What Do You Believe?

Everybody has their beliefs. We all believe something. What is important is do we believe the truths revealed in the Bible. What do you know about the Christian faith? Do you know what you believe? If so, do those around us know what we believe? If we know what we believe, do we demonstrate by our actions that we believe what we believe? If we believe what we believe, do those around us believe that we believe what we believe? All this is important for us to examine because Jesus knows whether or not we are being faithful.

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Do We Know What We Believe?

One thought haunts me: Too many people will enter eternal damnation after sitting for years in a church pew. How can that be? Because even though they sat in a church pew they never actually believed what was preached from the pulpit. They most likely said they believed the Christian faith, but they were never born again. It is possible to profess faith without actually possessing faith. For this reason, we should examine ourselves to see if there is any evidence of spiritual fruit in our lives.

We need to examine our beliefs. Everybody believes something, but do they believe Biblical truth? What do you believe about Christianity? What do you believe about the Scriptures? God? Man? Salvation? Grace? The Church? Baptism and the Lord’s Supper? The Kingdom of God? Last Things? Evangelism and Missions? Education? Stewardship? Cooperation? Religious Liberty? Sexuality, Gender and the Family? Have you taken time to study these areas to see what the Bible teaches? Don’t be content to just take someone else’s word for it, study these truths for yourself. Humble yourself and ask Him to grant wisdom to know the truth.

Do They Know What We Believe?

If someone asked you what you believe about Christianity, how would you respond? When was the last time someone asked you about what you believe? Does your family know what you believe about Jesus? What about your co-workers? What about your neighbors? Do those around you know what you believe about Jesus? This is not a call to be obnoxious, but a call to be a faithful witness. For some reason many Christians are reluctant to share with others about Jesus. We are afraid that we will offend someone or that someone is not interested in what we have to say. Let this thought stick in your mind: We love to talk about what we love. If you are reluctant to talk to others about Jesus, ask yourself why that is. Go to God in prayer and ask Him to help you talk of Scripture to those around you. Do others know what you believe?

Do We Believe What We Say We Believe?

It’s good to confess the right beliefs about Christianity, but do we actually believe them? The old saying that still rings true is: “Actions speak louder than words.” It is important to believe what we say we believe because if we don’t we are hypocrites. Nobody likes a hypocrite. Hypocrites don’t even like hypocrites. Hypocrisy in religion can be best described as a focus on outward religious performance to the neglect of inward spiritual faithfulness. While it is true that everyone is open to the charge of hypocrisy, the charge will not stick if you are humbly confessing our hypocrisy and seeking to be faithful. 

It’s good to believe that Jesus is in complete control, but do you actually live your life with the certainty that Jesus is in complete control? How does Jesus’ current position as King of Kings and Lord of Lords affect your anxiety about your bills? How does the fact that God will judge every man according to their deeds affect your self-control? Everyone has 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. How do we use those hours and days? How much time do we spend showing love and mercy to others? How much time do we spend selfishly? These are questions we all must take to God in prayer and ask for help and wisdom. 

Do They Believe We Believe What We Say We Believe?

No one should be surprised to find out that you are a Christian. It should become apparent soon after meeting you that there is something different about you. Jesus called His followers “the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13) and “the light of the world“ (Matt 5:14). The effectiveness of salt is demonstrated in its ability to improve the taste of food and slow the decay of food. Bad salt is worthless. The effectiveness of light is demonstrated in its ability to give light. Poor lighting fails to brighten. Jesus used these two illustrations to show His followers that they are to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to our Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). What we believe should affect how we live and should impact those around us. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “The world is not waiting for a new definition of Christianity but a new demonstration of Christianity.” Christians should always leave a positive impact on those around them.

Jesus Knows

Everybody has their beliefs. We all believe something. What do you believe? Do you believe what the Bible teaches? Jesus knows what we believe and if we truly believe what we believe. We will stand  before Him to give an account of ourselves. If we are not born again, we will receive a just sentence for our rebellion. If we are born again, we will receive a reward based on our obedience and be welcomed into paradise to dwell with Him forever.

Jesus: The Priest of Priests

We are in the second sermon of our Advent series on Jesus’ three-fold office: Prophet, Priest, and King. Last week, we discussed that Jesus is the Prophet of Prophets. In other words, He is the greatest of Prophets because He reveals to us God’s perfect Word. The Father called out at Jesus’ transfiguration: “This is My beloved Son, listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). In today’s sermon, we shall discuss the role of Jesus as Priest of Priests (the Great High Priest) as He intercedes for us on behalf of God. 

What is a Priest?

God established the priesthood for Israel and the priests served as God’s representatives before the people. The priests must be sons of Aaron (Ex 29:9). God gave Aaron and his sons the men of the tribe of Levi to assist them (Num 3:6-12) in their responsibilities. This is how the priesthood came to be known as the Levitical Priesthood. The priests and Levites kept the sanctuary (Num 3:38), kept the lamp burning (Ex 27:20-21), burned incense (Ex 30:7-8), offered sacrifices (Lev 1:1-17), blessed the people (Num 6:23-27), purified the unclean (Lev 15:15-31), diagnosed leprosy (Lev 13:2-59), blew the trumpets (Num 10:1-10), carried the ark of the covenant (Josh 3:6-17), and taught the Law (Lev 10-11). 

There were many priests in Israel and along with them one man served as high priest. In the Old Covenant, the high priest was the supreme religious figure in Israel. He oversaw the functions of all the priests. He was appointed by God. Hebrews 5:1 says, “For every high priest taken from among men is appointed in matters pertaining to God for the people, to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins.” The first high priest was Aaron (Ex 28:1) and after his death the office passed through his sons. Of all the responsibilities of the high priest, the greatest was to offer a sacrifice in the holy of holies on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The high priest was the only person who could enter the holy of holies and he could only do so on a specific day, in a specific way, with specific sacrifices (see Lev 16:1-34). The role of high priest was very significant as he was the mediator for the Jews before God so that God would accept their sacrifices and offerings.

A Priest Like Melchizedek

Only a son of Aaron could be a priest and only a man from the tribe of Levi could assist them. Why is it then that Jesus is a priest who is born from the tribe of Judah? (Matt 1:2, Luke 3:33). It is worth noting that the first priest mentioned in the Bible is not Aaron, but Melchizedek (Gen 14:18). Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. He was a priest and a king. The writer of Hebrews describes him in this way: “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life,…made like the Son of God, He remains a priest forever” (Heb 7:3). We next encounter Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4, “The Lord has sworn an oath and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the pattern of Melchizedek.’” The priest prophesied in Psalm 110:4 is the Messiah and He would not be a priest according to the pattern of Aaron, but Melchizedek.

Eternal High Priest

Why did God decide to make the Messiah a priest from a tribe other than Levi? Because the Levitical priesthood is temporary and fading. The Levitical priesthood could not bring perfection (Heb 7:11). It was weak and unprofitable (Heb 7:16). The Levitical priests kept dying (Heb 7:23). In contrast, the priesthood of Melchizedek, which the Messiah is based, is eternal (Heb 7:24). The Messiah was to come from the priesthood of Melchizedek because Melchizedek is a type of Christ (He isn’t Christ, but foreshadows Christ). 

Just as the priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the priesthood of Levi, the priesthood of Christ (after the order of Melchizedek) is superior because it is based on better promises (Heb 8:6). Hebrews 2:17 says Jesus is “a faithful High Priest…to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 3:1 says Jesus is the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession.

The King Who is the Priest

The Messiah shall serve as Priest and King; uniting the spiritual (priest) and civil (king) authority. Zechariah 6:13 says of the Messiah, “Indeed, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the splendor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.

The Priest From Among His Brothers

We learned in Hebrews 2:17 that Jesus “He had to be made like His brothers in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” We are told in Hebrews 4:14 that Jesus is our Great High Priest. 

Come to Priest Jesus

The role of high priest in the Old Covenant was to offer sacrifices for the sins of the people of Israel. The Old Covenant was temporary, and the Lord promised in Psalm 110:4 that a Great High Priest would come and mediate a better Covenant: a New Covenant. The Old Covenant was put in place to show people their sins and cause them to turn to God, but the people could not keep the covenant. Therefore, a New Covenant was needed to address sin and show the need for a high priest who would make a perfect sacrifice for sin for us.Jesus is the Priest prophesied in Psalm 110:4. We know this because the writer of Hebrews explicitly states that Jesus is the “merciful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:17). God has sent His Son to be our mediator who intercedes for us by forgiving our sin and providing the sacrifice that satisfies the wrath of God. As our Priest, Jesus intercedes for us. Whereas all the previous priests died and had to be replaced, Jesus remains a priest forever. Therefore, He is able to save His people to the uttermost (Heb 7:25). Come to Jesus and be reconciled to God.

Jesus: The King of Kings

We are in an Advent sermon series in which we are discussing Jesus’ three-fold office: Prophet, Priest, and King. Two weeks ago, we discussed that Jesus is the Prophet of Prophets. He is the greatest of Prophets because He perfectly reveals to us God’s Word. Last week, we discussed the role of Jesus as Priest of Priests (the Great High Priest) as He intercedes for us on behalf of God. Today, we shall discuss Jesus’ role as King of kings as He rules and reigns supreme with no rival and no equal.

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What is a King?

A King is the supreme ruler in a particular area. A king rules over his kingdom (e.g., king’s domain). Ancient Israel had kings, but was not originally established as a monarchy (i.e., government led by a king/monarch). It was established as a theocracy (i.e., a government led by God). The Lord originally had Moses, then Joshua, and then various Judges rule on His behalf. The last Judge was Samuel. The Lord knew that one day Israel would ask for a king.  This is why He gave instruction concerning the king in Deuteronomy 17. The King must be an Israelite (Deut 17:15). He must not acquire much wealth, wives, or horses (Deut 17:16-17). He should know and study the Law of God (Deut 17:18-20). He should guide Israel to remain faithful to the Lord because He was to represent the Lord’s rule on earth.

In 1 Samuel 8:4-9, the elders of Israel asked for “a king to judge us like all the nations.” While this may sound like a good thing, this request was very bad because they were rejecting the Lord’s rule over them. They wanted a king so “that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam 8:20). This displeased Samuel because Israel was never designed to be like the nations, they were to be a light to the nations. Through the nation of Israel, the world was to know the true and living God and it was through Israel that the Messiah would come. The Lord told Samuel to do as they requested; saying, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8:7).

King David

The problem wasn’t that the Israelites asked for a king, but that they wanted a king who would replace the Lord. The first king of Israel was not Saul (1 Sam 9), it was the Lord (1 Sam 8:7). They wanted to be like the nations around them with a king who judged them and led them into battle. They were not content to wait for the Lord to give them the kind of king they needed. God gave them what they wanted: Saul. Beware of what you ask for, you just might get it. Saul looked the part as he was “tall, dark, and handsome” (1 Sam 9:2). It quickly became apparent, however, that Saul was not true to the Lord as he disobeyed God’s instruction. This led to the Lord rejecting Saul (1 Sam 13-15). The Lord–as He delights in doing–brought good out of this situation. He told Samuel to anoint “a man after His own heart” (1 Sam 13:14) and sent him to anoint David. While David might not have looked the part (unlike Saul), we are told that God does not look at outward appearance but at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). David eventually became king and served the Lord faithfully.

A King like David

After David died, the kingship passed through his sons. Some were faithful, many were not. The Prophets soon began to speak of the Messiah who would come and sit on David’s throne. He would be David’s son and would rule as the perfect king. The Prophet Jeremiah said, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and prosper and do justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5). The Prophet Ezekiel added, “Then I will establish over them one shepherd, my servant David, and He will shepherd them; He will shepherd them Himself and be their shepherd” (Ez 34:23). The Prophet Amos wrote, “In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the ancient days” (Amos 9:11). Finally, the Prophet Isaiah said of the Messiah: “There will be no end to the increase of His government and of peace, on the throne of David over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Is 9:7).

Submit to King Jesus

The promised king like David has come and His name is Jesus. The angel Gabriel told Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of His kingdom” (Luke 1:31-33). Jesus fulfilled the Law of Moses (Matt 5:17). Jesus currently sits at the right hand of the Father on the throne of David (Acts 2:29-36) because of His sinless life (2 Cor 5:21), sacrificial death (Ps 22, Is 53), powerful resurrection (John 20), and glorious ascension (Acts 1). Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 17:14, 19:19). As the King of kings and Lord of lords, you should fear Him and love Him.

We should fear Him.

We should fear Jesus because He is powerful. Do you think Jesus is weak? When you hear that Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, do you think that is out of cowardice? The description we have of Jesus Christ is a powerful King. He punishes evil; He is not afraid of it.  He strikes down the nations; He is not intimidated by them. He rules with a rod of iron, not out of trembling. Jesus is the conquering King! The Bible says it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). He deserves our respect, praise, worship, and honor.  

We should love Him. 

We should love Jesus because He is our powerful and conquering King who is faithful and true. His wrath is against evil. For His children, He “will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5) and He wants you to “cast cares upon Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Consider the power of our Lord and consider that He is working “all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

You should fear Him because there is no king greater than Him and there is no lord higher than Him. You should love Him because of what He has done on your behalf. 

Jesus: The Prophet of Prophets 

Introduction

Thanksgiving is over and now it is time for Christmas. It is remarkable that the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday. Black Friday can be a very good day as long as you are wise. For far too many people, Black Friday is the day when they spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need. And they do this the day after giving thanks for what they already have. Let us not forget to be thankful, especially as we approach Christmas.

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The four Sundays preceding Christmas Day are referred to on the Christian calendar as Advent Sundays. They are set apart so that we may prepare our hearts for the day in which we remember the virgin birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “arrival/coming”. Even though it starts near the end of our calendar year, it is the start of the Christian calendar year. This is a time to remember and retell the story of how and why Jesus came to Earth. It is a joyful time of remembrance of the Shepherds, the Magi, the Angels, and most importantly, Jesus. Let us with one voice sing: 

Joy to the world! The Lord has come, let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing!

In our recent study of Hebrews, we learned that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and is the Mediator of the New Covenant. A Mediator is someone who stands between two parties in order to bring reconciliation. Jesus is the One who stands between men and God in order to reconcile man back to God. As the Mediator, Jesus holds a three-fold office in the New Covenant: Prophet, Priest, and King. This Advent, we shall discuss this in more detail. 

What is a Prophet?

Who comes to mind when you hear the word prophet? Isaiah? Elijah? Elisha? Jeremiah? There are many prophets mentioned in the Bible and the greatest of them all is Jesus. Hebrews 1:1 tells us: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors by the prophets at different times and in different ways…” Our English word Prophet comes from the Greek word prophetes. This refers to someone who speaks on behalf of God. A prophet had two main roles: foretelling and forth-telling. Foretelling means they are enabled by God to predict the future (What God will do). For example, Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth of Jesus (Isaiah 7:14). Forthtelling means they reminded the people of God what God has commanded them (What God has said). The prophets would address social and political situations in ancient Israel and Judah and call the people to repent and follow God’s law. For example, Amos rebuked the religious and civil leaders in Israel for taking advantage of the poor. 

A Prophet Like Moses

There is a prophecy in Deuteronomy 18 about a Prophet being raised up like Moses. In Deuteronomy 18:9-14, the Lord made it clear that the Israelites were not to consult with fortune-tellers and seek information the same way the pagans did. They were not to do these things because they are wicked and evil. The Lord said the people should listen to the Prophets who speak God’s message. They had to be careful, however, because any prophet who spoke on God’s behalf must be tested to make sure they are speaking truthfully. As we learned earlier, there were many prophets who were raised up for Israel, but the greatest of these prophets, would be like Moses from among the Israelites. This prophet will speak to the people on behalf of the Lord and remind them of His words. The Lord told Moses that the prophet will speak in His name. The Israelites must hear the prophet’s words because they truly are the Lord’s Words. Knowing that men may seek to use this to lead the people astray, the Lord tells them that they will know if it truly is a prophet from God if his words are true.  If they are false, then you do not need to obey or fear him. 

Listen to the Prophet Jesus

Jesus is the Prophet predicted in Deuteronomy 18. We know this definitively because Peter quoted Deuteronomy 18 and applied it to Jesus (Acts 2:33). Jesus reprimanded the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, saying: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25). Jesus was considered a prophet by the crowds (Matt 21:46). In Matthew 21:11 we read: “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” In fact, Jesus called Himself a prophet (Mark 6:4). In Hebrews 1:1-2, we learned that God spoke through the prophets but now “In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.” God speaks to us through His Son Jesus.

As our Prophet, He reveals God’s Word to us. Whereas all the previous prophets spoke about the things concerning Jesus (Luke 24:27), Jesus is the One who perfectly reveals to us the Word of God. We must listen to Jesus (Matt 17:5). During this holiday season, reflect on the trustworthy words of our Lord. He is our Great Prophet who keeps us faithful to the New Covenant. Oh come let us adore Him!

Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

As we draw closer to Thanksgiving, we desire to give thanks to God for all His blessings in all circumstances.

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In this sermon, we shall discuss some common hindrances to thankfulness and how to overcome them. While this is not an exhaustive list, it covers some key relationships in our lives. Let us consider:

Our Relationship with God

If we are to be grateful, we need our relationship with God to be healthy. One common hindrance to thankfulness is unbelief; which results in idolatry. It is difficult to be thankful when you turn away from God: our Creator. When we turn away from the true and living God we turn to idols (Rom 1:25). Nothing good happens when you begin worshipping an idol. What is an idol? An idol is anything and/or anyone that occupies a more prominent place in your life than God. Idols are counterfeit gods. Tim Keller said, “A counterfeit god is anything that is so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” An idol is anything that is loved, trusted, and obeyed above God. Idolatry is linked to unbelief and a lack of trust. You might believe that Jesus exists, but you don’t trust Him with your life.

God’s cure for idolatry is the Gospel. The Gospel shows us the reality of God and His character. Those who are truly born again cannot deny God because they know Him. Being born again, we know we can trust God because He demonstrates His trustworthiness every day. Repent of any and all idolatry and unbelief. Confess your sin to God and receive from Him mercy, grace, faith, and increased confidence. Get your relationship with God right and you can begin to be thankful.

Our Relationship with Ourselves

If we are to be grateful, we need our relationship with ourselves to be healthy. One common hindrance to thankfulness is pride; which results in envy. It is difficult to be thankful when we compare ourselves to others. Do you realize that pride has more to do with your heart than it has to do with what anyone else has or does? How can you keep one eye focused on yourself and what you should have or don’t have while also keeping an eye on Jesus? Pride and envy result in a critical spirit which dampens gratitude. Pride hinders us from coming to God (Ps 10:4). Pride produces spiritual decay (Hos 7:9-10). Pride leads to ruin (Prov 16:18). Jealousy is rottenness to the bones (Prov 14:30). 

God’s cure for pride and envy is the Gospel. The Gospel reveals to us that there is nothing in us worth boasting about. We see the ineffectiveness of our own goodness. We are poor, miserable sinners in desperate need of God’s mercy. We cannot boast in anything of our own because all we deserve is God’s wrath. It has been said that the only thing we contribute to our salvation is the sin that needs to be forgiven. Hand over your pride and envy to God and receive from Him humility and generosity. Get your relationship with yourself right and you can begin to be thankful.

Another Important Relationship

If we are to be grateful, we need to have self-control over our bodies. A common hindrance to thankfulness is lust. It is difficult to be thankful when you are consumed with desires for that which you cannot (or should not) have. Proverbs 11:6 “The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.” Concerning lust, we once lived in it (Eph 2:3), now we must consider it dead (Col 3:5), deny it (Titus 2:12), flee from it (2 Tim 2:22), and refuse to carry it out (Gal 5:16).

God’s cure for lust and sexual sin is the Gospel. The Gospel shows us that He is the owner of our body and we are to use it to bring glory to Him (1 Cor 6:19-20). Our lust reveals that we are not fully surrendered to Him and we are not delighting in Him above all. Hand over your lust and sexual sin to God and receive from Him self-control.

Our Relationship with Others

If we are to be grateful, we need to strive for healthy relationships with others. This relationship is different from the other ones mentioned above because we are not promised peace with those around us. We are told to strive for peace (Rom 12:18 & Heb 12:14) but we are not promised peace. Knowing this, another common hindrance to thankfulness is hatred. It is difficult to be thankful when you hate someone. How can you have bitter jealousy towards someone and also give thanks to God? Bitter jealousy is demonic (James 3:14-15). It has been said that complaining is praying to a false god. Hatred stirs up strife (Prov 10:12). We are told by Paul in Ephesians 4:31, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph 4:31).

God’s cure for hatred and bitterness is the Gospel. The Gospel shows us God’s great love for us. Because He loves us, we can love one another. All the boundaries and hostilities are removed once we are reconciled to God. How can we say we love God and yet hate our brothers (1 John 4:20). Hand over your hatred and bitterness to God and receive from Him genuine love and goodwill.

Breaking Down Barriers to Thankfulness

As we have learned, the only way to break down any barriers in your life that are keeping you from being thankful is the Gospel. Milton Vincent wrote in A Gospel Primer for Christians:

The more absorbed I am in the gospel, the more grateful I become in the midst of my circumstances, whatever they may be. When I look at any circumstance that God apportions me, I am first grateful for the wrath I am not receiving in that moment. Second, I am grateful for the blessings that are given to me instead of His wrath. This two-layered gratitude disposes my heart to give thanks in all things (1 Thess 5:18) and it also lends a certain intensity to my giving of thanks. Such a gospel-generated gratitude glorifies God, contributes to peace of mind (Phil 4:6-7), and keeps my foot from the path of foolishness and ruin (Rom 1:21-22 & 28-29).

A Gospel Primer by Milton Vincent

Giving Thanks While Grieving

It is difficult to be thankful when you suffer. When you experience the loss of a loved one you begin to wonder if you will ever feel happy again. It is hard to be thankful when you are hurting. When you find yourself in a dark place and seriously begin to wonder if it would be better for you and everyone else if you died, it is difficult to be thankful. The Bible is not silent on the issue of suffering. We are told that the foundational cause of suffering is sin and the cure is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are given examples of godly people who have suffered tragedy and the good (John 11) and not so good (Gen 34) responses they had.

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Giving thanks to God during times of grief is difficult but not impossible. In fact, it is one of the best means of progressing towards hope while you are grieving. How can you be thankful during times of grief? Remember, Reflect, and Rejoice.

Remember!

First, remember. Remember all the truths about God you have been taught and believe. Do not doubt in the darkness what you have clearly seen in the light. One of the results of the grieving process is that our minds become absorbed with that one thing. It is vital that you force yourself to remember key foundational truths about God. Remember that He loves you. Remember that He is in control. Remember that He is always working good; even in the bad circumstances. While grieving, you may not want to hear someone quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” But, remember that it is true. 

Reflect!

Second, reflect. Reflect on your situation, but do not dwell on it. What’s the difference between reflecting and dwelling? Think of it like a house. When you dwell in a house you live in it. Dwelling on the cause of your grief is like going back to the situation and living there as you relive it over and over. When you reflect, you think deeply and carefully about something. Going back to the house illustration, rather than dwelling in the house, you sit outside the house and look in. Reflecting is different because it gives you time to grieve and realize that your life has changed and you have to adjust to the new reality. 

There is no set timeframe for you to stop grieving. In one sense, you will never stop grieving until you are given your new body and dwelling with God forever in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:4). The goal in grieving well is not to stop grieving but to grieve with hope. James White wrote a helpful book on grieving and he said, “One does not seek to escape grief, but to embrace it, work through it, allow it to heal the hurt, so that we can move on with our lives in full light and recognition of what has happened and how God has changed our lives as a result.”

When we are grieving we are overwhelmed by our emotions. Our emotions are powerful and have great control over us, so we are told in the Bible to take control of them. We do this by guarding our heart. Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Ted Tripp has said, “Usually when we think of the heart we think of our emotions. The heart is the essence of you. It is more than just emotions. It is the command center of your life. It is the seat of motivation.”

We must guard our hearts because, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Also, Proverbs 28:26 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will escape.” We must guard our heart as we trust in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Rejoice!

Third, rejoice in the Lord. Before you dismiss this point, please hear me out. In Psalm 118:24, we read: “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The glorious truth found in this verse is that we do not rejoice in what the day may bring, but we rejoice in the One who has brought the day! The fact that God has brought this day to us means that we can rejoice and be glad in it. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. This verse does not teach us that every circumstance is good, but that God is good. Behind this verse is the doctrine of Providence. I have a Believer’s Study Bible edited by W.A Criswell. The commentary notes on this verse capture the essence very well: “The Christian is charged with the giving of thanks because of his confidence in the purpose and the providence of God in any and every circumstance of life.” John Piper defines providence as “the act of purposefully providing for, or sustaining and governing, the world.” What the doctrine of providence teaches is that there is no purposeless evil. God is not the author of sin and evil, but He will not let evil thwart His good purposes and plans. (Example, see Genesis 50:20)

Remember, Reflect, Rejoice!

  • Remember all the truths about God you have been taught and believe. 
  • Reflect and give yourself time to grieve. Guard your heart so that you do not believe lies but trust God.
  • Rejoice in the Lord who is powerfully and purposefully at work.

If you are grieving, trust God. Consider the story of Martha from John 11. Martha had just lost her brother and was grieving. When she saw Jesus she said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Martha then said something very profound. Martha said, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (John 11:22). Martha serves as an example of a godly person hurting yet trusting. Trust the Lord and allow Him to help you give thanks in all circumstances.

God’s Will For Your Life

When we normally think of the question: “What is God’s will for my life?”; we think of it in regard to a major upcoming decision. A few examples are: “Should I accept that new job?” or “Should I marry that person?” In other words, this question is usually asked in the context of where does God want me to go and/or what does God want me to do? 

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This is an important aspect to consider, but there is another aspect of God’s will that must not be overlooked; that is, what is God’s will concerning how He wants me to live? In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are told: “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” With November upon us and Thanksgiving on its way, we shall spend the next three weeks discussing the importance of being thankful. God wants us to be thankful and express our gratitude. Today we will discuss to whom we are to direct our thankfulness, the objects for which we are thankful, and the circumstances in which we are to be thankful.

Giving Thanks To God

Giving Thanks is a Spiritual Sacrifice. Psalm 116:17 says, “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” One important aspect of our worship of God is our giving thanks to God. In fact, thanksgiving is a vital part of our prayer life. A helpful way to remember the different types of prayer is the acronym: A.C.T.S. 

  • A – Adoration (Praise), 
  • C – Confession (of sin), 
  • T – Thanksgiving (for His blessings), 
  • S – Supplication (Asking for your needs and the needs of others). 

When we give thanks, we reflect on all the blessings that God has given to us. I hope you can see why giving thanks is an important part of prayer because when we forget to be thankful we fill that space with other sinful things. We must be careful to fill our hearts and minds with praise and thanksgiving rather than fear, pride, and envy. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” It is a spiritual sacrifice because it costs us our pride and our sense of self-sufficiency every time we thank God for what He has given to us.

Giving Thanks is our Spiritual Duty. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:13, we are under obligation to give thanks to God. I like how the Amplified Bible brings this out in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, “But we should and are [morally] obligated [as debtors] always to give thanks to God for you.” In this context, the Apostle Paul is specifically thanking God for the church in Thessalonica and from this we learn the principle that we should/ought/must praise God for all His blessings. It is our spiritual duty to thank God because of what He has done for us. Even if you do not feel like thanking God, do it anyway because of what He has already done, currently doing, and will do. God is worthy of our worship and praise. He is worthy to receive glory and honor. He is definitely worthy of our thanksgiving. 

Giving Thanks For God’s Blessings

We give thanks to God and we give thanks for His innumerable blessings! Here are seven reasons why we should be thankful, summarized in one sentence: Jesus saves us by grace because He loves us and He calls us to make disciples until He returns. 

  1. We are thankful for Jesus!
  2. We are thankful that Jesus saves!
  3. We are thankful that Jesus saves by grace!
  4. We are thankful that Jesus saves us!
  5. We are thankful that Jesus loves us!
  6. We are thankful that we are sent out to make disciples!
  7. We are thankful that Jesus will return!

We could (and maybe should) spend the rest of our lives thanking God for all that He has done for us. Here are a few more: Life, Breath, Being, Family, Job, Friends, and Church.

Giving Thanks In All Things

We give thanks to God for His blessings and we thank Him in all situations. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Surely that does not mean what we think it means. All circumstances? When we read this verse, the temptation is to say: “I know that is what the verse says, but what does it really mean? Maybe if I do a google search, I can find someone who will say it doesn’t actually mean what it says.” Before you dismiss this verse, consider the great truth behind it: God is faithful. No matter what you are going through. God is faithful. The fruit of the Spirit is not dependent upon how other people treat you. Your joy and peace are not dependent upon how you are feeling. You are able to give thanks in all circumstances because God remains in control of all circumstances. Therefore, let us be:

Giving Thanks Continuously. We should never cease being thankful because we never run out of reasons to be thankful. Paul wrote that he never stopped giving thanks for the church in Ephesus (Eph 1:16). A Christian should strive to live every moment of every day with an attitude of gratitude. 

Giving Thanks Spontaneously. Thankfulness should be unceasing yet impromptu. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Phil 1:3).  Every time Paul remembered the Phillipians, he thanked God. Christians should train themselves to be aware of every opportunity to be thankful. Giving Thanks Tenaciously. We are to give thanks in all circumstances; therefore, we must be tenacious in our thanksgiving. There will be sinful and evil circumstances that profoundly affect you, but you must never relinquish your thankfulness to God. If you sin or if others sin against you, never waver in your gratitude to Him. God remains all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Cling closely to Christ and trust Him in all things.

Goals: Are We Making a Difference?

We are at a time in the life of our church in which we must prayerfully discern our mission, vision, and strategy with a hope that we may most faithfully and effectively make disciples and glorify God. To recap, we have discussed:

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  • The Needs around us and asked the question: “What’s Going On? We learned that our community is hurting and needs Jesus.
  • Our Identity and asked the question: “Who Are We?” We learned that we are Christians who have been and are being healed by Jesus.
  • Our Mission and asked the question: “What Are We Supposed To Be Doing?” We learned that we were intentionally created by God to love God and enjoy Him forever.
  • Our Values and asked the question: “Why Are We Doing What We Are Doing?” We learned about our shared convictions that guide our actions and reveal our strengths.
  • Our Vision and asked the question: “Where Are We Going?” We learned that we want to commit our lives to see Jesus transform our lives.
  • Our Strategy and asked the question: “How Do We Get There?” We learned that we need to prayerfully develop a clear Strategy to carry out our Mission that fulfills our Vision that is consistent with our Identity and Values, that meets the Needs of those around us and glorifies God.

Today we shall discuss our Goals and ask the question: “Are We Making A Difference?” We shall learn that we need to set proper goals in order to determine if we are helping others experience life transformation. 

Setting Our Goals

What are goals? A goal is something you are trying to achieve. When you set a goal, you commit yourself (desires, habits, etc.) to achieve a desired result. For example, a common goal is to lose weight. A guy may set a goal to lose 50lbs over the next 6 months. This person commits himself to a new diet and exercise routine for the purpose of being at least 50lbs lighter in 6 months. Goal setting is an important motivational tool. 

Setting goals is not just for individuals, but also for organizations. Churches can and should set goals. According to Rob Peters, “Setting goals allows [the Church] to clearly identify what we believe God wants us to accomplish.” When we set goals–whether individually or as a Church–we need to set realistic goals that will stretch our faith. While they may sound like a contradiction, a Church needs goals that are realistic in the sense that this is something God can do through us (e.g., in alignment with His will). A Church also needs goals that will stretch our faith in that we realize that we cannot accomplish it without God’s help. Pray for the Refocus workgroup as they work together to discern realistic goals that will stretch our faith as a Church. We know that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37) and He can do far more than we can either ask or think (Eph 3:20).

Sticking to Our Goals

Setting goals is not too difficult, sticking to the goals is difficult. Anyone can determine to lose 50lbs in 6 months, but it takes determination to actually do it. What are some helpful ways to stick to your goals? First, enlist the help of others to hold you accountable. Second, set smaller goals that help propel you towards your ultimate goal. Third, don’t let setbacks derail you. Fourth, keep your focus on the goal.

Our Goals

If you were present for the last sermon, this next sentence should not surprise you. Neither your pastor nor the Refocus workgroup has a list of goals for our Church. We are working on it and praying for wisdom, but our goals are something that our Church as a whole will need to discern and embrace. As we prayerfully seek God’s will in this, keep in mind that our goals should help us answer the question: “Are we making progress and are we making a difference?” If our Mission is “Helping People Experience Life Transformation” and our Vision is “Christ Transforming Lives”: Are we helping people experience life transformation? If not, why not? If so, how? Do we see Christ transforming lives around us? If so, how? 

Here are some helpful questions to determine how to set proper goals:

  • What goals would be helpful for us to set in order to best engage unbelievers with the gospel? 
  • What goals would be helpful for us to set in order to encourage unbelievers to take their first steps in following Jesus? 
  • What goals would be helpful for us to set in order to help people grow in their relationship with Jesus? 
  • What goals would be helpful for us to set in order to better deploy church members in service to Christ through His church and missions?

Strategy: How Do We Get There?

If you have been here over the last month you know that we are in the midst of a sermon series on the necessity of keeping our focus. We are at a time in the life of our church in which we must prayerfully discern our mission, vision, and strategy with a hope that we may most faithfully and effectively make disciples and glorify God. To recap, we discussed:

  • The Needs around us and asked the question: “What’s Going On? We learned that our community is hurting and needs Jesus.
  • Our Identity and asked the question: “Who Are We?” We learned that we are Christians who have been and are being healed by Jesus.
  • Our Mission and asked the question: “What Are We Supposed To Be Doing?” We learned that we were intentionally created by God to love God and enjoy Him forever.
  • Our Values and asked the question: “Why Are We Doing What We Are Doing?” We learned about our shared convictions that guide our actions and reveal our strengths.
  • Our Vision and asked the question: “Where Are We Going?” We learned that we want to commit our lives to see Jesus transform our lives. 
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Today we shall discuss our Strategy and ask the question: “How Do We Get There?” Think of it this way. If the vision is to have a satisfying lunch at Las Brisas, then the strategy is how do I get there in the best, most efficient manner possible. Our church needs to prayerfully develop a clear Strategy to carry out our Mission that fulfills our Vision that is consistent with our Identity and Values, that meets the Needs of those around us and glorifies God.

A Quick Word 

We need to pause for a moment to address the elephant in the room: tradition. I’m defining tradition as the set of customs or beliefs that are passed down from generation to generation. Tradition can be good, bad, or ugly. Tradition can be good when it is biblical. For example, Baptists have a tradition of biblically based sermons, baptism by immersion, and observing the Lord’s Supper. Tradition, however, can be bad when it is not biblical but carries the weight of what is biblical. For example, you can’t take up the offering unless you have golden plates. 

Tradition can be ugly when it is prioritized over what is biblical and causes a Church to neglect prayerfully examining God’s will for them and hinders them in their mission to be most effective and faithful to make disciples. Rather than setting aside time to ask Jesus to reveal to them His strategy for their church, they busy themselves by doing what they have always done. They do not prayerfully evaluate the best method for carrying out their mission. These churches know what they should be doing and the motivation for doing it, but fail to intentionally develop a plan to accomplish it; relying on God to bless their traditions. A church must not thoughtlessly adhere to traditions and also not flippantly cast aside tradition. Traditions need to be evaluated to see if they are a help or a hindrance to fulfilling God’s mission for our Church. Having said that, prioritizing tradition over mission leads to decline.

Guidelines

First Baptist needs to prayerfully develop a strategy to carry out our mission and fulfill our vision in keeping with our values. This means that we operate under a few important guidelines:

  • We shall accomplish our mission in a simple pathway of involvement with a few strategic ministries rather than thinking that more programs means more effectiveness and that people want (or need) more choices. This entails that we say yes to those ideas/ministries which fit our Mission, Values, and Strategy best and say no to those which do not fit. 
  • We shall limit and steward time “at church” in order to release and equip people to “be the church”. This will help us find a balance between two extremes: 1) time at church equals spiritual maturity and 2) time at church is not important. We need to gather and deploy strategically. 
  • We shall present and guide people through a balanced process of discipleship rather than allow an immature knowledge-centered spirituality to dictate program offerings. We must make Christ followers rather than religious consumers. Every member must be discipled with the expectation that they will make disciples. While our strategy is primarily focused in the context of our local church, it must also influence each individual member to pursue Christlikeness in their daily lives.

Next Steps

God is always calling His followers to the next steps of obedience. Keep in mind that like mission and vision, strategy is a key aspect that must be understood and embraced by the Church. This is not the pastor’s strategy or the Refocus team’s strategy. It is the Church’s.

  • Pray for the Refocus Team as they discern a clear and compelling strategy to present to our Church. 
  • Pray for them as they seek to clearly communicate this strategy to the Church and that the Church would provide helpful feedback.
  • Pray for our Church to continue to seek God in prayer.
  • Pray for one another as we desire to help each other grow in spiritual maturity.

Vision: Where Are We Going?

We now turn our attention to Vision and ask the question: “Where Are We Going?” We will learn that we want to commit our lives to see Jesus transform our lives. Remember, mission reminds us what we should be doing, vision reminds us where we are going. Rob Peters said, “Mission informs the mind of what we should be doing and vision inspires the heart to remember where the mission should take us.” Our vision is Christ transforming our lives.

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Where Are We Going?

Close your eyes and imagine a world in which everyone loves, obeys, and worships Jesus Christ. What you are imagining is a world that does not exist…yet. This is the world that God promised is to come. It is encapsulated in Jesus’ prayer: “Your kingdom come. You will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). 

As It is in Heaven

Where are we going? Christians are going to heaven. We have the blessing that our ultimate vision will become a reality because it is promised by God to us. For the purpose of this sermon, we shall keep the ultimate vision in view as we seek to establish a vision for our church for the next 10 years. In other words, knowing that we will end up eventually in a world in which everyone loves, obeys, and worships Jesus Christ; what do we want our church to look like 10 years from now.

What Do We Want?

What do we want our church to look like in 10 years? We want First Baptist to be a place where people come to meet Jesus and to be transformed by Jesus. Our vision is that we would be instruments in the Redeemer’s hands and we would see Christ transforming lives through salvations, freedom from addictions, healing of relationships, and growing in spiritual maturity. 

Next Steps

God is always calling His children to the next steps of obedience. When we consider our Vision, we are making a statement about a future that does not yet exist but one in which we will commit ourselves to help build. Assuming there will be another 10 years, what do we want our Church to look like? Spend some time this week praying about this and consider:

  • If Jesus were to ask you, “What do you want Me to do for you?” How would you answer? How should you answer?
  • What aspects of our Church are healthy and need to continue and be strengthened?
  • What aspects of our Church are not faithful to our mission and need reexamination?
  • Who do you know that needs to be saved? Are you praying for them and speaking to them about becoming a follower of Jesus?
  • Who do you know that needs encouragement? Are you willing to help them?
  • Who do you know that needs a private work of rebuke? If so, do it humbly and privately with a desire to help your brother/sister?
  • What are you asking God to do in your life? In your family’s life? In your neighborhood? In our Church? Our City? Our State? Our Country? The World?