The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

Matthew 3:1-2 “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

You probably heard the report that came out this week of another high-profile Christian artist who hedged when asked if homosexuality is sin.  The artist stated she loves her friends who are in the lifestyle and will leave the judgment of their behavior to God.  I have a question: Since when are we to allow our love for the sinner to change Biblical standards that declare certain acts to be sin?  John the Baptist didn’t hesitate challenging people to submit to the authority of God’s Laws, and he didn’t have trouble drawing a crowd. 

 It is possible to love the sinner while hating the sin.  I have many friends who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ and openly practice sin of every type.  These friends know I love them but not the lifestyle they embrace. 

 Consider the simplicity of John’s message.  First, you need to repent, which means to change your mind and transform your goals and attitudes toward life.  This involves turning away from past sins and cultivating a reverence for and submission to God.  Second, he spoke of “the kingdom of heaven”, which points to the messianic kingdom of peace foretold by the prophets and promised by God (see Daniel 2:44-45; Isaiah 2:2-5, and Micah 4:1-5). 

 During this Christmas advent you will connect with people who are busy, but their hearts and minds are being drawn to the true meaning of the season.  Don’t underestimate the significance of the simple message that the Christ Child came to make it possible for each of us to turn the sin and regrets of our past to Him and embrace the wonderful relationship and life He has designed for us. 

Let’s sing: “We fall down and lay our crowns at the feet of Jesus…”

 

A DIVIDED NATION CAME TOGETHER

2 Samuel 2:14 “Then Abner said to Joab, ‘Let the young men now arise and compete before us.’  And Joab said, ‘Let them arise.’”

I confess, this story makes me angry.  The Jewish nation was divided over a difference of opinion of who should be the king.  There were some who insisted the king be a descendant of Saul, while others preferred David.  Leaders of the respective camps met and decided to have a couple of dozen young men fight it out to the death.  Several young men needlessly lost their lives because the leaders wanted to prove which side was superior.  I suspect the families and friends of the young men who died could not have cared less which leader was “right” but they did care that their loved ones were struck down.  It would be eight long years of fighting before the Jewish people would set aside their differences and unite under the leadership of one man, David. 

Today our nation is divided by divergent philosophies embodied in political rhetoric.  Decency and kindness have been replaced by incivility and malice.  Unfortunately, I do not believe this will change because the midterm elections are over.  In fact, I suspect the vitriol will only increase.  That is unfortunate and unnecessary, and I propose Christians do something about it. 

I am a big fan of the pledge of allegiance to the American flag and have little or no respect for those who dishonor it.  There is one phrase in the pledge I want to cite here: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  It doesn’t say one nation under a particular political ideology; it says, “One nation, under God.” 

As Christians, we should present a message of love of county and love of God.  Don’t allow your message to be tainted by the political nonsense.  Present a message of hope through Jesus Christ and let the evidence of the Fruit of the Spirit give credibility to your message. 

The Jewish nation thrived under David’s leadership.  The secret was due, in part, to the fact that he helped lead the people back to the basic principles of God’s laws.  If it worked for David, it will work of us.

Let’s sing: “God bless America, land that I love…”    

 

LIVING BY FAITH

I read an interesting question in our adult Sunday school curriculum: “Is there a link between faith and courage?”  (To what extent will trust in God’s Word impact my choosing the difficult path over the easy path?)   It is a great question.

 I think of faith as absolute trust in God, a conscious decision to trust God’s commitment to extend His inexhaustible resources into our circumstances. 

Consider the example of Abraham.  In Genesis 12 he chose to obey God’s instruction to leave the land and people he was familiar with and move his family to a land he had never seen.  Abraham acted because he trusted God.  In chapter 13, we read where Abraham and his nephew Lot had prospered greatly in the form of livestock.  Both men agreed their prosperity required they go their separate ways. 

Extending deference to his nephew, Abraham allowed Lot to choose where he would move.  Lot made his decision based on what appealed to his eyes, while Abraham relied on the guidance and provision from the Lord.  Lot trusted what he saw while Abraham trusted what He knew.  As it turned out, Abraham made the better decision. 

True faith in God will inevitably stretch us to a place that requires more than our resources or understanding.  Like many of you, I can testify my faith in God has guided and sustained me in the most trying of seasons of my past, and I have full confidence will guide and sustain me in my future.  If my faith in God does not lead me to trust Him in the challenges of life, then my faith is not in him but in me.  Frankly, I think I am better off trusting Him. 

Galatians 3:9 “So those who rely on faith are blessing along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

Let’s sing: “I know that He safely will carry me through no matter what evils betide.  Why should I then care though the tempest may blow, if Jesus walks close to my side?  Living by faith in Jesus above, trusting, confiding in His great love.  From all harm safe in His sheltering arm, I’m living by faith and feel no alarm.” (LIVING BY FAITH, by James Wells & R.E. Winsett)

 

GOING OUT OF HIS WAY FOR YOU

Mark 5 is filled with stories of unimaginable chaos. 

Consider the demon-possessed man in verses 1-20.  Look at life from his perspective, and try to get a sense of what it felt like to be tormented by a legion of demons.  The inner rage must have been overwhelming for this man, who was cutting himself and crying out day and night (v. 5). Consider the degree of loneliness and resentment you would feel after being abandoned by those closest to you — your family that had determined your life was hopelessly out of control.  Who knows how long it had been since this man had a meal or an embrace from anyone who cared!

Consider the man in verses 21-24.  He was a leader in the community with a reputation of being deeply religious, yet his daughter lie at the point of death.  Imagine  the sheer agony of a parent facing the real possibility of burying his child. 

Consider the woman in verses 25-28.  She had suffered with an infirmity for twelve years and had been told by doctors her condition was incurable.  Mark does not mention her husband or family, so we may assume she was trying to deal with all this by herself. 

Now consider the role Jesus played in their lives.  Notice how He went out of His way to minister to the demoniac.  He sailed through the night in a small boat across the Sea of Galilee during such a severe storm that experienced sailors like Peter feared for their lives.  Notice when Jesus met the father of the sick girl and the woman with the issue of blood, He did not panic but calmly and confidently took care of their needs.  

My friend, we can rest assured the Lord will go to any means to minister to the hurting.

Let’s sing: “You may be down and feel like God has somehow forgotten that you are faced with circumstances you can’t get through.  But now it seems that there’s no way out and you’re going under; God’s proven time and time again He’ll take care of you.  And He’ll do it again, He’ll do it again.  If you’ll just take a look at where you are now and where you have been.  Hasn’t He always come through for you?  He’s the same now as then.  You may not know how, you may not know when, but He’ll do it again.”  (HE’LL DO IT AGAIN, by Shirley Caesar)

WE GIVE HIM OUR ALL

 

The first few chapters in the book of Leviticus contain instructions for presenting sacrifices to the Lord as an act of worship.  Two things stand out to me in these chapters.  First, the worshipper is called on to present his very best to the Lord.  Notice in chapters 1 and 4 the Lord repeated the instruction that the sacrifice presented was to be without blemish.  Second, whatever was presented at the altar stayed at the altar.  

1 Peter 1:19 teaches that we no longer need to present animal sacrifices to the Lord because our redemption is secured through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  Praise the Lord!  Though we do not present animal sacrifices today, there are principles we can apply to our relationship with the Lord.  First, God deserves our very best.  Second, what we give to the Lord we release to Him without expectation of retaining partial ownership of what was given. 

Our praise and worship belong to Him.  Our property, finances, time, talents, family, dreams and our future all belong to Him.  Whatever we keep is limited only to what we can do with it.  Whatever we give to Him is subject to His authority and power.  Give Him your very best today. 

Let’s sing: “Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul, I live for you alone.  Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake, Lord, have your way in me.”  (I Give You My Heart, by Reuben Morgan)

 

HIS NAME IS WONDERFUL

Religious leaders heard that Peter and John healed a man of paralysis (see Acts 3).  In their investigation of the matter they asked Peter & John: “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:7).  We learn a great deal from Peter’s timeless and powerful response that begins in verse 8. 

The One whose power healed the man was Jesus.  There are over 100 names of Jesus recorded in scripture, and if you don’t mind I would like to share a few of those names with you here.  He is Advocate (1 John 2:1), Almighty (Rev. 1:8), Arm of the Lord (Isa. 51:9; 53:1), Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), Source of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9), Beloved Son of God (Matt. 12:18), Blessed and only Ruler (1 Tim. 6:15), Bread of life (Jn. 6:32), Author of salvation (Heb. 2:10), Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4), Christ of God (Lk. 9:20), Cornerstone (Ps. 118:22), Counselor (Isa. 9:6), Creator (Jn. 1:3), Deliverer (Rom. 11:26), Faithful Witness (Rev. 1:5), First and Last (Rev. 1:17), God (Isa. 30:3; Jn. 20:28), Good Shepherd (Jn. 10:11), Great High Priest (Heb. 4:14), Holy One (Acts 3:14), I Am (Jn. 8:58), Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), King Eternal (1 Tim. 1:17), King of kings (1 Tim. 6:15), Lawgiver (Isa. 33:22), Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29), Light of the World (Jn. 8:12), Man of Sorrows (Isa. 53:3), Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), Messiah (Jn. 1:41), Prince of peace (Isa. 9:6), Redeemer (Job 19:26).   

He was the One who healed the lame man in Acts 3, and is the same One whose authority and power we invite into our circumstances.   

Let’s sing: “His name is Wonderful, His name is Wonder, His name is Wonderful, Jesus my Lord.  He is the Mighty King, Master of everything, His name is Wonderful, Jesus my Lord…”

REVIVAL CRY: SALVATION OF MULTITUDES

Acts 2:41 “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.”  Acts 2:47 “…And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. Acts 4:4 …many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus said a Christian who has been baptized with the Holy Spirit will become an active and effective witness of the Christian faith.  Jesus taught this truth and His followers demonstrated it.

We don’t know for certain how many people considered themselves followers of Christ at the time of His death, but we know He appeared to over 500 of them between his resurrection and ascension (1 Corinthians 15:5).  On the Day of Pentecost 120 of them were baptized in the Holy Spirit and over the course of a few months the number grew from a few hundred to over 5,000

I long to see thousands of sinners come to Christ.  I am not interested in numbers but I am interested in people.  I want to see sinners set free from the addiction to alcohol and drugs.  I want to see sinners living in bondage to pornography, gambling, gluttony, gossip, pride, jealousy, and unforgiveness come to Christ.  I want to see people who have been complacent about Church, the Bible and eternity get saved, filled with the Holy Spirit and become active in leading their friends to Christ.  I pray for a revival to sweep through our community — a revival characterized by sinners being set free from sin and Christians being empowered by the Holy Spirit. 

Let’s sing: “There shall be showers of blessings, oh, that today they mighty fall.  Now as to God we’re confessing, now as on Jesus we call.  Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need.  Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CONTINUE STEADFASTLY

Acts 2:42 “They continued steadfastly…”

The man who continues steadfastly quietly and faithfully goes about his business and gets the job done; he is the type of employee you want to hire because you know you can count on him. Acts 2:42 states the early believers continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, in fellowship, in breaking bread and in prayer. In verse 46 it states the church enjoyed perpetual growth.

In Acts 2:1-4, we read of the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit on a group of people who were steadfast in their commitment to prayer. The rest of the book of Acts shows that the Holy Spirit continued to be outpoured upon the Church. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was not a one-time event, but rather became a characteristic of the early church. In fact, it became a focal point of the Church. As the apostles continued steadfastly in their spiritual disciplines the Holy Spirit continued steadfastly convicting sinners and empowering believers.

Someone one asked me why Christians tend to receive more from a revival or church conference than a typical Sunday service. My response: “expectation”. Many in our congregation spent weeks fasting and praying for the revival services with evangelist Randy Ruiz last weekend. As the days drew closer to the weekend a sense of expectation began to grow. In our Saturday evening and Sunday services, we were blessed by the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the altars because we prepared our hearts and expected to receive.

Let me encourage you to continue steadfastly in prayer and cultivating a spirit of expectation to receive from the Lord. Remember, what the Lord has done before, He is doing again!

IT IS TIME TO SEEK THE LORD

Hosea 10:12  Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow (uncultivated) ground, for it is time to seek the Lord till he comes and rains righteousness on you.”

Hosea began his prophetic ministry to the northern kingdom (Israel) at the height of its power and prosperity.  Over a period of four decades he watched the gradual spiritual deterioration of the country and wrote our text as a call to action.  Sadly, his fellow countrymen did not heed his call and a short time later the Assyrians invaded and brought an end to the kingdom.

Hosea’s call can be summarized in one phrase, “Seek the Lord.”  Do a search and see how many times you find the phrase “seek the Lord” in the Bible.  It is an interesting study.  The scriptures admonish us to seek Him with all our heart (determination), to seek his face (His presence), to seek his strength (His power and provision), and to seek with urgency.

Evangelist Randy Ruiz will be our ministry guest this coming Sunday.  He will be ministering in both morning services and in a special 5pm service that evening.  I have no doubt the Holy Spirit has big plans for this weekend in the house of God, and I hope you will make it.  Through my 40 years of pastoral experience, I have noted a consistent pattern:  People who seek the Lord in advance of the revival are the ones who receive the most during the revival.  Let me encourage you to interrupt your schedule and participate in the 7pm Wednesday evening prayer meeting and the 5:00 Saturday evening prayer meeting.

It is time to seek the Lord till He comes and rains righteousness on you.”  

A BASE FOR OUR CONFIDENCE

Isaiah 36:4 “…on what are you basing this confidence of yours?”

The Assyrian empire spread from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. With their eyes set on Jerusalem, the Assyrian general told King Hezekiah to lay down his arms and surrender. Hezekiah was understandably shaken for he knew in the natural there was no hope.

In our journey of life we wrestle with issues that challenge our faith. If we fix our eyes on the problem we can find ourselves intimidated into spiritual paralysis. If you find yourself in such a battle let me encourage you to consider how Hezekiah handled the situation in chapter 37.

First, he did not ignore the problem, but went to the temple and laid out the threat to God in prayer. In verse 16 he prayed, “O Lord Almighty…you have made heaven and earth.” We begin by acknowledging that as a child of God we have the power and authority of Almighty God on our side. In verse 17 he prayed “Give ear, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord and see…” We ask God to take note of our circumstances and give heed to our prayer. In verse 20 he prayed “Now, O Lord, our God, deliver us…” We ask God to grant us victory and crush the enemy.

God responded to Hezekiah’s prayer by sending an angel who struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. The victory took place swiftly and silently, for the Assyrian general did not discover the carnage until he awaked from his sleep the next morning. Think of it; in a matter of a few hours one single angel from God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and their general was not even aware of it until the battle was over. It makes you wonder what incredible thing God is doing on our behalf right now that we are not yet aware of.

Be encouraged my friend, for as a child of God you are supported by the power and authority of Almighty God. He is aware of your circumstances and is working in ways even now that you are not yet aware.