Trusting Jesus (Marc Hughes)

Last week we started the series “Knowing Jesus” and we are looking at what it means to live in relationship with God. We say it all the time: “christianity is not a religion its a relationship”, but how exactly do we go about having a relationship with God?

Last week we discussed where our relationship starts. Relationship with God starts with believing in Jesus. It starts with acknowledging that because of Jesus’ sacrifice we have the ability to be in relationship with God again. 

When it comes to living out this relationship every day, one aspect of our relationship that we can focus on is trust.

Trust is a good measure of a relationship, just think of any friendship. The ability to trust someone is a good gage of how deep your relationship is. When it comes to relationship with God, one way we can know that we have deep relationship with Him is if we can trust Him completely.

If your asking the question of how to trust God more, a good place to start is by trusting in the things the Bible promises us about Him.

We are going to discuss 3 simple promises that the Bible teaches us about Jesus that we can trust in as we live our lives.

1# Trust in His Gospel Message: 

This is the place where relationship with God begins. We discussed the Gospel last week, but trusting in this truth is how our relationship with Jesus is initiated. We can trust fully in Jesus’ sacrifice and we can have certainty of our salvation because of His work. This promise is summarized perfectly by Paul:

 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24)

As we trust fully in this promise we will be comforted by the good news that this gives us certainty of spending eternity with God.

2# Trust His way is best for you

Jesus not only gave us salvation by His sacrifice, but He also modeled what our new life in Him should look like. Jesus promises that If we live the way He asks, it will lead to life. When we choose to live in sin it will always end in destruction, but a life lived for Jesus will lead us deeper into relationship with Him. As Paul states: 

 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:8-9)

We can trust that though life will have troubles, if we choose to live the way God asks it will always be better in the end than if we chose to live a life of sin.

Trust He is with you always

There is great comfort in knowing that Jesus loves you and is there for you at all times. If we can learn to trust this promise than we can have peace in any circumstance. Jesus’ departing words to His disciples capture this truth perfectly:

 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

So these are three ways we can step into trusting Jesus today. If you know that in one of these areas you are lacking, than thats really good to recognize. Focus on trusting Jesus in that area this week and pray that He would help you know Him more deeply every day.

Knowing Jesus (Marc Hughes)

One of my favorite TV shows growing up was the show “How It’s Made”. If you’ve never seen it, each episode shows you how various everyday objects are made (hence the name). Its fun to see the crazy machines that build the items we use every day and its mind-blowing to think about how everything you use was created in some way or another. 

While watching this show one day I had an interesting thought: everything that is created has a purpose in mind before it is made. Every created thing has a purpose, and the creator crafts what He is making according to that purpose. From the christian world view, this leaves us with an interesting question: If God is the creator and He created mankind, what is our purpose? What was the purpose for which we were created?

When we look at this question in light of the Bible we find that the answer, simply put, is that humans were created to have a relationship with their creator. We were made to live in a loving relationship with God and our purpose is to bring God glory through loving and serving Him. 

So if this is our purpose, its important to understand what it means to have a relationship with God. We are starting a series called "Knowing Jesus” and the goal of this series is to define what it means to have a relationship with Jesus and explore how we can live out this relationship every day.

Before we discuss how to have relationship with Jesus, I want to clarify right away why Jesus is necessary in order for us to have relationship with God.

When we were first created, we were created good. God created Humans, Adam and Eve, and they lived in perfect relationship with God as was their purpose. God provided Adam and Eve with everything they needed, but in order for their to be a real relationship, God also gave them an option to choose something other than Him. Adam and Eve could choose to trust God and love Him or they had the option to attempt to live their own way, to define Good and Evil for themselves and unfortunately Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. This decision broke the perfect relationship and allowed Sin to enter the world and death through sin: Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” 

God is good, perfect, and Holy and because Adam and Eve sinned they were no longer good and holy. The relationship that they were created for was broken, and sin separated man from God. No human was able to break the power of sin because every person who ever lived followed in the footsteps of Adam and Eve by choosing the way of sin instead of the way of their creator. We were doomed to live separated from God for eternity because of sin and death, but where humans were hopeless to save themselves God was planning redemption. 

God sent Jesus, His one and only son, in the form of Human flesh. Jesus, being fully God and somehow fully man, was able to live the perfect life that no human could ever live. Jesus then chose to give his life to pay for the sins of the world. As John 3:16-17states:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” 

Jesus destroyed the barrier of sin that we had built. Jesus was sinless, yet he chose to pay the penalty that we owed so that we once again would be free to choose to be in relationship with God. This then is where we are left, Jesus offers us the chance to have relationship with God, but in order for this free gift to have effect, we must choose to enter into that relationship. 

Jesus is the only way we can enter relationship with God, it is through Him and Him alone that we can know God. If you want relationship with God, all you have to do is seek Jesus, accept His forgiveness, and then move forward and choose to live in relationship with Him.

Understanding this is the first step in having a relationship with God and through the rest of this series we will explore in more detail what it looks like to have relationship with God through Jesus. 

DFK: Believing the Resurrection IV

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Last week we looked at how the Disciples transformation points to the truth of the resurrection. These men who followed and fully believed in Jesus were scared and scattered after he was arrested and crucified. These same men however after seeing the risen Jesus were filled with confidence and the boldness to willingly go to their death for proclaiming the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. 

This is very convincing evidence, but some critics may argue that the resurrection story came about through people who believed in Jesus and who made the story up because they wanted to keep His message alive. This is a weak objection that can be disproved in many ways, but one of the most powerful ways to show why this can’t be the case is actually another piece of evidence that shows the truthfulness of the resurrection. This evidence is looking at the skeptics who were changed. 

After His resurrection, Jesus did not only appear to the people who believed in Him. Jesus appeared to many people who were complete skeptics that didn’t believe in His claim to be the messiah. Two really clear examples of skeptic conversions are James Jesus’ Brother and Saul of Tarsus.

James, Jesus own brother, did not believe in His claims during Jesus ministry. We are told in the Gospel of John that “even Jesus’ own brothers did not believe in Him”. This all changed however once Jesus appeared to James after the resurrection. When we read about James later in the new testament we are told that He became one of the leaders in the Jerusalem church and that He was eventually killed for believing in Jesus. This is solid proof to believe that the resurrection actually happened, how else would a non-believer in Jesus be transformed so majorly that he would be willing to die for believing in who Jesus claimed to be.

Our second skeptic has an even more radical transformation. Saul of Tarsus was a well known persecutor of the early church. Saul stood by and approved of the stoning of Steven, the very first christian martyr. Saul made it his mission to squelch the rise of christianity and he went from house to house putting christian men and women in prison for their faith. This all changed in an instant however when Saul met the risen Jesus. The story is told like this in Acts 9:1-5:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

From this moment on, Saul was a changed man. You probably know Saul of Tarsus by the name Paul (the apostle). Paul is responsible for writing a large portion of the new testament. He made many missionary journeys through the ancient roman empire and he planted and taught many churches throughout the region. He proclaimed the truth of Jesus and His resurrection everywhere he went and he was eventually killed for his faith.

Paul clearly believed he had met the risen Jesus and he believed it so strongly that he gave his life to spread the Gospel. Only seeing the risen Jesus would give someone the confidence to change from persecuting the church of Jesus to one day dying for the very faith he used to attack.

The change of these skeptics stands as one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the truth of the resurrection.

DFK: Believing the Resurrection III

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As we continue our Defend the Kingdom series on the resurrection, we have already discussed 4 evidences of why you can believe the Resurrection really happened. If you didn’t get a chance to see what we talked about the first two weeks, check out the previous blog posts to catch up. 

Fifth evidence of the truth of the resurrection: The Disciples transformation. Jesus’ followers experienced a radical transformation in the short span of time that followed Jesus’ death and resurrection. 

When Jesus was captured and crucified, his disciples were stricken with fear. After watching their beloved leader give himself over to his enemies, the disciples were fearful that they too may be in danger because they were his followers. In the moment of Jesus’ arrest, His closest friends ran in fear. They fled and left Him alone to be brought to the Sanhedrin for questioning. While Jesus was on trial, being falsely accused, Peter attempted to stand at a fire pit nearby. Three times Peter was accused of being a follower of Jesus and three times Peter claimed He never knew Him. After Jesus was crucified and buried His disciples locked themselves indoors because they were still afraid of the Jews who had killed Jesus. These men were terrified and they were afraid to even mention Jesus’ name for fear of what may happen. All of this however changed in a moment.

According to the scriptures, the risen Jesus appeared to these men. Jesus explained to them the deep truth of the Gospel and they understood why He needed to die. They saw Jesus’ power to defeat death and they along with many others witnessed the risen Christ. After meeting the risen Jesus, these fearful disciples were forever changed.

In the book of Acts you can read all about what the disciples did after their knowledge of the Resurrection. These men who once feared for their lives were more than willing to go to their death in order that the Gospel could be preached. These men were filled with courage and boldness and everywhere they went they were persecuted for preaching about the resurrection but they wouldn’t stop preaching. 

The question you have to ask yourself is what could have given these men the courage to do this? There is no explanation other than the fact that they must have seen the risen Jesus. While he was dead and buried, they feared for their lives. When He showed Himself to them alive and resurrected, they were willing to face anything for the sake of preaching the truth. 

DFK: Believing the Resurrection II

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PART TWO: BELIEVING THE RESURRECTION. For why it’s important to believe the resurrection of Jesus and first two evidences — check out the first blog HERE

Third evidence/logical reasoning to believe the resurrection: belief in the greatest miracle. What is the greatest miracle of history? The first verse in the Bible says it: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This isn’t necessarily a resurrection evidence, but if you can believe that God created all things from nothing, certainly you can believe He can do all else (including, raise His Son from death to life). This is a great building block to trusting in the radical of miracle of someone going from death to life. The question from here becomes, can you believe in and prove God’s existence? YES! You can logically and reasonably believe that God created all things. This was actually the very first Defend the Kingdom we ever did, so I am going to link that blog HERE if you want to dive deep into proving God’s existence. 

Fourth evidence/logical reasoning to believe the resurrection: empty tomb explanations. After Jesus was confirmed dead, His body was buried in a tomb, and three days later that tomb was empty. Even skeptical scholars agree that Jesus’ tomb was empty. If it were not empty, Roman authorities and Jewish leaders (who wanted to get rid of Christianity), would’ve opened the tomb, brought out Jesus’ corpse, and instantly crush the new Jesus movement. It is widely accepted the tomb was empty, but people came up with theories to explain the empty tomb without the resurrection miracle. Below are the leading theories:

Jesus is a myth theory. No respected historian would suggest this theory because the evidence for Jesus’ existence is overwhelming. But for the people who do not take the evidence seriously and use this theory simply say that Jesus never existed. Aside from the 27 reliable New Testament documents that talk about Jesus, there are over 30 sources outside the Bible that refers to Jesus. From these sources, you find more than 100 facts on Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Sources include first century historians like Flavius Josephus, Cornelius Tacitus, Suetonius, as well as the Jewish Talmud (collection of Jewish writings). Talmud mentions that Jesus’ death occurred at the same time the New Testament says, which is interesting, because even the Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah mentioned His existence. Bart Ehrman, author, scholar, and critic of the Bible said this in regards to evidence to Jesus existing:

“There is no scholar in any college, or university in the Western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, or any related field who doubts that Jesus existed...With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life...sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue...and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life...Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind...The claim that Jesus was simply made up falters on every ground.”

Stolen body theory. This suggests that the tomb was empty because Jesus’ disciples stole His body, but this raises some difficult questions. For one, how could the disciples have stolen the body? They would have had to sneak past highly trained killing machine Roman soldiers, break Roman seal that was put on the stone, and move two-ton stone away from tomb (without being detected). Also, if you recall from the Biblical narrative, after Jesus died, the disciples fled in fear thinking their association with Jesus could’ve brought harm to themselves — it’s hard to believe same disciples that fled in fear would risk their lies to steal a corpse from the same people who killed their leader! 

Another difficult question raised: why would the disciples steal the body? When they fled in fear, they had the understanding that with the death of their leader, the Jesus revolution was over. Done. Defeated. They went back to their homes, lives, and jobs. What would be the benefit of stealing His body? Is it reasonable to believe they stole the corpse, only to suffer incredibly, ultimately die brutal deaths, to preach a message they would know to be a lie?

Lost tomb theory. In 2007, Discovery Channel did a documentary called “Lose Tomb of Jesus,” claiming they found His tomb containing several of His bones (which would be a problem to the resurrection claim). They made this claim based on names found engraved in the tomb, names such as: Jesus, son of Joseph, Mary, Matthew, Joseph, Mary, Judah, son of Jesus. These all sound familiar, don’t they? Discovery claimed Jesus did not resurrect, that He married Mary Magdalene, and had a son named Judah. This documentary was then immediately blasted by Christian and non-Christian scholars, who provided numerous problems to the documentary.

First, these names were some of the most common name in first century Israel. Joseph was the second most popular male name, Jesus 4th, Matthew 6th, and Mary was far and away the most popular female name. Professor Amos Kloner, one of many scholars who disagreed with the documentary said there’s 900+ tombs like that one within 2 mile radius — 71 of those tombs have name “Jesus”  — 3 or 4 of those have “Jesus son of Joseph.” 

Also, if the disciples were “making up a religion” based off resurrection, certainly they would not bury his body in same city He was killed in, inscribe His name on tomb, and bury other members of His family in same grave… That would be foolish! If they were trying to prove resurrection, they would want to do everything to get rid of body, evidence of body to securely tell people “Our leader has risen!”

Hallucination theory. Theory that early Christians were hallucinating, and only thought they saw Jesus alive after death. This is not convincing theory for variety of reasons… First, hallucinations are rare and they differ depending on individual. Most hallucinations from drugs, and even if disciples were all on some crazy shrooms, group hallucinations don’t exist — they’re individual experiences. Also, hundreds of Jews in Israel claimed to see Jesus, touch His scars, hear Him teach, and ate with Him. Paul stated that “more than five hundred” people made these claims, and he said that most of 500 “still alive” (1 Cor. 15:6). He was basically saying, “If you don’t believe me… ask those 499 other people!”

Another reason hallucination theory is weak is because hallucinations are typically result from mental disorder or drug use, and the New Testament documents very sane, full of virtuous guidance, wisdom, historical event detail recorded with accuracy. It definitely reads like writings from people with sound minds. Lastly, and probably most importantly, if disciples were hallucinating, Jewish leaders could’ve brought out body. Remember, Jewish leaders and Roman authorities wanted to get rid of Christianity. If disciples were hallucinating, the body would still have been in tomb, and they could’ve rolled stone away and said, “SEE! There He is!”

Last theory to discuss for now: swoon theory.  This theory claims Jesus didn’t actually die, but fainted from exhaustion and blood loss. Everyone thought He was dead, but He later resuscitated and the disciples believed that to be resurrection. But according to eyewitnesses, Jesus was viciously beaten, stabbed, suffered internal damage, massive blood loss, asphyxiation, and a spear through His heart. Who could survive that, sit in tomb with no food, water, or medical attention — remove a giant stone door, get away undetected with guards present, and then convince hundreds of people He rose from death and was in good health?

If we can logically believe that God created all things, He is in control of all things, and could certainly raise His Son Jesus from the dead. None of the empty tomb theories make a strong case, but you decided for yourself what you can believe. If you are still skeptical, however, don’t make up your mind just yet, because we have more evidences coming! Stay tuned for more next week!

Defend the Kingdom: Believing the Resurrection

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We are embarking on another Defend the Kingdom apologetics series. This time we are covering the most central event that has happened that the Christian faith is centered on: the resurrection. Can we logically, reasonably believe that a man 2,000 years ago died and came back to life? Let’s dive in to this series, look at the evidence, and see for ourselves what we actually believe on this phenomenal event. 

Before the evidence, it would do some good to introduce why the resurrection is so important. There are four different accounts of the life of Jesus found in the Bible — documented by some of the people that followed Jesus closest (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). All four of these accounts of Jesus record that towards the end of His life, Jesus was arrested, put on trial, killed by crucifixion, buried in a tomb, and that a few days after, the tomb was emptied because Jesus had resurrected from the dead (Matt 26:36-28:10, Mark 14:32-16:11, Luke 22:39-24:2, John 18:1-20:10). 

This is an important event because of what is highlighted in John 3:16 — because God loves us so much, He sent His Son to be a sacrifice for us, so that if we trust in Him, we will not die but have eternal life. In our sin, we have separation from God, and in death we find eternal separation. Jesus is the solution to our sin problem, His death is payment for our sin, and His resurrection is the power we can trust in for forgiveness. Romans 10:9 says that if you say with your mouth that Jesus is the Lord of your life, and believe God raised Him from the dead, then you are saved. 

The resurrection is the difference between eternal life or eternal death, now can we believe it actually happened? Let’s start with some introductory evidences/thoughts, that will give us a good foundation to work off of in the coming weeks…

First: No resurrection means no Christianity. According to Paul, if Jesus did not rise from death, then Christian preaching would be worthless because Jesus was not who He said He was, all the apostles were liars testifying to a resurrection that didn’t happen, forgiveness would not be granted for anyone’s sins, and there is no hope for those who trust in Jesus. The resurrection is mentioned over 100 times in the New Testament and is central to the Christian faith. Christianity is a world view that has had millions and millions of believers from the first century to this day — and all would be for nothing if the resurrection had never happened. We will be elaborating on this point throughout the series, in different (more specific) evidences we uncover, for now, just a big blanket thought to get minds turning…

Second: Bible is trustworthy. This is also foundational for our belief in the resurrection, not that it speaks directly to the resurrection, but it’s in the Bible that we read all about Jesus rising to life, His post-resurrection appearances, experiences of the apostles, and rapid growth of the church. So, can we trust the very source of all this information? This was actually the previous Defend the Kingdom that we did, so I will post the link to those blogs HERE. But the evidence is completely overwhelming that this is a historically accurate, reliable, trustworthy document. From the many fulfilled prophecies, archeological evidences, stunning internal consistency and unity of a book that has over 40 different authors over the span of 1,500 years, evidences found outside the Bible that corroborate it’s events and people, etc.! The Bible is proven reliable and trustworthy, which gives confidence that we can trust in the stories found within — including the account of the resurrection. 

Church Words: Walk by the Spirit

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Last week we finished our “Church Words” series. This series was a really cool opportunity to look at some words that we as Christians often use but often don’t fully understand. During the series thus far we discussed: Sin, The Gospel, and Repentance. When we begin to understand these three words we get an explanation of what the Christian faith claims. We have all sinned and this is a problem because sin separates us from God and brings death. The Gospel however is very “good news” because it tells us that Jesus paid the death we owe and therefore we have the ability to be made right with God through believing in His promise and excepting His free gift of grace. Repentance then speaks of our response; we have been saved by grace through faith and if you believe that your life should be different. Repentance is turning from your own sinful ways and beginning to live the way God intends. This is where many people hit a problem. To turn from sin is clearly what we want to do when we become a Christian, but it is not always easy. Sin is fun, it is tempting, and it is what we are used to doing. If we rely on our own will to keep us from sinning, we may very well end up right back where we started. The question then is “How can we find the strength to resist falling back into our old ways?”

The apostle Paul answers our question very simply in the book of Galatians. Paul writes in Galatians 5:16: “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Paul says that the key to breaking from our sinful desires is to walk by the Spirit. Sounds simple enough, but what does this really mean and how do we do it? Thats exactly the question we aim to answer as we unpack this weeks church word (or phrase): “walk by the Spirit”.

The first thing we need to understand is who the Spirit is. The Spirit Paul refers to here is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God; He is a member of the trinity. The Spirit is seen in the life and ministry of Jesus at many points, and in a passage found in John 14:25-26 Jesus actually tells us that when He goes away to be with the Father, He will send to us the Holy Spirit to help us. He tells us that the Spirit will be with us and that He will soon be in us. Jesus states that the Spirit He sends will be a Helper who will teach us and help us remember all that Jesus has said. 

So this then is how the Spirit relates to us today, He was sent to us by the Father in the name of Jesus. The Spirit now lives in us and one of His main roles in our lives its to work in us to make us more like Jesus. When Paul tells us to walk by the Spirit he begins to give us this picture of letting the Holy Spirit be our guide.Paul tells us that we should allow the Spirit to lead us so that we can put the old ways to death. The question then is how do we actually let the Holy Spirit lead us, how do we let Him be our guide?

One of the key ways we can let the Spirit guide us is through the reading of scripture. Reading the Bible on your own can be confusing and very challenging. Luckily for the believer, the Holy Spirit has been given to us to help us understand the truths found in scripture. The problem is that many christians do not tap into this amazing resource that they’ve been given. The Spirit offers us this wisdom and guidance, but we have to ask Him to be our guide. Before diving into a time of reading, we aught to spend time sitting with God and asking Him to teach us as we read His word.

The Holy Spirit is the same Spirit who inspired the writers of the Bible. This means that there is no better teacher for us, the very Spirit that inspired the scriptures its the same Spirit that lives in us. We just have to ask for His help and he is ready to give it. 

This emphasizes the relationship nature that we need with the Spirit. When we walk with Him it will always be a mix of our effort and His power. We have to be willing to let Him lead and He has promised to be our Guide. If we ask, he will help teach us the truth in scripture but we then must put in the effort to read and try to understand. The Spirit walks with us so we must remember that we are not alone in our attempts to live out this faith but we must also be willing to walk in step with Him. He will be our power, but we must choose to follow.

We must learn to ask for the Spirit’s help and guidance in all areas of our life. The Spirit will show us where we need to be made more like Christ and we have to be willing to let Him lead us in that area of our life. If you live each day controlled and guided by the Holy Spirit than the words of christ will be in your mind, the love of Christ will be behind your actions, and the power of Christ will help you control your selfish desires

Church Words: Repentance

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Week three: Church Words! Discussing the church’s secret code language — words only used within church context, understanding what they mean and their importance. If you missed the first two weeks, we discussed “sin” and “Gospel” — check out the first two blogs if you didn’t see them yet! This week’s church word: “repentance.” You may hear it now and then out in the wild, but this it’s a pretty church-y word. What does it mean for someone to “repent” in a spiritual context?

Before we define it, let’s check out a great Biblical example of repentance. In Luke 19, we find a story about a wealthy tax-collector named Zacchaeus. Tax-collectors were definitely unpopular people in the ancient world, as they would typically over-collect taxes from the hard-working citizens (putting the extra moneys right into their own pockets). This unpopular, cheating tax collector of a man, we’re told from the story, was interested in seeing Jesus. As Jesus was approaching town, Zach climbed into a tree to see him (because he was short man), and Jesus, being the Son of God and knowing all things, called Zacchaeus out of the tree and instigates a hang-out between the two. Let’s see how Jesus impacted Zach’s life, in Luke 19:8-10:

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus was changed by Jesus, and we see in this story what repentance looks like. Zach recognized the way he was living was wrong, and that caused him to make a change that aligned with who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him. Here’s a simple, straightforward definition of repentance: “A change of mind leading to a change of action. It involves a sincere turning from sin to serve God and includes sorrow for, and confession of, sin and where possible restitution.” It’s really coming to grips with your sin, genuinely feeling bad about it, confessing to God that you’re in the wrong, and making a change to align with Jesus — who He is, what He teaches, and what His will is for our life. Have you recognized sin in your life, knowing it separates you from having an eternal relationship with God, and repented to make things right? If you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from death, then you will be saved (so says Romans 10:9). God offers so much love to you, all you have to do is accept. Don’t wait, make that decision on who Jesus is in your life — confess your wrongs, accept His death/resurrection as forgiveness of your sins, and make that change to follow Him and His ways. 

Church Words: Gospel

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If you were asked:  “What do you want, the good news first or the bad news?”, which would you choose? 

I myself am a bad news first kind of person. I believe often times we have to understand the bad news in order for the good news to make sense. I believe the perfect example of this is seen in regards to the Gospel.

In week two of our series “Church Words” we chose to spend time defining the word Gospel. The point of this series is to identify and explain words that we frequently use in church circles, but that we often times don’t fully understand. The word Gospel is used a massive amount in the new testament and we even call the first four books of the new testament “the Gospels”. This being the case, it is very important that we understand what the word “Gospel” fully means. When we examine the word Gospel the simple definition is “Good News”. This opens up the obvious question, “What’s the good news?”

To answer this from scripture, one of the clearest explanations of the Gospel is found in the book of Romans. Bible scholars have grouped a collection of scriptures from Romans that they call the “Roman road”. The “Roman road” presents the Gospel in a clear and simple way. 

The road starts with the passage Romans 3:23: 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

It is here that we find the bad news. We are all sinners. No one is good, we all fall short of what we were created to be. One sin is enough to disqualify you from perfection and so we are all together sinners deserving of the due penalty. What is the penalty for sin? Romans 6:23 answers this for us:

“The wages of sin is DEATH…”

As we discussed last week, Sin has caused a divide between man and God. Our sin caused a break in the relationship between us and God. Sin is a major problem because it causes death and eternal separation from God. 

The common question is, “if God loves us cant he just look past our sin?” Unfortunately for us God cannot simply overlook our sin. Our God is a loving God, but he is also Good and Just. The penalty for sin is death and if God simply overlooks our sin than justice is not being done.

Think of this in terms of a court case. The penalty for murder is life in prison. If a man who is convicted of murder is found to be guilty, the judge must give him the penalty due for his crime. A judge would not be considered good or just if they let the man go because he was a “nice guy” or because he liked him. Similarly, we are guilty of sin. We all have intentionally chosen at one time or another to disregard God and do our own thing and we are held accountable for those actions. God cannot simply overlook our crime, justice must be served. 

This is indeed very bad news, but the second portion of romans 6:23 is where our good news begins. Paul continues:

“The wages of sin is death… BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord ”

Hold on a second, didn’t we just say God cant overlook our sin? Doesn’t it make Him unjust to gift us eternal life? Well lets take a look back to Romans 5:8 to answer this valid question.

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

We see here the magnificence of God’s plan. There is no greater example of God’s love and justice. In love Jesus came down to us and took on human flesh. Fully God and fully man, Jesus came and lived a perfect life. Because Jesus never sinned, he never had to die, but he chose to lay down His life to pay the debt that we owed. Jesus gave His life to pay the price for our sins, and because of His sacrifice we no longer have to be separated from God. This is the free gift that we are offered, but we are still responsible for receiving it. A gift that is given still must be received for it to make a difference. How then do we receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness? Paul explains in romans 10:9

if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

We are saved by grace through faith. Jesus did all the work, we are called to believe He is who he claimed to be and that His death was sufficient to pay for our sin. This gift of salvation is offered to everyone and the first step to entering into eternity with God is simply admitting you are helpless to save yourself.  Without Jesus we are destined to spend eternity separated from God, but through believing in His death and resurrection we are given new life. 

Take the time today to consider whether or not you believe in Jesus and if you do, spend time in prayer admitting to God that you are guilty of sin, that you need Jesus to save you, and thank Him for the promise that if you admit your need for a savior He is faithful to save. 

Church Words: Sin

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Ever notice how Christians (and church in general) has a secret code? There is language used within the church context, that simply are not (at least not regularly) used outside of faith context. This series is aimed at understanding these words, not for knowledge sake, but so that we can deeply understand the implications behind the vocabulary we use.

For week one, we started with the word "sin." A monumentally common and powerful word throughout the entire Bible. It's a term that is often used within the church, but almost never used outside of a religious context. Let's aim to get a good definition of that word, starting with this definition:

“Actions by which humans rebel against God, miss His purpose for their life, and surrender to the power of evil rather than to God.”

According to this definition, it is a wrongful action against God that misses the original intended purpose for created life. If sin is missing the intended purpose for life, let's figure out what that original purpose was. What better place to find original meaning to life, than to look at when life began? Genesis 1:26-27 says,

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and our all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

We were (and are) made in God's image, and there's a lot of purpose to be found there. God has enterally been a God of community (notice "us" verbiage in Creation -- Father, Son, Holy Spirit community in Trinity), so we are made to be in community with Him. God is love, we are made to love Him and love others. God is good, we are made to reflect that goodness. When we deviate from these things, we are failing at our original purpose in life - and we see the first regrettable deviation from this purpose in Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. 

Sin became a problem that separated God's creation from Himself; a problem that holds great consequence and that needed to be fixed. In Jesus, His great loving sacrifice, we find the solution to the sin problem (which we will go into greater detail in the coming weeks). 

Sin is not just a laborious list of do's and don'ts -- its failing to be the best you that you were created to be. It literally (in the original language) means to "miss the mark." Those do's and don'ts that you think of (i.e. Ten Commandments) is the standard that God has set of what is right and what is wrong - for our understanding of how to be right, and illuminating the fact we can never accomplish righteousness on our own (again, we NEED Jesus). 

Against the Flow (Pt. 3, Marc Hughes)

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It is our first week back to school for these middle school students and it is always fun to see who is excited to be back and who is dreading the school-year to come. This year is the first time in 2 years that I myself will be facing this same set of emotions (as I am starting my first semester at Talbot seminary). I reflect back to when I was a freshman in college, and I remember having a massive amount of nerves and anxiety before my first week of school. I was shy and I only knew one person as I entered into my first year of school at Concordia. To make things more difficult, I was one of three freshman who were joining the lacrosse team that year. These emotions were building and my nerves were growing by the day, but that all changed when I was introduced to a guy named Josh Fagan. 

Josh was the captain of the lacrosse team and he was the first person I met at Concordia. Josh gave me a warm welcome and proceeded to take me out to coffee the following week. Josh was one of the nicest guys I had ever met and he did his best to include everyone. On the field Josh was a leader and by far the hardest working individual on the team. He was the perfect example of what a captain should be and I looked up to him for that.

My senior year of college I was given the honor of being voted the new team captain by my fellow team-mates. As I went about leading the team, I constantly reflected back to Josh’s example and challenged myself to be the type of captain that he was for me. I was blessed to have a role model like him and because of his example was able to lead my team very effectively. 

As we finish up our series in the book of Daniel, I want us to view Daniel through this same lens of being a role model. Daniel is a perfect example for living as people of faith in a world that pressures us to lose that faith. As we read his story there are many things we can learn, but there are three things specifically that I want us to focus on and try to replicate. 

In Daniel chapter 6 we get to read the famous story of Daniel in the lions den. When we look at this chapter closely we begin to learn what the daily life of Daniel looked like and we can be greatly benefited if we aim to replicate his lifestyle. Early in the chapter we read that Daniel was loved by the King and he was soon to be promoted to the top spot in Babylon. This promotion angered other government officials and they set out to destroy Daniel and his reputation. These officials ran into a problem however, in their attempt to defame Daniel they stated “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Dan 6:5).

We see clearly that the first lesson from Daniel’s life is that we should take the Word of God seriously. Daniel not only daily devoted himself to reading God’s word, but he made sure to live out the commands of God. We can often forget the importance of reading God’s word. In our day and age, reading your Bible can easily fall in line with a long list of other tasks that we must do to be “good christians”. This should not be the case. We need to constantly remind ourselves that this book is the Word of the Living God and that it is essential to our daily walk with Him. Let us never forget that reading the Bible is an unbelievable gift that fuels our relationship with God and never see it as a burden that we check off our list of to-do’s.

The second thing we can learn from Daniel is the importance of prayer. The jealous government officials devise a plan to trap Daniel by tricking the king into creating a law that stated no one in Bablyon could pray to any god, other than the king, for 30 days. If you disobey this new law, the punishment was being thrown into the den of lions. 

Upon hearing this new decree, Daniels immediate response was retreating to his home, opening the window, and praying to God just as he had done every day. We see that Daniel valued prayer so highly that he devoted three separate times every day to come home and get on his knees before God. Daniel viewed prayer as an essential part to his life and the thought of going even one day without prayer wasn’t an option. We can learn a lot from this example and I feel it is wise for each of us to reflect on how we view prayer to God on a daily basis.

The final lesson from Daniel that I would like to focus on is the idea that Daniel never made any attempt to hide his faith. From the beginning of the book to the end, we read of Daniel standing up for his faith when many would rather shy away. There were moments where Daniel could have stayed quite and practiced his faith in secrecy or in his own space, but Daniel had the resolve to decide that he would never let the fear of man or the fear of an uncomfortable situation stop him from following God. Daniel may have been attacked for his faith, he may have been seen by some as foolish, but many people who witnessed Daniel live out his faith were forever changed by it.

When we stand strong in our faith, we have the opportunity to witness to the world about the amazing power found in Our God alone. When we fight to go against the flow of culture, people will notice the difference in us. Some may see us as fools, some may mock our faith, but some people may see for the very first time the love and power of Our God. For this reason, we must strive to live out the example of Daniel in our daily lives, for when we live against the flow we have the opportunity to leave an impact that lasts an eternity.

Against the Flow (Pt. 2, Marc Hughes)

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As another school year quickly approaches, its awesome to reflect on all the good things God has done this summer. We got to see some amazing growth take place this year as many  students took a step forward in their relationship with God. There were multiple first time commitments to follow Jesus mixed with many students who took their relationships with God to a deeper level. This growth was amazing to experience, but now as students re-enter the world of public school, these relationships with God will face a new set of challenges. 

This week we continued our study in the book of Daniel in an attempt to answer the over-arching question “How can we live as Christians in a non-christian world?” Last week we discussed how we can relate to Daniel on a spiritual level; He was a man of faith living in a culture that daily pressured Him to give up what He believed in. Through studying his dedication to God, we can learn a lot about what it takes to thrive in a world that opposes your faith. 

This week we took our study a level deeper as we asked the question “How do we respond when following Jesus Gets hard?” When the path of sin is more enticing than the path of obedience, when the world attacks us and makes fun of us because of our faith, when the pain and struggle of life seems to much to bear, when these things weigh on us… what do we do?

To answer this extremely important question, we turned to the popular story found in Daniel 3. In this chapter Daniel shares with us the miraculous story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and their refusal to give in to the demands of a tyrant king. This story is an unbelievable example of faith in the face of persecution. By studying the actions and words of these three friends we get a perfect guide for how to respond when following Jesus gets hard. 

As we read their story, the first thing that is inspiring to see is their their unwavering obedience to do what God has asked. They knew that to obey God means certain death, but they put obedience to God as their first priority. In the midst of extreme pressure to give up their faith, they recognized that the one thing they had control over was their own actions; they couldn’t control what the king would do, they couldn’t guarantee that God would save them if they obeyed, they couldn’t control anything except if they would obey and trust God. So for us today we need to recognize that same truth. 

When we face difficult situations that challenge us to choose the world or choose our faith, We need to control our own behavior, and trust God to handle the rest. We need to walk in obedience, and trust that God will handle the rest.

It is clear that these men trusted the God and knew that whatever happened to them was under God’s control. When we find ourselves in similar situations it would benefit us greatly if we could practice this same type of trust. We must remind ourselves to Trust God: Trust that He is good. Trust that He sees your situation and He cares about you. Trust that he can and will work everything out to the good of those who love Him.

As we continue to read their story, the second truth that we can learn and hold on to is the fact that in the midst of their hardest struggle, when they are condemned to death and thrown into the furnace, God shows Himself to be with them all along. Not only do the flames of the fire not harm them, but we are told that God is literally standing among them. From this awesome image we can see the comforting truth that God may allow us to walk through Hard times, but he will never leave our side.

If we can trust this truth then it will give us the comfort and hope we need to persevere through the difficulties this life brings our way. This story gives us some amazing insight and beautifully illustrates how we can continue to live for Jesus even when the path gets hard.

Against the Flow (Series by: Marc Hughes)

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For those of us who were lucky enough to attend Hume Lake, this month got off to an amazing start. There is nothing better than getting away from the busyness of life for a week and dedicating your time to growing closer with God. While Hume lake is awesome, there is always a challenging time when we have to leave the mountaintop experience and come back home. 

The reason this transition is difficult is because at Hume lake we are surrounded by like-minded people who daily push and encourage us to follow Jesus and pursue deeper relationship with God, but when we come back home we re-enter a world that pulls us in the opposite direction. As Christians the question that we all face is How do we live as Christians in a Non-christian world? How do we persist in following God when the world around us tempts us to live for ourselves?

To answer this very important question we turn our attention to the story of Daniel. Daniel’s story is closely related to ours, as a captive living in a foreign land Daniel was daily faced with the pressure to forsake his God and follow the way of the world around him. When we look at our own situation, we can directly relate to this cultural pressure that tempts us to leave the God we know and love. Recognizing the difficulty of our situation, the question remains: “How do we resist the pressures of this world?”

An important thing to always remember is that God gives us the strength we we need to resist the temptations and pressures of this world. In Ephesians 2:1-5, Paul describes to us how we at one time were hopeless to resist the world. We at one time were slaves to sin, destined to walk in the ways of darkness because thats all we knew, but while we were still dead in our sin Jesus gave us life. Through his death Jesus conquered sins power, he broke the chains that bound us to death and through his resurrection showed us the path to life. This is a powerful truth that we must grasp and hold onto as we face the daily struggles of this life.

To illustrate this amazing truth, we can picture this world as a river. At one time we were powerless to fight the current and temptations that pulled us down. We were dead in our sin and as the saying goes “dead fish flow downstream”. Because of his great love for us, Jesus made us alive, Jesus gave us the power to resist the current. This is incredible, we were made alive, but we must recognize that we are still in the river. We are not immune to the worlds temptations and pressures. We have been given the ability to resist but we must choose to do so. If we do not focus on intentionally pursuing Jesus, we will find ourself drifting with the current. 

Recognizing that we must begin to intentionally choose the right path is good, but there is one other question: “In the decisions and choices we daily make, how do we know which path is right and which path is wrong?” Whenever we have a question or concern about the direction we are heading in this life there should be one place we always turn to, Gods Word. 

Matt Chandler described this truth beautifully, he states ““The word of God is essential to the daily, ongoing life of a believer. If God’s message is not deep inside you, where you can meditate on it, return to it, and frequently call it back to mind, you wont be able to discern whats the true and right path from what may be an intriguing detour into this world thats no longer your home.” 

It is essential that we learn and meditate on these truths if we want to live a life that goes against the flow of this world,. We will constantly need to remind ourselves of the power Jesus gives us over sin and the necessity of relying on His Word to guide us through our everyday lives. 

Hume Lake 2018 Recap

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Hume Lake 2018: what a week! With some students that have been before, and many others that joined us for the first time, the week did not disappoint. There were many experiences full of fun, with recreation games, blog, rope swing, paintball, high ropes, milkshakes and more! But also, and more importantly, God worked in mighty ways. We worshipped, dove into God's Word, and His Spirit truly softened hearts and transformed lives. As we discussed the narrative of God's Word last week, we reflected a lot on how we were created to be in a loving relationship with God, but how sin destroys that relationship. We talked about how we are all sinners, the consequence of that reality, and the fact that there's nothing we can do about that. But God's love for us runs deeper than the power of sin, and He provided us the perfect sacrifice that we needed to take care of our sins: JESUS! The Good News of Jesus is the reconciling power to save us, and is a message that was clearly heard, understood, and accepted last week. Praise God for the transformation that took place in the hearts of our students. Now that we are back, it's time to live out our faith, and continue letting God and His Word shape every aspect of our lives. 

To see all of our photos, click HERE!

By Grace Through Faith

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We live in a world where nothing of great value is ever free. Whenever someone claims to be handing out something amazing for free, most people wonder, “whats the catch?” Many would agree that in order to gain anything of value, you have to earn it. This is the case in our every day life, so it would be natural for us to bring this same mentality into our relationship with God. 

Ephesians 2:8 claims:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

It may be easy to think that in order for us to enter Heaven to have an eternal relationship with the God who loves us, we have to earn our way there by being good people. This is a reasonable thought, but the problem we run into is that the standard of Heaven is perfection. One sin is enough to disqualify us from the presence of God, which is a huge problem because each one of us has a little more than one sin on our resume. Not only does our sin keep us from Heaven, but  our wrongdoings also are deserving of a penalty. From the beginning God made it clear that the penalty for sin would be death and separation from Him for eternity. So we find ourselves in quite the predicament.

Knowing our position of hopelessness and helplessness, out of his great love for us, God decided to make us a way to Heaven that was separate from our actions and deeds. God sent His son Jesus to live the perfect life we could never live. Jesus willingly chose to pay the death penalty on our behalf in order to have the justice served for our wrongs. To prove He was who He claimed to be, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to many to show them the truth of who He is. If we believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, and that His death has the power to forgive, then we are given the promise of eternity with God. 

As Ephesians 2:8 so simply puts it: we are “saved by grace through faith”. 

SAVED: from eternal separation from our Creator (the source of all things loving, good, true, and beautiful). 

BY GRACE: we did nothing to deserve it. Out of His love for us, He chose to save us.

THROUGH FAITH: God promises all of this without us having to do anything to earn it, all He asks of us is that we believe in what Jesus has done. As far as salvation is concerned, there is nothing we can do to add or subtract from this fact.

The gift of salvation has been offered to each and every one of us, but only those who believe and receive what is given will have the reward Jesus promised. The question is then, do you believe or do you think its too good to be true? 

Unearned

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Not much is free in life. We have to work hard to earn the things that we have. Maybe that’s why many people who believe in Heaven believe they have to earn their way there (whether that’s subconscious or forefront mentality). Go to church,  be a good person, read your Bible, avoid doing wrong things, believe in God — is this how you get there? Nothing is free in life, could entrance into the eternal presence of your Maker be?! Can you earn your way to Heaven?

In Matthew 19, a rich young man was having an exchange with Jesus. He wanted to know what good thing he must do, to ensure his ticket into eternal life. Let’s read this conversations, Matthew 19:16-19:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Jesus states that there is only “One” who is good, referring to God (Himself), but continues to say that if you want eternal life, keep the commandments, then rattles off some of the big ten. Jesus was saying if you can keep all the commandments (of which there were 613 of them in the Old Testament), this is how you could earn eternal life… He continues, Matt 19:20-22:

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Apparently the young rich man knew the rules well, and was trying hard to keep them! But he knew something was still missing. Knowing the man was wealthy, Jesus pressed into an area where he may have difficulty keeping commandments, tells him to sell everything and follow. Jesus was not saying that no people with a lot of money can be granted eternal life, he was pointing out that man could not keep all the commands. Greed kept him from loving others like he loves himself - certainly if he loved others like himself, he’d do everything in his power to make sure the poor were taken care of. And beyond loving others as himself, he put his money before God - loved money before God (breaking the very 1st commandment to not put anything above God).

Jesus made the point that no one can keep all the commands perfectly, but perfection is the standard we’re held to. In Matt. 5:48, Jesus said, “You must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” To be “good enough” to be worthy of eternal life, perfection is required — keeping all the commands is required. 

So, can you earn your way to Heaven? The answer is not unless you’re perfect. The point I am trying to make is that there is no amount of going to church, reading Bible, doing good things, avoiding bad things, or being nice that can earn your way to have a relationship with God. James 2:10 says that even if you kept the entire law perfectly, but failed once, you are guilty of all — meaning, just one mistake, that’s all it takes to tarnish the standard of perfection. So if you have lied a single time, cheated once, disobeyed your parents in a single moment — that’s all it takes for a separation from perfection… Galatians 2:16, Paul states three times (in this one verse alone), that we cannot be made right by the things that we do.  

I am not intentionally trying to make us all feel bad, simply getting us to think through that there is a problem that we need a solution for! Every single one of us messes up, and just one mistake keeps us from God’s presence (because of His perfection and holiness), so perfection is required! If the story of the Bible ended there, we’d be in trouble, but it doesn’t end there. God isn’t some God that coldly makes us obey all these rules, and if not, you’re toast (rules btw, that are in place for OUR GOOD — see blog Do’s and Dont’s). Because of God’s great love and mercy, He sent His Son Jesus to be our perfection. Read Ephesians 2:1-5:    

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 

We are going to talk all about that grace next week, but for now, consider… is this something that you have already been aware of, you know your sins and you have been saved by grace — is this a reminder that you needed, to maybe bring you back to a place of repentance and closeness to Jesus? Or at least a reminder of what Jesus did for you, a reminder to be grateful? Or, is this a new revelation for you? Have you been trying to “be good” and earn your way to Heaven, without realizing that’s impossible to do? Ask for the forgiveness of your sins and accept the free gift of grace that only Jesus - in HIS perfection, death, and resurrection - can offer!

Hard to Love (Message by: Marc Hughes)

Yesterday we discussed how the Bible often asks us to do things that push us out of our comfort zone. We specifically discussed an area that I feel is one of the hardest to live out. We talked about how Jesus asks us to love our “Enemy”. For us today, we may not have “enemies”, but we definitely have people in our lives who are hard for us to love. Whether it be a bully, someone who frustrates you, someone who falsely accuses you, someone who insults you, or any other hurtful type of person; the question is “How can we Love those who hurt us?”.

To answer this we looked at WHAT specifically Jesus asks of us. In Luke 6:27-31, Jesus commands his followers to Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you, and other such commands. Before we explored how we could practically live this out in our day to day lives, we asked the question, “WHY should we do this?”. To answer this valid question we went to the book of Romans. Paul tells us in Romans 5:6-8 that Jesus loved us while we were technically still his enemies. Jesus gave his life for us while we were still sinners and because He loved us, we can now move forward with that same love. So now that we know the why, this leads us to address, “HOW do we actually live this out?”. 

To address this we took a closer look at what Jesus asks of us in Luke. The ultimate conclusion from our lesson was to understand why Jesus asks us to respond to hatred with love. Fighting fire with fire creates a bigger fire, fighting hatred with hatred creates more hate, but fighting hate with God’s love has the power to defeat hatred and change a persons heart. Jesus asks us to show people the forgiveness and love that he showed us and in doing so we can point them to Jesus in the process. 

 

Do's and Don'ts?

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We do not like to be told to do things we don’t want to do, and don’t like to be told not to do things that we want to do. When you’re a kid, being told to do chores is not usually met with excitement, and being told to stop playing video games can be met with argument. Without a close look at what it mean to have a relationship with Jesus, people can write off Christianity as this religion of do’s and don’ts - you have to do a bunch of things that you don’t necessarily want to do, and can’t do things that your human nature pushes you to innately do. Is Christianity just a religion of do’s and don’ts that we have to follow simply because God rigidly says so? How should we view the commands of the Bible?

Psalm 1 gives us a great picture of a way we should view following God’s commands. Psalm 1:1-2 says:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Blessing speaks to favor, protection, all the good things. These verses share that those who do what is right leads to blessing, but to walk in wickedness and sinful lifestyle, influenced by unrighteousness will lead to the opposite! The one who delights in the law of the Lord, who meditates on God’s Word and the commands he has set in place for us to follow, will be blessed. The next verses give us a great mental picture of what this looks like, Psalm 1:3-4:

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

The blessed person who delights in doing what is right is depicted as a fruitful tree - speaking to strength, life, stability, provision and goodness. But the person who walks in the step with the wicked is like a chaff, the outer shell (husk) that must be removed to get the valuable kernels of grain inside — easily tossed by the wind, tossed away, crushed — picture of faithless life that drifts without direction. 

This picture gives us a good perspective to have on how to view keeping God’s commands. How should we view the commands of the Bible? Know that obeying God is for your benefit. It leads to blessing, it leads to strength, life, provision, etc. God doesn’t have commands in place for the sake of given us a to-do/to-don’t list. Beyond the fact that it is honoring, worshipful, and respectful for us to obey our Heavenly Father (please read: that should be a driving motivator to obey!), following God’s commands is legitimately beneficial to your life! 

Think through this example with me: what does the Bible say about words? We should use them to build each other up, speak in love, speak in truth, do not slander, don’t lie, don’t gossip, etc. (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 3:8, 4:6, 1 Thess. 5:11, to name a few). These are some commands on how we should/shouldn’t use words. Now in your life, if you regularly speak in love, truth, and encourage people up - how would that impact your relationships? That would result in good things - people will look to you as a loving, kind person and will result in you even receiving a lot of love and positive encouraging words back. But if you were constantly lying, gossiping about other people, slandering others — how would that impact your life and relationships? People will view you negatively, people will talk bad about you, gossip about you, etc… See how following these commands directly result in a better life for you! 

The commands God has in place are for your benefit, not just a cold rule book of things we have to do and don’t do. There are commands that are difficult to do, and we’ll struggle with them because we’re human… But the better we honor and respect God by keeping His commands, the greater our life will be. 

Open Arms

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This Sunday was a special Sunday for N&F, as we welcomed a bunch of new faces of incoming 6th graders into our family. It’s a fantastic concept to show genuine hospitality in situations like meeting and welcoming new people  into your group, but it may require stepping out of comfort zones for many of us. Showing hospitality is a great, but it may not come first nature for some of us, and for others, we may not highly prioritize this. What are some things we should keep in mind when showing genuine hospitality towards others?

Abraham, whom (who? whom? real talk, I never know…) God promised to bless the entire world through his lineage (which ultimately culminated in Jesus) - gives us some excellent tips in hospitality in Genesis 18. In this story, Abraham noticed that there were three men standing nearby his home, he “hurried” to meet them, and offered water to clean their feet, something to eat, and refreshment. In Genesis 18:6-8, we can read his hospitable heart:

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

One thing that stand out for me is how Abraham and his wife Sarah offered the best of the best for their guests. Not only did they stop what they were doing that particular day, and went to serious work for their company, they sacrificially gave their greatest. And it’s here we can find a quality tip in showing hospitality towards others, that we should go above and beyond (not bare minimum). Showing hospitality can have a real impact on someone, especially when we go above and beyond and give sacrificially. This is something that our culture, from my perspective, doesn’t value highly - but I have first hand experienced radical hospitality in other countries I have visited. Experiencing that above and beyond show of reception, made a powerful impact on me. We all have the power to make that kind of impact on those around us, the greater the sacrifice we’re willing to make for others, the great impact we can make. 

If you continue reading in Genesis 18:9-15, it becomes more and more apparent that these three men are not your average house guests - but it is actually the LORD (all capitals) and two angels - here is an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament. Abraham has the opportunity to host an incredible set of guests, and there is a deeper underlying tip of hospitality in this special circumstance: show hospitality as if you’re showing it to Jesus (because you are)! No, you may not actually be hosting or welcoming Jesus Himself, but when we show love to others and make them feel welcomed/special, we are doing it for Jesus. In Matthew 25:31-40, Jesus said that whatever you do for the least of these, you are doing for Him. When we offer food, clothing, and shelter to those who need it - we’re doing that for Jesus. When we show kindness, love, and hospitality to others - it’s as if we are doing it for the Lord, because we are showing others His love, and when we show others the love Jesus has for them, we are also showing Him love. 

Would you consider yourself a hospitable person? Do you go above and beyond to make people feel loved and welcomed? Abraham displayed an excellent show in making others feel loved by giving sacrificially, and reminding us that when we show hospitality to others, we are showing it to Jesus. Let’s put this kind of love and care into practice, and be bold people who are eager to love and make others feel welcomed!

Encouraging Community

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[*Before reading, know that I am from WI and not aquatically strong] My last attempt at surfing started with good intentions and excitement, but was immediately thwarted when I took a gargantuan long board into the Pacific at the exact wrong time and was pummeled by hundreds of waves barreling towards the shore. After getting completely beaten up (and laughed at by on-lookers), I defeatedly muscled my way out of the waters… Many of our faith journeys can look like that picture: starts with excitement and passion, but when the waves of life (nagging temptation, doubts, struggle) come crashing down, we may be tempted to throw in the towel with this whole Jesus thing… What do we do when we face the lows of our faith journey?

Last week we discussed Hebrews 10:19:23 in search of an answer, to which we were reminded of the reason we trusted our faith to Jesus in the first place: hope! When we feel that readiness to quit, remember and hold to the hope that you initially subscribed to! “Hold onto hope” is a pretty expansive concept, what does that mean? Let me give you a few quick examples that we didn’t discuss last week… 

Let’s say you’re battling with a nagging temptation, and ready to say, “shoot, whatever, I’m sick of feeling so guilty all the time, I’m just going for it…” Holding onto hope may look like reading and re-reading and memorizing verses like Romans 8:38 and 1 John 1:9, that promise nothing could separate you from God’s love and you are absolutely forgiven when you ask for it. For those in that situation, trusting in those promises are truly hopeful and powerful. Or let’s say you are experiencing crippling doubt in your faith, holding onto hope may look like an intentional apologetics study - study the reliability of Scripture, historical and scientific accuracies of the Bible, and do your best to seek out what is truth. The hope Jesus provides deserves that type of in-depth study, and I believe ultimate truth will surface with deliberate examinations. Maybe for you it’s not temptation or doubt, but heavy life struggle. Holding onto hope may mean to read, internalize, and wrestle with the concept of God working for good in all situations. This is not an easy venture, but looking at the struggles Jesus faced on your behalf, to study people like Joseph who went through a life of struggle only to be elevated to high power — encouragement can be found. 

As we continue to look at this question, what to do at faith lows, we continue with Hebrews 10:24-25:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

These early Christians that read this letter, who were experiencing persecution, imprisonment, martyrdom for their faith in Jesus - they needed reassurance Jesus was superior and sufficient, as certainly many of them must’ve considered abandoning and going back to old ways. Beyond holding onto their hope of Jesus, they were told to encourage each other towards love and good deeds. Do life together! And don’t just pat each other on the back to feel warm and fuzzy, but motivate each other towards action. And this mutual encouragement (obviously) requires togetherness! Regular interaction is necessary to encourage one another, and apparently some of the early christians were giving up on meeting together. And why is this important, why should this be a high priority? The author sprinkles on some motivation at the end with “the Day” reference - referring to the Day of the Lord, speaking to the time when Christ returns to make all things new. This is an eternal mindset, to what is most important… 

So how does this passage help us? How do we continue on, endure the whole way in our faith - even through the lows? Surround yourself with an encouraging community. Surrounding yourself with like-spiritual people, encouraging each other towards Jesus, love, and good deeds is essential for faith survival. Do you have a community of people that encourage you towards Jesus? This should be high on life’s priority list, especially in times when your faith is brittle and fading, seek people to talk to, that can encourage and love. 

But one shouldn’t just be surrounded by people who encourage, but also contribute to an encouraging community. That’s how proper community functions - both give and take. There is certainly a responsibility on all of our part to give, love, and encourage. Not to mention, this very much continues to answer our question of continuing on in our own faith - when you help spur others towards Jesus, it will keep you accountable in your own faith. Having an other’s focused faith holds you responsible in your own relationship with Jesus. So ask yourself if you are pushing others towards Jesus? Do you even think to do this, is it a concern of yours? Or are we so consumed with our own personal faith/life that we forget about others… 

Throughout the Christian life, we must hold onto the hope that only Jesus can provide, we must surround ourselves and contribute to an encouraging community. This should be true at all times, but if there are low moments where we’re holding on for dear life - this is a great place to start to re-build, refresh, and start anew.