Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus

by Pastor Bob Miller

Luke 13:31–35

Here we are on a journey with Jesus which started in the wilderness. It was there in the wilderness in communion with His Heavenly Father that Jesus fully comes to grip with what it meant for Him to be the Son of God and what it was that His ministry would look like. It was also there in the wilderness that Satan tempted Him.

But Jesus stood firm – He would not be side-tracked. He was committed to doing the will of His Father in Heaven. He was headed to Jerusalem, and He understood that a cross awaited Him. He would lay down His life so that we might have life! And this, taking up of His cross, was not just a one-time thing at the end of His life here on earth. It was to be a lifestyle of picking up His cross daily – of dying to Himself and doing His Father's will. While He had come to be the King of the Kingdom of God, He had not come to be served, but to serve.

We are told in Luke's Gospel that Jesus went up out of the wilderness to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. In Luke 4:16 we read:

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."[f]

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.

21 He began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.

23 Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!' And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'" 24 "Truly I tell you," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time when the sky was shut for three and a half years, and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian."

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

As we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we find that Jesus stays true to His mission. His message doesn't change. He proclaims the good news of God's Kingdom, which when established, will set the oppressed free, the recovery of sight to the blind…the setting of captives free. It is good news to the poor, to the outcast, sand to the down-trodden. God has heard their cry! A new order is being established and they will be lifted up set free! GOOD NEWS for the poor.

But NOT SO GOOD NEWS for those who were doing the oppressing. Not so good, if you were the landowner getting rich by cheating your workers of a full day's pay. Not so good if you are the one getting ahead through injustice and corruption.

When Jesus came proclaiming that a NEW KINGDOM was at hand and you were the KING of the present kingdom, it meant you were on the way out and that your kingdom was about to expire!

We all like to take power and to use It to our advantage. If we had it, we would use it to take care of our family and our loved ones! And once we get it, we'd spend our energy "holding onto it." (Look at what is taking place in Venezuela with two presidents claiming the right to rule. Look at the power struggle going on in our own Congress – with two Parties vying for the right to RULE!)

The same thing was happening in Jesus' day as He goes to his hometown of Nazareth. It is interesting that they loved the scripture He read until He opened their eyes to the fact that they needed to repent! The townspeople played the, "You're the Son of Joseph” card. You're one of us! Throw us the perks. Take care of us. We want the freebies without paying the price!

But Jesus reminded them that God has called his children to serve others, not to be served. He tells them that privilege isn't something we use for our benefit. It is used to bless others. “The first shall be last and the last first!" That preaching didn't sit well with Jesus' hometown crowd. They didn't like the fact that they, too, were being called to repent!

We ALL want the Kingdom of God to come. It's just that not all of us see that we might be the very reason it is not being fulfilled.

Remember the prayer Jesus taught us to pray? "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." You can't pray this prayer without being willing to let God sit on the throne of your personal kingdom. You have got to be willing to step off your throne, and participate with Him in bringing about His purposes and plans.

When the people from Jesus' hometown couldn't get their way, and they realized that Jesus wasn't going to use His power and influence on their behalf, they turned on Him and drove him to the edge of a cliff to throw him over! (It was a little friendly persuasion!) But Jesus' message did not change! Nor was He influenced by their pressure tactics. We are told that He left them standing there. They had a choice to make. Would they follow Him and His mission or would they "keep the status-quo" and remain in the crowd? It’s the same kind of choice we are called to make. Don't let Jesus pass by!

In our passage of scripture found in Luke 13, we see Jesus facing the very same challenge but this time the opposition is stiffening.

Jesus has gotten the attention of King Herod. And Herod doesn't like the idea of a New Kingdom, for that implies CHANGE…but also a NEW King! Herod decides to do what he has done in the past - use his power and authority to ERASE the problem. He wants Jesus' head! Just like he took John the Baptist's head!

The Pharisee's come to warn Jesus about Herod! I'm not so sure that they want to protect Jesus as much as they merely want Jesus to leave town and go somewhere else. They were NIMBYs. (Not in my back yard.) I think they felt if Jesus just left for a few months, the people would forget about Jesus and go back to their usual way of living. Out of sight out of mind! They couldn't have Jesus continue preaching – He was making them look bad. His unselfishness and love for others made them look shallow and greedy.

Jesus' response to their warning was,

“Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem.”

Jesus is warned to leave or face death by the hand of Herod. However, Jesus doesn't flee. He keeps moving forward, toward the very seat of power, Jerusalem. Jesus isn't going to step aside. He's not going to run away. He's not going to change His message or His methods. Jesus is committed to doing what His Father has told Him to do!

Not only does he move closer to the city, but he also continues to do the things that have angered Herod in the first place: healing others, freeing the oppressed, and preaching a new kingdom. He doesn't move away from the threat. Instead, He seeks to embrace it, saying that he "longs “to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wings like a hen with her chicks.” Even though they refuse to listen, Jesus longs to see them repent and return to the heart of God! This takes humility. Jesus knows he is approaching his death, yet he still willfully walks toward the cross, out of compassion for even those who seek to do him ill.

Though they reject his words and acts of liberation, Jesus continues to speak truth to power, knowing it will ultimately lead to his death.

Jesus' love is not based on our acceptance of Him! Paul tells us that "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." He continues forward, knowing it is not death that will have the final word but "resurrection." Jesus walks toward Jerusalem with the knowledge of his death waiting, yet He continues to walk. He continues to heal. He continues to preach. He continues to help the people imagine a New Kingdom where the last will be first and the poor fulfilled.

Jesus references His death when He talks about three days. He also references his death when talking about how Jerusalem has killed the prophets before. But the hope of the kingdom wasn't in the grave but the resurrection. While Jesus continues to allude to his death, he's always pointing toward his resurrection. The third day is the resurrection day. If you will notice that in his response, Jesus alludes both to His coming crucifixion – but also to His resurrection.

Jesus is headed for Jerusalem – to the seat of power! He is headed for the THRONE-ROOM WHERE THERE IS ROOM FOR ONLY ONE KING! When he enters Jerusalem, the people cry out, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." They are ready to lift Him high and make Him their King. And yet by the end of the week their cry changes to, "Crucify Him!" How quickly their hearts turn when they don't get their way! How easily we go with the crowd! How often do we simply accept the "way things are" even when we know what is happening is wrong!

Lent is a time for confessing and seeking out the Word of God for our lives. It is a time for us to embrace the GOOD NEWS! God has come to draw us close to Himself. Perhaps we've been oppressed, imprisoned, and we need deliverance! Good News! YOU haven't been overlooked or forgotten! Jesus wants to set you free. Will you let Him?

Perhaps He will open your eyes to the fact that YOU need to repent, that YOU"VE been part of the problem! Life has been all about YOUR abundance, YOUR family, YOUR stuff…while all around you there are others that need to be set free. Maybe it's time to step off your throne and let Jesus begin to direct Your path.

Maybe like Jesus, this is the time for us to step up to the plate and face the “Herods” head on! Perhaps this is the time for us to listen to the voice of God. As citizens of the kingdom of God, we are called to live like Christ. We are to care for the brokenhearted, to speak for the oppressed, to protect the widow and the orphan, to declare freedom to the captive.

This way of living is counter to the ideas of this world and will lead us on the same path that Jesus walked—a path toward the cross. Can we stand in the same humble courage to stand even in the face of death? Can we spread our wings to embrace those that need to be rescued. Can we stand in hopeful expectation of the resurrection?

Tempted on the Journey

by Pastor Bob Miller

We are taking our first few steps during this Lenten season into the wilderness. Lent is a time when we, as Christians, band together for a season to focus on our walk with Jesus. The duration is only 40 days. The significance of 40 days is that it coincides with Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.

I believe there is a natural pull that comes into all of our lives where we can easily let the cares of this world take the forefront of our thoughts and minds. Over time, if we aren’t careful, our priorities can get skewed. We might be singing, “He is Lord,” but in reality, we have let other things begin to take positions of lordship in our life. They, instead of God, are controlling our lives.

And so in this season, we want to take the hand of Jesus and let him lead us in such a way that He may be able to show us the things which need to be washed away, cleansed, and pruned. I wish I could say that God will accomplish all that with the snap of his fingers. But I’m learning that more often than not, He needs to lead us on this journey. It is in the living that we experience the growth.

It is through trials that God's lordship over our lives is revealed to be a reality or still to be settled. In these situations, I am going to have to make a choice. Will I go my own way or will I go God’s way?

Jesus wants to bring us to where we experience life and have it in its fullest sense. He said in John 10:10, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."

Jesus knows about the thief first hand from His wilderness experience. It was there in the wilderness that Satan came to tempt Him. He did his best to get Jesus to turn aside from God’s call on His life.

Jesus faced the lies, half-truths, and deception of Satan. Those tactics haven’t changed. The world we live in has bought into these lies and deceit. It offers these lies and half-truths to us on a silver platter for our consumption. The design is to steal, kill, and destroy. But God has a better plan. He uses them as opportunities for us to experience growth, victory, and fullness in Him.

Let's very briefly familiarize ourselves with those temptations Jesus faced so that we won’t get caught off-guard when we meet the same lies of Satan. We too, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can experience victory. Then we can send Satan packing until the next time he plies us with his lies.

After the 40 days of fasting were over, we read that Jesus was hungry. Kind of an understatement. He was weak physically, and no doubt exhausted. It was then that Satan came full force with three temptations.

They were designed to attack Jesus at the point of His newly-formed commitments. Jesus had experienced the highpoint of his life at His baptism. He heard His heavenly Father’s voice out of heaven affirm to Him, “This is my Son.” In His time in the wilderness, Jesus most likely received His marching orders from God: the direction His ministry would take, the fact that He was sent to set captives free, and that He was the lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. He had come to serve and not be served.

Don’t be surprised if following a commitment you make, a time of testing regarding that commitment occurs. It happened to Jesus.

At the point of his physical hunger, the temptation came, “If you are the son of God, speak to this rock and turn it into bread.” In other words, take care of yourself. Put yourself first. If you are the Son of God, use your authority and power to meet your needs!

Isn’t that the way of the world? I want to be the boss so that I can be served. The temptation is to use your position and authority for our good.

Jesus responded, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’" Jesus gave up what He wanted to focus on what He needed.

His response is completed in Matthew's gospel, “...but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4)

It is an affirmation that there is more to life than just our physical needs. They are important, but they aren’t everything. We tend to make our physical needs everything! It’s not just bread alone. Not just satisfying our hunger. We tend to make "happiness” what life is all about. We say, “How can it be wrong when it makes me feel good? It makes me happy! What’s so wrong with that?"

Jesus says life isn’t just about bread alone. It is about listening to our Father’s words. It’s about hearing what He has to say. It's about trusting in Him to provide for me in His time and in His way.

In answer to this temptation to take matters into his own hands, Jesus determined that He would let His Heavenly Father lead Him, source Him, and supply Him. He reaffirmed His faith in God! Jesus affirmed life is about listening to the Father.

In the second temptation, Jesus is taken by Satan to a high place where He is shown the peoples of the world. Satan parades them before Jesus and says, “I can give them all to you…just worship me…do it my way. Besides, my way doesn’t involve a cross”.

Our scripture says the devil then led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. Luke 4:6-8,

And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The temptation Satan puts before us is that we can accomplish God’s purposes in our way. Very often, Satan’s testing isn’t about doing "bad things." It is about accomplishing good things in self-centered ways. The temptation Satan is offering is to do it his way, to let him call the shots. Jesus’ answer is, "Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only!" We are called to yield our rights, preferences, and desires to God. We are to worship Him, obey Him, and serve Him only.

I remember a time when I was still a youth pastor in Kaneohe. Jude and I got a call to start a church on the Big Island in Paradise Park. We decided we needed a van. Toyota had come out with a beautiful one, so we went to a rental dealership and bought a van for our ministry. We told God, "We need this van!” We signed the loan papers. As we were driving it home over the Likelike, God said, “What are doing in this van? Did I tell you to get it? That is not what I want for you!” “But God, we need this for our new ministry!" I’m not sure if we turned around or waited till the next morning, but we returned that van. God had a better idea. And because we didn’t have a big car loan, we were able to buy a home AND a used VW van to care for the needs of building a church. We had taken things into our own hands, stopped, turned around, and did it God's way. God's way was better.

Jesus says, "You can’t serve two Gods." We want to live with one foot in the world and one foot in heaven. We want to go to heaven, but we don’t want to let go of the things of this world. We are called to yield our rights, our preferences, and our desires to God’s will. That is what Jesus affirms when He says, "Worship the Lord your God and Serve Him only!"

In the third temptation, Satan took Jesus to the highest pinnacle in the temple, a place where everyone could see Him.

Luke 4:9-11,

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you ]to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Satan quoted scripture and told Jesus, look down at the crowd. You want the world to bow down to you? Just jump! God isn’t going to forsake you. He said so in his word, "His angels will snatch you up…." Go ahead and see if He won't act on your behalf. You will be the talk of the town! You can accomplish your purposes through the WOW FACTOR!

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’

Just a few Sundays ago, we were speaking about stewardship and about putting God first. I challenged you with a "trust test" card. We are told in Malachi to test God. God says, "Test me and see if I won't care for you."

Malachi 3:10,

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

Now in our scripture, Jesus says, "Don’t put God to the test." Which is it?

Look to the source. In Malachi, the Lord is speaking. It is His Word to us. In Luke’s Gospel, Satan is talking. Jesus says, "Don’t put God to the test!" In both instances, the intention is, "I am affirming that God is the LORD of my life and I’m committed to obeying Him!" It is not us telling God what to do! It is not us telling the Lord to perform.

Let’s be on the alert for opportunities that will present themselves during this season for us to choose and affirm, "He is Lord. He has risen from the dead, and He is Lord." All other options are merely temptations. Jesus has settled the issue. I am God’s Child!

Have you resolved that issue? As you do, He will lead you!

God's Trust Test, part 2

by Pastor Bob Miller

Over these past posts, we've been talking about the importance that Trust plays in our relationship with God. Our key scripture passage comes from Proverbs 3. In verses 5-6 we read, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

The question has always been, "Do I have a whole-hearted trust in God?" Is that trust revealed in the way I live my life, in how I use my time, my talents, my possessions which God has entrusted into my care? This is important because there is a relationship between our trust and God's blessing.

We can say we trust God but how do we know for sure? What does it mean for you and I to trust God in our everyday lives completely? Let's look once again at the acrostic which uses the letters that spell out the word T.R.U.S.T. We want to finish up and focus on the last two of those letters.

Already we've looked at the first three letters.

Let's go into new territory and look at the S in TRUST:

S - Surrender Everything to God

Have you ever heard anyone say, "If I had more, I would give more" or "I can't give now – but when I get more, then I will start to give!" Jesus said in Luke 16:10, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much." What Jesus is saying is that if you are not giving sacrificially with what you have now, you won't give sacrificially when you have more. Why? Because there is a spiritual principle at work in our lives, and that principle is proven time after time. It's not how much we have of the world that dictates our generosity towards God, but how much God has of us!

The question for each of us who call ourselves Christian is, "Am I going to live any different from the way the world lives, trusting in themselves and going their own way? Or am I going to trust in His principles and do things His way?” The issue before us is not about our talent, our time, our abilities, or our money. The issue is, "Who do I trust?"

In Jeremiah 17:5-6, we find that the Lord contrasts the difference between an independent person and a person of trust and dependence:

"This is what the Lord says, 'Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands, he will not see prosperity when it comes, and he will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.'"

God says, ‘If you're going to rely on yourself, you're going to be like a bush, pushed by the wind...having no roots, no fruit, nothing…a tumbleweed.

But then He goes on to describe the person that trusts in the Lord and is dependent upon God.

"But blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Notice that the circumstances for each person are the same, but in times of drought and famine, the one whose trust is in God has resources that never dry up! We are called to surrender to God and let Him be in control.

T - Test God's Promises

This is where the rubber meets the road. It is where trust is revealed.

God has given us a test by which we can measure our trust in him. It is not something I've devised. It is a test that God has placed before us to help us to measure our TRUST. And every one of us is called to take this test. This test is given to us in Malachi 3:10-12,

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food In my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the flood gates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit says the Lord Almighty. Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land, says the Lord Almighty."

Notice the promises that are found in these verses which God gives to his children when they put Him first by honoring Him with the tithe.

First - He Will Provide for Us

It is God talking! He says in verse 10, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse so that there will be food in my house." And then He says, "test me now on this and see if I will not open for you, the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing until it overflows."

Perhaps you're thinking, "Pastor you are telling me that God will take care of me in every area of my life, including finances, if I put God first? NO. I'm not telling you that. God is! This isn't my test. It's God's! He says: "If you put me first, not second, not third… then I will provide for you!"

He is saying, "Test me in this!" Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of heaven and His righteousness and all these other things will be added to you."

Here is the principle: In the area I obey, God blesses. In the area I disobey – God disciplines. Either way, God is committed to loving us. I happen to like Blessing better than discipline. What about you?

The Second Promise - He Will Protect Us

Malachi 3:11,

"I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe," says the Lord Almighty.

When we put God first with the first fruits of our labors, God says He will protect us. We come out farther ahead when we have God on our side than if we merely tried it on our own.

Third Promise - Our Lives Will be Attractive to Others.

Malachi 3:12,

“Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land, says the Lord Almighty.”

It will become evident to those around us that we are blessed. God is saying they will look longingly to what you have, to the joy you reveal, and to the peace you possess!

Israel, from the beginning days, always had a problem with serving the Lord "whole-heartedly." They longed to be like other nations and wanted a king. Malachi told them to put God first and the other nations will want to become like you and will want Me to be their Sovereign KING!

This is the only area in the Bible where God tells you to test Him. I think it is because this is so closely tied to the lordship issue and it also involves TRUSTING in Him on a practical level every day! When we TITHE we honor God because we recognize that He is the source. We are merely returning the TITHE to Him. We honor God also because it is a demonstration of our trust in Him – that He will meet my needs.

Some might ask, "What is the tithe?" The tithe is the first tenth of our income. In Proverbs 3: 9 we read, "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops." It is the "first fruits" of the harvest or the first of our labor. The Bible is clear that the first tenth belongs to God and we are simply called to RETURN it to the Lord. This isn't even our offering. We return the tithe to the "storehouse" or to the place where we are fed spiritually. Our "offering" is what we give over and beyond the tithe. We give our offerings because we love God and we want to give beyond what is required.

Some of you are saying, "I've never tithed – I can't afford it' I understand that. There is never a good time to begin tithing. There never will be a good time because it isn't a matter of money. It is a matter of TRUST! It doesn't make sense that you can make it on 9/10th's of your income when you can't make it on 10/10th's Yet, God says you will. It becomes a matter of who is in control of your life.

I invite you to take this step of faith! Take God's TRUST TEST. Perhaps you've never stepped out to put Him first with the first fruit of your labor.

In 1859, there was a tightrope walker by the name of Charles Blondine. He strung a rope 1,100 feet across Niagra Falls. As the crowds looked on, he would walk across. One day he took a wheelbarrow and walked across with a sack of flour in it. Then asked the crowd, "Do you believe I can take a person across?" The crowd shouted, "We believe." "Then who will get in?" Finally, a small lady stepped forward and off they went. It was his mother!

The point is, we can say we believe but until we step out in faith, we are fooling ourselves. The tithe is not a life-threatening stunt, but it is stepping out to trust Him. Will you get in the wheelbarrow?

Principles of Stewardship

By Pastor Bob Miller

I don't know about you, but I want to be used by God. I'm not satisfied living with Him in the periphery of my life. I want to know His heart and what His will is for my life. I also want to receive His blessing and to live in such a way that I can be a blessing to others!

If that has been your heart's desire as well, then you've been leaning into this series of posts which have been geared to helping us to grasp how it is that we can more fully trust God.

I want for us to continue looking at the Spiritual Principles of Stewardship. When we understand these principles of how God chooses to work in our world through us, as revealed in the Word of God, then we can better know how to open our lives to Him so that He can not only bless us but also make us a blessing!

Looking at the Spiritual Principles of Stewardship, when properly understood and followed, opens the door for us to be used by God in such a manner that our life is enlarged. It overflows to become a blessing to others as well as ourselves.

Paul in Romans 12:1, urged us to, "present our bodies as living sacrifices" to God so He can use the gifts and talents He has given to us for His glory. I think so very often that when I read, I overlook the fact that He says: "bodies," not "body." This is plural. Now, I've only got one body to present to God and the last I looked so do You! But together, as we present our BODIES to Him to be used – there is a SACRED BLEND which takes place – We call it the "Body of Christ" or the Church. As we function together, using the gifts, talents, skills, and possessions that He has given to each of us individually, TOGETHER we can accomplish so much more than we could ever do alone! And so the Church isn't just us, coming together to worship and sing and pray and read Scripture and listen to an incredible message by your wonderful pastor – and then going home until next Sunday – when you go to Church again. But sadly, that is what many of us in America have made it out to be.

That isn't what God intended at all. Instead, it is to be a coming together of those who have been filled with the Spirit of God and whose gifts, talents, skills, and possessions are available for God to use. He puts them all together and uses us to work together to accomplish His purposes, TOGETHER!

As we continue our journey through God's Spiritual Principles of Stewardship, let's be mindful that not only are these principles to be applied individually but corporately as we together present ourselves to God.

Let's look at three principles of Godly Stewardship.

The first of these is the Big Shovel Principle. It's the idea that you can't out give God. God has a bigger shovel than you or I do.

Jesus said in Luke 6:38,

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap."

Notice the next phrase,

"For with the measure you use it will be measured to you."

In Jesus' day, when you went to buy your rice or grain, they would pour the grain into a sack in such a way that you didn't truly get a full bag. You didn't shake the bag to make room for more rice to be poured into the container. But Paul is saying that when God gives, He is generous and not stingy when He pours out blessings. He shakes and presses it down and returns the blessing until it overflows. He wants to make sure that you make room for more blessing! No cutting corners in God's economy of wanting to bless our lives.

Now the principle is that in the same measure that we treat others, so will be the measure that God uses in blessing us in return. God is saying, "If you do your part, I'll do more." He says, "I have a bigger shovel than you do."

I heard of a person who was quite generous being asked how it was that He could give so much away and still be prosperous. The man replied, ‘Its very simple, I shovel in, and God shovels back. And God has a bigger shovel than me."

The next principle is the River Principle. Our life is to be like a river, not a reservoir. In other words, we are to let the blessings of God flow into, through, and out of our life. We're not to take God's blessings and store them up. We are called to receive God's blessings and to pass them on. In the same week that He would be crucified, Jesus said, "anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:25)

When I was going through my office recently, I found a series of old-time books written by a preacher named S.D. Gordon. One of his books was entitled Quiet Talks on Prayer. In one of his devotionals, he says that there is one inlet of power in our lives and that is the Holy Spirit. There are five outlets of power through which the Holy Spirit reveals His power in us. Those outlets are:

1. Through our life- what we are.

2. Through our lips – what we say.

3. Though our ministry – what we do.

4. Through our money – what we give.

5. Through our prayer - what we claim in Jesus' name.

Life isn't about ourselves. As we give our lives away, we find them. Our highest calling is to lay down our lives daily. The Lord keeps pouring His life into us, and the resources for living and loving keep on coming!

Now I think sometimes we get the idea that as God fills our life – we will naturally give out of the overflow! But I think it is wiser to see ourselves as a garden hose. We merely turn on the spout and let God's blessings flow through us. We will be surprised how those blessings keep on coming!

Lastly, I want to share with you what I believe to be the first and foremost principle. It is the First Shall Be Last Principle. This also might be called the Who's #1 Principle.

This principle is simply that God deserves the first of everything. Not only the first but the best of our life, not the left-overs.

Once this principle is settled, it's interwoven into all these other principles. The principle is simply that God deserves the first of everything. Instead of giving him our best or our "first," we tend to give God our leftovers. Instead of giving God the "first of our income," we want to see if there is anything left over after we pay the bills and care for ourselves. In Matthew 22:27-28, we hear Jesus as He answers the question, "What is the greatest commandment?"

Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment."

The Proverbs writer said in Proverbs 3:9-10, "Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first-fruits of all your crops." Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." We are called to put Him first.

God tells us that we are to give Him the first, not the last of everything. If our practice is to wait until we see if we have anything left for God, not only will God be cheated, but you will continually find yourself coming up short. The question for us to answer is, "Where do I put God in my life?" Is He first, second, fifth?

Trust Test

by Pastor Bob Miller

Let me ask you a question: How many of you enjoy taking tests?

Tests are important. They measure where we stand and give a means by which we can evaluate the progress that we are making. They show us where we need to improve and they are an indicator of how much we have grown.

Over the next several posts, we are going to take a test, but this test is going to be different. You don't have to show anyone else your answers, and you get to grade the test yourself. This test is not to be viewed as a final exam, but since we are taking it at the beginning of a new year, it is to a tool which will help you to determine where it is that you stand in relation to your TRUST FACTOR in God.

Now in this test, we are not grading on a curve. This is not a comparison as to how we are doing next to others. It is how we each are doing in relation to God. We tend to compare ourselves to others. In that way, we can say, "I'm doing better than so-and-so…" But the one we stand next to is Christ, and next to Him our garments are filthy rags.

So as we take this test, my prayer is that you will discover some handles that will enable you to grow in the area of your TRUST IN GOD. Because as you do, you open the doors to God's blessings to flow in and through you.

As we begin, I want to share an email I received from a person who started to describe his Christian life uniquely:

"At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things that I did wrong to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like a President.

"I recognized his picture when I saw it, but I didn't know Him. But later on, when I met Christ, it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike. And Christ was in the back helping me pedal. I don't know just when it was that He suggested that we change places, but life has never been the same since.

"When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but it was predictable. It was the shortest distance between two points. But when He took the lead. He knew delightful long cuts up mountains and through rocky places at break-neck speeds. It was all that I could do to hang on. And even though it looked like madness, He said, 'Pedal.' I worried and was anxious, and I asked, 'Where are you taking me?' He laughed and didn't answer. And that's when I learned that I was going to have to trust Him.

"I forgot my boring life and entered into every adventure. And when I'd say, 'I'm scared,' He'd lean back and just touch my hand.

"He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance, and joy. He gave me gifts to take on my journey and off we went again. And He would say, 'Give the gifts away. They're extra baggage, too much weight.' So I did, to people we met and I found that in giving, I received.

The journey continued, and our burden was light.

"I did not trust Him at first to take control of my life. I thought He'd wreck it, but He knows bike secrets. He knows how to make those sharp corners and how to jump clear off high rocks and do things I could've never done if I were in control.

"And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places. I'm beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful companion, Jesus Christ. And when I'm not sure I can do it anymore…He smiles and says, 'Just pedal.'

I think every one of us come to a place where we ask an elementary question, "Can I trust God? Can I trust God with my future? Can I trust God with my family? With my job? With my health? Can I trust God with my possessions?" I think every one of us comes to the place in our journey, where we have to cross a line of either saying, "Yes, I do trust Him," or staying back and saying, "NO." It's like the guy on the bicycle – who after getting on, came to the point where he was faced with the decision of letting God steer the bike or not.

It is this point of decision that's the TRUST TEST. It's almost like there is a line drawn in the san and we are invited to step over that line saying, "Yes, I'm going to trust God." It's at that Trust Test line that we either grow spiritually by crossing it or we back away from that line and begin to wither in our soul, and we never realize our potential as a child of God. And it is because we were unwilling to let God take control of our life.

In trying to give you some handles about how we can learn to trust God more thoroughly, I want to share with you an acrostic that I found to be very helpful. The points come from one of my Pastor-Hero's and favorite Christian mentors, named John Maxwell. The acrostic is made from the letters that spell out the word TRUST. Let me first share what each letter stands for:

  • T - Take an inventory. Ask myself the bottom-line question, “Do I really trust God?”

  • R - Recognize God as your source. I need to realize as I take an inventory of my life, everything that I have right now is a gift from God.

  • U - Understand God's principles. Until I understand them, I’m always going to hold back in out in my trust toward God.

  • S - Surrender everything to God. The moment that I understand the principles that God has for me; then it's just an act of surrender.

  • T - Test God's promises. Look at God's Word and test His promises because it's in that testing that God proves Himself to me. As I step out in faith on His promises, I begin to grow, and my faith begins to build.

Let's go back and look at the first two letters, the T and R.

The first is T- Take an Inventory.

The Proverbs writer says in 3:5,

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

David, in Psalm 139 prays,

"Search me, O God and know my heart; try me and now my anxious thoughts, and see if there be any hurtful way in me. And lead me in the everlasting way."

Three observations from these Scriptures

The first is that only God knows everything about us! David pours out his heart to God and says, "Look deep into my heart and see if there is anything in me that needs fixing?" Solomon says, "Don't' trust in your own understanding, but trust in the Lord!' God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Secondly, only God can lead me correctly. We tend to want to go our own way. Isaiah said we are all like sheep that have gone astray. We've each gone our own way. We need to let God lead us. We have an incredible capacity to "justify ourselves." We need the Lord's perspective! He can see into our motives. We can INVITE HIM to show us our heart!

Thirdly, taking inventory and trusting God begins with me. This whole issue starts with me. We each are called to test ourselves. I have to make a personal list and look at myself and ask, "How am I doing in this area of trust?"

I don't know if you caught it or not, but did you notice how many personal pronouns there are in Proverbs 3:5-7? Pick out the personal pronouns as we read these verses. "With all your heart, you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment. Always let Him lead you, and He will clear the road for you to follow." We each are called to take responsibility for doing my part. That in turn, opens the door for God to do his part.

R- Recognize God as your source.

The Proverbs writer tells us in 3:9 that we are to, "honor the Lord from our wealth. And from the first of all your produce." Why is that?

It is simple. God is the source of all our blessings. Read Deuteronomy 8. The setting of this passage is that the children of Israel have been in the wilderness for 40 years and the time has come for them to move into the land of promise. Moses has gathered them together and is giving them final instructions. In chapter 8, he is reminding them that it was God who delivered them, and fed them with manna, and protected them, and led them all these years. And he says you must be especially careful that when God brings you into the land he promised to give you, a land filled with riches and good crops and wonderful blessings. He says it is then you must be very careful not to forget that God is the one who gave it to you.

Notice verse 11,

“Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; lest when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them and when your herds and your flocks multiply and your silver and gold multiply and all that you have multiplies then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt out of the house of slavery."

Verse 18,

"But you shall remember the Lord your God for it is He who is giving you the power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers as it is this day."

We must come to a place where we recognize God as the source of our life, recognize that He knows everything. There is nothing hidden from Him. He is sovereign.

William Beavy, a well-known naturalist in the last century, was a good friend of President Teddy Roosevelt. On occasion, they would step out together under the stars on a clear night. Pointing to the sky, Beavy would say, "That is a galaxy as large as the Milky Way. It consists of 100 billion suns. It is one of 100 billion galaxies.” And Roosevelt would grin and say, "Now I think we're small enough. Let's call it a night!"

God is the source and supply of all that we have and all that we are. Don't forget that He is the giver and source of every blessing! You can be sure that the LORD, out of His love for us and out of His desire to live His life through us, will draw a line in the sand. More often than not, it will be at the point of a BLESSING which he has bestowed upon us. He will ask, "Can I have it back? Will you let me steer? Will you trust me?" And we've got to respond.

There was a little song that Earl Lee taught us, "I'll say yes, Lord, yes, to your will and to your way… When your Spirit speaks to me, with my whole heart I'll agree, and my answer will be "YES, LORD, YES!" Are you willing to say yes? ...even before you step up to the line?

Trusting the Trustable God

by Pastor Robert Miller

As we open the year, I want to take several posts to share with you what I consider to be the key to successful Christian living. I want to talk about the importance of TRUSTING GOD!

In Proverbs 3 1-10, there are some unusual words of wisdom for us about our relationship with God and about what happens when we trust and obey God completely.

Proverbs 3: 1-10

The key verses which I want to focus on are found in verses 5-6. These are verses that are worthy of our memorizing and hiding in our heart.

With these verses and with each of the other that we find in this passage, there are some similarities. First of all, the commands are all-inclusive. He doesn't say trust Him with most of your heart or let Him lead you sometimes. No, it says, "Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart... In ALL your ways acknowledge Him."

In verse 3, we read, "Let love and faithfulness never leave you!" In verse 9, "Honor the Lorde with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops!"

These words are "all"- inclusive. There is no half-way obedience or partial TRUST! He is saying, "I want you to understand that 'trust' is to be a total affair."

Notice that with each of the commands there is a blessing or a promise that follows. God tells us that if we do these things, then the doors are opened for Him to pour out a blessing upon us in return.

There are four promises or blessings that follow the five commands. They are blessings that hit us where we live! I'm not clairvoyant, but if I were and I could look inside your heart and read your deepest desires, I would see the things you are genuinely wishing for and hoping would come to pass in your life. They include a long and successful life, respect and honor before God and your fellow man, direction for life, and health, vitality, and prosperity. How does that list sound to you? These are the blessings and promises which follow God's commands.

Notice also that these blessings, which come from God, are conditional. We do our part, and God does His part. If we trust Him completely, if we obey Him completely, then He has some wonderful provisions for us as His children.

Notice verse 3 and 4, "Let love and faithfulness never leave you, bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man."

So the questions that confront us as we consider this scripture might go something like this:

  • Am I trusting in God and if not, where is my trust placed?

  • As I live out my life, where have I placed my confidence?

Now it's easy to say, "I trust in God." Our government claims it every time it prints a quarter. But in a materialistic and self-reliant society, it is way too easy to get sidetracked into trusting in that which will ultimately fail us. Our world is continually telling us to take short-cuts to follow our plans and feelings, to forget God and His ways! Turn on the television and every 8 minutes there are commercials that promise us everything we need to be successful, happy, prosperous and popular...just buy their product!

These messages come with such persistence and frequency that we buy into their message, "I've got to have that to be fulfilled!" We begin to chase after those things. But the things that matter, God says, "They are found in me, and I want you to have them."

So the questions come: "Do I trust God?" "Is God even worthy of my Trust?" "How do I know that I'm trusting in Him and Him alone?" It is these questions and more that I want us to look at in the next few weeks…but let's focus our attention on God's trustworthiness! Can we trust Him? Is God trustworthy?

Now the Bible declares that "Yes, we can trust in Him! Yes, without a doubt He can be depended upon! The Bible says that God's Care is Constant. When it comes to trusting God, you can rest assured that His care is constant and continual.

The Hebrews writer quotes God reminding us of His very Words in 13:5-6, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence; "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"

God will never leave us or forsake us! Never, no never, will He let you down! His care is constant – continual- complete! The Psalmist in Psalm 136 time and time again says: "God's Love Never Fails!" "His love endures forever!" Read this Psalm He makes a great statement about God and then says: "God's love never fails! Over and over again! The message is that we can count on God, not only to care for and watch over us, but also to Provide for us!

Now our part in the equation is that we are to trust! We are called to trust in Him…to take Him at His Word and to Obey His Word. You remember the hymn, "Trust and Obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!"

But that's where the rubber meets the road! God asks us to OBEY or to TRUST Him in the area of our life that's bigger than what we can reason or understand. He is calling us to TRUST HIM before He shows us how He is going to work. We want to say to God, "Show me what you are going to do – and then I will trust You." We want to say: "God if I do this, how are You going to work?" "If I let you have my marriage…" "If I surrender my finances to You?" "God, I'm not sure, that you understand how desperate I am…and How deep my problems go!" The Psalmist said in Psalm 56:3-4, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust: I will not be afraid."

We are called to trust God in adversity – when we don't have all the answers and even when we are afraid! Even when we don't understand it all – we are called to trust in a God who IS TRUSTWORTHY! But not only in adversity are we to trust in Him. We are called to trust God in times of prosperity as well! I think that it is harder to keep our trust in Him when things are going well. When we are blessed, there is a tendency for us to either trust in ourselves or trust in our blessings. We tend to take the credit.

The extent to which we genuinely thank God for the blessing He provides is an indicator of our trust in Him.

I think we run to God fast when we have problems, but that we kind of tend to ignore God when we're being blessed. We become self-reliant! "Look at Me! I'm doing so good!"

Not only are we to trust God in adversity and prosperity – but we are to trust God as our source. We tend to forget that He is the source of every blessing and we begin to trust in His instruments of provision rather than in God, Himself. We trust in "the job" rather than in Him, who provided us and equipped us to have that job. We trust our health instead of realizing that God is the provider of our health.

In Proverbs 18: 10-11, there is an interesting contrast between people who trust in God and people who trust in themselves or their possessions:

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe."

It's a beautiful picture, now see what he says: "The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, and they imagine it an unscalable wall."

He is saying that those who trust in the Lord when they have an issue or need, they immediately go to Him. And He is their trust! But those who have possessions, they make them a "Fortified City," and they look at their fortified city, and they say, "It's an unscalable wall….I cannot be touched!...I'll hide behind it." "I'll trust in my IRA – I'll trust in my savings account - I'll trust in my abilities – I'll trust in my government!".

What's your unscalable wall? What are you trusting in? It is so easy to trust all of these other things and not make God the source and platform of our trust!

What is your security? In whom have you placed your trust? I am here to declare to you that the key to success is the very same as it was in Solomon's day when he penned those words in Proverbs. The secret is to trust in the one who is trustworthy entirely!

I want to share with you from one of the great preachers of our day. His name is S.M. Lockridge, a preacher who spoke on trusting God. He knows how to lift our faith and our focus! I wish I could preach like him – I'm not him…. But read his words:

"You can trust Him. He's the one who made us. It is He who made us and not we ourselves. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork. No means of measure can define His limitless love, and no far seeing telescope can bring into visibility the coastline of His shoreless supply. I'm telling you today, you can trust Him.

No barrier can hinder Him from pouring out his blessing. He's enduringly strong, and He's entirely sincere. He's eternally steadfast, and He's immortally graceful. He's empirically, powerfully, and impartially merciful. He's the greatest phenomenon that has ever crossed the horizon of this world. He's God's Son. He's the sinner's Savior. He's the centerpiece of civilization; I'm trying to tell you, Church, You can trust Him!

He does not have to call for help, and you can't confuse Him. He doesn't need you, and He doesn't need me. He stands alone in the solitude of Himself. He's unparalleled. He's unprecedented. He's supreme. He's preeminent. He's the loftiest idea in literature. He's the highest personality in philosophy. He is the supreme problem of higher criticism. He's the fundamental doctrine of truthology. He's the cardinal necessity of the spiritual religion. He's the miracle of the age. He's the superlative of everything good that you can call Him. I'm trying to tell you, You can trust Him.

He can satisfy all your needs, and He can do it simultaneously. He supplies strength for the weak, and He's available for the tempted and tried. He sympathizes, and He sees, He guards and He guides. He heals the sick; He cleansed the leper. He forgives sinners. He discharges debtors. He delivers the captives. He defends the people. He blesses the young. He regards the aged. He rewards the diligent; He beautifies the meek. I'm trying to tell you, Church, you can trust Him!"

He's the key to knowledge. He's the well-spring of wisdom. He's the doorway of deliverance. He's the path of peace. He's the roadway of righteousness. He's the highway of holiness. He's the gateway to glory. You can trust Him.

"He's the master of the mighty. He's the capturer of conquerors. He's the head of heroes. He's the leader of legislators. He's the overseer of the overcomers. He's the Governor of the governors. He's the Prince of princes. He's the King of kings. He's the Lord of lords. You can trust Him.

His office is manifold. His promise is sure. His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. His word is enough. His grace is sufficient. His reign is righteous. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. I wish I could describe Him to you. He's indescribable because He's incomprehensible. He's irresistible because He's invincible. You can't get Him off your hands. You can't get Him off your mind. You can't outlive Him, and you can't live without Him. Pilate couldn't stand it when he found out that he couldn't stop Him. Pilate couldn't find any fault in Him, and the witnesses couldn't get their testimonies to agree, and Herod couldn't kill Him. And death couldn't handle Him and thank God; the grave couldn't hold Him. There was nobody before Him. They'll be nobody after Him. He has no predecessor. He'll have no successor. You can't impeach Him, and He's not going to resign. You can trust Him.

He's the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. The first and the last. He's all things. He's the giver of life. He's the joy out of every sorrow. He's the light of every darkness. He's the peace that passes all understanding. He's the Giver of every good and perfect gift. You can trust Him. There's no God before Him. They'll be none after him. He is the first. He is the last. He is preeminent. There is no other God." Amen!

Thank you, Lord. We give you praise. We give you glory. God, you are trustworthy.

Dealing With Our Past

by Pastor Bob Miller

As I look back over 2018, there so many things that I had hoped to accomplish, which for one thing or another, they just never got done. I think I feel like the cartoon character Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes who said, “God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I’m so far behind I’ll never die”.

Whether we find ourselves ahead or behind, we’ve all arrived at this moment in time “together.” And as Christians, we understand that God has a purpose for us to fulfill as we live out the days that He has gifted us with. If we are going to live into His purposes, then we need to keep a proper focus on how we face the days that we have.

The Apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians shared his perspective saying in Philippians 3:13-14:

"Brethren I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet, but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

When writing to the Corinthians in his second letter, the Apostle Paul said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!”

Paul is emphasizing who we NOW are in Christ Jesus. Our past has been put behind us. We are done with it! We have been made NEW – our sins of the past have been forgiven by Christ, and we’ve been made alive in Christ to live for Him. Paul is telling us that our focus should be on what lies ahead of us and not behind us!

But with that said, there is given to us in God’s Word directions about how we are to deal with specific issues from our past which will help us live into our tomorrows. At the start of this new year, I want us to look at some helpful instructions on how we are to deal with our Yesterdays!

In Acts 19, Luke records the account of a revival breaking out in the city of Ephesus where many people are being saved and delivered from a lifestyle of ungodliness and sorcery. Notice what takes place beginning with verse 18:

“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery bought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. In this way, the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.”

These people took all these things that had to do with their former life of sin and destroyed them! Everything that was instrumental in the carrying out of their evil practices was burned, and they did it in such a way that their former associates knew that they were finished with that old lifestyle.

When we came to Christ, there were things in all of our lives that we had repented of and we turned away from! We recognized that for us, those things were wrong and they didn’t bring glory to God. And yet even now, the Holy Spirit is speaking to you saying, "that sin still has a hold upon your life." It’s time to turn your back on those things for they are robbing you of your joy and they are stealing your testimony. You haven’t made a clean break with certain things in your past, and they are keeping you from being all that God wants you to be!

The first thing that we need to deal with are those things in our life that we need to be done with and determine to do it no more!

There may be others who are doing those very things, and they seem to be getting along just fine. We are not called to judge them, but to release them from our judgment. Our call is to be done with those things that the Holy Spirit has revealed to us as being unbecoming and inappropriate for a follower of Jesus. And if He shows it to you, you must agree with what He was saying, and you must give it up. He requires you to do it! Now it may mean that you will have to conclude certain practices in your life! I’m not here to tell you which things you are to end because the Holy Spirit will reveal that to you in very clear terms.

You may need to physically remove items from your home that keep you from living all out for Jesus. As long as they remain, they are a stumbling block.

The stumbling block may be friends or associates, and you’ve never told them about the stand that you have been called to take with the Lord and so when you are around them you find yourself drawn into your former lifestyle or way of living. Maybe its time to burn some bridges and cut some ties to your past.

Another thing that we need to deal with regarding our past has to do with making restitution and settling old debts. In Luke 19, we find the story of Zacchaeus and how Jesus called him out of the Sycamore tree so that he might have dinner with him. Zacchaeus stood there and said in verse 8:

“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.”

Now the law required when you are in debt, you only pay 20% more than the actual indebtedness. But here Zacchaeus said he would restore four times the amount! And the reason Zacchaeus did this was that the crowds had begun to mutter among themselves. It wasn’t Zacchaeus they were complaining about. It was Jesus! He had gone to be the guest of a sinner! Zacchaeus didn’t do what he did so that Jesus would forgive Him. He did it for a testimony! He did it to seal the mouths of the critics.

Restitution is not our salvation. Jesus provides our salvation, and it does not come as a result of our works. But for the sake of a “testimony,” we must be willing to do what Zacchaeus did and make things right with those that we have wronged. There may be those whom we have hurt through our words or actions, and while the Lord has forgiven us, they do not know that we’ve repented of our sin and sought out God’s forgiveness. They can’t figure out how we can claim to be a Christian and have victory when all they know is what we did! In their minds, it doesn’t add up, and so they begin to mutter against Jesus.

And so for testimony, we need to be willing to ask the Lord to lead us and to help us to go back and to make things right so far as it is possible with us. Just because God has forgiven us, does not mean that we are finished. We also need to be willing to set things in order. Those around us need to be brought in on the victory that we enjoy.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."

So as far as we can and when it is possible, we need to make restitution and fix our old wrongs for the sake of a testimony.

One last thing to remember about our past is that our salvation comes to us through the grace of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

Grace = God’s Riches At Christ Expense.

It is given freely! We didn’t earn it nor do we deserve it. God demonstrates his love to us in this: While were we were still sinners Christ died for us. We were once dead in our sins, lost without hope, without God’s love in us and without any means of making it right! But God in Christ has forgiven us. He has adopted us, restored us, freed us from sin, and He has given us His Holy Spirit to make His home in our hearts, giving us eternal life and certain hope of inheritance with Him in heaven.

The Touch that Touches God

by Pastor Bob Miller

At the start of a new year, it's a natural thing for us to look back over the past year and ask ourselves: "How'd I do?" You look at the magazines and listen to the media, and it's all about The Best of 2018 – or the Man of the Year. I heard that Serena Williams was proclaimed Female Athlete of the Year. Lebron James got Male Athlete pf the Year. Even the Nazarene Church posted their most essential highlights of this past year.

When I sat down to write my Christmas card, I was forced to think about the significant things that marked 2018. So many times we want to mark these significant points or events which inevitably show up. They are life changers - it may have been a loss, a surgery, a marriage, a birth. These are significant. But have you ever wondered what it is that God sees as significant? What it is that gets his attention? If He were to give standing applause, what would it be for?

Would it be for a great sermon, someone who gives a considerable sum of money, does a fantastic miracle? Some of us look at the year and think , “I wish I’d done something great but not this year… maybe one day I can do something that will get God's attention.”

What I want you to see is something I think will surprise you. Turn with me to Matthew 25:31-46.

You can read it here.

Those are sobering words aren't they? I see three things that touch God's heart.

The first thing I notice is that God gets excited when we reach out to those in need! The idea that overwhelms me about this scripture is that Jesus identifies so closely with the lost and the needy. Did you catch the personal pronouns in verses 35-36:

"For I was hungry, and you gave ME something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave ME drink I was a stranger, and you invited ME in, naked and you clothed ME. I was sick, and you visited ME I was in prison, and you came to ME". (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, when you did it, you did it to me. The same logic is applied in verses 42-43. Whatever you didn't do, you didn’t do it to me. God identifies with us! When Jesus walked among us as the Son of God, the Bible says, "He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." The word compassion comes from the same Greek word which means "guts." It means when Jesus saw our need, it moved Him at gut level. God saw our need and our lostness and He sent His Son Jesus to be our Savior! God identifies with us so thoroughly that he put upon Himself human flesh and He walked among us and lived with us and died for us.

In verse 40, Jesus says something I wish He didn’t. "To the extent, you did it to one of these brothers of mine…even to the least of them; you did it to me."

The same God who sees the sparrow when it falls is the same Father who takes notice when we reach out to care for people, people who do not have the ability to repay anything we do for them. He notices when we give without expecting anything in return.

When Jesus described His ministry, He said that He had come to serve and not be served. He said that He came to seek and to save those who were lost!

The touch that touches the heart of God is the one that reaches out to those that are lost and in need.

The second touch that reaches the heart of God is the touch that reaches out to do simple things. They were the things most people would say are unimportant. Look at what the Lord recognizes as a ministry,

You gave me something to eat, you gave me something to drink, you clothed me. You came to visit me.

These are not big things. Anyone of us could do them. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to pull it off. You merely need to be able to recognize the need, and be willing to go out of your way to do it.

No wonder those people looked at the Lord and were amazed. "How did you know I did that? I don't even remember doing that?" The things God notices are so simple and straightforward, anybody could do them. But not everybody will. And that it the rub.

You see, the things God notices reveal what is in our heart. By doing these things we are not brought closer to God. The Bible tells us that we can't earn our Salvation. That is a gift from God. It has already been provided for us by the shed blood of Jesus. Our Salvation is received by faith in what Jesus has done for us! These simple acts are merely the fruit of a life that has been touched by Jesus. They are the acts that flow from a heart that beats with the heart of Jesus.

What touches God's heart is seeing you or me doing something that anyone could do but which only those who have His heart would find themselves doing!

The Lord says what counts is, "You gave a drink to someone thirsty, food to someone hungry, you visited someone when they were sick. These little things are the things Jesus is talking about because they are done without any thought of what we can get in return. They are done out of love!

We are going to be surprised on that day. To some whom we think are doing the BIG THINGS, God is going to say, "I don't know you. Please let so-and-so by. They gave a drink of water in my name!"

Let me give you a tip on touching others: Start where you are! Bloom where you're planted. Stay where you are and begin to minister right there! Before you can make a difference elsewhere you must start right where you are at!

The third touch that touches the heart of God comes from the heart! Catch the motives in this passage? Both groups were equally surprised. Both groups said,

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or naked or in prison?"

The righteous didn't have a clue. They were helping because they cared! They loved others. They saw the world through the eyes of Jesus, and they only did what He would have done.

The unrighteous didn't have a clue either. They were, in essence, saying, "Lord when did we see you? If we had known it was you we would have been the first to feed you and clothe you! Had we known it was You, we would have given you everything. Lord, why didn't you let us know it was you?”

The righteous did it because it was right. Because they loved people and because they loved God. They never did it expecting anything in return. They just did it. That is the fruit of their salvation. When the Holy Spirit comes to abide in our heart, He fills us with the love of Jesus, and that love is expressed in caring for others.

Tony Campolo tells the true story about Joe. Joe had been a drunk that was miraculously converted at a downtown mission. Before he met Christ, he was known as a dirty wino without any hope or redeeming qualities. But after the Lord forgave and changed Joe, he became one of the most caring and loving people around that mission. There was nothing that Joe would not do to help others. If vomit needed to be cleaned up, it was Joe who would do it. One night following one of the evangelistic services that had been held at the mission, one of the men responded to the call to come and pray. The repentant drunk knelt at the altar and began to cry out, “Oh God, make me like Joe!" The director of the mission said, "Don't you mean, make me like Jesus?" The man looked at the director with a quizzical expression and asked: "Is Jesus like Joe?"

My prayer is that God would put Jesus in our hearts, so that our world would see Jesus in us, and they would want what we have!

The things that touch the heart of Jesus are simple, easy things – something that anyone can do. They are done out of love, and they are done for those who have a deep need! We don't always see people who are thirsty or hungry. But every day, we rub shoulders with those who need our Savior. They are hurting inside, and they need Jesus.

One of the most loving things we can do is to tell them about Jesus.

Generosity of Hope

by Pastor Bob Miller

Our Scripture reading is found in Luke 3. Israel is under Roman domination, and they are being taxed heavily to support the Empire of Caesar. They are a people that long for deliverance! They are looking forward to the coming of God’s promised Messiah! Little did they know that 30 years earlier, over the fields of Bethlehem, an angel appeared to a group of shepherds to announce, “Tonight, in the City of David, a child has been born to you. He is Christ the King!” The child was named Jesus, for he would save from sin.

For 30 years, the child had been growing up in obscurity in the small town of Nazareth as a carpenter. All the while God was preparing the people for the day in which Jesus would come as King. He sent John the Baptist to preach that the Kingdom of God was at hand. The people flocked to hear this fiery preacher. His message was clear. They needed to get their hearts ready. Read what Luke says.

Luke 3: 7-18

May our prayer be, “Lord, we need to hear these words again. Those that first heard those words were waiting for your arrival! They were looking for your deliverance and Salvation! We are awaiting your return! We have to know what it is to be adopted into your family. We have experienced your forgiveness. We have tasted the joy of your salvation! We long for the day when sin will be defeated. The question we ask is the same as what they had asked John, 'What should we do? How shall we live?'”

Yesterday morning, the strangest thing happened. A car pulled up in our church parking lot, and a group of people got out of the car and began to take pictures of our church building. I’d never seen them before, but here they were in paradise surrounded by the beauty of the ocean and beach, and they are taking pictures of our church building. I had to go and find out why. Sure enough, they were Nazarenes. Way back in 1974, they had come as teenagers to serve at our church. While I’d never met them, we shared many friends in common. They were two generations of Nazarenes living in California. We had grown up in the same area, attended many of the same camps, and knew and esteemed a number of the same pastors. Together, we celebrated our roots. I told them about my son serving in Africa, and they told of theirs who was headed for the mission field in Johannesburg, South Africa. We took pride in our shared heritage! We were family. The faith we inherit from our families runs deep. There is beauty in it, but our heritage is not what saves us – and it can become dangerous when we think that it will.

It seems that the Jews during the days of John the Baptist had great pride in their heritage and they were counting on it to get them to Heaven. They boasted about being “children of Abraham,” and assumed that because they were part of that family tree, they were guaranteed a place in God’s Kingdom. It didn’t matter how they lived. They were “God’s children.” It isn’t so different today. We may say, “Well I was baptized into the Catholic Church when I was born, so I’m Christian!” Or “I joined the Church. I’m safe!”

Now John the Baptist didn’t know how to be politically correct, nor did he waste any words when declaring the truth. John proclaimed that you couldn’t rely on your heritage for your salvation. If you were going to be a child of God, you needed to reflect His nature. You needed to live in such a way that you look and act like Him. John is saying, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. You need to be ready, so repent and live lives that reflect your desire to be part of His Kingdom.”

John says in verse 9, "The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Just like a fruit tree that’s taking up space and not producing fruit will be cut down, so it is that our Family Tree, as meaningful as they are to us, will be cut down if they don’t result in a life of fruitfulness.

Faith is not merely an identity; it is a way of living, and this way of life must bear good fruit.

Their response to John the Baptist was, “What then, should we do? How do we make things right? If the things we have depended on for so long will not bring us into the kingdom of God, what will?"

The answer was a simple one. John told them to share. This is Preschool 101. “Johnny, share your toys!”

Verse 11, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Don’t be selfish. Don’t take advantage. Share! You see someone in need, help them! These are not complicated instructions, but it seems that this easy lesson in generosity goes against our very nature! It goes against our bent towards selfishness. It is something that is easier said than done!

Luke says that even tax collectors were coming out to be baptized by John. They were asking, “What shall we do? How do you want us to live?" Was the answer found in them quitting their jobs? John says, “No, the answer is in not collecting any more than you are required to.” The problem was that they were using their position of authority to take advantage of those whom you are called to serve. They were padding their own pockets at the expense of those in need.

In Jesus’ day, there was a huge class divide of economic inequality. There were the rich and then the very poor. The rich would use their position and power to get richer at the expense of the poor who were, getting poorer! If you had power and possessions, you used your position to your advantage. Those who had no status or wealth were nothing but pawns to be used and expended. Slavery was not uncommon if you could afford it. And Why not? God had blessed you! Why not use your position as a Roman citizen to your advantage to gain more wealth. So often, wealth and power are gained at someone else’s expense. Someone has to suffer. Better Him than Me!

John the Baptist redefined what the Kingdom of God was all about. The Roman Kingdom was built on ruthlessness and hard-heartedness. That’s not the foundation on which God’s kingdom is built! John says, “Share with one another. Don’t take advantage when you have the opportunity! Instead, live generously.”

Even soldiers were making their way to John, wanting to be part of the Kingdom of God. They asked, “What should we do? Are we to lay down our swords?” John says in verse 14, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely. Be content with your pay.”

In other words, “Don’t use your power over others for your advantage at the expense of others. Be honest in your dealings. Don’t cheat to get ahead! Use your position to help, not just those who have power and can help you but those who do not.

And it isn’t a stretch to see how this is still being played out in our day and age, in our capitalistic world where the almighty dollar is king. We will do anything to ensure that we can increase our returns, even at the expense of others.

We don’t mind getting cheap clothes. We turn a blind eye when we learn that those clothes are so cheap because they were produced in sweatshops where children are forced to work in ungodly circumstances for less than minimum wages.

Sharing isn’t as easy as we thought! The dynamics haven’t changed since before the time of Jesus! In fact, that is why God was establishing a new Kingdom, and He was sending a King to bring that kingdom down out of heaven and establish it here on earth. And that king would be one who came not to be served – but to serve! He would turn the kingdoms of this world upside down!

The people wanted to know if John was the Messiah. John said, "It’s not me, but there is one at the door who is coming that is more powerful than I am. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire! His baptism will purify your hearts. He will change you from the inside out.” John was sent to get their hearts ready. He was called to set their minds on the right things.

But, it is going to take God to do a work inside of us, to purify our hearts, to change us at the core of our being, He must make us a new people so that we can truly live with a spirit of generosity.

Part of what has to change in our hearts, just as it was in Jesus’ day, is thinking that our possessions, what we own, somehow equate to the joy that we will have. We get so caught up in chasing after wealth that we forget that what brings joy is not found in our material possessions but is found in generosity. Jesus said, “When you lose your life you will find it!” It is in giving ourselves away – that we find joy!

Advent, the waiting for God to come and deliver us, can expose our need for a kingdom that will push us toward the hope of generosity. The people that John was preaching to needed something besides material comforts to live for. John was opening their eyes to a way of living as God originally designed life to be lived. But that way was lost when Adam sinned.

Advent is about God coming to make things right and to undo that which has gone wrong! He will come to bring justice!

And Justice is not about getting ahead but about making things right. Making things right never comes at the expense of others, though it might come at the cost of excess for ourselves. Making things right might mean that we need to look at ourselves and how we are living and about what we are chasing. How generous are we with what we’ve been given?

We talk about the joy of giving during this season, but we often lose that joy in our need to feel like we need more and better things. Maybe we need to rethink how Christmas is celebrated in order to share with others. Instead of having two toys, perhaps one needs to be given away. Maybe, Christmas isn’t about “getting” as much as it is about “giving” and sharing what we already have!

When we learn to live with open-handed generosity toward others, we learn to be more dependent on God. We also learn that everything we have is God’s and that living in God’s kingdom redefines what generosity looks like.

The obsession to get ahead, to have more, to keep up with the Joneses, is not a new one. While sharing might be a lesson we learn as children, it is one that we must never outgrow. The kingdom of God is one of level ground, where we love and care for one another.

It isn’t enough to say we belong to a family of faith. We must be people of faith. This means living lives of generosity toward those around us, illustrating our love for God and others and demonstrating the faith that God loves and cares for all of us. Out of our generosity, the world might see and know a generous God who left the riches of heaven so that we might be free of sin.

Our prayer this advent may need to be, "Lord, cleanse my heart. Fill me with your desires. Change my own heart and make me more like you. Enable me to be generous. Set me free to with others as you have shared with me!”

Devotion Gate

by Pastor John Stout

It always amazes me how in one parable Jesus can touch on so many different topics, all while presented with a uniquely beautiful balance of grace with truth. For this parable though, what God revealed to me was about the gate in the story. One of the main reasons this stuck out to me is because I could actually visualize the gate that this rich man had and how he would pass by those in need that stayed right out in front of his gate.

On my second deployment to Afghanistan, I again was faced with a culture so drastically different from mine, it was as if I had entered a time machine and went back 2000 years. Although my deployments were hard, I love how I can visualize and connect with what the Bible describes. Anyway, the reason this hit home was because it was always so easy to tell who the rich man was in the region that was assigned to our unit because of three traits that could be observed. The first, but not always a key sign, was that they worn bright colored outfits that were decorated with anything that was shiny and reflective. This is a huge contrast to the other locals. Their outfits, or only outfit, was either brown, grey, or black. The second sign was that they were around 30-40 pounds heavier their all the other males in their size and height. This is due to the ability to have plenty of food at their disposal, versus the others in the area that were quite slim, if not half starving. The third, and most definite sign that they were rich and held some sort of power in their region, was that they had a gate.

This gate always had a narrow passageway that led up to it with large walls on either side. This gate right outside where I was based was just like this, as seen in the picture above that I took. We would often meet with this leader in order to help maintain security in the local area and prevent freedom of movement for the enemy. But what I did not at the time take notice of, was that the people that would line that narrow passage before the gate, were the weak, poor, and children from that area. Just like in the story the rich man would always pass them by and never give them anything and ignore them as he would leave.

What the Lord was showing me, was that although I may not have a physical gate in which there are starving or sick people lining up, there are people in my path everyday that need help. This may be someone you see everyday at work that is in need. Perhaps there is someone you know crying out in a spiritual way.

God places people in our paths and at our gates that need to be shown the love of God though us. So often I will be busy in my own world and the things that I need to do that I think are beyond my gate and out in the town, when many times I just need to slow down and ask God to reveal the people and the needs that are right in front of me. So my challenge to you is to ask God who is at your gate, and then to seek his will in how you can minister to those he has placed at your gate. Don’t be the rich man that walks by.

Mystery of His Project

by Pastor Bob Miller

We have been looking at the conversation that Jesus has with his disciples. This is an important conversation, not for what it reveals to us about who Jesus is, but also in the fact that we are sucked into this conversation. We find ourselves needing to respond to the questions Jesus is asking just as if he were addressing us. Not only does Jesus ask, “Who do people say that the son of man is?” but He follows up with the one question that we all must answer for ourselves, “But you, who do you say that I am.”

And what an important conversation it is for calls the disciples not only to declare their faith – but He begins to expand their hearts and minds to what that faith in Him means.

Jesus got away to be with his disciples without distractions from outside crowds. He needed to prepare them for what lay ahead.

He asks them first, who do people say the Son of Man is? They correctly understand that Jesus is referring to himself as the “Son of Man.” Isn’t it interesting how Jesus describes Himself? The disciples, first of all, tell us what others are saying about Jesus. And their list is impressive. They include Elijah and Jeremiah. Two of Israel’s greatest prophets. But note how Jesus refers to Himself. He says, “Son of Man.” And in doing so, Jesus is identifying himself with humanity! He is one of us! He is flesh and bone! He feels pain, just as we do! Gets hungry and tired and weary just like us! He is one who has walked in our shoes, walked our streets! He is one of us! He understands heartache, loss of a loved one; betrayal, criticism. But also, He was born in a manger, in a town in Israel called Bethlehem. He grew up in Nazareth. He is not made-up. He isn’t from another planet. He is not a comic book hero. He is not out a mythological figure! He is human!

And by identifying himself as the Son of Man, he is firmly stating that He qualifies as the Messiah! The very first prophetic reference to God sending a Savior comes way back in Genesis 3, after Adam sinned. God curses the serpent saying in verse 15, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” In other words , salvation will come from an offspring of Eve. Don’t forget, Jesus is fully human!

Even as Peter responds with that inspired answer, “You are Christ, the Son of the living God,” we begin to live into the wonder of the MYSTERY that Jesus is both Son of Man and Son of God! He is fully human and fully Divine! How can it be? And yet it is!

And then, Jesus affirms Peter’s declaration! There is NO correction to Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the MESSIAH, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus doesn’t deny it but instead affirms this answer by saying in verse 17, “Blessed are you Simon, Son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father in heaven!” It is if He was screaming: “YES, YES, YES! – That’s an answer straight out of Heaven!” And I’M BELIEVING THAT ALL OF HEAVEN IS CELEBRATING and rejoicing when such a confession is made! When a person takes that leap of FAITH to declare what heaven has been revealing to be TRUE all along!

In Luke 15:7 Jesus says, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

And even after we’ve figured it out and we’ve made Him our Savior and Lord, there is so much more that Jesus has to reveal to us about WHO HE IS and about how He wants us to live with Him, in Him and for Him! That is what Jesus shares in His answer to us. We’ve already seen in verse 18, that Jesus’ purpose is to build His Church! And He isn’t talking about bricks and mortar to create a physical building! Buildings are a blessing! But we mistakingly think that this building – here on Oneawa Street - is the Kailua Church of the Nazarene! On any given day, that is where you will find it. WRONG! The Church is made up of “little stones,” petros – that are being brought together and built up for a purpose! Those “little stones” are you and me. Together, having as our foundation STONE, “the PETRA” of the word of God, we are the Church! And the Church in Kailua is found wherever we go, to our homes, our schools, our workplaces, where we shop and dine and play. The Church is alive, and it has taken on FLESH, and it is the extension of Jesus in our world!

Jesus is building His Church. And it is upon Him that the Church is built. You say, “but Pastor, you said the foundation is His Word, and now you’re saying it is Him!” Yes, you’re right. His Word is an extension of Him! There is no difference!

I might reach out and slap someone, and you’d ask, “Why did you do that?” “I didn’t do it; my hand did it! It wasn’t me! It was my hand!” You would declare, “That is ridiculous! Your hand is an extension of who you are!” And so it is, with the written and living Word of God. It is the extension of Jesus Himself! You can’t tell me you love Jesus and willfully disobey His Word! That doesn’t make sense!

Now Jesus says He’s building His Church. He then tells us what that means in verse 19. He is building us together to be the extension of His life here on EARTH! Listen again to verse 19:

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

There are several images Jesus uses here to convey to us what our mission is as part of His Church. First He says, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” We understand what keys are used for. To have the key is to be given authority and with it the responsibility. If I tell you I’m giving you the keys to my car or my home, you are given the authority that comes with using it

Many have felt that Jesus was singling out Peter and his successors. But just as Peter represented all of the disciples, so it is that Jesus is speaking to each of us who have made the same confession. Jesus is handing you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

I want to take you back three chapters to the end of chapter 13. Jesus had just finished telling a series of parables about the Kingdom of heaven and then asks in verse 51-52, “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked. “Yes,” they replied. He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Jesus has opened the hearts and eyes of the disciples to spiritual truth – and has called them to be Kingdom scribes! You have understood spiritual truth and now it is up to you to pass it on and to share what you know! The Scribe is the one who handled the Word and who interpreted it and explained it so others could DIGEST IT and make it their own.

When Jesus is passing out keys, He is saying, “you have the authority to share what you have learned; to live out what you have digested! Those you work with, your classmates, they will never pick up a Bible to read it on their own. The only Bible they will ever read is what they see lived out in you!” We’ve been given the KEYS to the Kingdom and it is up to us to share it with our world.

Jesus goes on and talks about “binding and loosing.” It almost sounds like we’ve been given the power to change what goes on in heaven,

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

But there is an alternate translation from the original Greek rendering which can be interpreted in a different tense of the verb. So instead of reading, ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,” it can be read, “and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven.” That changes the whole picture. In other words, what you do here is what has been done in heaven.

Jesus taught us to pray,

“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”

It is a prayer that God’s will is done here on earth just as it is being done in heaven. Jesus is saying to His Church, it is up to us to discern what is taking place in His Kingdom, where the streets are gold, and live it out here in this world where the streets are concrete. We are called to be an extension of His life, to reflect Him, to do what Jesus would do. (You remember WWJD bracelets).

We are to as “little stones,” a reflection of the FOUNDATION STONE, THE ROCK of Ages! We are called to live like Him – love like Him – forgive like Him. We are an extension of who He is! And we can do this because He has given us the key which makes this possible! He has given us His Spirit! When He died on the cross, he opened the door and led us out of captivity. He set us free, and He forgave our sins. He paved the way for the Holy Spirit to come and make his home in our hearts so that He can flow through us into a world that is in darkness.

Son of the Living God

by Pastor Bob Miller

Jesus is alone with his disciples in the region of Caesarea Philippi. His purpose is to prepare them for the days ahead. They would be heading for Jerusalem where Jesus would be crucified. The disciples have been walking with Jesus for nearly three years. As he looked at them all, it was as if he was talking to each of them individually and he asked this question found in Matthew 16:5,

"But what about you, who do you say that I am?”

The question demanded an answer from each of them. And isn’t that the way it is with salvation? It is a personal matter. We must each answer the question.

And yet it was Simon Peter who spoke up. It is as if he is putting a voice to the thoughts of all the disciples. As he spoke, you get the sense that the other disciples are shaking their heads, "Yes! That’s exactly how I would have answered!" Perhaps Peter is echoing your answer.

Simon Peter’s answer is only ten words but what a tremendous answer it is. He says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Matthew 16:13-20

One of the first things that I think we tend to gloss over is that He is the "Son of the living God."

It is that word LIVING which qualifies who God is. I’m not sure that we think that much about it. Of course He is the living God! But you see, the temptation has always been to follow other gods that are dead, gods made of stone, gods made in our image, who are deaf and sightless and don’t hear our cries. You contrast that with the LIVING GOD who is the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The God who keeps his promises, who hears our cries –who rescues us out of slavery – and who led us through the wilderness by a pillar of fire by night - and who parted the Red Sea -and who carved out the 10 Commandments. He is the God who provided manna and who forgives and loves. He is the LIVING GOD that Israel has a relationship with and to whom they PRAY and serve. This earth is His footstool!

It is interesting that in verse 18, Jesus says, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

Another word for Hades or Hell is death. Death can’t stand up against what Jesus is building! While death is the final enemy, it does not have the last say. It will not prevail. The LIVING GOD has the final word. He conquers death, and sin, and it cannot stand up against the power of the LIVING GOD!

Peter looks at Jesus and everything that he sees the living God to be, he sees in Jesus. To rub shoulders with Jesus is to rub shoulders with the eternal one. Jesus hears the cries of the downtrodden. He sets the captives free. He has raised the dead, fed the multitudes, and cast out demons.

Peter says, "You are the SON of the living God!”

Many times when we say, “Son of," we mean that you are the product of, and what we are saying is that you come from so and so. We say: “Myron is the son of John Stout.” But it also can mean that you have the same qualities or characteristics as someone else. It is interesting how my son Bryan has taken on many of my characteristics, and people say, ‘You are Bob’s son, alright!” That's what Peter is saying about Jesus. He is the son of the LIVING God. To see Jesus is to experience life in all of its fullness. When you look at Jesus, you see the Father. That is what Paul is saying in Colossians 1:15-16.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

The writer to the Hebrews opens his letter by saying about Jesus, Heb. 1:3

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

God is invisible and can’t be seen, yet He has taken on a face and body, and he has walked our streets. We have seen Him face to face, and His name is JESUS!

Everything we need to know about God, we embrace in Jesus. Jesus has made God knowable! He is the exact representation of this LIVING GOD whom we worship and adore.

Peter, in this great confession, has come to the place where it's as if he says, "You, Jesus, are my God! You are the ONE who I’ve read about and heard about, but now I know."

And finally, Peter says, "You are the Messiah. You are the Christ!" Don’t bypass this one. He is saying, "Jesus, you are the Deliverer! You are the Anointed One! It is You we have been waiting for all these years!" The New Testament Greek word for Messiah – is CHRIST. When we say, “Jesus Christ,” we are not using Jesus’ last name! Christ is the title that is used to mean Messiah or Anointed One.

In this declaration, Peter is saying, “Everything I’ve hoped for…everything I’ve been dreaming would come to pass…everything I’ve been waiting for has finally come in You!" We don’t live with the urgency as the Jews did. Every morning at breakfast they would say in their morning prayers, “This may be the day that Messiah will come!” They longed for it and dreamed about it! God had not forgotten them. They knew they had to be ready – He might show up!

Peter is announcing that the day they had been waiting for had dawned. The Messiah has come! You are my salvation. You are my deliverer. All my hopes are in You! God has shown up on my doorstep!

Peter is saying: – You are the ONE we've been waiting for! You are the ONE whom God said would come! We need to look no further!

And it is interesting that Jesus doesn’t correct Peter. He doesn’t say, “ No, No, No, Peter. You’ve got it all wrong. I’m not the ONE!” Not at all. Jesus instead says, "Blessed are you. Flesh and blood didn’t reveal this, but my Father in heaven!" This is an important moment! It took a step of faith! You’re never going to come to the place where you get all your questions answered. But you will need to decide, "I’m going to trust Him. I’m choosing Jesus to be my SAVIOR – MY DELIVERER – MY LORD!"

You’ve been around the church. You’ve heard the story of how Jesus died on the cross for our sins. You’ve been to Christmas programs where you’ve been told that God sent His son as a baby, born in a manger. We’ve heard it presented through the eyes of the animals in the manger, from the perspective of the angels, from the insights of the wise men from the east.

You’ve been to Easter services where we celebrate the resurrection of the same Jesus who grew up to be a man and how he laid down his life by going to a cross on Good Friday. He was crucified, died and buried but death could not hold Him. He rose again on that first Easter morning – never to die again.

You’ve heard. You know it in your intellect. But has the Holy Spirit applied it to your heart so that you’ve taken the story and internalized it and made it your own? If He is the Messiah, the Deliverer, the Son of the Living God, have you brought Him into your life? Have you made Him your Lord?

You can’t make that confession without it spilling out into the lives of others. Peter’s confession was the first of many who followed. It led the way. It opened the floodgates. Blessed are all those who confess the name of Jesus.

We don’t make this confession in a vacuum. Our confession will have an impact on those around us. Our confession affects the lives of your children. Don’t think it won’t. I think it is crazy when parents say, “I’m not going to influence my child about how to believe…I’m letting them decide for themselves.” No, your decision has an impact on the entire household, whether it is for or against Jesus. There is always an impact. Our families will be impacted by our decision, and most all ways they will do as we do! They will follow our example. You can't confess Christ without it influencing others.

Some of us have been living with the knowledge of Jesus, but we’ve not set the course of our life with Him as our Savior and Lord. We’ve been following “other gods,” gods of our own making. Our confession has been wishy-washy, feeble, non-committal. Perhaps it’s time to make a stand, to speak up, to say, “Jesus is my Lord and my God!”

Who Do You Say I Am?

by Pastor Bob Miller

As a congregation, we started a journey through Matthew’s Gospel, and we had traveled as far as chapter 16 before taking a break over the summer months. If you will remember Matthew is writing to convince his readers that Jesus is the Kingly Messiah and that He is worthy of our worship as our Lord and King. Now, we return to Matthew’s gospel where we had left off at 16:13.

Matthew 16:13-28

The disciples have been with Jesus for nearly three years. They have had the front row seats at all of his amazing sermons. They have witnessed His miracles. They have participated in sharing in His ministry. They were with Jesus when He fed the 5000, and then the 4000, with a few small fish and loaves. They heard the criticisms leveled at Him by the Pharisees and had seen the crowds when they wanted to crown Him king.

They could tell you all about Jesus, and yet they still hadn’t grasped the mystery of who He was! There was so much more they had to learn. As we read Matthew’s account of what was taking place, it’s as if we are getting a first-hand view of one of those "ah-ha" moments of inspiration when you see Jesus in a brand new light. When that moment comes, you tend to stand in awe, and wonder, “How did I miss that for so long?” It’s an amazing mystery. The longer we know Jesus, the greater He becomes!

In verse 13, Jesus goes into a region known as Caesarea Philippi. It is a sparsely populated area, away from the crowds. Here Jesus is able to take a break from His public ministry to spend some quality time with his disciples. He was about to enter into a new phase of His ministry. They would be headed for Jerusalem, and the cross awaited Him. He needed to prepare their hearts and minds for what was going to happen.

Jesus is saving the question He genuinely wants to ask them. But first He asks this question, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" What’s the chatter? Jesus wants to know what they’ve heard, what they think. Is there anyone He can count on who believes in Him? Is there anyone out there who gets it? Is there anyone that He can rely on to stick with Him when the going gets tough?

And so Jesus asks this preliminary question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The opinions are flying.

In chapter 12, the Pharisees and religious leaders were of the opinion that he was in league with Satan, that Jesus was in cahoots with Beelzebub, the prince of demons. When Jesus went to his hometown at the end of chapter 12, all they saw was an illegitimate child that had nothing to offer. Jesus’ own family thought he was off his rocker. As Matthew 14 opens, King Herod thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. So many opinions about who He was. Not so different today: some say a good man, a higher power of their choosing; a prophet, a saint, a great teacher.

In verse 14, Jesus’ disciples give Him the news of what they have heard from the crowds: Some say John the Baptist, a forerunner to the Messiah. Others say Elijah, Israel’s greatest prophet who’d been taken into the clouds on a chariot. Others thought Jeremiah. The tradition was that Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant and would come back to return it to Jerusalem. Could Jesus be him? Everyone had their opinions.

And these are not shabby answers. Jesus is right up there with the best of the best! It would be like a preacher being compared to Billy Graham, or a golfer compared to Tiger Woods, or a basketball player to Michael Jordon, or a pop star being compared to Elvis or Madonna. They are so popular all you have to say is their first name, and you know who you were talking about and what they are doing!

But the fact was, they still hadn’t gotten it! Who Jesus was remained a mystery. And because they hadn’t grasped the true nature of who Jesus was, their commitment was superficial and fickle. Their involvement was self-centered and mostly dependent upon Him meeting their needs, filling their stomachs, and entertaining them! No doubt, Jesus was gifted and even touched by God, but to follow Him all the way to a cross? No, they didn’t fully grasp the mystery of who He was. They didn’t understand His mission.

As we have been following Matthew’s line of thought from chapter to chapter, he has been painting for us a beautiful scenario. Jesus could be none other than the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior but no one got it. It remained a mystery! No one out there saw it, but what about these 12 apostles? What would they have to say? What would the insiders say? What would the Church people say? This is what Jesus wanted to know. His mission depended upon them to carry on after He was gone! What would they say?

And so Jesus asked them the primary question, "Who do you say that I am?”

And Simon Peter answered for all of them, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Jesus must have thought, "Yes! He gets it!" What a great confession. Peter comes through!

Let's take a closer look at verse 15. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

There are several things about this question. First, it is a personal question. The question is stated like this, "but who do you say that I am?” In the New International Version, the question begins, "But what about you?" “You” stands as a word by itself and then it shows up again. But the emphasis, while being asked to all those present, is a personal question. It demands an answer from each one. It maintains an individual focus. Salvation is that way. It is a personal matter. Your parents, can’t answer for you. Your pastor can’t answer for you. You answer for YOU! But what do you think?

Others may have their own ideas, but who do you think I am?

A personal question requires a personal answer. And note this. It has a particular focus on a person, the Person of Jesus. Who do you think “I am?”

We can so often get side-tracked when talking about Christianity, about what you believe about the 2nd Coming; or about Baptism and Spiritual gifts, and we forget about what ultimately matters! It is your personal opinion about the person of Christ! Jesus is the central issue! What you do with Him is what manners most.

The question is, “But who do you say that I am?” It is a present tense question. It demanded a present tense answer. What do I think of Jesus right now? These guys had already left their boats and their jobs to follow Jesus. But what mattered was their answer right then. What you intend to do in the future won’t carry you through today. It is what we think right now. It is up-to-date faith that finally matters.

That is what is going on between Jesus and his disciples. He has brought them to this point where their backs are up against the wall. He knows they have the details but knowing the facts isn’t enough! They must come to grips with WHO HE IS and what He is going to be in their life!

It is an individual confession they will make. As Jesus asks this question, it is as if He is looking at them eyeball to eyeball, person to person.

He is still doing that today. It is one of those questions we each must answer for ourselves. But what about you? What do you think? Have you put it all together yet?

Jesus, when He responded to Peter’s inspired confession, said, "Blessed are you. For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

With the help of the Holy Spirit, Peter put it together. Jesus is the Messiah! He is worthy of his all and all! Peter came to a place where he internalized it and made it his own. He’d known the facts but somehow faced with the question, he made his reply. Peter confessed Jesus to be his Lord, his Christ, and his Messiah.

Peter made the answer His very own. I don’t care what others are saying. As for me, You are my Lord, my Savior, and my God! I don’t know it all. We’ve journeyed together thus far. But right now, You’re my Lord!

Jesus wasn’t asking this question evangelistically. He was asking it of his insiders, "Today, who am I? Has anything replaced me as Lord? Are you focused on Who I Am and what I can do? Does My Mission have priority in your life?"

Love Grows Up

by Pastor Bob Miller

Our theme recently has been on loving others and what that looks like. In writing to the Philippians, Paul opens his letter with a prayer for this church. He prays, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight." When he wrote to the church in Thessalonica, his main prayer concern was the same. For Paul, “loving others” was a priority. Listen to his heart as he prays in 1 Thessalonians 3:11-12,

“…May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else, just as ours does for you.” May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”

I’ve heard people express the desire to grow deeper spiritually, but I got the impression that their spiritual growth had nothing to do with their love for others. It was all about “feeling closer to God,” or about what “new information” they were learning. I am amazed at how we so often want to divorce spiritual growth from our growth in love for one another. We fail to see that to grow up in Christ Jesus is directly related to our growth in love for each other and everyone else. Paul’s big desire is that their love will increase and overflow for each other and everyone else.

Now when Paul writes his second letter to the Thessalonians, he begins in verse 3 with these words, “We ought always to thank God for you, brothers; and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more.” Have you ever wondered, what growth in faith looks like? What does Paul see that indicates a deeper faith?

He goes on, “and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.” Our growth in faith is revealed in our growth in love for one another. Paul was bragging on them and of all the things he could have said, he didn’t say, “You’ve got a great pastor,” or “Your buildings were magnificent.” No. He said, “Your faith is growing and your love for one another is increasing.”

Here is a church that is growing up into maturity. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate compliment for someone to say about Kailua Nazarene? “You’ve got to go to that church. The people really care about you. They love just like Jesus loved!” Our goal should be to love as Jesus loved and that our love would grow more and more like His love.

But how does Jesus love? What did His love look like? We saw as we looked at 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul dressed love up by giving us a definition of what it does and does not do, that if we put the name of Jesus where love goes, the definition makes perfect sense:

“Jesus is kind, Jesus is patient. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, He is not proud, He is not rude. Jesus is not self-seeking. He is not easily angered. Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. He does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.”trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails!”

Now if you would turn to Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 9, we get a glimpse of what ONE DAY in the life of Jesus looked like. In this one chapter, Jesus interacts with 17 different groups of people. And what an incredible day it is as we see Jesus engaged in the lives of others. He healed the sick, He ate with sinners, He raised a dead girl. In verse 33, the multitudes declared: “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” And you get the sense that this day was not unique but it was just ONE DAY in the life of Jesus as He loved others. Matthew summarizes what Jesus’ life was about in the next two verses.

And Jesus was going about all the cities and the villages teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And seeing the multitudes, he felt compassion for them because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.

As I look at this chapter, there are three things we can learn from the way Jesus loved.

First, Jesus teaches us how to look at people. When Jesus saw people he saw them as they were but he related to them as to who they could become. He saw them as hurting, harassed, lonely, arrogant, doubting, questioning, rude, sick, unclean, lost, and afraid. And He always ministered to them as to what they could become.

When others saw them, they wrote them off, they gave up on them, they considered them a bad risk, beyond hope. Not Jesus. He saw Matthew, a man hated by nearly everyone and called him to be a disciple. Jesus saw potential. He loved them. He took time for all who came to Him. No situation was beyond His touch.

I heard this story of a man who while digging in some cliffs along the ocean found a box filled with clay balls. “How odd,” he thought, “that someone would save clay balls.” Well on his way home he began throwing these clay balls as far as he could into the ocean until one of them dropped, and the clay fell off. It revealed a precious stone beneath the dirt. The man quickly began to check all the remaining clay balls and found they all contained precious stones. To his joy and his dismay he realized, first, that he was a rich man; but second, that he had thrown most of the gems into the ocean not realizing the potential that was within each clay ball.

That’s the way it is with people that we look at sometimes. All we see is the external “clay vessel,” and we tend to think, “They don’t look like much, not worth my time or energy. We tend to discount them. We see that person as less important than someone more beautiful or stylish or well known or wealthy. We haven’t taken the time to find the treasure hidden inside that person. There is a treasure in each and every one of us.

If we take the time to get to know that person and ask God to show us that person the way He sees them, then the clay begins to peel away, and the brilliant gem begins to shine forth. May we not come to the end of our lives and find out that we have thrown away a fortune in friendships because the gems were hidden in bits of clay. May we see the people in our world as God sees them. Aren’t you glad he didn’t throw us away when we were but a ball of clay? Instead, He went to a cross on our behalf- to bring out our potential.

Second, Jesus shows us how to feel for people. Notice that in verse 35 that it says, “and Jesus, going about all the cities and villages and seeing the multitudes felt compassion for them.” He was moved with compassion. That word compassion is a strong word in Greek that speaks to the fact that there is a gut reaction. He saw the need, and it made him sick to his stomach. I guarantee you that as you walk with Jesus and let his eyes be your eyes his feet your feet it won’t be long until humanity touches you. Jesus didn’t build walls and insulate himself to keep people out so that he didn’t have to see the hurt around him. Too often we tend to live that way. Our motto is, “out of sight out of mind!”

Nor did Jesus let His heart to grow cold by the immense need that surrounded Him. Jesus, as he walked through their villages, wasn’t looking at the scenery or the architecture. Instead, His focus was on people, and He saw their need and He hurt for them and with them. He hurt because they hurt. Do you want to know where Jesus is when tragedy occurs? He didn’t cause it. He wasn’t the instigator of it but He is present, hurting with those who are hurting.

Third, Jesus teaches us how to respond to people. Jesus reached out and touched them by meeting their need. Notice in verse 35 that it says, “He taught in the synagogues and proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and healed every kind of disease and every kind of sickness.” Jesus involved his life in the life of those he contacted.

Jesus summed it up when he gave us what we have come to know as the golden rule in Matthew 7:12. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He was saying, whatever you want others to do for you-you do for them. In our relationships with others, we are first to decide how you want to be treated. I heard it said that there are four things people want:

  • Most people want other people to encourage them. We look for it. We want to hear: “I missed you. Boy, you are looking good today!” We all need encouragement.

  • Most people want to feel appreciated. Ever see a child say, “Mom! Mom! Look at me! “Watch me!” We all want to be appreciated!

  • Most people need the forgiveness of others because we are all human. We all make mistakes and we blow it. People who don’t forgive are saying, “I’m perfect, and I don’t do anything wrong, and I expect you to be perfect too.”

  • Most people want people to listen to them. We all want to be heard and understood. We want to know that we count, that our thoughts matter, that I am valued.

People want encouragement, appreciation, forgiveness and to be understood.

Once I decide how I want to be treated, then I can begin to treat people in the same manner. The golden rule is positive and action-oriented. It is not passive and reactive. We don’t wait until we are treated kindly to respond in kindness. We take the initiative. As Christians, we decide how we want to be treated, and we act that way towards others. The more people we do that too, the more that we grow in love.

So let's take it one step further and apply it to our church. If we applied these principles, what would it look like around here? Let me make a few suggestions.

First, look for someone to encourage. Never take for granted the person next to you. Encourage them. Make their day when you come to church. Realize it's not all about me. It's about them. People come hurting, and they need a hug a handshake a word of encouragement.

What would have happened if Jesus only looked after his self-interests? How would his day have been different?

Second, exhibit a servants heart. This is merely being willing to go out of your way to make sure another person’s needs are cared for before your own. If Jesus visited us in the flesh, would he get any different treatment than the person sitting next to you? It means making room for one more! Where did he get the time? I don’t know, but when he puts others first, he had all the time to accomplish what God set him on earth to achieve.

Third, initiate good deeds. Don’t wait for the person next to you to speak to you. You speak up. You take the initiative. As a Christian, we step out of our box and say, “HI” and invite them to dinner.

Fourth, SMILE! It not only helps others but it makes us look better as well. I know I need to do that more.

My prayer is that you will grow in faith and that the love that we have for one another will increase and abound still more.

Never are we more like Jesus than when we love like Him. Never are we as close to the kingdom of God than when we love as Jesus loved us. “Somehow if we are loving, I believe all the other things will fall into place.

Love Dressed Up

By Pastor Bob Miller

Jesus, when speaking to his disciples gave them this command in John 13:34

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you…that you also love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.”

We have been talking about God’s love and about how God puts His love in our hearts so that we love others as God has loved us. When Jesus said, “You are to love one another, even as I have loved you,” He was referring to a love which in the Greek vocabulary is known as agape. God loves us with agape love, and agape is the love we are commanded to love one another. This is the love God pours out in our hearts. It is the distinguishing mark for the Christian.

This love is more than an emotion. It is more than a feeling. It is lasting. It is dependable and strong. This agape love involves the will and is a commitment to a way of living. It is the way of Godliness. To love as God loved us- is what living a Godly life is all about.

This agape love with which we speak is unconditional. It exists prior to any emotional involvement and is unrelated to feelings. We are commanded to agape, and you can’t command someone to “feel” a certain way, but you can command them to a behavior. Agape is a voluntary commitment to another person which motivates us to act on their behalf!

In the Kingdom of God, we first “agape” another person before we even know that person. Agape is a commitment, and it operates independently of what we feel or do not feel.

Agape declares that we will love a person no matter who they are, what they do or don’t do, how they look, smell or behave. By its very nature, this kind of love enables us to build relationships that will last. It is the kind of commitment that the world is craving for.

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, begins to share with us about love, and the word that is used here is the very same word used to describe the love of God. It is agape.

Let’s take a look at this agape love so that we can begin to understand better what this kind of love looks like.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.Now in this passage we just read, the Apostle Paul paints for us a beautiful picture of how agape behaves. He puts clothes on love, dressing it up so that we can see what it looks like in real life situations.

The first thing Paul would have us know about agape is that it is pre-eminent and all important. Without love to undergird what we say or do, no matter how important or impressive our words or actions, the results without “agape love” accomplish nothing that will last.

In these first three verses, Paul uses the language of imagination in order to get his point across. Five times he says, “If I.”

“If I speak in tongues"

"If I have the gift of prophecy"

"If I have faith that can move a mountain”

"If I give all, I possess to the poor”….

"If I surrender my body to be burned…”.

Each time, Paul speaks of something that would capture the attention of others. In each instance, people would sit up and take notice and could say, “Look at that person. Isn't he wonderful!” But each time, Paul says “But have not love, I am nothing, I gain nothing, I am only a clanging cymbal.” Without love, great words are empty and without meaning. Without love great deeds are nothing! Paul tells us first, “words without love are just noise!”

Secondly, Paul tells us that gifts without love are useless. Paul mentions great gifts. A gift of faith that could move a mountain, yet without love is worthless.

We can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving. When love is first, deeds will follow that will express that love. But when acts are expressed without love, no matter how great they appear to be, those deeds will never have their desired effect.

How often do we buy gifts to appease our children when what is needed is LOVE and forgiveness?

Now in verses 4-7, Paul begins to get specific, and he dresses this love up so we can know how it will behave, what it will do and not do.

The first thing Paul tells us is what “love is…” He says in verse 4, that love is patient and kind. Now I want to remind you that patience and kindness come from God. They are part of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists for us in Galatians 5. Just as God pours out His love in our hearts, so He pours out patience and kindness. When you allow God to fill your heart, you have all the patience and kindness you will ever need! To the extent that we are patient and kind in our relationship with others is the extent that we choose to allow God to be in control of our life.

In other words: patience is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Patience and kindness are actions that by the grace and power of God we can choose to express or not express.

You might say, “I’m just not a patient person.” God has given you all the patience you need. You merely need to choose to express it. Patience and kindness are the visible expressions of love that can be seen!

I believe Paul puts them together because they are like two sides to the same coin. Both depend on each other, and neither is fully complete without the other. It is not enough merely to say, “Well I was patient with so-and-so. I didn’t blow up in their face. I was loving!” No, agape love is also kind. It also takes the first step in showing kindness.”

Let’s look at patience. When we talk about patience, we are not talking about what so many of us lack at stop lights. Paul is talking about being patient with people.

Patience means to bear an injustice without anger or despair. It bears up under injustices that are done, without anger or despair. Patience is an expression of mercy.

Jesus taught us that we are to go the second mile, to turn the other cheek, to pray for those who persecute us. Patience is seen in the decision we make to give a person another chance. To not lose our cool or to express our anger uncontrollably. It provides a second chance and a third and a fourth. Patience is revealed in how we respond to people’s sensitivities and foibles. It remembers how God gives us chance after chance and it responds in the same manner. It has an infinite capacity for endurance.

Love is also kind. This means that it is sweet to all. Kindness is loving people more than they deserve. How many of you know someone you need to love more than they deserve? Now let me ask, how many times in your life have you needed someone to love you and be kind to you more than you deserved? You won’t be in a relationship long before there needs to be kindness expressed because there are times when we need to love the other person more than they deserve.

Now the very nature of kindness is this: kindness always takes the first step. By its very nature, it takes the initiative. It is not sitting back and being nice to someone when they are nice to me. That's not kindness. It is taking action and being kind to other people because they don’t deserve it. Kindness by its very nature looks for ways to express itself. It is love looking for a need and then filling it.

Ever hear someone say, “Don’t do that for them, they don’t deserve it”? Let me tell you that is not love talking. Nor is it God talking. Aren’t you glad that God did not wait until we deserved it to show us kindness? While we were still sinners, God died for us! I’m so glad He didn’t wait until I turned to Him.

Love is patient. Love is Kind! They are like pants and shirt we wear when we go out on the town. They are the main part of our outfit. But Paul is not finished. He goes on, and he lists the things that agape is not.

I put on a shirt with my shorts the other day. When I came home from being at church, Jude said, "Go and change that shirt. It doesn’t go well with those pants." She was embarrassed for me. I thought I looked pretty good. She knew better. I went and changed. Apparently, not every shirt and shorts go together well.

These things that Paul lists give the color and texture to what love is not like.

He tells us love does not envy.

It is not jealous.

Love does not boast and is not proud.

Love is not rude.

Love is not self-seeking.

Another translation says love does not insist on its own rights.

Love is not easily angered which means that it is not touchy or easily offended.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Those are the things that love does not do. He finishes by telling us what love always does.

Love always protects. To protect means to cover, instead of exposing.

There are times when we hear things that will hurt. It means we cover it and let it go no further. It also means to endure. It means that love has the ability and the capacity to go on in spite of the problem.

Love always trusts. Love always hopes. This means that love expresses confidence in another’s motives. It is giving a person the benefit of the doubt. It is believing the best in others and seeing the potential that God sees in them. God doesn’t give up on us, nor should we give up on them! It means that we hang in there with them when no one else will! Love always perseveres. Love bears up under disappointment. It is courageous under persecution, and it does not murmur. It is a quiet, stable reaction to people and events, even when they don’t deserve it. It is steadfast.

So there you have it. That is what love looks like when you deal with others. That is how we are called to look.

Read that again. This time put your name where it says "love."

“___ is patient. ___ is kind. ___ does not envy. ___ does not boast. ___ is not proud. ___ is not rude. ___ is not self-seeking. ___ is not easily angered. ___ keeps no record of wrongs. ___ does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. ___ always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. ___ never fails!”

Does it describe you? When you are all dressed up in agape, you can go anywhere and be accepted. It is the most sought-after outfit in all the world. When you wear it, it will turn heads, change lives, and make you attractive to others.

But it is an outfit that can’t be bought or manufactured. It can only be received from its designer. Jesus Christ! And He stands ready to give it to you free of charge. But there is a stipulation. It is to be worn at all times, and before you put it on, you must be willing to bathe! I mean you wouldn’t think of putting on new clothes before bathing would you? We must let Jesus take our jealousy, anger, pride, self-centeredness, and rudeness- and cleanse it by His blood.

John tells us in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

How’s your love life? Are you dressed up ready to love? Do you need his cleansing? Perhaps you need to simply receive the gift He wants to offer. The gift is himself.

God's Love in You

by Pastor Bob Miller

We continue from John's first letter where He speaks to us about God's love. John says, "God is love," and then in chapter 4, he gives us a definition of that love. Notice how he describes the love of God. 1 John 4: 7-10:

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. 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.

What an incredible love this is. God's love is way more than just a feel-good emotion. It is an unconditional commitment to act on behalf of another in a manner that is unselfish and sacrificial.

John doesn't stop with telling us how God loves us. He wants us to know that in the same manner that we are loved, we then are to live our lives as God loved us. Our lives are to be characterized by that very same kind of love.

One of the purposes that John writes this little letter is to assure us that we belong to God. We are no different than the Christians of John's day. We want to have this confidence that we are going to heaven. Many in our day point to a ritual we went through; to the fact that we joined the Church or that we were baptized. Some are standing on the fact that they prayed the "Sinner's Prayer" at one time in their life. John wants us to know that our confidence in Christ can be found in how our lives are being lived out.

Notice how John continues in verses 11-17,

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.

John is telling us that since God has given us His Spirit and has come to dwell in us, we then will begin to live in love as God lives in us. He says that in this world your confidence as a Christian can be found in the fact that you will be like Jesus!

Turn back just one chapter to 1 John 3:1, 14-18, and listen to what John says about this love and living like Jesus:

1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

The quality of love that God loves us with is the very same quality of love that we are to love one another with. The standard of living to which we are called to live our lives is gauged or patterned by Jesus Christ. He is our example. He is our pattern. We are called to love others as he loved us!

This is how we are to live as we carry out our lives in the here and now: on our jobs, in our homes, in rush hour traffic! We are called to love as God has loved us! It is a high standard and it can't be carried out in our own power. It can only be lived out by the power and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who pours His love into our hearts. And so John reminds us in 4:15, that God has put His Spirit in us. He makes possible this life of love which enables us to love as God loved us! Here is encouragement: What God requires, God's grace also produces.

When Christ comes to dwell in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, He also begins to change our hearts from being self-centered to God-centered. And John wants us to know that a God-centered heart will be OTHER CENTERED. You can't say "I love God," without loving others. Our love for God is shown in our love for others.

1 John 4:12 says, “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” And then again in verse 16-17, "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment because in this world we are like Him."

Now the quality of the love God gives us is PERFECT and does not need to be improved upon. John declares, "God is love," but the degree and the scope to which we allow God's love to be lived out in our lives needs to be brought to completion. Our love must grow both deeper and broader! Our love grows broader as we obediently love more people as Christ loves them. Our love grows deeper as we go deeper in our sacrificial expression of our love.

God's love is for everyone at all times. God is no respecter of persons. He loves everyone the same! He loves us because WHO HE IS not because of who we are or aren't!

And that is one of the differences between man's love and God's love. Our natural tendency is to love people by how they treat us or on the basis of what they can do for us. But if they mistreat us or disappoint us, or have nothing to offer us, we leave them alone. But God's love is based on who He is, not on who or what we've done!

It is hard for us to realize that God loves that one particular person we find it so hard to get along with, just as much as He loves me. We want to say:

"God how can you love them?"

“God, did you see what they did to me?”

Yes, I saw.

“Did you hear what they said against me?”

Yes, I heard.

Then all of a sudden we begin to understand as we hear him say,

Did you hear what they said against me? Did you see what they did to me? Did you hear them as they drove the nails in my hands? Did you see them? I laid my life down for them because I love them!

It is much easier to say: "I love the whole world…I love everyone!" than it is for us to say: "I love that one person who irritates me and upsets me! Life is so much easier when they aren't around! Could we not count that one person? I know God loves everyone and anyone – but He'll understand if I don't love that one specific person – won't He?”

But the truth is, the measure of our love is not on all those who are easy to love but on those who are most challenging to love. Jesus laid down His life for us. WHEN? While we were still sinners.

And it is wonderful to know that God's love given to us and shed abroad in our heart sets us free not only to love everybody but to love anyone. And God's love is capable of helping me to love everybody and anyone.

Walking in darkness is being disobedient with God at any one point. When I disagree with God at any one point, I am living in darkness at that point. So when I say, "Lord, I don't want to have anything to do with that one person!" God says to me "That is one point where you and I don't agree, and at that point, you are in darkness!"

1 John 2:9,

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him.

But you say, "Pastor, I don't hate that person. There is no hatred in my heart for that person or anyone, and so these verses don't apply to me.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, which we often refer to as the Love Chapter, gives us a description of love. He says, “Love is patient. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud; It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres." (vs. 4-7)

What a great description of how love acts. Now the opposite of love is HATE. And so by this description of what love is, we could also deduce what HATE looks like. It would be love's opposite. If love is kind, then hatred would produce a spirit of unkindness. If love produces a spirit of patience, then hatred produces a spirit of impatience. Hate will produce the opposite spirit of love because hatred is the opposite of love.

So in the same way that we detect "love" in a person by their actions towards another person, we can identify the spirit of hatred towards another by their actions. And so hatred is detected by impatience, pride, unkindness, selfishness, holding grudges, being rude. So if I see in myself these kinds of actions, then I can say that I have a spirit of hatred that is causing me to walk in darkness.

Now to say that hatred is demonstrated by impatience, arrogance, jealousy, and holding grudges is a HIGH STANDARD, and we would like to label them as something else but you can't do that and be true to the spirit of what John is saying.

Take a second look at 1 John 2:9, "The one who says he is in the light yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” You can substitute jealousy, unkindness, holding a grudge, etc.. And just in case you are wondering, you can also substitute husband, wife, father, mother, daughter, where it says "brother."

Many times the spiritual darkness that we face as Christians, that robs us of joy, keeps our prayers unanswered, and makes us ineffective and anemic as Christians is because of a broken relationship with another person. It is because we are walking in the darkness at this one point. And we are walking in darkness, we stumble and become ineffective and confused. The reason isn't so much a "lack of understanding." It is because we have hatred at our heart's door and it needs to be cleansed! And when we pray, and we seek God's face, He pinpoints that relationship that needs to be fixed and where forgiveness needs to be applied.

And to the extent that we are unwilling to love at that one point, that were we are walking in darkness and not in harmony with God. The quality of our love is tested by the people we find it most difficult to get along with. We avoid people that are difficult to love because we don't like the feelings we get and so we try to dodge them.

But people don't make us what we are. They only reveal what is in us. We often say, "That person makes me mad." No, that person is just revealing what you are and what it is that needs fixing.

About the time we think we are doing well, God sends so-and-so into our lives, and they grate against us. It reveals a selfish spirit or a spirit of impatience. And it is at that point we must confess it to the Lord and receive His forgiveness, cleansing, and empowerment to love as He loves that person.

The answer is found at the cross of Christ and not in trying harder or in running away. Let God fill you with Himself and let Him love through you, one person at a time.

BE Filled with Jesus

by Pastor Bob Miller

What a joy it has been for us to focus over these past several weeks on the fact that Christianity is about BEING rather than DOING. Our living flows out of our BEING! Our power and our motive comes from the fact that Christ is dwelling within us!

Previously, we looked at Jesus’ words that He had spoken to His disciples just prior to His ascension and return to His Heavenly Father. The resurrected Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “When the Holy Spirit comes upon you shall be my witnesses in all Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

The emphasis in Jesus’ saying is that we will BE witnesses! It is what we ARE rather than what we DO as we let the Holy Spirit fill us! As we surrender to His lordship and let Him live through us, we become what He created us to be!

I want to take you to an example of this BEING relationship as we see it being carried out in the lives of those how have been filled with the Holy Spirit. This example is found in chapters 3 and 4 of Acts.

Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray as was their normal practice while in Jerusalem and on their way a beggar confronted them. A man who had been crippled from birth asked them for money. We are told in Acts 3:4-8,

Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temp courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

That was just the beginning of Peter and John’s witness. The man that had been lame stuck to Peter and John like glue. It caused quite a commotion. They began to look to Peter and John as the ones who had an incredible ability.

Peter stood up to set them straight saying,

“Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we made this man walk?” Peter said, "It wasn’t us. It was Jesus whom you killed but whom God raised from the dead. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can see.”

As the crowds around them grew, Peter kept on preaching until the temple guards came up and put a stop to it. They were disturbed because they were “lifting up the name of Jesus and His resurrection." Peter and John were put in jail until the leaders could gather the next day. When the leaders gathered they brought the two disciples before them and began to question them asking, “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Acts 4:8-12.

Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel, it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is,

“the stone you builders rejected which has become the capstone.”

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

Now it is the next two verses are the most telling. Notice the response of the religious leaders in verse 13,

"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished, and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say."

When they saw the courage of Peter and John… Isn’t that interesting? Peter and John had been testifying and answering their questions, but it doesn’t say, "When they heard what Peter and John had to say…” Rather it was, “When they saw their courage." When they saw their boldness! The emphasis here is not what they said, but HOW THEY SAID IT! It was their attitude that impressed the Pharisees. They couldn’t get away from their spirit.

That is very often the case when it comes to our witness. What people remember most is our attitude. After our words are long forgotten, what lasts is our ATTITUDE!

Even today after nearly 45 years, I can still tell you that Steve and Janis Brey are among the most influential people in my life, as far as their witness for Jesus Christ. Steve and Janis were my Junior High Youth leaders at the University Avenue Nazarene Church in San Diego. I can’t remember anything they said, but I know they loved us, and they sacrificed for us! I can’t even tell you what their jobs were but I know they volunteered their time to spend their Saturdays with us and open their home to us. Their witness wasn’t something canned or memorized. They merely let Jesus live through them. At that time in my life, I saw Jesus in Steve & Janice Bray.

I think it is interesting that verse 13 ends with the phrase, “…and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” It wasn’t their talent, their good looks, or their fancy speaking these ‘unbelievers’ noticed. They noticed that they had been with Jesus!

The reality was something they didn’t understand and could not comprehend, but Jesus was present at that very moment!

Verse 8 starts, “Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit said to them…”. The outside God has come to take up residence within their hearts. The Holy Spirit had come upon them. They were BEING witnesses! At the very center of this BEING experience IS the person, Jesus Christ.

This is the great desire of the gospel for your life. We have many things that we seem to go after in Christianity, but in reality, we need only one thing - One Person, and His name is Jesus. Our goal as a Christian is for the person of Christ to become so central in our lives until others around us become aware of His influence in us.

This kind of “being” state can never become a reality until Jesus is central and our whole life revolves around Him. We must be able to say with Paul that for “me to live is Christ.’ (Gal 2:20)

The last thing I want us to see is that the disciples were ordinary people! The verse says that they were “unlearned and ignorant men.” There was nothing special about them. Nothing remarkable! The Pharisees could only stand back and scratch their head and think, “How are these guys pulling this off? Where are they getting their boldness?”

These ordinary guys did have one secret, their surrender to Christ. Jesus was DOING something in their lives. This is the key to our BEING state. It is simply allowing Jesus to be what He wants to be within you! Through surrender, you become a stage on which He can act!

How often have you said, “I Can’t”? We think, “I’m too weak, I don’t have the training, I’m OLD, I’m too young!” So we say things like, “I can’t do that.” “I could never share my testimony before others.”

But let me tell you, these are the very people Christ wants and uses! They are the kind He can use most effectively to bring about His Kingdom. It is those who are weak, those who know they “can’t” who most readily rely on Jesus! Their dependency is on His doing!

When that is our attitude – day in and day out – it produces a relaxed Christian life! It removes us from trying and striving into a people of REST! It does not mean that one has less action; rather there is more. But the “action” is not you. It is He who has come to be within you!

The weight of our BEING is on Jesus, not you.

When we let Christ live through us, and our focus is on him, we will be a witness to His honor and glory. After one has become surrendered to Christ, the attitude gets right and when the attitude gets right, the outward act of actually witnessing to a person will automatically follow.

The disciples had been sharing with their attitudes, and so now in verse 14, they have indisputable evidence of the power of God! The crippled man was standing right there! He was their outward demonstration. There was nothing else that could be said. This evidence settled all the arguments!

When we let the Holy Spirit fill us, we will be witnesses and the results will surprise you. They will be God made – not man made!

There are several questions we can ask ourselves:

  • Do people see Jesus in me?

  • When trials come – what is my attitude?

  • Am I trying to live this life for Christ by my own strength or am I letting Him flow through me?

  • Have I surrendered my life to Christ and am I letting HIS SPIRIT fill me now?

In our ordinary way, a life surrendered to Jesus is all the DOING we need.

BE Witnesses

by Pastor Bob Miller

We have been focusing on this BEING rather than DOING concept of Christianity. The more we realize that Christianity isn’t primarily about “doing” but rather about “being” we begin to see that it fits into every area of our life. It’s not that we as Christians aren’t DOER’S – it’s just that our DOING flows out of CHRIST’S BEING in us! So our “doing” is never ours alone – it is always through CHRIST WHO IS DOING HIS WORK THROUGH US.

Take a look at Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

This verse is teaching a state of being, not a state of doing! Don’t belittle the fact that it says, “BE my witnesses.” We are not to be busy “doing witnessing,” rather when the Holy Spirit comes upon You – you will BE A witness! That is the natural result of CHRIST IN US!

There is a vast difference between the two. “Doing” witnessing has to do with our learning how to witness by memorizing Bible verses and formulas on what to say and how to say it - while “being” a witness is sharing a living love experience.

Doing witnessing builds up our self-esteem and plays to our pride: “I shared the Gospel with five people this week!” Whereas, “being” a witness builds up the image of Christ in the eyes of men. It has more to do with sharing love – rather than the number of times you mentioned Jesus.

If “doing” is the focus of our witnessing then one of the things that keep us from it is not knowing how. “What do I say?” We make witnessing about using a formula of Bible verses and practicing a dialogue that will help us to be effective as we witness.

While I was in seminary – I took a class on Personal Evangelism from Dr. Chic Shaver. One of our assignments was focusing on “friendship evangelism.” I was to be a friend to a prospective convert and then write about it. If I remember correctly, Jude, now my wife, was the subject of more than one of those evangelism papers.

So I want you to understand that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with all of this. In fact, they have been helpful tools to enable us to share Jesus and to lead others into a relationship with Him… But they center on “doing”… and for many people, it becomes discouraging since they try to fit into a pattern that is established by someone else.

We tend to look at how so-and-so does witnessing – and we try to emulate their pattern and practice. We think, "If I could just witness like them!" Or, “I could never be like them!” "If I could just have them come and do this for me!” And this is one of the falsehoods of “doing” witnessing. You do not have to do it like so-and-so does it.

The “doing” witnessing emphasizes a formula to follow. It creates a set pattern that we must fit into. The "being" experience emphasizes that each of us are individual personalities who are filled with the presence of Christ and as a witness, He will shine through my personality making my witness uniquely my own, different from anyone else. My witness comes from relaxing and surrendering to His presence in me.

“Doing” witnessing divides our activities into two sections. We have the religious activity and the non-religious activity.

Of course, the non-religious activities are many. They consist of those daily routine tasks that most of us find ourselves doing in caring for a family: Washing dishes, mowing lawns, doing laundry, sweeping floors, making dinner, changing diapers, going to work, watching TV. All of these things fall into the list of non-religious activities.

Then there are the religious activities that we do which we also label spiritual activities. These would be like: going to church, reading our Bible, prayer, giving our offering, witnessing, teaching Sunday School, listening to religious music.

We tend to measure the level of our spiritual development by how much time we spend in each area of our life. The more time we spend doing religious activities, the more religious we are. The less time we spend, the less spiritual we are. A person going to church every Sunday is obviously a better Christian than one who only makes it twice a month. The more money we drop in the offering, the more righteous we are. The more witnessing we do, the more spiritual we are!

It is most significant that even back in the days of the Reformation, Martin Luther knew better than this. He emphasized the concept of the sacredness of every man’s vocation. The Bible says, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colossians 3:17)

1 Peter 4:11 says,

“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.”

EVERYTHING that we do is done to the glory of God!

Every action is to be the outgrowth of His presence. Ephesians tells us that we are His workmanship.

Our lives, on a 24-hour basis, are to be produced by God, making everything sacred. This means that changing diapers is as sacred an act as singing in the church choir or preaching a sermon.

I am convinced that there is a brand-new experience for many of us in terms of witnessing. Witnessing should not be something we have to do; it should be that which we cannot keep from doing!

It is not a state of DOING; rather it is a state of BEING. It is the indwelling presence of Christ in a person’s life, sharing Himself through that life all the time. It becomes the expression of the total personality. We are a continual witness in all that we do!

When we have made Christ the Lord of our Lives, and He is at home in our heart with the freedom to carry out his will, then Jesus is going to make you a witness in our world.

This was Jesus’ mission – and now He is carrying it out through us. His mission has become our mission!

In fact in John 17:18, Jesus prays, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus’ ministry began after the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. His mission flowed out of being filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus is calling each of us to join Him in being a witness wherever we go, to His glory by the power of His Spirit at work in us.

It is not insignificant that our mission statement includes this last phrase: “We are to share God’s grace, to anyone, at any time in any way THROUGH THE POWER OF GOD’S SPIRIT AT WORK IN US!” Let Him fill you with His Spirit!

BE Perfect

by Pastor Bob Miller

We have been focusing on this BEING EXPERIENCE of being a Christian which results from the fact that Christ has come to dwell within us. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians, “Christ in us, our hope of glory.” There is this great mystery that has taken place where Christ Himself brings all that He is, and He comes to dwell within us. He did not come to simply show us the way. He said, “I am the Way.” He came to BE the way to us. He did come merely to give us LIFE! He is the LIFE…and when we have Him we have life! We talked about this Life – as being much more than just getting up in the morning and doing our time here on earth. Jesus described this life as that of having ETERNAL LIFE! It Is a life that is full and complete. It is what flows out of our BEING in relationship with Jesus!

Life is the by-product of the presence of Jesus “being” in you. Therefore our experience as Christians is described as the presence of God – working and living inside of us…A Christian is not one who “does” but one who “has!”

This morning I want to continue to look at this BEING experience… and I want to begin by sharing with you a startling statement regarding this STATE OF BEING in which we are called to live into. It is found in Matthew 5:48. We really don’t know what to do with this statement. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus says, “Be perfect” and then He goes on to say that this perfection is to be like that of our Father who is in Heaven. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The standard is Godlikeness!

Wow! There are two things about this that we just can’t get away from. The first is that Jesus is the speaker. The One whom we confess to be our Savior and Lord…The One who is full of Grace - is the one who calls us to this high standard! If it was someone else – then I might think: Well, he made a mistake, he is exaggerating to make a point! But this is Jesus!

We’ve got to pay attention.

Secondly – there is that word “PERFECT” which stares us straight in the face. We cringe at that word! “It puts up such a HIGH STANDARD…that it is impossible for us to attain too and so we conclude that it must mean something else.

Of course, we want to rationalize…we know we shall be like Him when we get to heaven…and so we write his statement off as that which we will one day realize when we get to heaven and then, that’s when I shall be perfect!

But that isn’t what Jesus says! He says: “BE” – that is a “present tense” state of existence. He isn’t pointing down the road…this is NOT something you are to strive for or to attain at the end of your journey. This is a description of what a CHRISTIAN ‘IS.’ It is what He is calling us to in the Here and now…not in the “sweet by and by.”

We might rationalize: ““If the standard is being like God, then no one can arrive. It would mean that as Christians we have been given a standard that is so far out of our reach that we would be living with a constant guilt complex and doomed to constant failure. We would tend to throw up our hands in despair, declaring, “What’s the use.”

But Jesus knew exactly what He was doing. He knew that we could not make it, on our own….and so that is why He came! And He spoke to us of His indwelling Spirit, whom He would send who would “be perfection” within us! Alone we could never “Be Perfect”…but with Christ living in us it becomes possible. Jesus is not only the Standard of the Law, but He is the Keeper of that standard within us.

Only Jesus was Perfect. Only Jesus lived without sin. Only Jesus was able to live that kind of life. But yet He says, “You be perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect.” He is our pattern for living!

Now, Jesus’ statement in verse 48 is the climax of a whole section of teaching which began in verse 17. In verse 17 Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

Jesus starts by telling us that He has come to fulfill the law of Moses! He relates to us that the law or (standard) of God has not been done away with. He has not come to tear them down or do away with them. Rather the Law of God is fulfilled in Him. This means that Jesus has taken the entire Old Testament law and wrapped it up into a package called “HIMSELF.” He lives out God’s standard.

In Leviticus 19:2, when the Lord is giving the law to Moses, he says, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’” God then gave Moses a list of laws on what it looks like to be holy! He concludes by saying in verse 37,  “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord.”

“Be ye holy…for I am holy” came from our Heavenly Father in the very beginning! Jesus hasn’t changed God’s call. He has come to fulfill it….and reveal what HOLINESS or PERFECTION truly looks like when it is lived out. He says, “If you want to know how to live, you must live as I live.”

His total life must be your total life. His manner of living must be yours.

The standard is Jesus.

(I don’t know about you…but I like to choose who to measure my righteousness against…in doing so, I can get comfortable - I see a person, and I compare myself to them…and I think: “I’m not half-bad! -I don’t do half the things they do!”…and so we measure our righteousness by the standard of our world! But our standard is not man – it is God! That is what Jesus is saying)

Now in fulfilling the law and bringing it into Himself, Jesus does two things. First He intensifies it, making it more binding than it ever was in the Old Testament and SECOND, He internalizes it... That is, Jesus drove the law (standard) into our inward parts.

In the Old Testament the emphasis of the law was outward obedience; now it is an inward motive. The Old Testament law emphasized our external actions. Now the fulfilled law concerns itself with the internal purity which resides in a person’s heart. For it is the heart which controls our actions.

Note that Jesus did not instruct us to do perfect things…. Instead, His instruction was to “BE PERFECT.” There is a vast difference between the two. This perfection is a “Being” state. The call is: “be perfect” not “perform perfectly” There is a vast difference between DOING AND BEING… To do is simply legalistic conformity to a set pattern, but to be is an inward compulsion of motivation - from which flows the actions of what is REALLY at work inside that person.

TO DO demands only rote action, but TO BE is the challenge of proper attitudes behind the action.

To Do is simply the absence of a wrong deed, but TO BE is the aggressive action of a burning heart.

TO DO is nothing but duty, but TO BE is “love shared.” This is the call of Christ on our life. We must not settle for the absence of wrong…rather we must actually BE WHAT WE HAVE BECOME!

We could, with much effort and diligence, keep the laws of God but still find ourselves far away from the heart of God! The Pharisees spent their lives trying to do just that. But they found themselves far from the center of God’s heart. Outwardly they looked good – inwardly they were “dead.”

Jesus then starts off by giving us 6 examples – I believe they were trouble spots where we’ve become comfortable – “doing” but not “being.” The first example he spoke about was in verse 21 where he says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ People were patting themselves on the back saying: “Well, I’ve never done that…so I’m good”. Yet in their relationships, they are holding grudges and working to destroy and put-down one another. They held hatred in their hearts…and so Jesus says: “I tell you are not even to think evil in your heartless you break the law.” This is the PERFECTION He is calling us to.…It flows out of our heart and our attitude. Being PERFECT is having God’s heart implanted in our being…so that what flows out of our life is the very actions that would flow out of the heart of God.

And Jesus is the fulfillment of that law. And so when we allow His Spirit to fill us and work through us, we become what He has made us to be! What He wants us to do is to totally surrender ourselves to Him and allow Him to keep His law through us. Holiness is not achieved in terms of quantity of outward activities; rather it is a quality of inward life which begins in our inward state of “being”!

Moses in his experience with a burning bush learned a valuable lesson. As he approached the bush, a voice spoke out to him, instructing him to remove his shoes due to the holiness of the ground.

No doubt Moses wondered at such a statement. He’d been over that same ground many times before. It was just “ground like any other ground.” But suddenly it was holy! The reason was the presence of God. When God got on the scene, holiness was a result, even in the ground. Holiness is a derived experience. The ground got its holiness from the “being” presence of God.

This is precisely what Jesus is trying to tell us. Being perfect will come because He has fulfilled the law and He has come to indwell us. PERFECTION COMES FROM ALLOWING CHRIST TO BE WHAT HE WANTS TO BE WITHIN US.

Our responsibility is surrender to Him… allowing Him to fulfill the heart of the law in and through our lives.

As we surrender to Him – He then is able to live through us – so that from within our heart will flow the will, the desire, and the power to be like Him!

Now don’t be surprised by the fact that as you live this surrendered life – that it becomes evident to you – from within your being that you are not loving as Jesus would love…that you are harboring hatred…that you’ve been proud of “Keeping the Law”…but at the level of your attitude you harbor unforgiveness. It is at these points that we ARE CALLED TO SURRENDER and to let Jesus change our heart and to be our perfection. You say – how do we do that?

In the same way that Moses was called to take off his sandals for He was on holy ground…. So we do the same! Taking off his sandals was a sign of reverence and respect. But it was also a sign of surrender. Without his shoes…in the desert…Moses wasn’t going anywhere. He was at the mercy of God. This is about “being” in His presence…

When we see that our heart or attitude is not lined up with Gods…take off your shoes and let him cleanse and fill you. He will then produce the proper action!

Be Perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect!

The Road to Piety

by Pastor John Stout

Romans 2:1-4

The road to piety is through the closed doors of criticism. As I reflect on my day and dwell on what the spirit is saying to my soul, it usually reminds me of my thoughts towards that of others. It reminds that a spirit of criticism is not the spirit of God. It also reminds me of the mercy I receive daily and that instead of criticism of others I l’d rather embrace two other spiritually healthier habits in my life.

First read the words of Paul to the Roman church at that time.

Romans 2:1-4, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

The first is to dwell on my own mistakes and short comings rather than others.

When we really sit down and recognize our own short comings and ways in which we need the mercy of God, we start to adopt a heart of forbearance, patience, and kindness towards others. The writer John Jowett talks of this temptation of criticism saying, “This is the last refinement in temptation, and multitudes fall before its power. The way to moral and spiritual health is to direct my criticisms upon myself. I must stand in the dock , and hear the grave indictment of my own soul. Unless I pass through the second chapter of Romans I can never enter the fifth and sixth, and still less forgiveness of the eighth. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” I pass into that warm, cheery light through the cold road of acknowledged guilt and sin.” (My Daily Meditation, John Henry Jowett)

We must all walk down this cold road of self reflection and admittance in order to enter the warm embrace of Gods forgiveness that leads to our own hearts changing. When this takes place we can then become that Christ like love towards others, not longing to pass judgment upon them but longing to bring them into the same fold of Christ’s love and escape judgment.

The second is to become a man of prayer for those in whom I pass my judgment.

Most of the people we easily or mainly pass judgment upon are our enemies. They are enemies usually because they have wronged us in some way or because they simply do not agree with us.

The definition of enemy is “a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something.” (www.Dictionary.com,) Treating our enemies and those we judge and deem not worthy of grace or our time, is not the heart of Christ. The words of Christ in Luke 6 are always a hard pill to swallow when it really comes down to it.

Listen to the words of Christ in Luke 6:27-36.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

The only way we as Christians can truly put this to practice is to have our own hearts change. We are to “become merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36,NIV) In doing so we have a heart that longs to serve and pray for those we normally would pass judgment upon. This mercy then ties directly into us starting to realize “that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4, NIV)

Not only lead us to repentance, but we embody this mercy to be a living example to draw others and partner with Christ in his kingdom work of bringing them into the fullness of Christ and repentance. - So my challenge to you this week is to be more aware of what we are saying and dwelling on about others. Then to redirect that awareness onto our selves, really examining our own flaws and areas we can use improvement.

The next challenge is to make a list of people that are your enemies or just out right annoy you. Then to sit down and to pray for them.