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Posts Tagged ‘God at Work’

In the Beginning …

It may be too late to talk about “In the beginning” on January 2, since the shine on your new year may already be tarnished.  In hopes the shine is still there, let’s think about it.

The Bible begins with these fate-full words, “In the beginning …”

We quickly learn that in the beginning the earth is mysteriously non-existent.  What we know as earth was a void and formless nothingness in the darkness of the deep.

In the beginning, there was nothing more than a celestial black hole.  This is something Christians and modern-day scientists might agree upon.

The question which draws great debate is, “What transformed the celestial black-hole of nothingness into something-ness?”

The ant-hill which a child observes on the sidewalk today, but was not there yesterday had to come from somewhere.  Christians and scientists can write a historically accurate pre-story for the ant-hill.  It began when an ant took a grain of sand and put it next to another and then another … overnight an ant-hill with a colony of ants came into existence.

From nothingness came an intelligently designed community with life, structure, provisions, and meaning.  A child understands this.

Genesis 1:1 reminds me why I am a man of faith.  In my book a big bang from nothingness cannot yield a community with life, structure, provisions, and meaning.

All of this changes how I look at the New Year.

Out of the celestial nothingness, God created light, life, provisions, and community, His Way.  It was a good design, one which does not need reworking by me.

As I stand at the doorway into a New Year, I am inclined to ponder, “What can I make of the year ahead?”

Admirably, I imagine a list of self-accomplished successes that will lead to life which is best for me.  Then, as a Christian, I ask for God’s blessing upon the year I have set out to create for myself.

Does it strike you as odd that I’d ask the Creator to bless my creation, rather than accept His.

Wouldn’t it be better to begin the New Year submitting to His Way and let His good life unfold for me along the way?

Boy, am I glad I did not make a list of New Year’s Resolutions, God has a better plan.

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How to Be Born From Above

Preaching Notes  September 30, 2012

John 3:1–18 (ESV)

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 

Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”

Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 

Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

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I.    From Problems to Solutions 

God’s Two Desires – Titus 2:14 – Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

God desires salvation and sanctification

Dealing with Romans 3:23 – “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Even the saved keep sinning

Nicodemus and Jesus

An educated old-school enquirer reveals a lack of knowledge and faith

Jesus’ drives the conversation

Seeing and Entering the Kingdom of God

Requires rebirth

II.  What Does It Mean to be Born Anothen

Born again …

Born from above …

Not a new concept – see Ezekiel 36:25-28 and Jeremiah 31:28-31

The old way has not and will not work

Christian hell, fire, and damnation

The importance of worship

God does not want us to fail, thus He helps us to succeed

We have to accept the help

We accept God’s help, through faith, not through personal effort

// kids, I want to do it by myself

III.  How to Be Born from Above

The work of the Spirit – John 3:5-8

A God-initiated transformation of our lives

// to the work of the wind (another word for spirit)

Comes at its will, works at its will

Effects are felt and seen

Powerful effects in small ways

Spirit work predicated on work of Jesus

Jesus promises the Spirit to come after Him

The work of the Son – John 3:10-14

The work of Jesus

To die for the forgiveness of our sins

Nicodemus – knew about need for forgiveness, atonement

This may be part he genuinely did not get

Jesus work predicated on work of God

The work of God – John 3:16-18

The work of God was His love for the world

Generous, gracious, steadfast merciful love

Nicodemus knew – Hesed

These 1st three works built on each other

Revealed by God over time

The work of the Believer – John 3:15, 16, 18

Final work or action ==> salvation

Individual coming to faith in Jesus

Belief or faith – also the work of God

But is one which must be received

Irresistible Grace – core of reformed theology

Faith is a gift received through an open heart

Hard hearts are closed to God’s work

IV.  What about You?

DA Carson

God’s ultimate purpose is the salvation of those in the world who believe in him. Whoever believes in him experiences new birth, has eternal life, and is saved.  The alternative is to perish, to lose one’s life, and to be doomed to destruction. There is no third option

God has done His work, we need to receive it in faith, which is believe and trust

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Coming to Faith in Jesus

Preaching Notes – John 1:35-51

John 1:35–51 (ESV)

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36  and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?”

They said to him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

39  Jesus said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).  42 He brought him to Jesus.

43 Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 

51 Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

 

I.  Pointing and Inviting

Helpful criticism from last Sunday

Hunting but not gathering

Why did I not invite?

Our biggest failure – pointing without inviting

II.  4 Men, 4 Stories, 1 Faith

Andrew – John 1:37-41

Prepared and unperplexed

A child well parented

Simon PeterJohn 1:42

From reckless emotionalism to rock-solid faith

The easily discounted

PhilipJohn 1:43-46

Found by Jesus

Our favorite form of evangelism

Ask a successful farmer about volunteer plants

God does not always work alone

NathanaelJohn 1:46-49

Cynical Skeptic confronted and saved

Expect questions, opposition, and rejection

Don’t wither quickly

Give God a chance

III.  4 Varied Steps From Here to There

1.  InvitedJohn 1:36, 41, 43, and 45

Point and invite

The right/best invitation

Invitations are better than dissertations/lectures

2.  EngagedJohn 1:37, 41, 43, 45

Engaging Jesus (not you, church …) is the goal

Then let Jesus take over

3.  RevealedJohn 1:38-39, 42, 45, and 49

Jesus/God will reveal himself

4.  BlessedJohn 1:50-51

You will God

VI.  The Invitation

You cannot invite, unless you have surrendered

If you have surrendered you will invite

Invitation to The Table

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“Isn’t it glorious to know that no matter how unjust something may be, even when it seems to have come from Satan himself, by the time it reaches us it is God’s will for us and will ultimately work to our good?” (1)

 

How would your life change if you assumed everything that happened to you was God’s will for you?

 

Everything?  

 

Yes, everything!

 

It’s a question that gives me long pause and few words.

 

Anytime someone glibly says, “It is God’s will” in the face of tragedy or disaster, I cringe.  

 

When bad things happen, questions flood my heart: 

Would God? 

Could God? 

Did God? 

Why God?

 

If it was God’s will and He would, could, and did, how would your life change?

 

I’d turn to God.

 

I’d cry out to Him?  

 

I’d stand with Habakkuk and wait for God to answer me. (See Habakkuk 1:1-2:4)

 

I’d cling to these scriptures:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” 

 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” 

 

“We know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” 

 

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (2)

 

On the other hand, how would your life change if you assumed everything that happened to you was NOT God’s will for you?

 

In the center of the circle of the will of God I stand: 

There can come no second causes, all must come from His dear hand.

God is Love, and God is faithful, so in perfect Peace I rest. (1)

 

+ + +

  1. Reimann, Jim; Cowman, L. B. E. (2008-09-02). Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings (p. 311). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Psalm 23:4, John 3:16, Romans 8:28, and Romans 8:38-39.

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Faith grows during storms (1)

Why is it that some people’s faith only grows during storms and crisis?

Can’t faith grow in quiet daylight?  Grass does!

Rarely does anyone call me and say:

“Pastor, life is good!  Do you have guidance for scripture I should study or books I can read during these good ol’days, so I can grow in faith?” 

When life is good we are convinced we do not need God.  Since there are no pressing afflictions or infections that need supernatural healing, why bother God.  Isn’t He busy with others?

I learned to sail in calm seas, when the wind was gentle and the water waved gracefully below the hull of my boat.  If I had not learned to sail in calm seas, I would have never been able to sail through storms.

Perhaps this is why we panic and are afraid when the storms of life come our way.  We cannot hear God in the storm, if we have not dwelt with Him during the day.

While we draw on our faith during difficulty, we fail to build up our faith during prosperity.  You only have money to withdraw on a rainy day, if you made deposits before.

David’s guidance “be still and know that I am God” (2) is spoken when life is in an upheaval.  Yet his wisdom should be heeded when we are wandering in green pastures and drinking from still waters.

Lois Cheney asks:

Does anyone ever meander with God, sharing fun, thoughts, and silences?  (3)

Our best friendships are built on lazy days, when we simply spend time with others, chatting, talking, listening, and loving each other, letting time pass in the quiet breeze

Friendships built during days of leisure are the friendships which sustain us during seasons of difficulty.

Your fair-weather-friendship with Jesus, will sustain you during a gale.

+ + +

  1. Reimann, Jim; Cowman, L. B. E. (2008-09-02). Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings (p. 269). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
  2. Psalm 46:10.
  3. Cheney, Lois A. (2005-03-01). God is No Fool (pp. 185-186). Midpoint Trade Books – A. Kindle Edition.

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Don’t calculate without God (1)

I have always been a whiz with numbers.  In school I could add, subtract, multiple, and divide with the best.  Word problems and algebraic equations were my soul mates.  

Arithmetic was home base.  I consistently made A’s in math until I hit trigonometry and calculus.  My guaranteed A’s turned into hard won B’s.  After completing my second semester calculus class at Chapel Hill, I had enough.

Life is like calculus, it’s hard to figure out.  I was never able to look at a calculus problem and know the correct answer immediately.  Life is the same.  Just when I think I have life figured out, reality steps up to the plate and throws me a sinking curve ball.

When I became a Christian and began to include God in the equation, life did not necessarily become easier, but the answer became clearer.  With God in the mix, I know how the story ends, thus I know where I am going and can more easily find my way.

Because God’s ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts (2) my greatest error in life is to make plans, do my life calculus, without considering God.  

I am a list maker.  My favorite is a list of pros and cons.  I will consider every obstacle and possibility while completing this list.  Once my list is complete, I weigh my options and make a decision.  Once a decision is made, I move forward.

Periodically I will show my list to a group of leaders in the church or to the men in my Covenant Group, to help them understand that I made a wise and careful decision.

One day, a friend who was reviewing my list asked me, “Where’s God?”  

I stumbled and stammered, I was struck dumb, silenced with nothing to say.  God was not considered.  I had not calculated for God.  I had planned for opposition, deficiencies, sin, evil, rainy days, surprises, and a host of other potential problems the world might throw down in my path.  But I had not planned on God.

My friend said,”Without God, your plans will fail.”

I hate it when my friends are right and I am wrong. 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (3)

+ + +

  1. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications; Marshall Pickering, 1986).
  2. Isaiah 55:8.
  3. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jeremiah 29:11.

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Have thy tools ready; God will find thee work.  

Charles Kingsley (1)

It was the Tuesday after Labor Day, when I received a call from my bank asking me if I had made 23 purchases with my debit card at the local hardware store over the Labor Day Weekend.  I had.

That weekend I was tackling a home improvement project.  It seemed that every 20 minutes I had to run to the Hardware Store to purchase a tool, buy a bolt, or retrieve more materials.  While my heart and mind was ready to work, I was ill prepared to complete the project.

Those 23 trips to the Hardware Store consumed 8 hours of my time and 15 gallons of gas.  Some of the trips were to exchange items which I did not need for items I would have known I needed if I had planned ahead. 

By Monday afternoon the sales clerks and cashiers avoided me when I reentered the Hardware Store asking for help. While I eventually finished the project, it consumed a whole 4 day weekend.  

My wife offered the best summary of the experience:

“It would have been easier to ask someone else to do it!”

I wonder how often God thinks the same when He has work for us to do for Him.

God has work for us to do, but the work goes undone because we are not prepared.  We have failed to prepare our heart, mind, and hands through prayer and study.

I wonder what the world would be like if every Christian had their tools readied for God’s work.  

I bet the world would be a different place.

“Always be prepared to explain to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (2)

+ + +

  1. Samuel G. Hardman and Dwight Lyman Moody, Thoughts for the Quiet Hour (Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing, 1998).
  2. 1 Peter 3:15.

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