Complete Joy

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Complete Joy

This week, and throughout the month of July, we will be taking a deeper look at 1 John.  While 1 John may have been written almost 2000 years ago, it contains great truth that we can apply to our lives today.  The main question this book answers for us is, “what does it mean and look like to truly be a Christian?” 

That is a question that I’m sure many of us have asked at some point in our lives.  Depending on who you ask, you may get many different answers.  Some will tell you Christians are good people who typically do good things.  Some will say that Christians are loving people.  Some might even say that Christians are nothing but hypocrites.  Sadly, all some think of when they think of Christians are closed minded bigots who are stuck in some archaic dogmatic system of dos and don’ts. 

1 John gives us, as Christians, a better understanding of what it means to be a true believer and helps us see whether or not we are truly living as Christians.  At the time John wrote this letter there was a lot of false teaching going around about what it meant to be a Christian, so, John wrote this letter to set things strait, confronting the issues and lies that were facing the church at the time.

The main theme of 1 John can be captured in three areas: right thinking, righteous living, and righteous relationships.  These three things are the marks of true, genuine Christ followers.  This week, we will focus on the first four verses of chapter 1 and learn three basic principles for our lives that John is teaching us: Jesus really lived, I really experienced him, and I really want you to experience him too.

1 John 1:1-4

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We write this to make our joy complete.

Jesus Really Lived

This is the foundation stone for our Christian faith and salvation: Jesus really lived and he is who he said he was.  This is truth. Sound doctrine.  Right thinking.  The generation that John was writing to was three generations removed from the life and ministry of Jesus.  Like our culture today, there was a lot of misinformation going around about who Jesus was, what he did, and whether or not he truly rose from the dead. 

John writes, as a first hand eye witness to the life of Jesus, describing the truth of what Jesus really is.  He saw it for himself.  He saw him heal the sick and multiply the loaves and fishes.  He saw him calm the storm and raise Lazarus from the dead.  He heard him.  He heard him preach the sermon on the mount.  He heard Jesus say, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “I and the Father are one.”  He even touched him.

Why does this matter for us today?  Regardless of what is being taught in the world today about who Jesus was, we must hold on to the truth presented in Scripture about who Jesus was.  Jesus really lived.  Fully God.  Fully man.  Sinless.  Perfect.  Right thinking matters because it determines your actions.

We Experienced Him

Not only did Jesus live, John writes, we experienced him personally.  He changed our lives.  There is something worth noting in the Greek grammar here that we can miss in English.  John uses the perfect tense to say, “we have seen, we have heard, we have touched.”  The perfect tense describes a past action that has continuing results.  The past action is still happening.

Jesus’ past actions should have continuing results in your life.

This is the mark of a true Christ.  The person I was is not the same person I am, he’s still changing me.  When John spoke, and when you and I speak, of what Jesus has done, we are not talking about an event that happened one time in history, we are talking about something that is continuously happing.  We were changed and are still being changed by our encounter with Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

This is a process in the Bible referred to as Sanctification.  Though we are made right with God at the moment of our salvation through Justification, Sanctification is a lifetime process of God transforming us to be like him.  We are growing more and more into his identity each and every day.

John describes that Jesus is “the Word of life.”  Jesus is not just a word about life.  He is not an app we pull out to make our life more useful.  He is not an accessory.  Jesus is what life is all about.  What John is saying is, you don’t have to imagine your life without Him because you can experience the life of Christ every single day. 

We can see his healing power.  We can see him transforming our hearts and lives, as well as, the hearts and lives of the people around of.  We witness the body of Christ, the church, going out and preaching the gospel, serving the poor, healing the sick.  We experience Jesus in worship.  We hear him speak through his Word, the Bible.  We experience his love and acceptance even when we fail.


JESUS IS LIFE.


John is writing to an audience of people like you and I, who may not be experiencing the fullness of joy and life that Christ has made available.  Sometimes we fail to live with Jesus as life and we miss the fullness of the joy and life that he brings.  When Jesus is life, nothing is ever the same because he changes everything.  Not just once, but, continually.  Jesus is always growing and changing us to be more like himself.

We Want You to Experience Him Too

When Jesus becomes life in your life and changes your life, he doesn’t do it for just you.  It is meant to be shared with others.  John makes the point in verse 4 that his complete joy is not dependent on himself but on something that happens to someone else.  Our joy in Christ is made complete when we share that joy with others.

The whole reason John is writing this letter, as he describes in verse 3, is so that they can share in the fellowship with him.  Why?  Because it should never be enough or us to experience Christ as life by ourselves.  We should want others to share in the experience.

Have you ever been somewhere that you just loved that brings you joy?  Maybe it was a restaurant, or a vacation spot, or a beautiful landscape.  It may be great to be there and enjoy it alone.  But you know what brings even greater joy?  Sharing that joy with someone else and them finding joy in it.  When someone expresses joy in the things that give you joy it takes your joy to a completely different level. 

Your joy is less about getting something more for yourself and more about sharing what you have already received with someone else.  It is the same with Jesus.  The fact that Jesus made a way for us to go and be with him forever in heaven should bring us great joy.  But do you know what would make my joy complete?  If my family and friends would be there to share it with me.

How is your joy?  The solution according to John, according to God’s Word is this: get closer with those who know Jesus and reach further to those who don’t.  

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Godly Fathers Influence Godly Children

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Godly Fathers Influence Godly Children

As we continue our series, Our Four Fathers, a play on words looking at the lives of four individuals who give us examples of the love of our heavenly father, we look this week at Mordecai.  We have looked at these examples of fathers found in Scripture, examining how they reflect God’s character in their best qualities and a picture of God’s grace towards us in their worst qualities.  Through their examples, we are reminded that God is a good father who is patient and kind, merciful and gracious towards all His children.

When we think about biblical examples of fathers, I’m sure Mordecai is not the first name that comes to mind for many of us.  His story is found in the book of Esther in the Old Testament.  When Mordecai’s story first begins, he is actually not a father.  According to the account in Esther, he becomes a father by choice, through the adoption of his niece, Esther.

To summarize the story, the Jews are living in captivity in Persia under the rule of the king Xerxes.  After months of continual partying, Xerxes calls for his wife, Vashti, to be brought out to be paraded in front of all his guests for their enjoyment.  When she refused, the king sent her away and we never hear from her again in the Bible.

The king finds himself without a queen, so, he seeks to replace her.  Women come from all over the region to seek the kings attention, hoping they will be chosen to be the new queen.  One of the women who attended was Esther, whose name was Haddassah, meaning “dazzling beauty.”  So who do you think caught the eye of the king?  The dazzling beauty, of course.

Esther would go on to become the new queen of Persia, married to Xerxes.  As queen, she soon finds herself in a difficult situation.  In this time, we see several instances of Mordecai being a godly father and witness his example he set before his daughter, Esther.  Let’s look at three principles of good, godly fathers that can be taken from the life of Mordecai.


Good fathers decide to keep being good fathers

This is an amazing principle we see in this passage of scripture.  For those of you who are fathers today, notice this, Mordecai decided to be a father.  By some turn of events, this little girl is orphaned and Mordecai had the power to do something about it.  He made a decision to be a dad.  It is one thing to decide to father a child; it is a more important thing to decide to be a father to your children until the day you die.

This is evident in the everyday decisions that fathers must make to invest in the lives of their children.  You have to make the decision day in and day out, over and over again, to be a father.  That’s exactly what Mordecai did; he made the decision to be a father.  Being a good father is not natural; it doesn’t just happen on its own.  Being a good father to your kids involves making a daily, intentional choice to be a good father.


Good fathers model godly character

Continuing in the story, Mordecai overhears of a plot to overthrow the king.  He tells Esther who informs the right people who then thwart the plan.  In chapter 2 verse 23, it tells us that this was written down in the daily court record in the king’s presence.

Enter the bad guy of the story, Haman. 

Haman is an arrogant bigot who is full of himself, wielding his power like a dictator, demanding that every person who saw him bow in his presence.  When he passed by, everyone bowed, with one exception, Mordecai.  Mordecai would only bow to the one true God and chose to defy the orders of Haman.  Of course, this infuriated Haman, who sought to destroy Mordecai and the entire nation of Israel.

What we see in this example is that good fathers model godly character for their children.  Mordecai is modeling godly character by refusing to bow to anyone except God.  Later in the story, we see that Esther will demonstrate great courage that will save the entire nation.  Where do you think she learned this type of character?  She must have learned it from watching her dad display godly character in the face of difficult or dangerous circumstances.

Mordecai’s godly character is demonstrated to Esther in the way he refuses to bow to anything other than God.  Similarly, fathers who want to demonstrate godly character to their children must make the decision that they will not place anything in their lives above God.  If fathers want their children to grow up to honor God and seek God with their heart and lives, they must first demonstrate this type of commitment to God.

Character is not taught as much as it is taught.  You may have heard it said that actions speak louder than words.  When it comes to godly character, nothing could be more true.  Children, like you, don’t like lectures.  They want to see what you are talking about evidenced by what you do. 

The heart of a child is truly saying “don’t just tell me that you love me, show me you love me.  Don’t just tell me what to do, show me what to do. Don’t just mandate morality for me, model morality for me.”  Very simply dads: live it, don’t just lecture it.  When it comes to faith and godly character here is a principle to remember: If you live it they will learn it.  If you lecture it they will leave it. 


Good fathers encourage their children to live for God’s purpose

There comes a time in every child’s life where they mature and grow to a greater purpose than just being a child.  They may have a greater purpose than their parents can understand.  But God knows.  What is the purpose you are encouraging and challenging your children to live for?  What is the purpose down the road you are preparing and equipping them for? 

Are we helping them have great dreams about God’s kingdom and their role in it?  Are we exhorting them to think great thoughts about the church?  Are we telling them about God’s plan for the church in the world and their part in reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus?

That is exactly what Mordecai did. 

Haman has decided he wants to kill all the Jewish people.  He convinces Xerxes that it is necessary.  So, the Jews know they are as good as dead.  When Esther finds out that Mordecai is weeping and fasting, she asks him what is wrong.  His response to her is profound, saying, “you may have been chosen queen for such a time as this.” 

As we previously discussed, crisis reveals character.  His response in crisis was to point his daughter to her God-given destiny and purpose.  At this time when most parents would fear for their child’s life, Mordecai is encouraging his daughter that maybe God had made her queen so that she could save her people.  He encouraged her to live for God’s purpose.

 

Never underestimate the sovereignty of God.

As Esther follows her fathers advice, acting boldly with courage, she turns the heart of the king to save her people.  The sovereignty of God had elevated her to this position, in this time, to save her people.  She responded in obedience and boldness to the purpose and will of God.  However, it was the godly example of her father that gave her the courage and ability to do so.

Some of you have a Haman in your life right now.  It could be a person or a troubling situation.  Someone or something is trying to thwart God’s purpose and plan for your life.  Remember this, if God is writing the story of your life, the story is not over until He is done and says that it is over.  It may seem like all the power is in the hands of the enemy.  It might appear that an evil king is on the throne with control over your life.  But keep this as your reminder: the sovereign hand of God controls history and the future and no one else. 

The Bible tells us that all things work together for the good of those whose hearts belong completely to Him.  Don’t give up.  Don’t be discouraged.  The sovereign hand of God is still working. Sometimes our greatest opposition can become the pathway to a new position and purpose.  When the enemy plans a demotion, God can turn it around into a promotion.


Never underestimate the power of a good father

Good fathers model godly character for their children.  This goes beyond words into actions.  The decisions you make today will influence the decisions your children will make tomorrow.  If you have the privilege to influence a child in any way, take it seriously and do so wisely.  God is going to take them to places and situations where he wants to use them for his purposes.  You have been placed in the position of a father for such a time as this to lead your children to their identity and purpose in Christ.


Never underestimate the significance of a disciple

Parents often try to control the destinies of their children without doing the hard work of discipling.  The parent’s responsibility is to disciple their children to become followers of Jesus.  God handles the destinies.

Esther was a little Jewish orphan girl at the beginning of the story.  By the end of the story she is Queen of Persia.  It doesn’t matter where you come from; God can take you where he wants you to go.  That is the gospel: God turning orphans into sons and daughters, kings and queens.

The time you invest in your children and disciples, whether biological or spiritual, can lead them to their destiny and purpose in Christ.  The responsibility of parents and disciple-makers is to lead their disciples to discover their identity in Christ and fulfill his purposes.

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Father of Faith

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Father of Faith

Each June, we set aside a Sunday to honor our fathers and the impact they have had our lives.  Regardless of your relationship with your father, a father has had some impact on your life.  Not all have experienced the love of a godly father.  Some may have never had a father in their life at all.  Others may have painful experiences of their childhood fathers. 

 

No matter what relationship you share with your earthly father, there is a common trend that we all face in that the way we view our heavenly father is often shaped by the way we view our earthly father.  If our earthly father was loving, we view God, our heavenly father, as loving.  If our earthly father was distant and uncaring, we view God as distant and uncaring.  If our father was harsh and strict, we will view God as being harsh and strict as well.

 

So, what makes a good father?  You don’t have to look far into our world to see examples of fathers that are glamorized in pop culture.  However, fathers in our media and television are portrayed as aloof, clueless, and bumbling through life. It seems that there aren’t many great prominent examples of fathers who are strong godly leaders in American culture today.

 

Over the next month, we will look at biblical examples of fathers and how their example can reflect to us the nature and character of God, our father.  This week, we begin by looking at the example of perhaps one of the most famous fathers in the Bible, father Abraham.

 


Faith Despite Weakness

When we pick up the story of father Abraham in Genesis, he is named Abram and has no sons.  In fact, he was well beyond the age that we would see fatherhood as a feasible option.  Additionally, his wife was barren and had been unable to have children.  So, the notion that Abraham would one day become the father of nations seemed laughable.  And that is exactly what happened when God told Abraham and his wife, Sarah that he would become the father of nations and have offspring as numerous as the stars, they laughed.

 

Before you criticize Abraham, how many times have you heard the promises of God, looked at your circumstances, and laughed in disbelief?  What excuses have you offered to God as to why his promises could never come true?

 

One of the main things that we learn from the life of Abraham is this principle:  God can and will use you in spite of your weaknesses.  Abraham’s list of weaknesses was extensive.  There were many reasons for him to doubt what God had promised him.  On the surface, it seemed impossible.  However, Abraham was not limited by the circumstances in his response of faith to God.

 

Romans 4 gives us a description of Abraham having a trusting relationship with God despite the weakness of his faith and despite the circumstances he found himself in. 

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him “so shall your offspring be.”  Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.  Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promises.  This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” Romans 4:18-22

 

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.  Abraham defied his circumstances and what made sense because he trusted in the promise of God.  Despite everything he knew and understood, Abraham trusted and believed God.  Because of his faith, the promises of God came true in his life.  The real test of what you truly believe isn’t what you say you believe.  It’s not even what you think you believe.  It’s what you do.

 

Faith is active; it is an action.  A belief doesn’t become faith until it is acted upon.  Abraham could say that he believed God and trusted God, but until he acted upon it, it wasn’t faith.  There are times when it is easy to have faith in God.  However, nothing proves what we believe more than what we do during crisis, difficulty, and disasters.

 


A Journey of Faith

We often think that Abraham was always a perfect example of faith, however, that is not the case.  Life is a journey of faith that finds us at times following boldly and obediently the call of God, yet, at other times we are cowering, crippled in a state of fear and faithlessness.  We see this in Abraham as well.  There are times where he is full of faith then suddenly something happens and he is doubting everything he once believed about God.

 

When Abraham first receives God’s promise for him to become the father of many nations, God tells him to leave his home and take his family to a place that God will show him.  Abraham follows in obedience, acting out his faith.

 

In that very same chapter (Genesis 12), Abraham and his family travel through Egypt.  Abraham is filled with fear and doubt and thinks to himself, “my wife is beautiful and these Egyptians will want to take her as one of their wives and will kill me in the process.”  So, he tells Sarah to lie and say that she is his sister so that they will not kill him to get to her.

 

Abraham acted upon the faith to leave his homeland to follow the promise of God.  When the promise of God met with uncertainty and doubt, Abraham acted in fear.  Quickly he forgot the promise of God to lead and protect him and began to doubt that God would fulfill this promise.  Faith grows through testing. 

 

Romans 5 tells us that faith produces perseverance, which produces character, which gives us hope.  Faith does not grow without being tested.  Nothing tests and forms our faith more than situations of crisis.  Crisis is the crucible in which our faith is forged. 

 

It would be nice if this was the only time that Abraham faltered because of his fear and doubt.  Eleven years later, Abraham and Sarah become impatient waiting on the promise of God and Sarah decides that Abraham should have a child with her servant, Hagar.  Then, thirteen years later when God promises that Abraham will have a son, Abraham and Sarah laugh at this promise.  Abraham, the great hero of faith, is clearly lacking faith. 

 

That is because faith is more than a one-time event.  It is a process that lasts a lifetime, taking us through mountains and valleys, victories and defeats, joy and pain, laughter and tears, all the while strengthening our trust in a faithful God who is a good Father, who will fulfill every promise his Word has given us no matter what we see or are experiencing in that moment. 

 

God’s faithfulness is not dependent on our faith.  We should be thankful for that.  Even when we are faithless, God is still faithful.

 

Even though Abraham was faithless and pretended that Sarah was not his wife or that he impregnates a servant girl because he was tired of waiting on God, or that he laughed at God when he gives him the promise of a son, Paul says that Abraham didn’t waver in his belief that he believed beyond all hope.  He was fully persuaded of God’s power and we know him today as the father of faith.  How is that even possible?  God’s view of you is never determined by the failures of your past, because it is determined by your current position in Christ.

 

God doesn’t define you by who you used to be or what you’ve done because He is busy making you into who he has called you to be.  The Bible tells us that when we have been made new in Christ, our past, who we used to be, and the things we did are gone and we take on the identity of Christ. We are no longer seen as the person we used to be, we are seen clothed in Christ.  God didn’t define Abraham by his past failures, and He does not define you that way either. 

 

Think about it for a minute. Jesus used the phrase, “well done my good and faithful servant,” in twice in one of his parables (Matthew 25:21,23) to describe how God would settle accounts at the end of this age. If you are like me your first response might be, “from what I remember it wasn’t all that well done, nor was I all that faithful at times.” Gratefully God doesn’t see me alone, but sees me clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

 

Our journey of faith begins with us taking on Christ as our identity.  Through Christ, we are made perfect.  Our weaknesses become strength.  Our failures become faith.  In order for this kind of active faith to be made possible, we have to make Christ our Lord and place our hope and trust in Him.

 


Faith Made Perfect

Abraham demonstrates in this story that it is not the amount of faith you have, rather, it is what you have faith in.  Jesus tells us that we only need the faith the size of a mustard seed to do incredible things.  How is this possible?  It is possible because what matters is not the size of your faith, rather, it’s about the object of your faith, the size of your God.

 

No greater example can be given of the power of faith than the gift of salvation that God has given us.  When we place our hope and faith in Christ as Savior, it is not how much faith we have, rather it is the object of our faith, Christ, that saves us.  It is not the quantity of faith that sustains us through the trials of life. It is the object of our faith, Christ, that sustains us through life.

 

Paul describes Abraham and Sarah as being dead, yet through God, they were brought from “as good as dead” to life.  It seemed impossible that Abraham and Sarah would be able to have a son given their physical condition, however, God calls things into being that are not there yet.  In the same way that God called Abraham, God is calling you to a life far beyond where you are now.  The only way this is possible is because God loves you relentlessly and has sent Jesus to be the object of your faith.

 

Hebrews 12 instructs us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.  Jesus is not only the object of our faith, he is the source of our faith and what makes our faith perfect.  Faith is made possible through Christ, it is placed solely on Christ, and is made perfect when we meet Jesus face to face.

 


Responding in Faith

So where do we go from here?  Some of you may find yourself in a situation where faith seems far off.  You may need the reminder of Hebrews 12 that Christ is the author of our faith, he is what makes faith possible, and he is the finisher of our faith.  It is not the size of faith that matters, it is the object of your faith.

 

You may have never placed your trust in Christ as Savior and therefore are not able to demonstrate faith through Christ.  God’s Word gives us the promise that if we surrender our lives to Christ, we take on His identity and are made new.  As you live in this new identity in Christ, you become able to live a life of active faith.

 

Wherever you find yourself, remember that faith is active.  It’s not just about what you believe, it’s about what you do.  God is not limited by your circumstances or weaknesses.  Step out in faith and allow God to work in your life in a powerful way that only he can.

 

How is God leading you to step out and respond to Him in faith today?

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Loyalty

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Loyalty

This month, as part of our “In the Line of Duty” series, we’ve been looking at some of the core values that every Christian has a duty to practice or exhibit in their lives. We’re doing this in conjunction with military appreciation month because we have so many military personnel here at In Focus Church and we’ve learned that our different military branches themselves use a lot of these same core values.

Now, let me set this up again by defining duty, but I am going to do it a bit differently. I am going to personalize it from a Christian perspective. That which I owe Jesus Christ. That which I am bound by natural, supernatural, moral and legal obligation. Obedience and submission to God. Reverence and respect towards my heavenly Father. What I ought to do according to God’s Word, the Bible.

That is duty. I want to look at Ecclesiastes 12:13 as it gives us a broad stroke definition of what our duty is as a human being.

13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

All mankind. I love that. Why? Because it is the duty of the created ones to follow their creator, whether we acknowledge and accept our duty or not… Now, if you are a Christian, I am going to tell you why it is so important to fulfill your duty as a believer. We do this by God’s grace. Here is the main point of this series, why it matters:

In the line of duty we become more like Christ.

This is the goal of our lives, to be more like Jesus. So, by grace through faith not only are we saved but also we fulfill our duty before God, because your duty tells your feelings to take a back seat to your faith. This is important because you don’t always “feel” like doing what you ought to do. How many of you know we must do this at times because being led by emotions will often take us places we never should go? So, by grace we obey God’s Word, we trust His ways and we fulfill our duty, we do what we ought to do out of obedience and reverence to God. However, as I’ve said beforeand I’ll say it again, we don’t want to have joyless duty. God made our emotions and they allow us to worship Him and love Him so we need them if our relationship is going to be one of delighting in the Lord. So we want to move from mere duty-driven Christianity to you do what you love to do, because what you love to do is what you ought to do.

This is how King David approached God in Psalm 119 when he said over and over again I delight in your decrees and I love to keep your commands. So, in the line of duty we become more courageous, we become more joyful, and we become people of integrity.

I want to cover another lost characteristic and word and it this; in the line of duty we become more like Christ and we become more loyal. Loyalty is a lost virtue. We are not typically loyal to much of anything anymore, not our jobs, our spouses, our churches, our leaders — the simple reason is because we are primarily loyal to, wait for it… ourselves. To me it is sad that the first thing most people think about when I say the word loyalty is a dog. Hachiko is probably the most famous, but there are plenty of stories out there. Now, I love dogs and they are loyal, but I know the creator who created every good thing put that in them in the first place, and He certainly expects the crown jewel of creation, which is you, to exhibit loyalty in an even greater manner than “man’s best friend.” Because in reality God is man’s best friend as we will soon learn, and you not only want Him as your friend but you should want to be loyal to Him above all other things. If some of us were as loyal to God as we are to our crappy sports teams (I speak from experience) our lives would be radically different.

God is the originator of all things. God is loyal, so loyalty is of God. His loyal heart is what empowers us to be loyal to Him.

God is loyal so we are to be loyal.

Let me define loyalty to better help us grasp what we are talking about. Loyalty can be defined as faithfulness to commitments. A Christian viewpoint would define it this way, a noble, unswerving allegiance, rooted in faith and love, that binds hearts together in common purpose.

You know what I see very clearly in that definition? Loyalty is what binds my heart together with God and God’s people to accomplish a common purpose. That common purpose is God’s purpose, and God’s purpose always includes working together as God’s people. Loyalty is the glue that holds us together so our joint partnership in the gospel accomplishes more than if we were isolated from each other. Let’s say it this way, Loyalty precedes the power to do more together than we could ever do alone.

Let’s further illustrate the importance of fulfilling our duty to have loyalty by looking at 2 Chronicles 16:9. I was just at “Honors Day” this past week for Josiah, our 14 year old son, and as they were giving out awards I kept thinking about how the teachers and administrators picked certain kids to win awards — what characteristics were they looking for?

Well, here is what the Bible says God is looking for…

9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. (NKJV)

How many of you would like to have God’s support? Well, this is why loyalty is so important. God is on a constant search and the object of God’s search is loyalty. That’s what He is looking for and the Bible says His power will be given to those who possess it. Church, I want us to be found as loyal people to God and to one another, because God is always searching for a loyal man or woman to support. When God finds loyalty He does mighty things!! Once God finds a Noah, He can send a flood and build a boat. Once he finds a Caleb and Joshua He can take the Promised Land. Once He has an Elijah he can turn a nation around. God is always looking for loyalty because once he finds loyal heart; He can do mighty things in the earth. What about a loyal people, a loyal church? What mighty things could he do through us if we would fulfill our duty to be loyal to him and one another?

Loyalty precedes the power to do more together than we could ever do alone.

What students could walk in purity and holiness? What orphan could find a home? What campus could be reached with the Gospel? What community could see the love of Jesus? What nation could be reached if we would have the support and power of God in our lives because of our loyalty to Him and one another?

In the line of duty we become more like Christ and there was no one more loyal to God and to God’s people than God Himself. The trinity, one God, three persons is the template for true loyalty. This is why the Bible implores us to pursue godliness. Godliness is simply the quality of being more like God. Since God is loyal, those who are godly will pursue loyalty in their own lives. Let me add that loyalty is both pursued and given. We pursue God then He gives it to us by His Spirit. We cannot manufacture it ourselves. So why does God give us loyalty? First and foremost so we can be loyal to Him. Loyalty to God is our first and greatest obligation.

Hebrews 10:22 says it this way, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… (NKJV) A true heart is a heart that is loyal to God with no duplicity. Basically meaning we are not two-faced about our commitment to Him. If placed in a situation where we have to choose either God or man, we choose God every time. God comes first.

Whether you realize it or not our loyalties between man and God are tested everyday. And nothing tests our loyalties like difficulty, difficulty will detect where our true loyalties lie. For reference, let’s look at the story behind our main scripture in 2 Chronicles 16:9. I am going to interject some current parallels and here is what we will see…

Loyalty sees God as our only source of salvation and deliverance.

So Asa is the king of Jerusalem and like all the kings of Jerusalem he is facing the difficulty of dealing with a hostile enemy. (We are all still dealing with a hostile enemy who is coming to test your loyalties I assure you.) Now, early on in his reign a million man army rose up against him and invaded their land. Asa was afraid and cried out to the Lord. (When you are afraid to whom do you cry out? At some point and time every believer has to come to a place of realizing we are naked and afraid without God and we cry out to Him for help.)

Because God is loyal, He intervened and struck down the Ethiopian army giving Asa a huge victory. Asa saw God perform the impossible on his behalf and rescue and deliver him. (Again, many of you have seen God come through and save and rescue you, which elicits our loyalty towards Him). Now, fast forward 6 years and Asa is a seasoned veteran. He is stronger and wealthier now. (Ever notice how we can start to feel good about ourselves and think we have it all figured out?) Again, he is attacked by another king. So what would Asa do this time? Would he call on God again whom he knew had delivered him before or would he rely on his own strength now?

Well, in this story Asa chose the latter and made his own plan by paying off another king to help in the battle. And on the surface his planned worked, but the way he accomplished it did not make God happy. Some of you have done things in your own strength or through your own resources and it appears to have got your desired end result but deep down you know or maybe you don’t know, but you turned to yourself or something else first instead of God because the pressure caused you to want to speed things up or get out of the difficulty. So when that happens — we go all Frank Sinatra and do it our way.

So, in Asa’s case the Lord sent a messenger to deliver this message from 2 Chronicles 16:9 9 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. Let’s read the second half of the verse… In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”

God is looking for those who will look to Him exclusively as their source of rescue, deliverance, rather than relying on their own strength and human resources. Those who rely on God in the face of overwhelming difficulty and distress are viewed by God as loyal. In difficult times and troubling situations, times where we don’t understand, times where our wants and desires are not lining up with God’s, tired of waiting — are we loyal to God in spiritual conflicts? Are we loyal to God’s people, our friends in times of human conflict?

If Asa would have remained loyal to God he would have received God’s power. Remember loyalty precedes power. God had more victories in store for Asa beyond his wildest dreams, but he never touched them because he turned elsewhere for help. God has victories for you and I beyond our wildest dreams but we must continue or start to turn towards Him as our only source of salvation and deliverance.

Loyalty sees God as our only source of salvation and deliverance.

Do you want relief or do you want the mighty salvation of God? Because if you just want relief then human resources will do, but if you need and want salvation and deliverance then there is only one source for that and it is the one true God. Think about it, if I am struggling with addiction I don’t need relief I need deliverance. If I am on the verge of losing my marriage I don’t need relief I need salvation and restoration. If my heart is black and dead apart from Christ I don’t need some relief I need a resurrection!!!

For those that have been saved, the same God that saved you in the first place is the same God that still saves you today. For those that are awakening to the reality that you need a savior, then there is only one who can save and deliver and his name is Jesus, nothing else will satisfy and no one else deserves your loyalty like Him.

For those that have been saved, the same God that saved you in the first place is the same God that still saves you today.

Do you know why no one deserves loyalty like him, because no one gives loyalty like Him. Now, you may be thinking why is loyalty such a big deal, why does God care so much about it? Simply put it is because disloyalty is what disrupted heaven’s unity and joy and the author of that disloyalty is still trying to disrupt the church’s unity and joy and God hates it. Lucifer’s disloyalty fueled by pride was the catalyst for the fall and introduced darkness into a world that only had light.

So some of the strongest verses in the Bible are directed towards believers who give their loyalty towards Christ and then betray his love. Why? Because God has been so loyal to you. God sent His only son to be sacrificed in our place on the cross, receiving none of the enemy’s accusations against you and allowing no one to take you out of His hand — so now our obligation and duty is to return that loyalty to Him. But that duty, that obligation is supposed to be out of voluntary love. You cannot have loyalty without love. Our great affection for God causes us to love him and want to be loyal to him alone. And while we are commanded to love everyone it is impossible to be loyal to everyone. Love is directed towards all mankind, even to our enemies according to Jesus, but loyalty only to a few. It is not contrived or manufactured, it is given by God for those who pursue it in Christ.

Here is where the redemption story becomes so amazing in this context. In Luke 4:5–8 Satan took Jesus up on a high mountain to tempt Him away from God. I’ll give you what is rightfully yours if you will worship me; give your loyalty to me. Basically inviting Jesus to follow in his betraying footsteps. He attacked God’s character and whether or not He truly was a good father. I want you to recognize this tactic because it is the same one Satan used on Adam and Eve and it is the same accusation he will use on you. “Come on Jesus. Your “good” Father is calling you to death?! I won’t do that to you. I will give you everything your Father is offering to give you but all I want is your love and worship. But that’s not good enough for your Heavenly Father. He wants you to suffer, and die on a cross. Love and worship me as your father and I’ll give you your inheritance in a more dignified way that you really deserve.”

I hear those same lies today, especially in the church. “You don’t need to pick up your cross. I won’t ask you to die daily like your “good” heavenly Father. If you will just be loyal to me you can have a good life and be comfortable forever.”

All of these promises to Jesus were empty lies, just like all the lies Satan feeds you and I today. Jesus knew they were lies and refused to renounce his loyalty to His Heavenly Father. Instead He laid down His life for us and made a way for us to be loyal to God just as He was. Although we were born into sin and brokenness, Jesus came to save us from that lost condition and give us salvation. This salvation would produce a never-ending heart of affectionate allegiance in all of us for the one who saved and delivered us from darkness. Redemption says we get to voluntarily love God and be loyal to Him forever.

“Yeah, but you don’t know how bad I have messed up or the darkness of my heart.” True, but God does and He still loves you because He is a covenant keeping God who is loyal to His promises so He is loyal to you. He is loyal to His promise to seek and save that which is lost. He is loyal to His promise to save any who would repent and call on His name as Savior because he does not want anyone to perish.

If you are believer, I want you to know God is loyal to you and He is the one that empowers you to be loyal to Him. Just like Abraham was called a friend of God, so can you. In the case of Abraham He was loyal to him even when Abraham messed up and was wrong (See story of Abraham and Abimelech). This is the kind of loyalty God gives, and if you are like me I need a God who will be my friend even when I make mistakes. “No greater love has a man than this than he lays down His life for his friend,” and that is what Jesus did for you and me while we were still far from Him. This is the God who has been loyal to you and me through Jesus death and resurrection and has therefore won our loyalties.

God is loyal so we are to be loyal. If we will be loyal to Him and to His people that He has placed in our lives, we will have the power, God’s power, to do more than we could ever have accomplished alone. That’s why the church must be loyal to our one true God.

(Many of these points and theological angles come from the book “Loyalty” by author Bob Sorge)

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Duty and Delight

Duty and Delight

Duty and Delight

One of the reasons we did this series called In the Line of Duty is because May is Military Appreciation month. And in case you didn’t know, we have a lot of military personnel and families in this church. The idea arose as we considered how men and women in the armed forces have a duty to their country they fulfill. Within their duties are core values like courage, integrity, loyalty and service. What we see is that many of these core values are values that every Christian has a duty to exhibit. How that duty turns into delight is an interesting concept, but what we are going to see as it relates to our relationship with Christ is this — one of our actual duties as a Christian is to delight in the Lord… and it is in the line of this duty that all other spiritual core values flow. Here’s the point of this series, IN THE LINE OF DUTY WE BECOME MORE LIKE CHRIST. More courageous, more integrity, more loyal, more selfless, and more joyful.

It is in the line of duty we increasingly become more and more like Jesus.

Duty is defined as that which a person owes another. That which a person is bound by any natural, moral or legal obligation. Obedience and submission. Reverence or respect.What one ought to do.

There is so much in that definition, and I want to spend some time breaking it down, but first let me ask you a question.

Have you ever felt like you were just going through the motions in life? You know what I am talking about. As an employee, as a boss, as a husband or wife, as a dad or maybe even as a mom? I am pretty sure we all have. Some of you are there right now and I don’t think it is abnormal and you shouldn’t feel condemned by it. But how we respond in those moments is very important.

Now the enemy would make you want to think it is ridiculous that you would ever feel unfulfilled or unsatisfied in any way, and if you are a Christian he’s right. But his solution to that problem is very different than God’s. The voice of the enemy would say the best solution would be to forfeit or give up on your “duty” if you will, and try something new. There is something “out there” better and more conducive to your happiness.

Our culture panders to this idea as well, may even define it as mid-life crisis, and gives us every excuse to pursue any and every thing that will bring us happiness in this life. Treat life like a video game and hit the reset button. But this is where we walk by faith not by feelings or sight and fulfill our duty to honor God. We don’t reset our duty, we recommit.

So, on the other hand, this is God’s solution: that you would fulfill your duty to Him to obey His Word and submit to Him as Lord out of reverence. Here’s what happens when we do what we “ought,” Duty tells our feelings to take a back seat to our faith. Are you saying I am never supposed to be happy? No, but I am saying your primary duty is to find your happiness in Christ first and foremost because that is where you will be completely fulfilled, satisfied and where all other joys flow from. Yes you are to be fulfilled, yes you are to be satisfied, yes you are to be joy-filled but your duty is to pursue all of that in Christ first.

So, I want to give you the main passages of scripture as a series reference point. It is found in Ecclesiastes 12:13.

13 Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

Here is the “what” as it relates to our duty as a believer. This stresses the greatness and majesty of God when it says “fear Him,” and also the unchanging authority of His Word, the Bible — when it says keep his commandments. In the end nothing else will matter but this. As one commentator put it, for this man was made and placed in the world; this is his real object, the chief good which he has to seek, and which alone will secure contentment and happiness.[1]

Your main duty is to obey God. And while that seems so simplistic and cliché it is vital to grasp. The enemy has tricked us in to thinking obedience = boredom and disobedience = fun, pleasure, happiness. However the real truth is that God’s word says in Psalm 16:11 there is the fullness of joy in the presence of God and eternal pleasures at his right hand. But here is where it gets a little tricky for us if you are a Christian, and even if you are not. If you are like me, we think our joy comes from obedience. If I obey God, keep his commandments I will be happy, satisfied and have joy in my life. How’s that worked out for you thus far? I mean isn’t that why, even the most depraved of “sinners” says this phrase when things are going well for someone, “you must be doing something right?” Implying if you are obedient, good, benevolent and such then you will be happy, satisfied and full of joy. Don’t get my wrong, you may be those things at times, you certainly will be benefiting from the blessing of God and his promises because of obedience. That is true. But what about those times when obedience leads us the way of the cross, pain, suffering, perseverance? What then?

Well here is where it gets amazing I think. Actually one of our duties as a Christian is to pursue joy. So yes we should obey God, but now, what I want to look at is this life altering approach to living. If we want to obey God then one of the ways we obey Him is to pursue joy! Think of it this way, it is not“fulfill my duty to obey and I will be full of joy,” it is “fulfill your duty to be full of joy.” So in the line of duty (revering and obeying God) we become more like Christ and we become more like Christ when we fulfill our duty to pursue delighting in the Lord. Joy is not merely a by-product of obedience, it is obedience. Here is the main point, It is my duty to delight in the Lord and it is my delight to fulfill my duty.

It is my duty to delight in the Lord and it is my delight to fulfill my duty.

Let’s start with the definition of duty again. That which a person owes another. What do we owe God? Simply put, everything, the entirety of our lives. He is the reason we exist. Jesus already paid the debt of my sin that I could never pay, so that is not what I owe. I owe him my allegiance for purchasing my salvation. Which brings me to this part of the definition, that which a person is bound by any natural, moral or legal obligation.Legally I am bound to Christ if He is my savior and Lord. My life is not my own. I am owned by Him. The bible calls us bond slaves. So I am both morally and legally obligated to serve him with my whole life. The rest of the definition is self-explanatory. We are to be obedient, submissive, and reverent. Duty is doing what we ought to do.

So scripture is slammed with passages about what we ought to do when it comes to joy. Serve the Lord with gladness, Psalm 100:2. Delight yourself in the Lord Psalm 37:4. Jesus said Blessed are you when people insult you… rejoice and be glad for your reward is in heaven Matthew 5:11–12. James 1:2 Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trails. Philippians 4:4 rejoice in the Lord always. 1 Peter 4:13 says 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

I love the Puritans approach to life whose aim was “to know God so well that delighting in Him, may be the work of our lives.” Because “we know that joy would arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”

What?! DID YOU HEAR THAT? When we have delighted in the Lord and tasted and seen that He is good the worm on the hook isn’t so appealing anymore. I am down with the Puritans!

It has always been my contention that Christians should be the happiest people on the planet because of who we are in Christ and who God is to us, and yet because we expect that happiness is a result of something we do for God instead of something we pursue in God we end up being extremely frustrated wondering why we are not satisfied, fulfilled and happy.

Our affections are misplaced. And make no mistake about it, what I am talking about and what the Bible is always talking about when it refers to joy is joy in God. Not joy in our present situation, or difficult circumstance or broken relationships, but joy in the one who completely satisfies. Here is how Psalm 16:11 puts it, in your presence is fullness of joy and in Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Anything else is insufficient because it is qualitatively inferior for the longing in our souls and quantitatively too short for our eternal need. God alone satisfies; He is the object of our affections.

It is our duty to pursue this kind of joy in Christ and it is our joy to fulfill our duty. I am going to give you the church friendly example, but for you mature married adults you can consider another analogy. Suppose one of you husbands in here asks his wife if he must kiss her good night. Her answer is, “you must, but not that kind of must.” What she means is this: “Unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your advances have no moral value.”

In other words, if there is no pleasure in the kiss then your duty has not been done. Delight in her person, expressed in the kiss, is a part of the duty, not a by-product of it. Delighting in the Lord, expressed in every way we can humanly express it, is part of the duty not a by-product of it. If there is no pleasure in Him, His Word, His ways, then we are not fulfilling our duty. I delight in praising Him, I delight in obeying Him, I delight in giving to him, I delight in worshiping him. It is my duty to delight in the Lord and it is my delight to fulfill that duty.

One of John Piper’s most famous quotes really sums up this whole idea; God is most glorified in us when we are the most satisfied in Him. This is our purpose, to bring glory to God by being satisfied in Him, being full of joy because of Him brings him glory and also brings us maximum joy. As a matter of fact you cannot truly experience the fullness of love without truly loving God first. And you cannot experience the fullness of true lasting joy apart form finding joy in Christ first. So if we are really going to love God and love people like our mission statement says, we are going to have to obey God by pursuing joy.

“But I do experience love and I do experience joy, and I don’t really feel like I have a relationship with God.” Or you may say “I feel these things and I don’t know God at all.” And you are right; to a certain extent, but I said the ‘fullness of love and joy.’

You may have heard our current culture described as the most pleasure seeking generation of all time. Now I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that the pleasure we seek cannot be found in the places we are looking if God is not there. Actually as C.S. Lewis states, “we are far too easily pleased.” When God says at His right hand are pleasures forever it seems he is not afraid of pleasure but the one who created it. So our desires are not too strong, they are too weak. Because even as a believer we might say something like, ‘the pull of that temptation or pleasure is too strong for me to resist.’ Which I would reply, “no… it is that your pursuit of pleasure is too weak.” If infinite joy is offered why are you going after temporary joy?

So our desires are not too strong, they are too weak.

I give you two pies. Remember when you were a kid and you made mud pies. Now typically we didn’t eat them, but as kids we were pretty satisfied wallowing around in the mud making mud pies. But what if mom came out and said, “Honey, I have a nice freshly baked apple pie here for you.” What are you going to do?

Here’s what I want you to realize — we are way too satisfied with eating mud pies (porn, love of money, illicit relationships, substance abuse, material possessions, extravagant vacations, etc…) when Jesus is offering hot baked apple pies. We are acting like little children wallowing around in the mud as if that is the height of pleasure because we can’t imagine the offer of infinite joy that God is giving us if we would just pursue our joy in Him. The enemy has us wallowing around in the mud of earthly pleasure eating the pig food of counterfeit delicacies and we think we are taking rose petal baths and eating caviar. That is the height of deception and one we must have our eyes opened to in order to fulfill our duty as Christians.

What is that duty again? Our duty is to delight in the Lord and our delight is to fulfill that duty.

Let’s close out by talking about affections. Because what I see oftentimes is a Christianity that is joyless because we have told ourselves that we can’t have pleasure or we have misplaced our pleasure seeking AND since we have to mute all of our affection, because affection leads to pleasure seeking you see and is most certainly bad, our relationship with God becomes sterile and lifeless. Why? Because it is impossible to have joy without affection, so we suppress, suppress, suppress, when God is saying let it go, let it go, let it go and find it all in me.

Watch this, throughout scripture we are commanded to feel, not just think or decide. It is both/and when it comes to our mind and emotions. So in our lives as Christians we are commanded to experience all kinds of emotions, not just perform acts of will power.

If you are finding yourself powerless against temptation and you are giving in to areas of sin in your life might I propose that you have an affection deficiency in your relationship with God? And if there is no affection for God there really is no relationship with God. And we can’t use the excuse of our personality; well I am just not an emotional person. Fine, but in the presence of God you are. Emotions are commanded throughout the Bible, joy, hope, peace, desire, brokenness, gratitude, and on and on, so being satisfied and delighting in God is our duty.

We must feel something when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. Although duty tells my feelings to take a backseat to my faith when necessary, when I step out in faith my feelings of affection towards God will flood back in because God never disappoints or fails.

If you have to, then just do a joyless duty. That is better than not doing what you ought, but as you do, confess the sin of joylessness and admit the hardness of our heart. Then pray that God would restore the joy of obedience in your life. Psalm 40:8 — “I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” Then ask God to let your heart catch up with your actions. “Lord as I fulfill my duty rekindle my delight.” It’s not, well let me do what’s right….” It’s I get to honor you and do what is righteous.”

Let me just help you by saying this is a work of grace. You can’t make this happen by willpower, you can only cultivate this through relationship. So, although God commands us to delight in Him we rely on His grace to help us fulfill this command. Isn’t that amazing? Lord let my affections be toward you so that my treasure and pleasure is found in Christ first and foremost.

“If it be just a duty then that is what I will do, but I much prefer delighting because that’s when I am most like you.”

Our goal is to be like Jesus and he delighted in God the Father.

Our duty is to delight in the Lord and our delight is to fulfill that duty.

[1] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Ecclesiastes (p. 306). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

Jesus Is — Your Friend

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Jesus Is — Your Friend

The more we see Jesus as He truly is, the more we can become who we truly are supposed to be, and the more we will do what we were created to do. I can’t grow in my likeness of someone I don’t know and I can’t be more like Jesus unless I am growing in my knowledge of Him. So Let's dig in and explore the character of Jesus. In the New Testament and the book of Matthew and Luke, there are a couple of stories and people we can look at.

Now, would you say that you have a few good friends? People you can count on, that you like to spend time with, people that know you well? Ok good. Now, how about you? Would you say you are a good friend to your friends? Don’t be humble now. Last question, how many of you would consider Jesus your friend? This is an important question to answer because it will determine how well you become who you were made to be and do what your called to do. Am I a friend of God?

Growing up I liked having friends to do things with, so I wanted friends. I wanted to have some people I could count on every afternoon for activities. You can’t play kickball alone. Now, how we choose our friends growing up is interesting. Some of it is based on our neighborhood, our school, or maybe our church. At first we are not very selective, just whoever is available. Then things change and we determine whom we like. We start to make a mental list if things someone may need to have or do in order to be our friend. In essence we create a mental measuring stick. We carry this stick around and different factors might affect our decision, I like the way they look, I like the way they dress, I like their money, I like the way they make me feel, and if the measure up they can be my friend.

I had a teacher in 4th grade whose name was Mrs. Livingston. She was one of my all time favorite teachers. She loved the Lord. And Mrs. Livingston would use a big measuring stick to teach every once and a while. It was her pointer and it may have been for affect or emphasis too. But she didn’t use the measuring stick for punishment, that’s what the paddle was for. The reason I mention Mrs. Livingston’s measuring stick is because we can have a measuring stick in our own lives that we not only use to see how we are doing in life, but then we also project our measurements onto other people’s lives and that’s how we choose our friends.

Do they measure up?

You see I’m going to go out on a limb and say you probably like most of your friends, that’s why they are your friends. Safe assumption. But I am also going to bet most of your friends (that you like) are a lot like you. You have common hobbies, skin color, profession or age. And this makes sense and there is nothing inherently immoral about this, but the tension is in order to reach lost people with the love of Christ we have to think differently about who we will befriend. I understand there are different levels of friendship, but the initiating decision of whom we befriend needs some thought. The dictionary defines a friend as someone we will show favor towards, who will we aid and support (for the sake of the gospel).

Well, the Bible has a lot to say about how Jesus chose His friends, and it’s really different than us. The first friend I want to look at is Zacchaeus, the “weee” little man. Don’t you know if Zacchaeus could come back he would find the author of that song and punch him in the nose. Zacchaeus was a tax collector so let’s pick up the story in Luke 19:1–10. But first, here is the point today, Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is our friend.

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through the town. 2 There was a man there named Zacchaeus. He was the chief tax collector in the region, and he had become very rich. 3 He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree beside the road, for Jesus was going to pass that way.
5 When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. “Zacchaeus!” he said. “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today.” 6 Zacchaeus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy. 7 But the people were displeased. “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner,” they grumbled.
8 Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” 9 Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham. Now verse 10 describes Jesus mission and sets the tone for why whom we choose to befriend is so important. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

So let’s unpack this story. Tax collectors were sellouts. They were Jews who worked for the Roman government, so they’d take money from their own people and give it to the enemy in essence. He was a professional cheat and embezzler. He was a reject from his people, a notorious sinner and he’s been notoriously sinning for a long time.

We are not really sure why Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but he did so bad enough to climb a tree to make it happen and this would have been a little embarrassing. Yet he did anyway and then something amazing happens, Jesus sees him up in the tree and calls him by name. People say the sweetest sound to a human being’s ears is the sound of their own name. So Jesus calls this hated, rejected, notorious sinner by name. Maybe this is the first step to be a friend like Jesus, to see people where they are, personalize them, call them by name and recognize they are stamped with the image of God and God knows their name.

What happens next should be encouraging to anyone who is a believer hoping to lead other people to a saving knowledge of Jesus. We don’t know how long Jesus spent with Zacchaeus at his home that day, but we know Jesus changed everything about this man’s life. Not by what He dictated or told Zacchaeus to do or not do, but simply by being a friend. So at some point Zacchaeus stands up and announces that he is changing everything about his life.

This is what we must know by experience, a moment with Jesus changes everything. In this case a lifelong taker announces he is about to become a lavish giver. There is no account of what was said to Zacchaeus so we wouldn’t set up some evangelistic model. No, what we see is a few moments with God in the flesh can change everything. When people encounter Jesus something has to change. Jesus knows this and befriends this notorious sinner.

By befriending Zacchaeus, Jesus broke the measuring stick everyone else in the crowd was using and this is good news for us, as well as a good model for us. Remember, Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is our friend. Because spiritually speaking we all have a little Zacchaeus inside of us (see what I did there?). I think most of us have felt an emptiness, or inadequacy inside of ourselves. A hole that no matter how hard we try or what accomplishments we attain, how much stuff we accumulate, we know something’s still missing, in essence we know we fall “short” in a spiritual sense. The Bible says we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s holy standards. So what do we do? We pick up our measuring stick and start to see how we can get God’s attention. Hey God, I’m up here in the tree, see me? I went to church, I prayed today, I played the Christian radio station on the way to work, Jesus it’s ok you can come to my house today.

But Jesus befriended Zacchaeus because of his own choosing. He stopped because he is gracious, loving, and kind. He stopped because He knew Zacchaeus by name and He called him out of darkness just like He does with you and me. Look at what Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, quick come down,” and Zacchaeus quickly came down to Jesus. “Hurry up” is what Jesus is saying. Come down from trying to measure up, come down from your religion and works and position in life and let my grace save you. And Zacchaeus responded to the call to come to the Savior quickly and he experienced what all who come to Jesus do, Jesus takes our old self and replaces it with our true self, the person he already sees and calls by name.

If that is what Jesus does for us shouldn’t that be what we do for others?

If that is what Jesus does for us shouldn’t that be what we do for others? The answer is rhetorical and answered in verse 10. Jesus summed up his life mission, “I’m here to find and save lost people,” whether they are notorious sinners in sycamore trees or prostitutes or thieves on a cross, I came to help lost people be found. This story, as Jesus said, “I must be a guest in your home,” was to reemphasize Jesus central mission on earth yet again.

Sometimes to know who Jesus is we have to remind ourselves of who He is not. Jesus is not your accuser or prosecutor, He is your friend and rescuer. If you are here today and like Zacchaeus, you’ve been doing some notorious sinning for a long time, just know if you will get to know Him yourself and spend some time with him, His goodness will change everything about you from the inside out. Put down the measuring stick because Jesus broke it. Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is your friend.

So let’s briefly talk about what kind of categories of sinners God has. You see on our measuring stick we have respectable sins and big bad sins. But here is what Jesus said in Matthew 9:12–13, now to set this up Jesus had just called Matthew, another tax collector, to be his disciple. It’s a good thing Jesus measuring stick is different than ours when calling disciples. Well, Matthew decides to throw a party for all his sinner friends and invite Jesus and all his disciples over too. The religious leaders get mad and say you can’t have a party like that, you can’t mix the peanut butter with the jelly and Jesus says:

12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor — sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Jesus takes our measuring stick that we all default to and he breaks down all of humanity into two categories, people who think they are righteous and people who know they are sinners. Jesus took our attempts to get his attention or to feel better about ourselves compared to others and he broke its power over us. Now we fall into two categories, those that act like they don’t need Jesus and those that know they are doomed without Him. You know what these two categories have in common? We all need Jesus’ help. Your reaction to my point today can give you a glimpse into how you see yourselves; Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is your friend.

You know why this is so important for us as a church? So we reach whomever God calls us to reach. We don’t label people as too far gone, or even they’re probably fine and seem like good people. Sometimes the guy with a good job, two cars and a house, etc is in even greater need of Jesus than the addict because they think they are fine and don’t need Jesus.

Again this is why we must break the measuring stick. When we recognize that except for the grace of God we are just as messed up as that notorious sinner over there we will quit showing God our good deeds in comparison to someone else and admit we need Jesus to be our friend and change everything. Jesus is the friend of sinners so Jesus is our friend.

The struggle for friendship with God is real because not only do we have to deal with the insecurities of the little Zacchaeus in us all, but we also have to deal with the Pharisee that wants to rear it’s ugly head too. I’ll give you an example. Have you ever noticed when someone conquers a vice or a bad habit how they can become one of two people. First, they can either become the greatest critic of all those around them that still struggle with the bad habit OR they can become someone who knows how much better life could be for you and just lovingly tries to help you if you want it.

I am glad Jesus took the second approach. He didn’t look at you and I and say I overcame this sin thing and you guys are pitiful, you can’t even think pure thoughts. Instead Jesus was and still is fanatical about showing mercy to those who least deserve it. He was and is relentless in bringing hope to the hopeless, by being a friend to sinners and that includes me and you.

We must do the same. Instead of asking people to measure up to our standards of things we’ve conquered, rather than judging or condemning people who don’t measure up to my good deeds, I love as I was first loved by Jesus and I extend grace as I was extended grace by Jesus. I recognize my own need for Jesus everyday and how I still need his grace. This makes me thankful that Jesus is a friend of sinners so I can be a friend of sinners like me.

This is the kind of hope I want us to give and be known for church. If we want to be more like Jesus (and of course we all need to be) then we offer hope. Jesus is a friend to everyone who is willing to admit that they have problems. If we understand that we are doomed without him that we will never measure up without his help then Jesus is near to us, and our friend.

You can’t be good, but you can be honest and that’s where Jesus changes everything.

Remember my question about friendship, “do you consider yourself a friend of God?” Because a lot of times we can default to viewing God as angry and just waiting for a moment to find something bad about us to punish. But Jesus said he came to show us the Father. John 14:9, “if you’ve see me you’ve seen the Father.” So His actions and words are identical to God’s. Jesus was God in the flesh and he loved people, he was a friend of sinners so God is a friend of sinners. This is good news for us and we are to take that good news to others. Let’s break the measuring stick that cripples us and stifles our witness.

The enemy is going to do his best to get you to live in one of two spots on this measuring stick, the self-righteous side that compares and makes ourselves feel better with thoughts like “that notorious sinner deserves to go to hell.” OR he will pound you with the self-condemning side, with “I’ll never measure up, I’m damaged goods, I am a notorious sinner that deserves to go to hell.” These extremes are living by the rules of the ruler of this world, and we must live by a relationship with the savior of this world, Jesus. We all have to come to the place where we realize, “I am loved by Jesus, just as I am, AND so is everyone else.”

“I am loved by Jesus, just as I am, AND so is everyone else.”

Yes, sin is bad. Yes it will destroy you, and hurt other people. But Jesus sees our sin and steps into the middle of that mess and loves us to a place of forgiveness and freedom. He loves you too much to leave you in a place of bondage to sin, but he loves you to that place. Jesus will handle you and everyone else the same way he handled the woman accused of sexual sin. Remember everyone wanted to stone her and she deserved it by the law, but Jesus loved her and forgave her and then he said, “go and sin no more.” Now we often interpret that with our measuring stick, almost as a threat, now go and quit doing all your nasty sinning stuff. But that’s not Jesus’ heart. It was a declaration of freedom. He wasn’t condemning her past, he was defining her future. It was for freedom that Christ has set us free to no longer be enslaved to sin. Jesus knew she didn’t want to be an adulterer, so He gave her hope and freedom, just like He does with you and me and anyone else who will admit they need a friend like Jesus.

No sinner is irredeemable. No sin is too great that Jesus’ blood can’t overcome it. His love is greater than sin, Jesus defeated sin, sin is not a problem for God, never has been. That’s why we must be a church that welcomes people home to a place where they can belong before they believe or even behave.

What would it look like if we loved like Jesus loves? What if we started befriending people not on the basis of what they could do for us, but what we know we could offer them? Apparently as you read the gospel accounts people who were nothing like Jesus, actually liked Jesus. The ones who finally recognized where they were on the measuring stick and that if they were willing Jesus would break the stick forever for them and give them freedom, were set free. That’s how I want people to look at you and me, and this church.

Let’s do John 3:16. God so loved the world that he gave his only son Jesus, to be our friend, and whoever will accept that friendship, can have freedom and eternal life. If we see sinners in Evans the way God sees us, we will love them the way God loved us first.

I think people around us are closer to God than we realize. I think there are a lot of people with jacked up lives that don’t want their lives to be jacked up any more and if we will show them the love of Jesus their resistance will crumble. Jesus is irresistible when he is seen as He truly is. Jesus is your friend, therefore He is a friend of sinners and there are so many more people that He knows by name we are called to love and befriend.


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Vision

Vision

Here’s what I believe for In Focus Church, God is calling us to something bigger than ourselves, I believe He’s calling us to more. Saying, "I’m not finished with you yet, In Focus. I’ll meet you on the other side." There’s a holy discontent in me that there are more lives to be saved, more addictions to be broken, more marriages to be restored, more prodigals to come home, more campuses to be won for Jesus, more nations to reach with the Gospel, more light to shine into every darkness we encounter.