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.

Unswervingly Hold

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When you decide to devote your life to Jesus for the first time, there’s a raw excitement. Coming to believe that all things were created by Him, recognizing the problem we all know, feel, and observe that lingers in this world is a result of our decided separation from God, and embracing faith in this crazy miracle written about in the Bible (the death and resurrection of Jesus) as a reality that saves souls and provides restoration… That gives optimism, joy, and passion. But life does not just magically get perfect, right? Struggles still come, temptations can pester and give you a hard time, and our natural human selves can unfortunately be fickle. As life goes on, even the most excited faith can be susceptible to temptation to throw in the towel and give up. How do you continue on and endure the whole way in our faith, through the downs? How do you win in your faith when you just want to give up?

The book of Hebrews was written to early Christians. Jesus had lived, died, resurrected and the Christian church had recently begun. These early believers had it pretty tough - their faith in Jesus made them different from society, which caused suspicions and discord, ultimately resulting in persecution and even martyrdom. Leading up to the verse we’re going to look at, Hebrews argues that Jesus is both sufficient and superior - He is greater than all heavenly beings, Moses, the Law and He is exactly enough to save anyone from sin. For a group of believers that must’ve been wavering in their faith and considering giving up to go back to their old ways (after all, life was just easier in the old days of past beliefs), to hear Jesus is enough and better would have been needed reassurance. And it’s here that we too can find helpful reassurance, starting with Hebrews 10:19-21:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God…

Let's pause for a second here... There’s a lot of language in there that would’ve made total sense for early Christians, but leaves us thinking “What?! Huh?!” A little Old Testament background is needed to understand what’s being communicated here. Once every year, ancient Israel had a single high priest that would enter a place called the Holy of Holies - where the ark of the covenant was located, and where God promised His presence would be. On this day, called the Day of Atonement, the priest would pass through a massive curtain to this holy place, and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed animal on the mercy seat (lid of the ark) to atone for the sins of Israel - to make things right. But now Hebrews 10:19-21 is saying that Jesus is a new high priest, and by His blood, gives any and everyone access to God’s presence. (Re-read those verses above, makes much more sense now, doesn’t it?)

Let’s continue, Hebrews 10:22-23:

…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

Now that we all have access to God, the author says to draw near to Him! What used to be a once a year ritual reserved for the single high priest, now accessing the presence of God is available to us all, so draw near to Him. And these early Christians experiencing persecution and wavering in their faith, they are told to unswervingly hold on to hope. Hope is an expectation for something good to happen, but Biblical hope is very different from our world’s perspective on hope. Worldly hope is optimism based on odds, and choosing to see how situations could turn out for the best… Biblical hope is waiting with expectation for God to move and prove His faithfulness. In Israel’s darkest moments, Isaiah hoped in the Lord. In the Psalms, the word “hope” is used over 40 times, almost exclusively in a context of waiting on God. The prophet Hosea lived in a dark, oppressive time, but he chose hope because he believed that God could turn a valley of trouble into a door of hope (Hosea 2:15). God’s past faithfulness motivates hope for the future - in order to look forward in hope, look back to the many times God proved to be faithful. 

What does all of this mean for us? How does this help us continue in our faith when you want to give up? How do we endure the whole way, to win when you want to quit? Unswervingly hold on to the hope of Jesus. If that initial excitement for Jesus wanes, the anxieties of life and dark temptations seemingly become too much, remember the hope you originally put your faith in. In distant and low faith moments, we may look to all the wrong places for answers — but this is a reminder to look to the hope of Jesus. Remember what your eternal hope is in, recall the faithfulness of Jesus in His death and the power of His resurrection to save you and help you through anything we face in the future. This is not an empty optimism that things could potentially get better, but a hopeful expectation based off of the past faithfulness of Jesus. Life is legitimately hard, things can absolutely creep in to distract you, break you, and pull you away from Jesus — that’s why I love the word “unswervingly” — sometimes we may just need to hold on for dear life. But do not forget the hope that Jesus gives — access to an eternal relationship with your Maker, who loves you so personally and intensely.

Do "Good" People Deserve to go to Heaven? (Marc Hughes)

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” - C.S. Lewis

We are all eternal beings. When we leave this life we take a step into eternity. The Bible tells us that when we enter into afterlife, there are two destinations. The first option is spending eternity in the presence and comfort of our Creator; enjoying Him and glorifying Him forever. The second option is spending eternity apart from God; eternally separated and forever removed from the goodness of God. We have given these destinations the title of heaven and hell and it is clear that of the two choices, most everyone would prefer the first. With this being the case, we are left with the question “How do we get to heaven?”

The general consensus among our culture is that good people go to heaven. The world tells us that if you do your best to live a good life, you deserve to go to heaven. The question then becomes “in light of what the Bible says, do 'good' people deserve to go to heaven?”

Before discussing “do good people go to heaven?,” it is important to define whose definition of good you are using. The human definition we use for good is often times far different than God’s standard. We know that no one is perfect, so our definition of good means that if you measure everything you’ve done in your life, in the end you’ve done more good things than bad things. We can also consider ourselves good people by comparing ourselves to others. We can think “I’m not perfect, but I'm definitely a better person than that guy.” This type of thinking can lead us to believe the false narrative that we are good people who deserve to go to heaven.

When we look at this issue in light of what Scripture says, we get a very different picture of what it means to be good. The Bible tells us that in order to spend eternity with God, we need to be sinless. God is Holy and set apart, and in order to be with Him and to exist in the glory of His presence forever, we must be without sin. Jesus’ brother James states in James 2:10:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”

To fail in any area of the law is to be guilty of breaking all of it. It only takes one sin to make you a sinner. This gives us an idea of what God’s standard of good is: perfection. This is an issue for us because as we all know, no one is perfect. So what are we to do? Well, this is the exact problem that Paul addresses in his letter to the Roman Church. Paul explains that the law exists in order to show us how flawed we are. He explains that no one will be made righteous by following the law because it is impossible for us (Romans 3:19-20). One of the law’s main purposes is to show us how hopeless we are to save ourselves. This is the exact place God wants us to be, in a state of admitting we will never be good enough to make it to heaven on our own. It is for this reason that the Gospel is indeed good news. Paul explains this beautifully in Romans 3:21-24:

“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 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.”

The moment we acknowledge that we are not good enough, we realize our need for a savior. Jesus was and always will be the only truly good person to ever live. By laying down His life, He paid the debt we owed because of our sin. Jesus offers to cover the sins of all who come to Him in faith and who admit their need and believe in his power to cover their cost. Jesus has provided the only way to God, and it is only through the forgiveness that He offers that we can have certainty of entrance into heaven.

So to answer our opening question: No, “good” people don’t go to Heaven, forgiven people go to Heaven.

Because God Gives Hope

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A genuine faith in Jesus means a life fully surrendered to Him - He becomes your number one priority in everything you do. Think about that for a second: that’s tall task — to completely give up your life to live for Jesus! The reasons why I should do that better be good! A saving faith takes dedication, and that effort will never be put in if our faith foundation is based off of faith of another or an emotional experience. So, why should we love God? (Part IV)

Peter was one of the first followers of Jesus, and an inner-circle disciple. He was passionate, he loved intensely, and was a natural leader. The night Jesus was arrested gives us a snapshot of Peter: before Jesus was taken, Peter “emphatically” claimed that he would literally die for Jesus. Moments later, after Jesus was arrested, Peter denied he even knew Jesus. Peter utterly betrayed Jesus. But a few days after the death of Jesus, Peter was one of the first to see the resurrected Christ, and that was a game changer. He went from denying Jesus to living his entire life to Him, enduring suffering and persecution, all the way to a horrific death. The resurrection had made a massive impact on Peter.

At the time he wrote 1 Peter, Peter was an established leader of the Christian church, which was experiencing intense persecution. Christians refused to worship the Roman emperor as god (traitors), wouldn’t worship at pagan temples (bad for business), and Christians exposed and rejected immoralities found at pagan temples. People were suspicious of Christians, which eventually led to violence. If anyone needed a good reason to follow and love Jesus, it’s these people who were suffering and dying for their faith. 

In 1 Peter 1:3-5, we find a deeply meaningful reason that God deserves our love and devotion:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in Heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

Peter, speaking to persecuted Christians, says through the resurrection of Jesus, we’re given new birth. Of all people, Peter truly experienced a complete re-birth transformation after witnessing the resurrection first hand. But this was no disappear/reappear magic trick for no reason — no, the resurrection has the power to completely change and redefine humanity. That’s why the term “born again” is the perfect description - anyone who trusts in the power of it, is completely changed. Once completely blinded by sin, selfishness, darkness - now eyes opened and heart warmed to God’s love. Lives that are now centered on love for others, before love of self. 

Because of the resurrection, we’re given an eternal, unchanging, never-fading hope. Humans have a psychological need for hope to survive. This sets us apart from all other creatures. We have a need for our lives to be structured into a story to fulfill a greater purpose and to have meaning — that’s where we put our hope. We all agree with this on a core level, because once hopes and dreams are taken away — it's absolutely crushing. Whether you put your hope in your abilities, career, or a person — when it’s taken from you, there’s a serious loss of purpose. But Peter says we’re given a hope that we can trust is secured for all eternity — it’s kept and guarded by God Himself. It’s eternal security, salvation, life without tears or pain, no more insecurities or anxieties — in the presence of the One who made you and loves you more than anyone ever could… 

Now, how is this answering our question, why we should love God? Look at the first word of 1 Peter 1:3: “praise.” Because of the resurrection, because of this hope that we’re given: praise God! Adore Him, worship Him, love Him! Why should we love God? Because He gives us hope - a hope that is unchangeable, meaningful, eternal. Hope is foundational to humanity, and everything in this world will only be a let down. Careers can crumble, relationships can be taken away in an instant, and accomplishments will come up hollow. God provides a hope that we can look to and know that it is secure. This is why Christians can find genuine joy, even in the hardest of times, because there is a greater hope to hold on to for the future, that’s rooted in the saving power of the resurrection. This is why Peter used hope of the resurrection to comfort persecuted Christians — times are hard, but we can hope in something far greater… 

But this conversation forces us to look at ourselves and ask the reflective question: what is your true hope? What are you really hoping in? Who are the people in my life that my hope is found in? When people in life fade away and dreams crushed, we’re forced to examine what our true hope is. God offers us hope that is secure, eternal, and cannot be touched by any life circumstance. If and when we accept that, we find a very real and powerful reason to love God and live life for Him fully.

Because God is Faithful

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Purpose changes the game in whatever you do in life. On Sunday, we proved this point by blending up a deluxe-package breakfast into a smoothie (eggs, sausage, pancakes, and syrup), and offering it to a group of middle schoolers. No takers. Once we put $10 on the line, however, several hands reached towards the heavens to volunteer, and one brave 6th grader took down the disgusting breakfast drink (and took home ten bucks). When I asked how many would’ve done it for $100, every hand in the room went up. If you have the right motivation, it’ll change the game, and this certainly applies to having a close relationship with God. To simply say God deserves your love wouldn’t be a very compelling reason to actually go and do it. And if faith is found on fleeting emotion or faith of another, we’ll truly struggle to love God with all that we have. But if we understand the reasons why God deserves our love, it’ll motivate a genuine desire to love Him and make Him your everything. Why should we love God? (Part III)

This week, we find motivating purpose to love God from the book of Deuteronomy, which features Moses chatting with Israel. These people had been enslaved in Egypt, but God had compassion on them and rescued them. It wasn’t long after deliverance that they were complaining about their circumstance and forgotten all that God had done for them. Moses called the next generation of Israel to remain faithful to God, and reminded them of God’s continued faithfulness, despite the rebelliousness of previous generations. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Moses said,

The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your ancestors that He brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Moses reminds them of what God had done and says that God rescued them from slavery for two big reasons. For one, God rescued them simply because He loved them. It wasn’t because they were a great nation or that they did anything to deserve salvation, He just loved them. God also saved them to keep His promise. In Genesis 12, God promised Abraham that He would bless his family and bless the entire world through his family. God was proving here, and time and time again, that He is good on His promises.

Moses continues… Deut. 7:9,

Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments.

Why should we love God? Because He is faithful to keep His promises. God is God and is faithful at keeping His promises. We may struggle with keeping a juicy secret, even if we promised to not spill the beans - but this is not a struggle for God. He is a master promise keeper, despite our own unfaithfulness.  What promises does He have for us, that He is so willing to keep? Here’s three big ones out of the hundreds… 

God promises to love you no matter what. Romans 8:39 says there’s nothing that can separate you from God’s love. Let that sink in. There’s nothing you could do and no circumstance that could ever cause God to not love you. When you feel unlovable, friends leave you by the ditch, like you can do no good and no one likes you — God promises to love you continually. 

A lie that we may sometimes be deceived by is that when you fail over and over and drift super far from God, that He won’t want anything to do with you. If that thought creeps in, trust God’s faithfulness in the promise found in 1 John 1:9 — if you simply confess your sins, God will forgive you. The power of this promise is profound. If someone wronged you once, you’ll forgive them (hopefully). If that person wrongs you another 10 times, you’ll be annoyed, but will hopefully still forgive them. If that person wrongs you 10,000 times, human nature says you’re done! We do things that are uncool in God’s eyes on a daily basis, and daily He is eager to offer grace and extend mercy. 

Another powerful promise, found in Romans 8:28, is that God will work all things for the good of those who love Him. This is nice. It sounds great, we love this one, right? But once you’ve gone through deep struggle or loss, this promise actually becomes a wrestling match — how could that situation possibly be worked out for good?! But if we know and trust in God’s faithfulness, it’s in a promise like this that we’re given hope - that can be power that carries you through the darkest of valleys… 

Let the truth of these promises really sink in… God promises to love you in every situation, every up and down, and He always wants what is best for you! Trusting that God is faithful to keep His promises to you, how could you not respond in love? 

Want to read more of God’s promises? Here’s a quick list of some promises to look up, read, find comfort and direction in: Exodus 14:14, Deuteronomy 31:8, Psalm 23:4, Psalm 37:4, Psalm 50:15, Proverbs 3:5-6,  Isaiah 40:29, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:2, Matthew 6:31-33, Mark 11:24, John 3:36, John 14:13-16, Romans 10:9-10, Ephesians 3:16-19, Philippians 4:6-7, Philippians 4:19, James 1:5, James 4:7, Revelation 3:5

Because God Loves Us

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Having the right motivation in anything we do, can take something challenging and make it better, easier, and more meaningful because of purpose. In our relationship with God, having the right motivation drastically effects how (and if) we love Him. Jesus says that God must be our number one priority, but if our faith isn’t found in the right place (if we believe because our parents' faith or an emotional experience), then making Him #1 will be impossible. But if we understand the right reasons why God deserves our love, making Him top priority goes from something that is impossible to prioritize, to being our absolute everything. We continue with our series to answer why should we love God? 

First John was a letter written by one of Jesus’ closest companions, John, who witnessed most (if not all) of what Jesus did in His ministry. This letter was to give confidence to Christians 2,000 years ago to the truth of who Jesus is. Why would they need confidence? They were legitimately persecuted (imprisoned, beaten, killed) if they chose to love Jesus. With their lives on the line, you better believe they’d want to know that He is the real deal and worth dying for. Although we may not have our lives on the line, if we're going to genuinely trust our lives to Jesus and truly make Him our number one priority, we're going to need good reason too! 

What does John say about why we should love God? 1 John 4:7-8 says,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Loving God and loving others are extremely connected. Just like you can’t have a PB&J without either of those two key ingredients, you cannot separate loving God from loving others. Ultimately, God is the source of all love — in fact, John says God IS love. And love is not just a fuzzy feeling or attraction towards someone, love is both choice and action. If you genuinely love someone, you’ll be moved to listen to them when they need an ear during a tough time, and you show kindness, and generosity, etc. God’s love for us involves choice and action, and there was a particular action that was an ultimate act of love… 

1 John 4:9-10 says,

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

That’s how much God loves you, and what makes people followers of Jesus. God sent His Son so “that we might live,” speaking as if we’re already dead (which I believe is exactly his point). We’ve chosen to be our own masters and are wired to love ourselves above everyone else. Our lives are consumed by the pursuit of our own desires. We choose to separate ourselves from the very God that made us — and according to the Bible — this kills us not only literally physically, but a greater spiritual death. Love is a choice and action, and when we choose selfishness, pride, greed, disrespect towards others, cheating, gossiping — we’re choosing to separate ourselves from a perfectly holy God. Just like how darkness and light cannot co-exist, sin and God’s holiness simply cannot co-exist. This is spiritual death for us. 

But in the spiral of our spiritual death, God sent His Son as an “atoning sacrifice” for our sins. We don’t use those words, what does that mean? Atonement is making a wrong right, it’s restoration of something that is broken. The death of Jesus was a death that we earned, that He took on His innocent shoulders. That death we deserved was to restore our relationship with God, and Jesus’ resurrection provides the power to forgive our sins. 

1 John 4:19, bring us home:

We love because He first loved us.

We didn’t do anything to earn God’s love, we don’t deserve it - He just loves us more than anyone else could. We are driven to love God because of the radical nature of the love he has for us — a love that is personal, fully devoted, sacrificial, forgiving and life-giving. It’s pure grace with no strings attached. 

Why should we love God? We should love God because God loves us! If someone loves you, what is a natural response? Love. You respond with love. We love ourselves so much, that when someone loves us, we love it — and naturally love back. Consider how much God loves you: no one loves you like God loves you. To take in the truth of the depth of this love, there’s no other possible response but to love Him with your heart, soul, and mind. And if Jesus sacrificed His life to save yours, the least we can do is live our lives for Him (a beautiful life revolving around love towards others)! If you trust that God is real, if you accept the immense love he has for you, the only response is to make Him top priority in our lives. 

What does that look like? It’s important to remember that following JESUS is the core of everything you do, not a momentary thing you do. Making Jesus top priority doesn’t mean that you attend church and squeeze in a devo here and there to check that box. It’s everything you do is for God and founded in love. It’s loving those who hurt you, doing your very best at all you do and with integrity, being respectful to everyone, praying throughout your day that the Spirit leads, guides, and protects. It’s in the decisions you make at school, sports, at work that reflect how Jesus lived. Choosing to do what is right when you’re tempted not to, and asking for forgiveness when you mess up. Praising Him when good things happen and looking to Him for peace and understanding when things are rough. It’s spending time with Him not because you have to but because you can’t live without. Ultimately, it’s loving Him more than anything and loving others as best as you can, even when it hurts.

Because God is Truth

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Think of someone you love. Your all-time best friend, parent, or sibling. Someone that makes you feel loved, that provides and cares for you, makes you laugh, and you can talk about anything with them and you’ve gone through all the ups and downs together… Got a person in mind?

As Christians, we are called to love God. In fact, Jesus says that loving God is the number one most important thing we must do in our lives (Matt 22:37:40). And yet, that can be pretty difficult for us to do, right? To put perspective on just how difficult this can be for us, let me ask: do you love God as much as you love that person you were just thinking about two seconds ago? And before quickly answer that, compare time spent with that person vs. God. Compare how well you know that person vs. how well you know God. Who do you go to first with any struggle? I think you get the idea… 

Why can it be so difficult to love God as the number one thing in our lives? Let me suggest a potential reason could be wrong motivations. Without even thinking, we can love God just because our parents love God, because a mentor of ours loves God, or our friends love God. We can love Him based completely on an emotional experience. If our love for Him is built off of an emotional week at camp or someone else’s love of God, that will only lead to a fragile faith. We’re starting a new series called Reasons to Love, to look at the real reasons why we should love God. If we know, understand, and believe in the purpose as to why we should love God, we’ll have real drive and passion to make it happen. We can’t love Him perfectly in these broken bodies, but with the right purpose, loving Him number one won’t be as much of a challenge as it may seem. 

Before we dive in, let me define what I mean when I say we should love God. Love is a big word with a variety of versions. I love my kitties, I love pizza, and I love my wife Jenna — these cannot all mean the same thing. The type of love that God wants from us and the type of love He deserves is: knowing Him intimately by spending time with Him, worshipping and praising Him for who He is and what He does, put Him first above all, to desire Him and His word, and to obey Him. That’s a bit of a tall order. This is not merely loving a slice of pepperoni pizza. If we are going to love God like this, namely making Him number one in our lives, the reasons to love Him better be good, am I right? As we go through this series, I am confident that these reasons why we should give God our love will be absolutely above and beyond worthy of our love. 

For this first week, I want to start by looking at three different ways God has revealed Himself to us. It may seem a tad bit out of left field here, but we’ll circle it back to this question: why should we love God? 

First, God has revealed Himself to us through His creation. Romans 1:20 says,

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

We can look around this beautiful world and see how God has shown Himself to us. He is the creative Designer of all things. Everything did not just come from nothing - He made this universe, this world, and everything in it. If you discovered an I-phone in the middle of a wheat field, based on it’s design and complexity, you could safely assume that it had a maker. Taking a detailed look at life screams of a Creator - studying the eye, DNA, and the intricacies of our own bodies will leave anyone marveled and convinced of an Intelligent Designer (*see more evidence for this in another blog that was posted HERE). 

Second, God has revealed Himself to us through His Word. The Bible treats God’s existence as undeniable, assumed fact. Genesis 1:1 plainly states that God created everything, and in Exodus 3:14 God tells Moses “I AM.”  the Bible doesn’t go into intense detail proving God’s existence, because it assumes we know that to be true. If old Albert Einstein wrote an autobiography (and maybe he did?), he would not have spent time proving he really existed — and neither does God in His autobiography. Throughout the Bible, God is alive, speaks truth, and reveals Himself to His people. (*we did a series not too long ago revealing 10 evidences the Bible is a trustworthy document, which will only strengthen this point — if you missed it, check it out that series, starting HERE). 

Third, God has revealed Himself to us through His Son Jesus. Skeptics of God say, “if God was real, why wouldn’t He just come on down here and prove Himself?” That’s Jesus. John 1:1-5, 14 reveals that God became flesh. The existence of Jesus cannot be argued against, and thousands of people witnessed Him prove Himself to be God — miracles, world-changing teachings, fulfilling OT prophecy, dying and resurrecting. 

God revealed Himself to us through His creation, His Word, and His Son - now what does that have to do with our initial question, why should we love God? We should love God because He is truth. God is real. He is as real as you and I, and He revealed Himself to be very real. But… do you ever (even if subconscious) think of God as myth or fairy tale? Really consider your answer here… When you read from the Bible, are you completely bought in to it’s truth? When you pray, do you truly believe He is listening to your every word and thought? If we aren’t completely convinced that God is the Creator of all things, that He is alive and real — we’ll never make Him a number one priority. We’ll never love Him because maybe we don’t think He’s there in the first place. And doubt is okay - a relationship with God certainly requires faith - it just takes some soul-searching and seeking to see what we truly believe. But if we do soul-search and come to a place that we trust in the truth of God’s reality, then we will believe God’s Word as truth. And when we believe God’s Word is truth, we look inside and see a God that loves us tremendously. Here, we become increasingly convinced that He deserves all the love we possibly have to offer.

Finding Fortress Strength

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We all face seemingly insurmountable struggles in this life - loss of a loved one, disease, mental illness, events that leave you hurt, confused, unable to trust… As a Christian, there’s comfort to be found in the strength of our mighty God — but how? In the face of extremely difficult struggles, how do we rely on God’s strength? 

Famous King David, the greatest non-divine king Israel ever had, experienced his fair share of struggle. Although considered the man after God’s own heart, David’s great sins threw him in spirals of depression and guilt. His son Amnon assaulted his sister Tamar (David’s daughter). His other son Absalom killed Amnon to avenge his sister. Later Absalom was killed by David’s own army. There’s some intense, mountainous struggle that David lived through. In the midst of pain, David wrote Psalm 31, which gives us insight on how we can work through our own difficulties. Psalm 31:1-5 says,

In You, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness. Turn Your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since You are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of Your name lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for You are my refuge. Into Your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. 

David very literally viewed God as his fortress, his refuge - his place that he could go to receive safety and peace. A place of protection from danger. In these five short verses, David claims God as his shelter/fortress/refuge repeatedly, and I think this is where it starts for us in struggle too… 

How do we rely on God as our strength in times of struggle? Recognize God as your fortress. It’s natural that when we go through struggle to look for help. It may be found in friends or family, maybe music or media (or potentially something even more destructive) to escape pain. Do you view God as a source of help, strength, and comfort? Do you legitimately see Him as a place of safety from danger and calm from storm? 

If recognizing God as your fortress is where it starts, where to next? If you look at these five verses, you see David communicating. This is an honest prayer of David, reaching out to the God that he believed is the only source of strength. If we view God as our stronghold, we must then approach the fortress. You could marvel at a strong castle from afar, but if an army was chasing you down, you’d want to be safely inside that castle - not caught gazing from a distance! David didn’t only recognize God as his refuge, but approached God for help - he said, “hear me, deliver me, come to my rescue, save me!” God wants you to take your burdens to Him, and He promises to strengthen and help (Isaiah 41:10, to name one of many references), will we be faithful in approaching Him, even when it seems hardest? 

Lastly, in verse five, we read David’s words of total surrender and trust — “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.”  A phrase that was echoed multiple times from faithful people who committed their lives to the Lord: prophet Jeremiah, Stephen the first martyr as he was dying, and Jesus Himself on the cross. We have to view God as our fortress, approach Him in prayer, and we have to trust in the fortress strength. Not pray for the sake of praying, but praying with expectation. Trusting that God not only hears your cries for help, but will provide strength you need to continue on. 

Let me just finish by saying: this is easier said than done, and I think those reading this that have been through some real tough stuff can attest. It’s easy when things are good, to believe we would quickly go to God when things get tough - but when the rubber meets the road, what will you do? Make God your strong fortress now, so that when things do go south, you will naturally run to God as your number one source of strength. David had a long-time relationship with the Lord, so when things were tough for him, it was straight to God he went. If you are struggling, know that you are loved and cared for. My prayers are for you.