom of God. In Mt.13:18 Jesus tells the parable of the soils. He talks about those who receive the word of the kingdom and bear fruit. The teaching about the kingdom of God is that we can enter into it and live in it today. The kingdom of God is the good rule of God, where what God wants done is accomplished. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Another way of talking about entering into the kingdom of God is to talk about life with Christ. Those who turn in faith to become followers of Christ are given his eternal life to begin living out today.

So, here in Mt.13:44, Jesus describes a person who is walking in a field and happens to discover a buried treasure. It was not uncommon to bury one’s wealth for safe keeping. This person finds a treasure and with joy he sells all that he has to buy the field because the treasure was more valuable than all he had. In the second story a pearl merchant finds a very valuable pearl and again, he joyfully sells all he has to gain the pearl. What is Jesus saying here? Jesus is telling us that entering into the kingdom of God by embracing him as Savior-King is the most valuable life one could ever gain.

In the Bible Jesus is referred to as the Savior, because in Mt.1:21 we learn that Jesus saves from sin. Well, if there is a good God who defines what is morally good in the Ten Commandments, is there really anyone who has not broken one or more of the Ten Commandments? We are accountable to God who created us. Jesus came to bring the forgiveness of sin. We should not be offended at the thought that we are all sinners. We see the reality of sin played out every day, even in our own lives. Instead of being offended we ought to rejoice that God cares enough to send the Savior who brings forgiveness.

Jesus also came to offer to new eternal living to all who embrace him as their King. Eternal living has to do not just with longevity of life, but it has to do with knowing God by embracing Jesus, God in the flesh. Life comes from God and eternal life is found only through Jesus Christ. Those who look to Jesus and become his followers enter into his good life.

So how does one enter into this eternal life with Jesus Christ? Let me put it this way: Begin to attend to all that Jesus said and did and orient your entire life around Jesus. So think about that. In these verses, the man who bought the field, the merchant who bought the pearl, sold all they had. In other words they left what they knew. They left what had previously defined their lives in order to get the treasure. In getting the treasure they were entering into a new life. In one sense they had nothing left from their previous life. They were starting all over again with the treasure. That’s what repentance is. It is leaving our self-directed life, our self-centered life and embracing Jesus and his new life.

Is Jesus Christ and the life he has to give so valuable to you that you would leave everything behind to follow him? They didn’t sell all they had because there was some law that said they had to do that. They sold all they had because the treasure was so valuable and selling all they had was the only way they could gain the treasure. They found great joy in letting go of their previous life. Let me ask those of you who profess to know Christ, have you left everything to follow Jesus? Is gaining Christ and his life that valuable to you?

What is joy? Let me read a definition: “Joy is a pervasive sense…of overall and ultimate well-being…It is deeper and broader than any pleasure.” We’ve been talking about grace gifts from Jesus to us. Two weeks ago we considered the gift of peace. When we are at peace we are not striving. We are not anxious. We are resting. Through Christ we have peace with God. We are secure in God. Last week we considered the gift of God’s love. God desires our wellbeing. He wants the best for us and God sent Jesus Christ to enable us to receive his love. To be at peace with God, to enter into the love of God is to enter into a life transforming relationship with God and this brings great joy to our lives. Have you discovered the joy of finding the treasure of life in Christ?


What things did Jesus speak? In v.7 he speaks about abiding in him and having his words abide in us. In v.8 he speaks about bearing fruit. In v.9 he tells us to abide in his love. In v.10 he says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. All of these things bring fullness of joy to our hearts when we are full participants in living our life with Christ.

Or consider Jn.16:23. There Jesus says, “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” Here Jesus is referring to the time after his ascension and before his second coming. In these days we have the privilege of praying to the Father in the name of Jesus and receiving answers to our prayers. That brings fullness of joy.

Then consider Mt.25:23. This is the story of the talents. The two servants who were faithful in carrying out the orders of the master were commended. In v.23 the master says to the servant, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

Followers of Christ receive joy as they seek to be faithful to the Lord in living their lives. We cannot do this on our own, apart from the Holy Spirit. This is why in Jn.15:26 the Holy Spirit is called the Helper.

Now of course it is not always easy to be faithful. But when we are faithful to the Lord there is a joy that fills our souls. I’m going to ask Lena Hartshorn to come up and we are going to have a conversation about the joy of faithful living. (Interview)

As you seek to live a faithful life, you also have joy in the knowledge that you are walking in the way of Christ. Your life is bearing fruit to the glory of God.

III. FOCUS ON THE JOY SET BEFORE US. Heb.12:1-2; Lk.6:22-23

In Heb.12:1-2 we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In our life with Christ there is joy to be found not just at the commencement of our life with Christ, not just as we seek to live faithful lives of obedience to Christ, but there is joy set before us. Peter tells us in 1Pt.1:1-2 that believers have an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for us.” That is part of the joy set before us. The day is coming when we will be with the Lord rejoicing in our inheritance in Christ. In other words, like Jesus, as we live our lives we fix our eyes on Jesus and the joy set before us. We have a future orientation. This world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers in this world.

This sense of future joy is important because Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble. Bearing the name of Jesus often puts us at odds with the world. In Jn.15:20 Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”

And that’s exactly what happened. In Acts 5 we read that the Jewish leaders put the apostles into prison. The apostles were doing many miracles. People were turning to Jesus, and the Jewish leaders were jealous. When they were hauled before the Jewish Council, they were questioned, beaten and warned not to preach in the name of Jesus. Acts 5:41 says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

This is in keeping with what Jesus taught in Lk.6:22-23. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.”

While there are many believer who are suffering persecution today, you and I have not had to suffer in these ways because of our living with Christ. But that day may come before we know it. Either way, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus. The joy set before us will stand us in good stead as we walk with Christ in this dark world.

I know a person who lives in another state, whose spouse died some years ago. This person grieved deeply to the point that she was not able to open birthday and Christmas gifts. She felt guilty, as if it would be wrong to have joy. Healing came slowly. Maybe you have been hindered in receiving and opening the grace gifts that Jesus offers. Perhaps you feel guilty and don’t deserve them. Perhaps you don’t believe that the gifts are really for you. Dear friend, Jesus invites everyone to discover the joy of finding the treasure of eternal living by coming to him and receiving his life. Jesus encourages everyone to orient their life around him, His word, His love, and His commands. Jesus urges us to fix our eyes on him and the joy that will be ours when we are with him forever. You do not have to wait to find joy in heaven. In Christ the joy of heaven comes to us now. His joy is in us. Amen

God's Gracious Gift of Love

February 21, 2016

Engagement takes a dating relationship to a whole new level. When a couple first starts to date, both put their best foot forward. Each wants the other to see the best sides of their personality. Kindness is shown. Gifts are given. Why do we do this? Well, if we think there is potential for the relationship we give gifts to let the other person know we have more to give. As we grow to love someone we invite them to receive deeper expressions of our love

God is love and God has shown his love in many different ways. The Bible points out that God created this world to sustain our lives and that God gives us breath. He sends the sunshine and the rain. These gifts are given to invite us to receive even deeper expressions of God’s love. Paul tells us that it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. As we continue looking at grace gifts from Jesus to us this morning we want to consider the gift of God’s love. God’s love is available to all people.


Who can comprehend the person of God? In 1Tim.6:16 we learn that God dwells in unapproachable light and that no one has ever seen God. In fact in Ex.33:20 the Lord said to Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." What we know about God comes from the Bible and our experience with God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Bible. I say this because any experience we might have with God will always be in keeping with the overall teachings of Scripture.

Before I say anything about how Jesus reveals God’s love, it is important to point out that God the Father loves the Son. And remember that when we refer to Jesus as the Son of God we are not suggesting that Jesus is God’s son by birth. The sonship of Jesus has nothing to do with biology or reproduction. Rather we are saying that the second person of the Trinity, enjoys an intimate and unique relationship with God the Father. The Son has always existed and is fully equal with God and yet, as the Son, he does all that the Father tells him to do. In each of the Gospels we read about the baptism of Jesus. In Mt.3:16-17 we read, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."

Listen to some other verses that speak about the love of the Father for the Son. In Jn.3:35 we read, “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.” In Jn.5:20 it says, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” In Jn.10:17 Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” And then, in Jn.14:31 Jesus says, “but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

In the love between the Father and the Son, we see selfless giving. The Father has given all things to the Son. He shows the Son all that he does. The Son lays down his life in obedience to the Father and does and says all that the Father commands.

Now what is love? We use the word in many different ways. But when we speak about God’s love we are referring to a specific kind of love. One scholar writes that, “Love is the will to good…One who loves promotes the good, or wills the benefit and strength, of the beloved; this is the nature of God.” In Jn.8:54, Jesus says, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.” In Jn.17:1, as Jesus was praying he said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” The Father glorifies the Son. The Son glorifies the Father. The love of the Father and Son does not seek its own welfare or glory.

God’s love is a self-sacrificing, giving kind of love. In Jn.3:16 it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” Now let’s think about this. When we think about the Father sending his Son, we tend to focus on the cross. Personally I believe it is important for us to focus on the entire life of Jesus. His incarnation was an incredible humbling of himself to become a man. His earthly ministry consisted of three years in which Jesus continually expended himself for others. He went around doing good and teaching about how people can enter into and live from the kingdom of God. On the cross he became sin for us. Instead of exercising the prerogatives of his deity, he emptied himself and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. The hymn writer says that he emptied himself of all but love. Through the cross he reconciled all things to God. And then he rose from the dead for our justification. He ascended to the Father that he might be our great high priest and intercessor, reigning in our lives. And he is coming back to establish the kingdom of God in all it’s fullness in a new heaven and a new earth. The entire life of Jesus reveals God’s love for us in providing for our salvation.

The question is, do you find the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ to be compelling? When we read about Jesus and see how he lived to serve others, when we see how he died to bear our sins and provide forgiveness, when we see that because Jesus rose from the dead he has eternal living to give, is that not compelling?


In Jn.14:9, Jesus says, “Abide in my love.” Most people who give ascent to the existence of the God of the Bible would agree that God loves everyone. “God so loved the world.” He, “…gives to all mankind life and breath and everything,” as Paul said to the citizens of Athens. It is one thing to agree that God loves everyone, but that does not mean that everyone experiences the fullness of God’s love. Jesus said, “Abide in my love.” Clearly there is a difference between the person who lives under the assumption that, “Of course God loves me,” and the person who intentionally seeks to abide in the love of God revealed in Jesus. I wonder which kind of person you might be. Do you assume God’s love and never give it another thought, or do you abide in God’s love in Christ?

How do we abide in God’s love? Look at v.10. “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” Clearly, the way to abide in the love of Jesus is to obey his commandments. In Jn.14:15 Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

What kind of person keeps the commands of Jesus? It is the person who understands that in love, Jesus gave his life so that we can have new life. This person turns from their self-directed life and embraces Jesus as their Savior-King. When we embrace Jesus we enter into his love and new life in the kingdom of God. We come under the good rule of Jesus. If you don’t think you are guilty because of your disobedience and rebellion against God, why would you call on Jesus? If you are satisfied with your life on earth, why would you sense any need for Jesus?

When we come to Jesus it is important to understand that we are given a new life to live now. When you embrace the King, you begin to live in his realm, under his rule. So the person who abides in the love of Jesus will seek to discover what his commands are. Well, are you one who seeks to discover the commands of Jesus?

Someone says, “Wait I thought all a person had to do was pray to ask Jesus to be their savior. Salvation is a free gift of God and now you are telling me that I must obey the commands of Jesus to be saved?” What I am saying is that if you embrace Jesus as your Savior you will desire to abide in his love by obeying his commands, just as Jesus obeyed the Father’s commands. Salvation brings transformation and that transformation involves obeying Jesus’ commands. Do you know what Jesus has commanded? I want to encourage you to find out by reading the gospels.

In Rm.5:5 Paul writes, “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” As we abide in the love of Jesus by obeying his commands, the love of God is poured out into our lives. Why is that? It is because as we live according to Jesus’ commands, we are becoming more and more like Jesus in our living. And so we are not surprised by what Jesus says in Jn.15:12-13. Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Those who have entered into the love of God through faith in Jesus will love one another. When Jesus says, “one another,” I believe he is referring to our fellow believers. We are to love one another with the love that has been poured out into our hearts. In other words we are to will the good of one another. We are to promote that which is good and that which benefits each other. What a wonderful gift the love of God is for each of us. It is wonderful because he compels us to desire what is best for each other. But if we do not know each other how can we desire what is best for each other? And if we do not desire what is best for each other we will fail miserably in our witness to the world.

In Jn.13:34-35 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Our witness to the world is connected to our love for our brothers and sisters in the church.

How do we love one another? In Phil.2:1-5 Paul writes, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Jesus Christ revealed the love of God to us, by loving us. All who come to Christ enter into his love. And when we enter into his love we love one another with the love he gives to us. Now it is true that we have this treasure in earthen vessels. And sometimes the love of God in us doesn’t look very pretty because we are redeemed sinners. So we must draw ever near to Christ, abiding in his love and love one another with all our hearts. It is what Jesus commands us to do.

When I married Angie 34 years ago I entered into a new life, a better life. It is a life in which Angie and I abide in each other’s love. We desire and seek to promote what is good for one another. And while we fail in many ways we are far better for it. When we enter into life with Christ, we enter into his wonderful love. And as we abide, live in his love, we are enabled to love others with that very same love he gives to us. The more we spend time getting to know Jesus and his commands the more of his love we will know. And the more loving we will be. Amen

The Gift of Peace

February 14, 2016

I heard something on the radio the other day. It was being reported that refugees continue to pour into Europe from the Middle East. The reporter said that the only thing that would stop the flow of the refugees was lasting peace. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if real peace came to that part of the world, so that people felt secure to go outside without fear of losing their life?

In this series of messages, Grace Gifts from Jesus to You, we are thinking about the question, why is it so valuable to embrace Jesus Christ? What does Jesus offer that is so good? Why would anyone give their life to follow Jesus? We have pointed out that Jesus offers forgiveness of sin. He offers eternal living. And he gives the Holy Spirit. Today we want to consider the gift of peace. Jesus offers the gift of peace to all who trust in Him.

I. YOU CAN HAVE PEACE WITH GOD. Mt.11:28-30; Rm.5:1

I realize the word “peace” is not found in these verses. Instead we find the word, “rest.” But the kind of rest Jesus is talking about is similar to the peace I am talking about today. Many of us have heard the Hebrew word, “shalom.” It is the word for “peace.” This word refers to a holistic kind of peace. We are talking about having a sense of well-being, being at rest, secure, calm, without fear. This is peace. The Greek word for peace generally refers to the absence of war and hostility. But when this word appears in the New Testament it carries the Jewish concept of wholeness and well-being. In Mt.11:28 Jesus speaks about finding rest for one’s soul. So let’s look more closely at these verses

In these verses Jesus offers an invitation to those who are restless in their souls. They are weary from carrying heavy burdens. Jesus doesn’t specify what kind of burdens he is talking about. Many people today carry heavy burdens of various kinds that bring weariness.

It might be the burden of failure in life, failure in marriage. It might be the burden of anger and resentment or abuse and addiction. It might be the burden of disappointment or not being loved. Many carry around a burden of guilt for things they have said and done. Others are burdened because they are not able to measure up to the expectations and demands put upon them by others or themselves.

But the heaviest burden is the burden of inner emptiness. People will often turn to religion to fill this emptiness because religion has to do with God and our relationship with him. Religion has to do with sin and guilt before God. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees used to speak about the yoke of the law, referring to the Law of Moses. Many found the yoke of the law to be a heavy burden. They could not measure up to God’s standards as defined by the Pharisees. In Mt.23:4 Jesus was talking about the Pharisees and he said, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.” In other words, these Jewish leaders who should have helped people come to know God, only made it more difficult by heaping up religious rules and rituals that had to be obeyed to the letter.

Religion is often like that. Rules and rituals become the means by which a person receives approval or disapproval from God. Many rules are for our good, and many rituals hold great meaning and significance. But when adhering to rules and rituals becomes the ground upon which we gain or lose God’s approval, they become a dead end. We are constantly trying to measure up, to somehow merit God’s approval. Religion is a heavy yoke. Many people just give up.

Notice what Jesus says. Jesus does not introduce a new religion or any religion. Jesus says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest.” Does that sound like religion? You can know all the doctrine in the world and not find rest for your soul. You can memorize all the verses in the Bible and not find rest for your soul. You can be a faithful congregant and not find rest for your soul. Rest for your soul is found only in Jesus Christ. “Come to me and I will give you rest for your soul.” This is an invitation from God.

And then notice that Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart…My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” How do we enter into the rest that Jesus offers to give us? The means for entering into Jesus’ rest is to come to Jesus and entrust one’s life into his hands. To take up the yoke of Jesus is to become his disciple by surrendering one’s life to Jesus. We surrender our life to Jesus because Jesus is the Savior-King. When we acknowledge and surrender our lives to Jesus we enter into the kingdom of God. We come under the good rule of God through Jesus Christ. This is the place of rest.

Why is it so important to embrace Jesus as one’s Savior-King? Well look at v.27. In v.27 Jesus says that all things had been handed over to him by the Father. He says that no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Jesus is claiming to be the only one who can connect people with God. If we want to know God then we need to know Jesus. Jesus is the One who reveals God to us.

Now there is a problem. The problem lies very deep within us. You see our inner restlessness is the result of living in rebellion against God. Our natural inclination is to follow our own thoughts and desires apart from God. Our natural inclination is to create our own inner peace through our own efforts apart from God. Our natural inclination is to find rest in what this world has to offer. Jesus invites us into his rest as we live in him and with him in God’s kingdom, but yielding our autonomy by surrendering to Christ is not something we are inclined to do.

This self-centered way of living is called sin. Sin is at the core of our being, and the Bible tells us that sin always leads to death, even eternal death, completely separated from God and his goodness and love.

When Jesus died on the cross the guilt of our sins was placed upon him. Through his death Jesus was reconciling the world to God. Jesus was making it possible for our sins to be forgiven. He died in our place. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can be justified before God. If our sins are forgiven we can be in relationship with God. To know God is to enter into eternal living in his kingdom. Those who would have rest for their souls must turn from their sinful, self-centered life and embrace Jesus as Savior, Lord and King. In Rm.5:1 Paul writes, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In this world in which we all carry heavy burdens, Jesus is offering a new kind of life that is filled with the peace and rest that comes from knowing God. By entrusting our life to Jesus, we are secure in a relationship with God. Having peace with God is the only way to have rest and peace in one’s soul. Jesus can give this rest to anyone who will have him as their Savior and King.

II. YOU CAN HAVE PEACE IN ANXIETY. Mt.6:25-34; Phil.4:6-7; 1Pt.5:6-7

The most significant relationship one could ever enter into is a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. When we are at peace with God, who rules over all things, we are able to have peace as we live in this world. This world is not a peaceful place. Rather there is a great deal of anxiety in this world.

People are anxious about many things. In Mt.6:25-34 Jesus tells us that people are anxious about their life, what they will eat and drink and wear. People are anxious about having enough. They are anxious about their health. They are anxious about tomorrow before tomorrow even gets here. We are prone to worrying.

And let’s be honest. Even though most of the things we worry about never happen, they do happen to others. We know what life is like in this world. People lose their jobs. People get into accidents. People get the Zika virus. People have heart attacks. People get cancer. People die. There is enough to worry about on any given day let alone worrying about tomorrow.

We worry about ourselves. We worry about our children. We worry about our parents. We worry about our marriage. We worry about our jobs. We worry about our investments. We worry about our performance. We worry about our country. We worry about terrorism. We worry about unstable people who have guns. We worry about anything and everything.

One of my favorite stories is found in Mk.4. Jesus and his disciples are in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. A serious storm comes up and the waves are breaking into the boat and the boat is filling up. A number of the disciples were experienced fishermen. They knew all about sailing on the Sea of Galilee. And they were afraid. Jesus was sleeping on a cushion in the stern, the back of the boat. The disciples wake Jesus up and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Now that is an interesting question. One would think that Jesus would at least care that he might perish himself. But Jesus wasn’t concerned.

The passage goes on to say, “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" In the first 3 chapters of Mark’s gospel, the disciples see many miracles performed by Jesus. But when they were in the boat it never occurred to them that Jesus even had power over nature and that they were perfectly safe with Jesus

How do we find God’s peace in anxiety? This is important because peace is a gift given to us from Jesus. It is a gift that we struggle to open and receive. I’d like to look at two passages. In Mt.6:25-34 we learn a few important principles for having peace. In v.26 Jesus tells us that our lives are valuable to God. God values our life. Those who know Christ belong to God. Since we are valuable to God, in v.30 Jesus says that we can trust God to provide all that we need. Then in v.33 Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In other words, when we enter into life with Jesus, our frame of reference changes. We look at everything from the vantage point of the good rule of God and we focus on what is pleasing to God. We make the connection between the miracles of Jesus and our own security in Him.

Then in Phil.4:6-7 we read, “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Rather than stress about things we are encouraged to pray. We are told to give thanks to God in our anxiety and present our requests to God. When we do that, we give those concerns to God and let them go. Worrying does absolutely nothing positive. When we do this, the peace of God guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

What are you anxious about? I guarantee you it is nothing that Jesus cannot handle. We must remind ourselves of these truths. When we live in the kingdom of God, under the rule of God, peace is God’s gift to us.


In Jn.14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” And to this let us add Jn.16:33 where Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

While worrying is wasted energy, there is a great deal of trouble that does come into our lives. Jesus tells us here that trouble is part and parcel of living in this world. We live in a troubled world that brings trouble to everyone. In addition to this, Jesus anticipated that his followers would experience trouble because of their commitment to him. It is not unusual for followers of Jesus to experience various kinds of persecution and even martyrdom.

Now the world does give peace, but it rarely lasts. Peace between waring nations is often based upon tenuous agreements between those nations. Rarely do nations trust one another. I mean does the United States really trust that Iran will not produce nuclear weapons? So we try to build in verification clauses in the peace treaties. Peace in the world often requires a show of military power. So we make sure that Russia, China and North Korea know that we have the power to respond in kind if they attack us. We have peace, but one never really knows what will happen.

Jesus says that our peace is something he gives to us. He says that when we are in him we have peace, his peace. This peace is ours through the Holy Spirit. What is more, this peace is predicated on the fact that Jesus has already defeated the dark powers of the evil one that continue to bring destruction in the world. Jesus has overcome the world. And in Jesus we overcome the world.

Now how do we practically enter into Jesus’ peace when we are facing trouble? It has everything to do with the condition of our relationship with Him. After all, it is in him that we have his peace. When we face trouble we do not usually have the luxury of sitting back. In trouble we have to face the realities of life and somehow deal with them. This is why it is so important to be in an ongoing, deepening, growing relationship with Christ in which our hearts and minds are captivated more and more with him. When a person is facing trouble it is difficult to suddenly cultivate a relationship with Christ. Cultivating our relationship with God and his Son must be the daily work of our lives. How does that happen? It happens as his word is taken into our hearts and minds. It happens as we turn to the Lord throughout the day, acknowledge on a daily basis the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We seek to cultivate a humble heart of dependence upon the Lord, so that when trouble comes we already have his peace ruling and guarding our hearts.

Now sometimes when we give a gift a person isn’t sure if they should open the gift right away. We might say, “Well, aren’t you going to open it?” We are excited for them to receive our gift. Jesus has given us his peace. But many of us continue to be overwhelmed by worry and trouble. And some of us have not yet entered the rest of Jesus that brings us peace with God, rest for our souls. Open the gift. You will love it. It’s from Jesus to you. Amen

The Gift of the Holy Spirit - Pt.2

February 7, 2016

How many of you have a bank account? I expected that everyone’s hand would go up since it’s very difficult to live without a bank account. Every month you get a statement from the bank which shows all the financial transactions you have made in regard to that account. You see every withdrawal and every deposit, and then the statement tells you how much money you have in the account.

Of course you need to make sure your records are consistent with the bank statement. But once we see the amount we have in our account we don’t usually go to the bank and say, “Show me the money. I want to make sure the money is there.” Rather we continue to live basing our spending on the amount printed on the statement.

This is how it is with God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us that he would send the Holy Spirit who would live in us. Reading Jesus’ words is like reading our bank statement. We don’t have to try to determine whether or not we have the Holy Spirit. Jesus says we have him. So now we must live on the basis of that reality. This morning we continue to consider the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Every believer has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.


Throughout all of history God has revealed himself in various ways, but the most significant and clearest revelation of God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus has revealed to us exactly what God is like. Jesus Christ is God with skin on. But of course, Jesus has ascended to the Father. When the Holy Spirit was given, he came to dwell within the life of every believer. Do you see where I’m going with this? There is a sense in which as Christians we are like Jesus. We are not God, but because God dwells in us, we embody God.

I realize there is a big difference between us and Jesus, but the principle is there. God dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. And that being the case, we can expect that God wants to use us in service to others. Isn’t that what Jesus said? He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." If you know Christ and his Spirit is dwelling in you, you will come to serve. Now how does God want to use you in service?

In Rm.12, 1Cor.12-14, and Eph.4 we find reference to spiritual gifts. What are spiritual gifts? Well, let me say that there is nothing weird or strange about spiritual gifts. When we read the various examples of spiritual gifts in these passages we see that many of the gifts are part and parcel of living the Christian life. For example. In Rm.12:7-8, we read about the gifts of prophecy, serving, teaching, generosity, and acts of mercy. Well, all believers are to be involved in these things. In the New Testament we are encouraged to pray for healing, to witness for Christ, and to build up the body of Christ.

When we speak of spiritual gifts we are saying that the Holy Spirit takes one of these normal activities of service and gives a special enabling to do that activity. In his book, “Jesus Continued,” J.D. Greear points out that “a spiritual gift usually reveals itself in the confluence of what we are passionate about, what we’re good at and the affirmation of others.” In other words spiritual gifts are not shrouded in mystery. Your spiritual gifts are going to fit with who God made you to be.

What is more, we don’t find our spiritual gift by taking spiritual gift inventories. That strikes me as a particularly American thing to do. I’m not saying there is no value to spiritual gift inventories, but I think there is a better way. Serving is the better way. As we serve to build up the body of Christ we gain valuable experience and wisdom about how God can best use us.

This is not such a foreign idea. We have all known people who have gone to school to train for a certain vocation. But once they got into the job they discovered that this vocation was not for them. Practical experience opened their eyes. As we serve in the Church we begin to discover that God more effectively uses us in some ways rather than others. Maybe as you serve in some way you find there is joy in that service and maybe a brother or sister comes to you and says, “Thank you so much. Your ministry here is such an encouragement.”

Let me give you a personal example. As a college student I was asked to teach an adult class in our church. The people in the class were all older than me. I enjoyed putting the lessons together and teaching them, and a number of people told me that they appreciated my teaching style, etc. That was an affirmation for me. On the other hand, when I was serving as a short term missionary in Cameroon, I was asked to serve as the bursar of the Bible College in Ndu. Well, I can tell that no one affirmed any sort of gifting in that area, especially after learning that when I was short I would add my own money to cover the loss and then would pay myself back. I tried to do my best but it’s just not my spiritual gift.

We learn about our spiritual gifts by actually serving to build up the body of Christ. And again, the operative word is “serving.” Because Jesus came to serve, those who have the Holy Spirit will also serve. Serving is in the heart of God. Before you become frustrated about not knowing your spiritual gift, ask yourself if you have a desire to serve the Lord and build up his church? We live in a culture that is very me centered. Part of the reason for this is that our culture is so mobile and fragmented that it is difficult to experience community. We don’t want to invest the time and hard work of cultivating a history with people we don’t know. So many view church as a place to take in a morning service and then leave, with little sense of community or partnership or ministry. The Holy Spirit is always going to move a believer to be involved in service to the saints in a particular local church.

And this leads me to say that your gift enables you to give to others. We are gifted by the Holy Spirit to be givers of God’s grace to others in such a way as to help the body of Christ become a unified expression of God’s love in this world. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Paul writes in Eph.4, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit cannot be divorced from the local church. Spiritual gifts are not given for individual benefit and glory. Individual growth is a byproduct of our serving others with our spiritual gifts. If the Holy Spirit seeks to glorify Christ then when he gives a spiritual gift it is also going to be used to glorify Christ in his church.

So as you take inventory of your life, do you find that you have a desire to serve the body of Christ using the gifts God has given you? If not, what’s going on in you? What is the spiritual condition of your life?


What would you say is God’s mission in the world? It’s a big question and the answer is multifaceted. We can go back to Gen.12 where we read about God’s call to Abraham. God called Abraham and made some amazing promises to him and then he said to Abraham, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

As you know, Abraham was the father of the nation of Israel. God called Israel to be a light to the nations. Israel was to show the world how marvelous it is to have God as king. But Israel failed in this mission by turning away from God to be like the world. What Israel failed to do Jesus accomplished. Jesus came into the world to show how marvelous the kingdom of God is and how everyone can enter into the kingdom of God and live under the good rule of God by embracing Jesus Christ, the King. Jesus did everything necessary to open the door for you and me to enter into the kingdom of God.

After Jesus rose from the dead and before ascending to the Father, he said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." And in Acts 1:8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

What is God’s mission? God is calling people to himself through Jesus Christ. When Jesus was on earth he said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." That’s the mission and today God is using the church, believers, to seek and to save the Lost. The church and every individual believer are his witnesses. God displays his kingdom through his people. Every believer is called to live as a surrendered subject of Jesus Christ, our King. Throughout the gospels we read that Jesus acted in the power of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that interesting? In Lk.4:14 we read, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee.” In Mt.12:28 Jesus says, “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” There are numerous references like this. Jesus conducted his ministry by the Holy Spirit. And now we have the same Holy Spirit. And since the Holy Spirit is fully God, we know that he is all about fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ.

And since the Holy Spirit seeks to call attention to Jesus, I believe we can look at Jesus to see how we are to be his witnesses. How did Jesus call people? When he came, Jesus displayed the goodness of God. He embodied the love of God. He blessed many people by serving, by helping them. But Jesus didn’t just do good things. Jesus spoke the good news of the gospel, calling men and women to willingly embrace him as their Savior and King by entrusting their life to him and following him. He called people to trust him for the forgiveness of sins and new living in the kingdom of God. The gospel of forgiveness and life was embodied in the words and actions of Jesus. Our witness is seen in living out the gospel that is changing our lives.

Just as Jesus relied on the Holy Spirit, so we must rely on the Holy Spirit as we live out the gospel. Witnessing is something we do, but we do it because of who we are in Christ. If you are a Christian you are a walking, talking, spirit empowered presenter of Jesus Christ and his gospel of life.

We have the privilege of having Kevin Wood in our congregation. Kevin is a professional portrayer of Abraham Lincoln. He looks like Abraham Lincoln. He dresses like Abraham Lincoln and he even talks using the very words of Abraham Lincoln. But of course he is not Abraham Lincoln. In reality he pretends to be Abraham Lincoln.

Now in some ways as Christians we are portrayers of Jesus Christ. But we are not pretenders. Why? It’s because the Spirit of Jesus lives in us and empowers us to be like Jesus himself. In fact we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Christ is our very life.

Just as Jesus was dependent upon the Holy Spirit, so as Christians we seek to be dependent upon the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus lived and spoke the gospel by the Holy Spirit, so we live and speak the gospel by the Holy Spirit. This is why everywhere we go and everyone we interact with comes under the influence of Jesus through our lives by what we do and say.

The old Gospel song says: “How I praise Thee, precious Savior, That Thy love laid hold of me; Thou hast saved and cleansed and filled me, That I might Thy channel be. Just a channel full of blessing, To the thirsty hearts around; To tell out Thy full salvation, All Thy loving message sound. Channels only, blessed Master, But with all Thy wondrous pow’r, Flowing through us, Thou canst use us, Every day and every hour.”

The expression “channeling” is used in the context of mediums and the occult. “Channelers are basically psychic mediums with a specialty. They focus on communicating with spirit guides, ascended masters and angels. Traditionally, channelers are channeling messages from advanced spirits, usually to communicate spiritual wisdom about life and the afterlife.” We are certainly not channelers in this sense. But we do present the reality of Jesus Christ because Christ dwells in us through his Spirit.

Now I’ve been a Christian for a long time. I know every excuse for not being a witness for Jesus Christ. I know the challenges and the fears. I know the guilt that comes with not witnessing and I know how it feels to force my witness on others. Perhaps you can relate. Men and women, the secret of witnessing is found in humble, intentional dependence upon the Holy Spirit. Because as we depend upon the Holy Spirit he will work in us the love of Jesus for all who need him. Every encounter we have is a witnessing encounter because we embody Christ through the Holy Spirit and Christ came to seek the lost.

Is this true in your life? Do you find that the Holy Spirit works in you a love for others and a longing for others to know Christ? If not, what does that mean?

Now my prayer is that everyone of us will surrender our lives in a heartfelt way to the Lord and the Holy Spirit. Nothing lasting can be done apart from the Spirit of God who dwells in us. Amen




The Gift of the Holy Spirit, Pt.1

January 31, 2016

Perhaps you hear a question like this every year. What gift would you like for your birthday or for Christmas? This question helps the gift giver and blesses a person with something they really want. Of course it does take away the element of surprise and honestly I have a hard time coming up with a list. Now suppose Jesus were to come to you and ask, what would you like me to give you? Wow! What would you ask for? I mean it’s Jesus! The sky is the limit. Fortunately Jesus knows what we really need and has given wonderful gifts to us.

So far in this series of messages called “Grace Gifts from Jesus to You,” we have noted the gifts of forgiveness and eternal living. Today I would like to focus in on a very significant gift. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost, Peter said in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit is a gift which comes from God the Father and Jesus, God the Son. But let me be clear in saying that the Holy Spirit is also fully God. He is God the Holy Spirit. Every believer has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I. THE HOLY SPIRIT ASSURES US. Rm.8:16; Eph.1:13-14

In Jn.16 Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he will soon be returning to the Father. This was a reference to his ascension after he rose from the dead. Before his death on the cross the disciples enjoyed regular access to Jesus but when they heard that Jesus was leaving they were sorrowful. So in Jn.16:7, Jesus says, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”

Most of us would rather have access to Jesus in the flesh. But when Jesus was in the flesh he was only in one place at a time. By sending the Holy Spirit who would dwell within every believer, the presence of Jesus is with all of us, all the time. If you know Jesus Christ, you have the Holy Spirit in you. And one of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to bring assurance to our hearts that we are children of God.

In Eph.1:13-14 Paul writes, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” In those days people would use a wax seal, indicating ownership. Even today some people use sealing wax to seal envelopes. The Holy Spirit who indwells us is God’s mark of ownership on our lives. And Paul tells us that the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee of our inheritance that we will receive in full when we are with Jesus in glory. As we will see, the ministry of the Holy Spirit to our lives is tremendous, but there is much more to come when we are finally with the Lord

Let me read another passage. In Rm.8:15-17 Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Rm.8 is a chapter in which Paul talks about living our lives in and by the Spirit of God. A believer is someone who is seeking to live a life that honors God. We will say more about this later. In the verses I just read, Paul points out that those who are trusting in Jesus for forgiveness and life are actually adopted into the family of God. Just as Jesus can call God his father, so also can we. Through Christ, we belong to God. Jesus is our Elder Brother. The Holy Spirit who indwells every believer bears an inner witness, an inner assurance that we are part of the family of God.

Now I believe that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is both an objective and subjective reality. When the Holy Spirit indwells us he ministers to us. I have known my share of doubt over the years. But I have found that when doubts arise there is also a deep awareness within myself that not only do I want to be a child of God, there is also an assurance that I am a child of God. But this is not just a feeling. And I would caution everyone to not rely on feelings when it comes to your standing in Christ. Now, if you are not seeking to honor God in your life, If you regularly, consistently pursue and allow sin to dwell in your life, it is probably good for you to question and doubt your salvation. Christians do not walk in the pathway of sin. Christians sin, to be sure, but Christians are grieved by their sin and regularly repent and confess their sin. Christians seek to resist and avoid sin.

When I speak about the assurance of the Holy Spirit it is more of a deep awareness that is rooted in my faith and the truth of God’s word. I see that the thrust of my heart, my mind, my actions is to honor Jesus Christ. That is what I want. I put my trust in God and His word which assures me that all who come to Jesus are kept by the power of God. At the end of the day, Christians must walk by faith and not by sight and feeling. As we live by the Spirit we are granted his assurance that we belong to God and are in his family.


Perhaps this is the moment to mention that the Holy Spirit, does not call attention to himself. In Jn.16:14, Jesus says about the Holy Spirit, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The Holy Spirit seeks to point everyone to Jesus and to honor Jesus. This is one reason why our experience with the Holy Spirit can be a bit mysterious. He is not trying to call attention to himself. He dwells within us and works in us and we can’t always discern his work in our lives. Nor can we put him in a box. This is seen in Scripture again and again. Jesus likened the work of the Spirit to the wind. We don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. Throughout the book of Acts there are many places where it talks about the leading, the guiding of the Holy Spirit, but it doesn’t specify exactly how that guidance actually occurred.

In Jn.16:13 Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

In his book, Jesus Continued, J.D. Greear identifies 6 ways in which we experience the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance. These 6 ways are, the Gospel, the Word of God, our giftings, the Church, our spirit, our circumstances. First he says that the Holy Spirit’s presence is linked to the gospel itself. It is the Holy Spirit who draws us to Christ, convincing us of our sin and our need for Christ. The Spirit is the one who enables us to be born again. This is the beginning of the Spirit’s ministry in our lives.

The Holy Spirit also works through the Word of God. And we must think about this. In Jn.14:26 Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

If you don’t remember anything from this message, please remember this. The Holy Spirit always speaks either through the Word of God or in accord with the Word of God. What do I mean? Well, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will bring to mind all that Jesus said. The words of Jesus available to us are found in Scripture. I realize that scripture has more than just the words of Jesus, and so I want to expand this thought to include the entire word of God because Jesus is fully God.

Here’s the point. Since the scripture is God’s word to us, we can fully expect that when we read it and as we put it in our hearts and minds, the Holy Spirit will use it to guide us. After all, the Holy Spirit is fully God. I realize that all of us would like the Holy Spirit to tell us exactly what to do in the various decisions we must make in our lives. That’s important, but this is of first importance. How can the Holy Spirit speak to us if we do not concern ourselves with what he has already said? How can the Holy Spirit bring to our remembrance what Jesus has said if we don’t know what Jesus has said? Many believers do not attend to the word of God and their relationship with God suffers because of it. We limit the Holy Spirit by our unwillingness to pay attention to what he has said in the Word of God. The word of God is the foundation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives. Most of what need to know for living a God honoring life is already found in the word of God.

Now there is no formula for gaining guidance from the Holy Spirit especially when it comes to circumstances that are not specifically addressed by Scripture. I’m referring to questions like, “Should I marry so and so? What school should I attend? As we look at the New Testament and listen to experiences of Christians we see the Holy Spirit uses many ways to guide his people.

Greear offers 4 ways that the Holy Spirit sometimes speaks to us. First he refers to particular prayer burdens. There are times when we are in prayer and we sense that we ought to pray for a certain person or situation. Maybe you have been awakened in the middle of the night with a burden to pray for a specific person or situation only to discover that at that very moment that person was in trouble. Maybe the Holy Spirit brings a specific scripture to mind as you pray. Again, having the word of God in our minds gives the Spirit greater opportunity to use us in prayer.

Then he refers to special insights into people and situations. Maybe as you are praying with someone you sense that you ought to pray in a specific way in which God wants work in that person’s life. Maybe God gives you foreknowledge about a situation that you need to be prepared for. In Acts 11 Paul was given foreknowledge about the shipwreck and how everyone could be rescued. Sometimes we may have a sense that the Holy Spirit is leading us to do a specific thing or say some specific thing to someone.

Next Greear refers to holy ambitions. Paul had an ambition to preach the gospel in Rome. We don’t read anywhere that God told him to go to Rome. In Acts 17:16, we read, “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” An opportunity opened for Paul to speak to some of the leading thinkers in Athens. Surely the Holy Spirit was involved even though it says that Paul was provoked in his spirit. It’s not always easy to know what is God’s Spirit or our spirit. Greear writes, “Provocations in my spirit are often provocations from God’s Spirit. Because our spirit has been united to God’s, unscrambling where ours stops and his begins can be difficult, if not impossible.” Not every ambition is from the Holy Spirit, but God can surely use holy discontent, holy ambition. Finally Greear points to dreams and visions. We hear a great deal about how God is using dreams to reveal Christ and the gospel among Muslim men and women.

Now, it is important that we hold these things loosely. Many people make claims that the Holy Spirit has spoken to them. Greear writes, “To be honest I probably don’t believe 60% of the ‘miracles,’ ‘visions,’ or ‘God told me’ reports that I hear!” If you believe the Holy Spirit is guiding you in a certain way it is good to seek confirmation in prayer and from the counsel of others.

Finally Greear says that the Holy Spirit uses circumstances to guide us. In Acts 16 Paul wanted to go into Asia, but the Holy Spirit kept them from doing that. We don’t know how that happened but Paul concluded that it wasn’t time to go into Asia. Many years ago Jim Elliot and 4 other missionaries believed God wanted them to take the gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. But when they finally made contact with the Auca Indians, all 5 were killed on Jan.8, 1956. Were they led by the Spirit? Some might conclude, “No. Look what happened.” But Jim’s widow, Elizabeth Elliot persevered and the whole tribe came to Christ. And through their martyrdom, many more men and women were called into missionary service. We do not always know what God is doing. And so at the end of the day we must trust in God to direct our steps even when we don’t get it right. God works in our lives and our circumstances to accomplish his purposes. We must look to him.

One final quote from Greear. “Hearing from God means balancing what God puts in your heart with how he guides you through other means, and trusting him all the way.”

III. THE HOLY SPIRIT HELPS US. Jn.14:15-16; Gal.5; Rm.8

In Jn.14:15-16, Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” Those of us who are followers of Jesus want to keep his commandments, because we love him. He has rescued us from sin and destruction. But keeping his good commands can be challenging, so Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to help us.

In Gal.5:22-23, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” We cannot produce these virtues by ourselves. They are the fruit produced in us by the Holy Spirit.

Living out our life with Christ involves our becoming more and more like Jesus in character and conduct both when we are alone and with others. How on earth can we do this?

In Rm.8:1-2, we read, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Wow! Those of us who have turned to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and life are free from any condemnation because of ours sins. This is wonderful news. What assurance is ours.

But in Rm.8:5-6 Paul writes, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” And in Rm.8:12-13 Paul concludes, “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Is Paul contradicting himself? Is it possible for a Christian to come back under the condemnation of God by living according to the sinful nature? A great deal has been written about this chapter.

Here is what I believe. I believe that when a person surrenders their life to Christ in faith, receiving from Jesus the forgiveness of sins and eternal living in the kingdom of God they begin to live a new life that is given by the Holy Spirit who comes to live in us. But what kind of life is it? How will this life be expressed in us? When we receive this new life, we are enabled by the Spirit to actually become like Jesus in our character and conduct. But the Holy Spirit doesn’t produce this life in us without our full participation. So there is work for us to do. We seek to resist temptation and sin. We seek to put to death the sinful habits and ways of thinking that have become embedded in our minds and bodies. And we do this by setting our hearts and minds on the things of the Holy Spirit, which are the things of Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, Peter writes, that God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. The Holy Spirit is the Helper par excellence. The power of God for holy living resides in you if you know Christ. And so we must learn to lean into the Holy Spirit as we seek to obey the good commands of Jesus. We lean into the Holy Spirit by seeking him and relying on him because our very lives depend upon Him.

If you know Christ, you have the Holy Spirit? He is living in you. Does this make any difference for you? Do you seek the Holy Spirit’s assurance, guidance and help? We are Christians. We live in the kingdom of God as we journey through life on earth. The Holy Spirit is essential for our living as Christians in this world. Ask the Lord to fill you with his Spirit. Set your mind, your heart on the things that the Spirit desires found in the word of God. Amen